America’s favorite pastime has returned, and with it comes hope for ratings and revenue increases for radio stations across the nation. With thirty brands dedicating countless hours of programming one-hundred and sixty two times per season and beyond should the local team advance to the post-season, baseball is an important part of every local rights holder’s business strategy.
In this day and age where people are constantly on the go, and everything moves at the speed of sound, baseball on the radio remains a connection to simpler times. It’s a soothing comfortable listen which allows us to relax, unwind, and escape the chaos of our daily lives, and embrace the inner kid in all of us. Unlike television, baseball’s radio announcers are expected to be descriptive, passionate, and masterful storytellers, capable of mentally moving the audience from their office, car, couch or front yard to the inside of a stadium. Listeners depend on the voice of each broadcaster to help them visualize the last pitch, hear the crack of the bat, smell the hot dogs, taste the beer, and feel the energy of thousands of fans who share the same unwavering enthusiasm for the hometown team.
While the game on the field requires exceptional skill, so too does broadcasting it. Whether it’s the preparation, travel, relationship building and ability to capture big moments or the simpler task of being a calming voice during a time of uncertainty or frustration, fans treat the baseball broadcaster on the radio as a companion or close member of the family. Each moment and experience becomes part of a listener’s life, and many of those stories get passed on from generation to generation. It’s why the game of baseball continues to carry extra special meaning to those who consume it on the radio.
Since we don’t get an opportunity often to enjoy the work of out of market broadcast crews, and it’s difficult to form a bond with a city you have no personal history with, I thought I’d call upon a different sports media member from all 30 cities to explain what makes their local radio broadcast teams unique, special, and an important part of their communities and radio station’s success. These media folks hear these broadcasters on a daily or nightly basis and have as strong of a read on their local broadcasters as anyone around.
Radio has some incredible storytellers selling the game of baseball and all that is associated with it on its airwaves, and as the next six months become a larger focus for our brands, it felt like the perfect time to pay tribute to the men and women we depend on to further the connection with our audiences and help our stations ascend to greater heights. With that in mind, let me introduce you to the voices of Major League Baseball. This is Part 1 of a three part series.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Greg Schulte and Tom Candiotti – as told by Mike Ferrin:
The voice of baseball in The Valley is “The Gubnuh” Greg Schulte. He’s been with the Dbacks since day one (this is his 20th Opening Day) and before that he spent 15+ years doing ASU baseball, which means that any big moment in “Valley Baseball” since Barry Bonds was a Sun Devil, Greg has had a hand in sharing.
What makes Greg great is that he has terrific energy. He knows how to let the game breathe without it getting stagnant. Even in a 69 win season a year ago, you couldn’t tell the year was bad by listening to him on the radio. That’s a most spectacular trait in an announcer. There are no down days for him on the air, and as a listener I really appreciate that. He has a keen sense of not just Dbacks history but baseball history and how it relates to today. And, most importantly, he’s at his best in the biggest moments. He’s been on the call for nearly every one of them in franchise history.
Working alongside Greg is Dbacks analyst Tom Candiotti. In my mind, he’s an elite level baseball analyst. As someone who works with a lot of former players in his “other job” with SiriusXM, I love guys who prepare, and Tom is a prep monster. He breaks down each starter from data (Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball), talks to coaches, and as a result of spending time in the Cleveland front office, he’s a wealth of information, ideas, and opinions and understands how to evaluate players. He’s also very good at explaining things in simple terms for the audience to understand.
Additionally, Tom is current. He understands how the game has evolved, and has high school aged sons who are outstanding baseball players so he can relate to what’s important to a younger audience. And, he loves to joke around. He is a great practical joker and storyteller, and knows how to balance breaking down the game and keeping it fun and entertaining.
It’s an outstanding combination that lets the audience laugh and learn at the same time.
Atlanta Braves – Jim Powell and Don Sutton – as told by John Kincade.
The south is still known as “Braves Country”. They not only have the largest franchise footprint in baseball but the largest affiliate radio network in pro sports. Jim Powell and Don Sutton bring the action to Braves fans all over the Southeast in what honestly seems like a conversation as opposed to play by play.
Powell is an Atlanta native that came to the Braves from the Brewers. From the moment he arrived his passion for the Braves and their history was apparent. It makes conversations of the Braves glory days and his childhood seamless for the listener. Don Sutton is familiar to Americans from the old TBS TV Broadcasts. His ability to tell a story of historical significance or his sharing of baseball knowledge within the play by play experience is unmatched.
The Braves broadcasts are also bolstered by fan favorite from the 90’s Mark Lemke and their pre and post-game host on The Fan Ben Ingram. Our local shows lean on their expertise as the flagship, and the Braves are great at granting us access to their facility and talents!
Baltimore Orioles – Joe Angel and Jim Hunter – as told by Terry Ford.
What makes Orioles play by play man Joe Angel unique among local Major League Baseball announcers, besides the fact that he played high school football with O. J. Simpson, is that he brings humor to the broadcast in a lighthearted manner. In an era where some play-by-play guys are hesitant or unwilling to say anything that could paint the home team in a negative light, Joe calls it like he sees it. Fans can tell that Joe is the hometown announcer for Orioles baseball but he is very objective with his game call. He’s known for his signature calls such as “Hasta La Vista Baby” when the O’s hit a home run. If the Orioles win, he’ll yell, “And the Orioles are in the Win Column!”. If they lose, he follows it up with “And the Orioles are in the loss column”. He’s also known after a victory or loss to give out “The Lovely Totals” or “The Not So Lovely Totals”.
Working on Orioles broadcasts with Joe is Jim Hunter. The best way to describe Jim is he’s the ultimate pro. Hunter called the CBS Radio Game of the Week for 14 years, and has been part of the Birds broadcast team for 19 years. Besides announcing on the radio, Jim has also done play by play and studio work on television for the Orioles regional network, The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. He isn’t as colorful as Joe, but he’s excellent at presenting keen insight and painting the picture of the game for the listener. He’s a straightforward broadcaster who plays perfectly off of Joe.
In a nutshell, Joe and Jim are a formidable team with a passion for the home team, a mixture of style and substance, and a professionalism that makes them easy to follow and respect. If baseball fans have an interest in hearing what makes the Orioles broadcast a fun listen, I invite them to take a listen on 105.7 The Fan.
Boston Red Sox – Joe Castiglione and Tim Neverett – as told by Patrick O’Day.
Boston Red Sox baseball on the radio is like the soundtrack of summer in the New England region. The broadcast is led by Joe Castiglione who is entering his 35th season of calling Red Sox games on the radio, and was a first-ballot inductee into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2014.
Listening to Joe is like sitting down with your uncle or grandfather who always has a good story to tell. Fans gravitate towards him because he’s been a fixture on Red Sox broadcasts for such a long time that he’s viewed as part broadcaster and part team historian. He can instantly recall minute details from a mid-season game from years ago and add a story to go along with it. Joe has an ability to share interesting factoids about anyone in either dugout, and when you listen to him, you’ll always learn something new.
Joe’s partner is Tim Neverett, and his specialty is being able to break down and explain situational baseball. Tim describes the field and what is happening and talks about it in such a way that fans and listeners can envision the situation and learn about why teams do the things the way they do. From employing shifts to catcher positioning and pitch-framing, there’s not a game situation that could pop up that Tim wouldn’t be prepared for and able to analyze and relate to the audience.
Together, Joe and Tim each bring a unique voice and style to the broadcast. I think fans enjoy the sense of realness and sincerity that comes through on the air, and having two guys who are as plugged into an organization as Joe and Tim are, is a big part of WEEI’s success. The mix of familiarity when you hear Red Sox baseball on the radio, coupled with informative announcers, turns listeners from casual baseball fans into avid listeners.
Chicago Cubs – Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer – as told by Mitch Rosen.
Baseball on the radio is like a great friendship, or a terrific book you cannot put down. The intimacy of the game on the radio is like no other sport or relationship listeners have with the medium. With most of the season taking place during the summertime months, I truly believe baseball on the radio brings the listener back to his or her youth and memories of going to games or listening to games.
What makes a Cubs game special is that play by play announcer Pat Hughes truly paints a picture to people listening on traditional radio’s, car radio’s, or mobile/digital devices. One can close their eyes and truly imagine themselves at Wrigley Field or other stadiums when the Cubs are on the road. To personally witness a World Series broadcast (2 feet from Pat and Ron) last year on the radio was a career highlight. I saw the emotion on Pat’s face, and the tears pouring out of our Cubs analyst Ron Coomer’s eyes and it’s a sight I will never forget, nor will the close to 1 million people who were listening. I really believe that Pat’s call when he said and I’m paraphrasing, “you will remember where you were when you heard The Cubs have won The World Series” says it all.
Baseball on the radio and consumers become friends thru good and bad times, meaning winning or losing seasons. There is nothing like it. The hometown call has a special importance to fans of a local team, and we’re lucky to have Pat and Ron capturing every moment of the defending world champion Chicago Cubs.
Chicago White Sox – Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson – as told by Dave Zaslowsky.
The White Sox broadcast features Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson, two former Sox players who have become as much a part of the lives of White Sox radio listeners as deep dish pizza, The John Hancock Building and 16 inch softball! This is Farmer’s 25th season behind the mic, and his 8th with Jackson who has been a member of the Chicago White Sox Radio Network for 17 years.
Sox games are heard on flagship station WLS AM-890, and what resonates with me most is the passion and comfort Sox fans feel for the broadcast. The core of Sox radio listeners are blue collar and Ed and DJ fit right in when telling stories from when they played for the team. They also have a unique ability to make everyone feel like family. In today’s radio world, a lot of broadcasters don’t stay too long in one spot, but that’s not the case with Ed and DJ.
Ed grew up on the south side of Chicago and often tells the story of how his mom took him to old Comiskey Park when he was a child and how he couldn’t believe “They played baseball in this building”. He promised that he’d one day play for the White Sox, and everyone who has listened to more than one Sox game on the radio knows that story.
DJ brings a wealth of baseball knowledge to the booth and a direct tie to some of the most beloved former Sox players having been teammates with Frank Thomas, Tim Raines, Jack McDowell, Paul Konerko and Ozzie Guillen. Every play on the field, every question from Ed, and even the foul balls that make their way into the booth are handled the way Sox fans expect – with excellence.
The White Sox are currently rebuilding and relying on younger players to mature and develop to help them enjoy brighter days. Whether they win or lose though, fans will get to know this team as if they were being introduced to new family members, by old family members, and that’s what makes Ed and DJ an incredible listen!
Cincinnati Reds – Marty Brennaman and Jeff Brantley – as told by Mo Egger.
Few things are as unique to broadcasting in Cincinnati as a Reds game on the radio. This is a city with great baseball and broadcasting heritage, and listeners here demand that if the team isn’t very good, the broadcast better be. Which, for the last 43 years, it has been.
The voice of the Reds since 1974 has been Marty Brennaman, a Ford Frick Award winner. I’d argue that with the retirement of Vin Scully, he’s baseball’s greatest active radio broadcaster. Marty is able to do something increasingly rare in his profession – balance detailed play-by-play with great storytelling while not necessarily being a mouthpiece for the team. When circumstances demand that he be critical, Marty is sharp and pointed with his criticism, at times to the dismay of some listeners. But there’s no one in our market who speaks with the authority that he does, and no one can make the critical moments of a mid-May game between two bad teams sound like they’re deciding a big playoff game in October.
His partner on most broadcasts – and the Reds do employ a number of different announcers – is former big league pitcher Jeff Brantley. Jeff’s country drawl and laid-back demeanor compliment Marty and few things sound like a lazy summer afternoon on the patio more than the innings that Jeff handles play-by-play. But few are as astute in their analysis of the game, especially when it comes to pitching.
I don’t know that a Reds broadcast would work in New York, or Los Angeles. Marty himself has said that. There’s something uniquely Midwestern about a Cincinnati Reds broadcast, and while I work for a cluster of radio stations that employs some of the best personalities in the business and has the rights to every Cincinnati sports property, Reds broadcasts with Marty and Jeff behind the microphones are – in my opinion, at least – our most important asset. I highly recommend giving them a listen sometime.
Cleveland Indians – Tom Hamilton and Jim Rosenhaus – as told by Nick Camino.
In the past 25 years of Cleveland Indians baseball, there may not be a name more synonymous with the Tribe than radio play-by-play man Tom Hamilton, appropriately referred to as “The Voice of the Tribe.” From his exciting calls, to his knowledge of the game, as well as the respect he has gained from players in the clubhouse and countless managers, Hamilton is a hometown fan’s dream.
“Hammy” as he is affectionately called, isn’t afraid to share his opinion even if he has to be critical of the Tribe. In my mind, Hamilton is the best in baseball and Cleveland is fortunate to have him.
Hamilton’s partner, Jim Rosenhaus spent years calling games at Triple-A for the Buffalo Bisons, and all of his hard work has certainly paid off, teaming up with Hamilton in 2012 full-time after the retirement of Mike Hegan. Since then, fans have warmed up to Rosenhaus who has a great feel for the game and is quick with analysis whenever the time feels appropriate to add it.
Similar to Hamilton, Rosenhaus works tirelessly hitting both the home and visiting clubhouses getting to know the ins and outs of not only the Indians but their respective opponents. “Rosey” as many fans call him, has quickly become a valuable asset to Indians broadcasts and his hard work and dedication to Tribe baseball and helping run the entire Cleveland Indians Radio Network is something that has paid great dividends for both listeners and the club.
Colorado Rockies – Jerry Schemmel and Jack Corrigan – as told by Brandon Krisztal.
Jack Corrigan and Jerry Schemmel form the classic baseball radio play-by-play team. Jack’s been calling baseball for the better part of 30 years, first on television in Cleveland and now in Denver for nearly 20 years. Jerry joined the broadcast in 2010 (after two decades of calling NBA games in Minnesota and Denver) and the two displayed instant chemistry.
The easiest way to describe their call is informed and easy-going, but not flashy or over-the-top. They certainly can elevate their emotional level when the game dictates but they never make the game about them. When I say classic baseball style, maybe it’s their midwestern roots that help shape their easy-going style, but both Jack and Jerry sound how you’d expect a guy from Cleveland (where Jack grew up) and a guy from Kansas (where Jerry is from) to sound.
While catchphrases may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Jack has one of the best I’ve ever heard. When a Rockies player hits a home run, Jack, exclaims “touch-em-all-time!” I’ve always appreciated how understated but appropriate and cool that call is. It’s simple but certainly conveys exactly what it needs to be.
Playing sports at a high level is certainly no requirement to calling a good game in any sport, but both Jack and Jerry played college sports (Jack played football at Cornell, and went to training camp with The Dallas Cowboys, and Jerry played baseball at Washburn University and Coached there as well) and that can only help inform their call. They have an understanding of mindset and competition that not every play-by-play duo has.
Understandably, you may not have caught a Rockies game, but, if you’re within 1,000 miles of Denver, driving on a summer night, there’s a good chance you can pick up a Rockies game loud and clear on 850 KOA-AM, one of the strongest signals in the country. I urge you to tune in for a few innings, and check out Jack and Jerry, because their call will take you back to a time when the world was a simpler place and the only way you could really enjoy a baseball game was by listening.
Detroit Tigers – Dan Dickerson and Jim Price – as told by Jamie Samuelsen.
Dan was raised listening to Ernie Harwell call Tigers games, and Jim played for the legendary (at least in Detroit) 1968 Tigers. So they are both Michigan and Detroit through and through which matters in Detroit about as much as it matters in any market in baseball. Listeners know how much these guys care about the team and it shows in both success and struggle.
Dan has fully embraced sabermetrics, and while he doesn’t go on and on with advanced stats, he’s more than willing to drop in a few numbers and stats that will further a conversation. His preparation is meticulous and it shows in his performance. He’s also outstanding at identifying pitch location and movement which leads to terrific discussions in game with Price, a former catcher.
Jim is a classic folksy color man. He’s a former big leaguer who played on the 68 Tigers, and remains good friends with Al Kaline, and makes sure that you know that. He’s done a great job in recent years looking at the Tigers through a more a critical lens. The Tigers have a massive payroll and have struggled at times, and Price is more than willing to point out poor execution, poor effort or a disappointing approach at the plate. He also has a few catch phrases (“art of pitching”, “yellowhammer” and “nice area”) that he now says with a bit of a wink to the listeners – knowing that they’re listening for them.
Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas
“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”
Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.
The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.
It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.
For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.
Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.
But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.
I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.
Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.
Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.
Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.
Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.
You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.
Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.
Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media
“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”
Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.
As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.
As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.
I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.
But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.
Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.
I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.
Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.
These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.
If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.
I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.
Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure
“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”
If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.
When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.
Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.
It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.
In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.
I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.
We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.
Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.
This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.
Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.
Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.
I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.
For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.
That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.
But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.
Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.
How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.
The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.
Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.
Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.
You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.
I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.
Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.
One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.
Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.
It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.
Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?
I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.