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The Similarities Between Star Wars and Radio Benchmarks

Demetri Ravanos

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Let’s take a lesson from what happened at the box office this weekend. As of the time I’m writing this it looks like Solo, the latest entry into the Star Wars canon, will walk away with about $101 million. For most movies, that is a pretty good weekend. For Solo though, it isn’t good enough.

The Star Wars brand is attached to this film. When last week began, Disney was projecting that Solo would make $150 million. By Thursday, they amended that to $120 million. Still though, financial reality fell short of financial projections.

There are a lot of lessons Disney can learn from that. Speaking for all of us that truly love Star Wars (My wife and I argued about whether our son’s middle name should be Chewie. It’s Lyle now, so you can guess who won the argument.) the lesson I hope the studio takes away is that these characters and this universe is special to us and there really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

That is a lesson all of radio can stand to learn as well.

Benchmarks are a good thing. They give our listeners something to look forward to and a dependable reason to tune in day after day and week after week. Disney had the same thing going with Star Wars. Every December, they could count on fans coming out in droves and huge opening weekend receipts.

So what did Disney do wrong that we can learn from?

They monkeyed with the proven formula. Instead of new adventures they started giving us the “Star Wars Story” brand that expanded on the stories of characters and events we already knew from years of loving the franchise. Plus, after waiting a decade between Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens, we went to a new Star Wars movie every year. Then with Solo, it went to every six months.

Do you have a guest that appears on your show at the same time every week? Does he always deliver good content? You might be tempted to do all you can to get that guy on the show more often. It makes sense. If the listeners are responding favorably, give them more chances to have a positive reaction to you.

Consider the flip side though. More appearances means less time between appearances. Less time between appearances may mean less great material. It may also mean that those same listeners that loved this guy before are now bored with him. This is what I wish Disney would have thought about before changing the timeline on Star Wars movies.

Speaking of growing bored, always take stock of your benchmarks. There is no reason to still be doing a bit in 2018 that you have been doing since 2010. I’m not talking about regular show lingo or the kind of benchmarks that only come up a few times a year. I am talking about your daily and weekly retreads.

Remember, they are always an investment of diminishing returns with your listeners. Those bits will never have the same impact as they did the first time your listeners heard them. For shows I host or produce, I have always tried to keep a cap of about one year on each individual benchmark. A good rule to follow is once you become bored with them, your audience probably has too.

In sports radio, some of our benchmarks are going to have longer life out of necessity, right? A local beat writer coming on the Friday before a big NFL or college football weekend, for example, isn’t necessarily going anywhere from year to year. That means you have to find ways to inject new life into those segments every so often.

Get that guest to respond to audio. “The coach said this about the last game. Does that jive with what you have seen at practice this week?”. Do you do a weekly pick ‘em segment? Mix up the criteria you’re making those picks on.

Take stock of what is working and more importantly why it is working. If you have a regular bit that is working or a regular guest that still gets a big reaction from listeners on the phones or social media, you certainly don’t want to give up on them. The key is that you have to keep the material fresh, so always think about where it makes sense to take the bit next. Once you’ve gotten to the point that you feel like there is nowhere new left to take this material, it may be time to start thinking about that material’s expiration date.

Benchmark segments, like Star Wars movies, can be a tricky field to navigate. You want to give the audience what they want, but still be able to surprise them. Disney can’t keep Star Wars fresh if it floods the market with so-so stories (For the record, Solo is better than so-so, but you get my point). Your show won’t continue to be interesting if you’re doing the same thing over and over again.

Pay attention to what your audience is telling you that it wants. Look for new directions you can take your current material. You don’t have literally billions of dollars invested in your show, so unlike Disney and Star Wars, you have the ability to pull the plug the second what you are doing bores you, so do that and do it regularly. If you can’t get excited about a benchmark anymore, there is no point in putting it on the air again.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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