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Cooley’s Work Ethic Makes All The Difference at Team 980

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At the epicenter of the sports media industry lies an ever-growing, trendy concept that is the professional athlete making a transition to broadcasting upon retirement.

In recent years, ex-players who have next to nothing in broadcast knowledge have found themselves in the booth with a microphone and a hungry, vast audience at their fingertips. Regardless of how short or long of a period it is between retirement and throwing on the headset, former athletes will always be under great scrutiny and criticism during their transition periods. Sometimes it even follows them throughout their entire career. It all seems to revolve around the built up stereotype which constantly questions the effort and intentions of former players in the booth.

Former Redskins Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley has been an exception to this stigma since joining the Team 980 family in Washington, D.C. Over the last five years, the 35-year-old has served as color commentator on the Redskins Radio Network, while also co-hosting “Cooley and Kevin” with Kevin Sheehan from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday-Friday.

Fellow 980 on-air personality Steve Czaban jokingly told Cooley, “I give you eight months,” at the start of his broadcasting career. Like any transitioning athlete, the Redskins’ all-time receptions leader at the tight end position needed to make adjustments accordingly.

“He’s willing to do the extra work that other ex-athletes won’t,” said Czaban.

Coming from a veteran radio broadcaster like Czaban, that’s a strong compliment.

As a viewer or listener, the average sports fan can usually gauge the quality of content being produced from a former professional athlete. Think back to Tony Romo’s first season in the booth for CBS. One of the central reasons people are so high on him is because of his ability to illustrate the logistics behind football scenarios using a jargon even non-football fans can relate to.

Cooley has a very similar approach on the radio. He mixes his football IQ and general knowledge with a slight sense of humor when on the air with his broadcast team.

Voice of the Redskins Larry Michael began calling games for the Redskins Radio Network the same year Cooley wore the burgundy and gold for the very first time, 2004. The two have been close ever since and Michael was quick to sing his color commentator’s praises.

“Chris is an extremely intelligent person and when it comes to football he’s beyond intelligent. It was a natural step for him to take what he knew about the game of football and describe what he’s seeing to listeners in real time,” said Michael.

Another quality of Cooley’s Michael hit on is his humility and humble nature inside and outside the broadcast booth. When he joined the broadcasting team, he understood he was replacing the great Sam Huff and how respected Sonny Jurgensen was among the Redskins fan base and within the organization.

“He (Cooley) was very aware of the protocol with Sonny being the longer tenured member of the broadcast group. That piece of chemistry could have needed a lot of work but it didn’t turn out to be that way. Sonny has always loved him,” said Michael.

The man who was coined “Captain Chaos” during his football years has been anything but that in the booth alongside Michael, Jurgensen and Doc Walker on the sidelines. 980 Program Director Chris Johnson, who serves as Cooley’s boss, also had glowing words to share about his host.

When asked about Cooley’s transition to the broadcast booth, Johnson added, “I don’t really consider Chris to be an athlete turned broadcaster. Chris is a broadcaster that happened to play football as a professional.”

One thing Johnson went into great depth on is Cooley’s unique ability to break down film the week after Redskins games.

“Chris goes through and dissects the game from all angles. It’s not just the x’s and o’s. These segments have led to new revenue and listenership. People come up to me and say they won’t get out of their cars while Chris is breaking down film,” said Johnson.

Yet again, here is another instance of Cooley’s ability to explain the game without going above people’s heads. Fans enjoy this type of listen and more importantly, appreciate it. These segments aren’t just thrown together on a whim, either. Cooley told me he dedicates “four or five hours to each side of the ball” following Redskins games.

Director of Sports Programming at 105.7 The Fan and Redskins Radio Network Executive Producer Chuck Sapienza, formerly of Team 980, saw Cooley up close in both his roles as co-host and color commentator.

“I can’t imagine listening to Chris without learning something. He’s the guy you want to have a beer with,” said Sapienza.

As far as what Cooley’s future holds, Sapienza suggested, “In a perfect world, I bet you he ends up coaching high school ball somewhere and doing the Redskins games.”

Cooley did have a brief stint on FOX NFL broadcasts as a color analyst in 2015. Led by play-by-play announcer Sam Rosen, Cooley was a member of FOX’s analyst rotation, along with Matt Millen, Brady Quinn and Kirk Morrison.

“It’s awesome. I loved it but I don’t need that. A lot of people have that competitive drive, but I just love being part of the Redskins,” said Cooley when asked about his experience calling games at the network level.

While the business of broadcasting remains competitive and at times treacherous for former athletes, Chris Cooley’s steady and consistent work ethic has solidified his voice in the D.C. sports media market for years to come.

Bob Trosset is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BobTrossetNBCS. To reach him by email click here.

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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