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The Radio Station Is Not Your Jukebox

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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.

BSM Writers

Dallas Cowboys: Proof That Marketing Works

“Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are.”

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Why do people still hate the Dallas Cowboys? Give me a good football reason that the Cowboys are worth your time. I get that there was an era where if the NFL was Mortal Kombat, the Cowboys were Shang Tsung, but those days ended three decades ago.

It’s 2022. There are adults in their late 20s that have never seen a Cowboys’ championship. Since 2000, the franchise has been to the playoffs fewer times than the Falcons. They have won as many playoff games in that time as the Jaguars. At this point, hating the Cowboys is about as useless as hating Luxembourg.

So why do people still have such a deep-seated disdain for the star and the players that wear it? Why was a national celebration set of on Sunday when the Cowboys lost in the stupidest way imaginable?

The answer is pretty simple really: marketing.

Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are. Great marketers can get you to behave like those products are what they say they are even when you know that isn’t true.

Jerry Jones is a great marketer.

People tune in when the Cowboys play. Maybe a good chunk of those people are hate-watching, but they’re watching. That is why the team was on in primetime six times this season. Of those other eleven games, seven of them were called by either FOX’s or CBS’s top broadcast team.

ESPN completely rebuild and rebranded First Take around the idea that Stephen A. Smith doesn’t like the Dallas Cowboys. That is it. The whole promo package for the show was just Smith wearing a cowboy hat and chomping on a cigar and laughing.

Shouldn’t we be doing this to the Patriots? Afterall, in the time since the Cowboy’s last Super Bowl appearance, New England has gone to the game an astounding ten times and won six titles.

It’s easy to read that sentence and say “Well, Tom Brady isn’t there anymore. The Patriots aren’t what they used to be. It isn’t as much fun to hate them.”

Uh, dawg, who in Dallas has been worth hating since Troy Aikman retired? You know, like 22 years ago!

Jerry Jones isn’t the man that coined the phrase “America’s Team, ” so he didn’t set its initial meaning. What it became, by virtue of him leaning into the branding is something that forces you to react. Either you buy into the blue and the silver and the star and you’re with America’s team or you recoil at the branding and the goofiness of the whole aesthetic and want to watch it burn.

Notre Dame football could be doing this too. The problem is they do not have the great markerter out front pushing that slogan over and over again.

Even “how bout them Cowboys?” is a solid positioning statement. It’s easily repeatable in good times or bad. The genius of Jerry Jones embracing that statement and that clip of Jimmy Johnson shouting those four now-iconic words is that it is a question that always has an answer.

Fans can celebrate with “how bout them cowboys” when the team wins. Haters can say it facetiously when they are on a losing streak. Either way, you are saying it and the Dallas Cowboys are occupying a part of your brain.

Positioning statements work. That is why so many stations tag their imaging with the same phrase or sentence every single time. That is why so many stations are called The Fan or The Game or The Ticket.

Admittedly, sometimes we need to rethink how our listeners are receiving the message. If we are all going for homogeny, nothing can stand out. Maybe that is a reason to rethink what I jokingly call “sports radio’s magic hat of five acceptable station names”, but the larger point is that you want every message you put out to point to the brand image you are trying to portray.

Jerry Jones’s message to the NFL and the media is no matter who they root for, fans care about my team. His positioning statements reflect that. Whether you think they are great marketing or goofy corporate branding, they work. The proof is everywhere.

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BSM Writers

Three Sports Marketing Trends You Need To Know

“Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists.”

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#1 OTT’s RAPID EXPANSION  

Pay TV lost more than 5 million customers in 2020 and that trend is going to continue and the number is going to increase. With nearly 30% more Americans cutting the cord in 2021 and almost 87% of adults 18-24 preferring the OTT option, you’d better dive in and understand just how fast video consumption is changing; especially in sports. Platforms like ESPN+, Amazon, Peacock, Paramount+ and Facebook are diving head first into the sports rights market so that they can deliver LIVE sports where Americans are consuming video.  OTT provides that sniper riffle approach advertisers are looking for as they try to increase ROI and minimize waste. 

#2 AI … DATA-DATA-DATA

Without a doubt artificial intelligence is changing the way marketers are deciding how to go to market with their messaging and their products and/or services.  More data is available now than ever before and you’d better understand how your client is using it to help them make their buying decisions.  Most large advertisers are not only using one, but multiple vendors and are trying to obtain as much data as they possibly can so they can better recognize trends and understand their consumers behaviors and buying patterns

#3 eSports is BOOMING

Video games aren’t just for fun and entertainment at home anymore.  Gamers are now creating leagues, generating 6-figure endorsements and have multiple contests where they compete for HUGE cash and prizes.  Marketers are actively looking for ways to take advantage of this meteoric rise in popularity of eSports and that includes product placement, team sponsorships, individual gamer(s) sponsorships and tournament sponsorships.  If your station isn’t trying to create a sellable feature around eSports then you’re missing out on a huge and very sellable feature.  There are over 234 million eSports enthusiasts world wide and that number is only going to continue to climb. 

OTT, AI and eSports are rapidly changing the sports marketing landscape and these are trends that will only continue and grow over the next 5 years.  Digitalization of just about everything is changing how, where, when and on what kind of devices sports fans are consuming content.  Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists. 

Be the expert in the room when meeting with agencies and/or clients, it will set you apart from the pack.  Understanding these rapidly evolving trends will help you have better and deeper dialog with your advertisers. 

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BSM Writers

What Should Radio Be Thinking About On Martin Luther King Day?

“Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?”

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Monday, January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A lot of you will get the day off of work. Some of you will attend prayer services or civic events to honor the civil rights leader and his legacy.

Dr. King, like all humans, had his flaws but is undeniably a man worth celebrating. In a world where the divide between the powerful and the rest of us seems to be growing out of control, it is good to take a day to celebrate and think about a man that made a career out of speaking up for the little guy – whether that means black and brown people during the Civil Rights Era or it means workers in times of labor unrest.

Across the media landscape, we will see stations and networks running promos touting their “commitment to Dr. King’s dream!”. The sentiment is great, but I do wonder what it means to the people making those promos and the stations and networks airing them.

Look at the archives of this site. Think about the BSM Summits you have attended. How often have we been willing to shine a spotlight on the amount sports radio talks about embracing diversity versus actually putting plans into action? Jason has written and talked about it a lot. Every time, the message seems to circle back to him saying “I am giving you the data. You are telling me you recognize that this is a problem. Now do something about it.”

It’s something I found myself starting to think about a lot last year when Juneteenth became recognized as a federal holiday. Suddenly every brand was airing ads telling me how they have known how special this day is all along. And look, I hope that is true. It seems like if it was though, I would have been seeing those ads in plenty of Junes before 2021.

I am going to put my focus on the media because that is what we do here, but this can be said about a lot of companies. So many brands have done a great job of rolling out the yellow, black, red, and green promo package to acknowledge that it is Martin Luther King Jr Day or Black History Month or Juneteenth. I worry though that for so many, especially on the local level, that is where the acknowledgment ends.

That isn’t to say that those stations or brands actively do not want more minority representation inside their company. It just isn’t a subject for which they can say they have taken a lot of action.

Look, I am not here to debate the merits of affirmative action. I am saying in an industry like sports radio, where we thrive on fans being able to relate to the voices coming through their speakers, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of making sure minority personalities know that there is a place for them in this industry? Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?

WFAN went out and found Keith McPherson in the podcasting world to fill its opening at night after Steve Somers’s retirement. FOX Sports added RJ Young, who first made a name for himself on YouTube and writing books, to its college football coverage. 95.7 The Game found Daryle “Guru” Johnson in a contest. JR Jackson got on CBS Sports Radio’s radar thanks to his YouTube videos and when it came time for the network to find a late-night host, it plucked him from Atlanta’s V103, one of the best-known urban stations in America.

That’s two guys in major markets, another on national radio, and a third on national television. In all four cases, the companies that hired them didn’t just sit back and wait for a resume to come in.

Some of you will read this and dismiss me. After all, I am a fat, white Southern man. If I were a hacky comedian, I would say “the only four groups you are allowed to make fun of” and then yell “Gitterdone!”.

In reality, I point those things out because I know there is a large chunk of you that will call this whole column “white guilt” or “woke” or whatever your talking point is now.

Whether or not we are about the be a majority minority nation is up for debate, but here is a fact. America is getting darker. I look at the radio industry, one that is constantly worried about how it will be affected by new innovations in digital audio, and wonder how anyone can think doing things like we always have is going to work forever.

I’m not damning anyone or saying anybody should be losing their jobs. I don’t know most of you reading this well enough to make that judgment. What I am saying is that our industry has lived on the idea that this business is always changing and we have to be adaptable. I think it is time we do that, not just with the content we present on air, but in how we go about finding the right people to present it.

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