Recently I was on the road visiting family. My wife, my kids and myself set out on the 13 hour drive from our home in Raleigh, NC to Biloxi, MS, where my dad lives. I used the drive to sample sports radio in various enclaves as I drove through the South. This was on a Thursday before a huge college football weekend.
Rather than name drop the shows I listened to and highlight what worked and didn’t work for them, I want to focus on one show that really got under my skin. I am not going to name anyone, so as not to embarrass them, but it made me think of a rule from my college radio days and why it can be helpful advice.
When I was in school at the University of Alabama, I worked at the student station, WVUA. We were a pure college rock station: plenty of the alternative bands people knew, but way more that they didn’t. The typical clock included 12 songs and two open slots. Those were the DJ’s opportunity to play whatever he/she loved from the WVUA catalog. The idea was to force you to explore the CD racks and find new stuff you liked.
In the first meeting each year with the new air staff, the program director would explain the purpose of these spots and say “This is the only place you get to pick what you play. Station’s not your jukebox.” The message was that the station is supposed to sound a certain way. We can’t go from shift to shift with everyone playing whatever the hell they want. It doesn’t serve the listeners. “It’s just masturbation,” as George Costanza might say.
I bring this up because we were driving through the DEEP South. It’s the kind of place where if they could, they would replace past Presidents’ pictures on their money with portraits of SEC football coaches. I can’t remember how far out of the metro we were, but this station was just starting to come in and I hear the host say “In the next segment I’ll tell you why a three-peat is a sure thing for the Pens this season.”
I literally said out loud “what the f*** is he doing?”. My wife was less than pleased when my six-year-old son started giggling, a sure sign that he had heard me say those very words as we watched the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals together.
I waited through the break. Maybe I misheard him. Maybe the Pens weren’t the Pittsburgh Penguins, but some local high school team that’s been particularly dominant in recent years. I mean we were literally two states away from the nearest NHL franchise. Surely this guy wasn’t going to talk about Sydney Crosby when all of his listeners were thinking about SEC football.
When the show returned, the host started with something to the effect of “I know you guys don’t like when I talk hockey” in the worst impression of a Southern accent you’ll ever hear. “But you know,” he continued. “I’m from Chicago and it’s my show and I want to talk hockey.”
Station’s not your jukebox, dude.
I am trying not to get too specific, but let’s just say this particular state’s flagship university is going through quite a transition period in its football history at the moment and the team was getting ready to face a rival.
- Could a win in this game give the interim coach the job full time?
- What NCAA punishment would you be willing to put up with for a win this weekend?
- Has this scandal completely overshadowed the team to the point that the nation doesn’t realize they actually have a chance to win this game?
I don’t even live in the market and I just came up with three topics that are more relevant to this guy’s audience than what he chose to waste twelve minutes on in the days leading up to a major local sporting event. Not to be overly dramatic, but it’s not just a wasted opportunity to talk about what you like instead of something more relevant to your listeners, it’s insulting.
We all get into this business because we are fans. As professional as we strive to be, sometimes those old allegiances die hard. The listeners always have to come first though. Why? Because the station’s not your jukebox.
Go into every show with a checklist of two or three topics you have to hit. Decide which ones are worth taking swings at from multiple angles. For instance, a host in DC may do one segment on Scott Brooks’ really interesting and personal take on LaVar Ball. Later in that same hour, he might bring on Chris Mannix to preview the game. Those are two very different discussions about the same relevant, local topic.
Next, look at the topics that will generate good content. These might be more national stories, but the kind of topics everyone will have an opinion on. So maybe that same hypothetical DC host may ask what the appropriate punishment for Yuri Gurriel should have been for game 4 of the World Series. Now tie it in locally. This hypothetical host is in DC, right? Fold in the debate around the Redskins name. Even if the topic is not obviously local, having a local tie better engages listeners and best serves your audience.
A guy in the Deep South, two states away from the nearest NHL franchise, talking hockey is the perfect sports picture of “station’s not your jukebox.” You always have to serve the listeners first. What are their interests? What do they want from the show? If you find the answers to those questions so boring that you won’t even try to find the angle that interests you, you aren’t in the wrong market. You’re in the wrong business.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.