I doubt there will ever be a full-blown debate about the greatest alpine skier on sports radio. We won’t shove aside Tom Brady vs. Joe Montana to debate the greatest figure skater ever or which snowboarder you trust the most in crunch time. Discussing the Olympics on sports radio isn’t exactly a pot of gold. However, if you want to make your radio show better, apply the techniques NBC uses while covering the Winter Games.
Storytelling is an enormous ingredient. NBC broadcasters never say, “Okay, up next in ski jumping is Bob. We really don’t know anything about Bob, but let’s see how he does here.” They always provide a detailed backstory of the athletes. We gravitate toward their path, not just what they’re trying to accomplish. Where they’re from — when they started competing — the injuries and hardships they overcame — it always makes the competition more captivating.
Of course we all know how important storytelling is in sports radio. The best hosts paint vivid pictures, yet many of those gifted storytellers gloss over the most important subject — themselves. It shouldn’t be the life and times of a host each time the mic is on, but little things go a long way. The concert you saw over the weekend — the new pair of shoes you just bought — the funny conversation you had at a fast food drive thru — it all provides information about who the host is. It lets the audience in.
I’ll never forget one of the first shows I hosted on FOX Sports Radio. A listener called in from Miami and said, “Like, who are you?” He didn’t mean it in a demeaning way. He just actually wanted to know who I am. The audience wants to know. If we are glued to the TV when the backstory of an Olympic athlete is told, why would it be different with a sports talk host? It’s the same concept.
Something else to mimic is the pacing of Olympic coverage. Unless something huge is happening in one event, the coverage shifts. It’ll change from one sport to the next, back to the studio for a preview, or to an interview. It doesn’t get stuck. It keeps moving. This is the same goal when presenting radio topics. Unless there is a big topic that day, keep it moving. Transition to a new topic and then reset the initial topic later. Find the middle ground between sticking with a topic that’s working and preventing it from lingering too long.
The third concept is the trickiest but the most important. Have you ever watched a bobsledding event that didn’t occur in the Olympics? How about speed skating? Luge? I can’t recall even seeing a single commercial that promoted non-Olympic coverage of any of those events. What does that tell you? It tells me that we don’t actually care about the events themselves. If we really don’t care about the events, then why do millions of Americans care to watch the Olympics so intently?
The stakes are incredibly high. Sure, the storytelling and pacing enhance the coverage, but the stakes are what initially get the audience through the door. Athletes compete against the very best while representing their countries. Good luck recreating that with your morning show host who hails from Amarillo, TX. There just isn’t a way to duplicate the stakes of the Olympics on a radio show. What can be duplicated though, are finding ways to get the audience to care.
I call this broadening and narrowing. If I’m doing a national show, I want to broaden topics that lack a wide appeal on their own. Derrick Rose was recently released by the Cavs. Okay, not the biggest topic. If you broaden it to the athlete that would’ve been the most accomplished if not for injuries, now you’re talking. You’ve got football included with Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis. Baseball and basketball are in the mix. You now have a much better chance of your audience caring about this topic.
If I’m doing a local show, I want to narrow topics — I want to relate them back to the local teams. I wouldn’t talk about the 49ers signing Jimmy Garoppolo to a monster contract and leave it at that if I’m hosting in Denver. I’d touch on how much it impacts the Broncos pursuit of Kirk Cousins. I’d talk about whether the Broncos would be in better shape if they somehow signed Garoppolo to the same contract before San Francisco did, or if another quarterback will work out better.
The easiest way to approach topics is to always remember what your audience cares about. They care about their teams and their lives. Include both.
My fiancée recently asked me what the equivalent of flowers for women, is for men. I had no idea. I still have no idea. I’m not sure what gift would cause the same excited feeling for a guy. I brought it up during a fill-in show I hosted in Denver. People texted in with answers that ranged from concert tickets and cologne to a six pack of beer. It was a fun topic in between Broncos talk because it involved life.
Imagine if NBC didn’t air the Olympic events we enjoy most and instead just showed the biathlon. Envision the coverage being completely void of good storytelling and the backstories of athletes. Our interest wouldn’t be nearly as high. It works the same way with sports talk. Include the teams that matter most to the audience, and find ways to incorporate life. Share stories about yourself so the audience will care about you, not just the topics you talk about.
The irony about the Olympics is that although it’s generally very boring to discuss the Winter Games on sports radio, the way the Olympics are covered should be followed very closely. If a host has a great feel for what the audience will care about, and mixes in good storytelling and pacing, you have some of the vital ingredients of great ratings success — just like the Olympics.
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.