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A Conversation With Paul Finebaum, Part 3

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Paul Finebaum is a force in college football and the national media. His daily show airs via ESPN Radio, SiriusXM 81 and the SEC Network from 3-7pm Eastern. In part three of a three-part Q&A, Paul describes his infamous callers, being a newspaper reporter, his dream jobs, and his future. 

Matt:  You have really made some callers stars or supporting actors and actresses on your show.  How did that develop and how do you orchestrate their appearances? 

Paul: We went from a time that the show was so poorly rated, that we had to call the callers instead of them calling us. Someone, maybe Pat Smith (Former Finebaum Network Director and current APD of Jox 94.5 in Birmingham) had the idea to have a Christmas lunch with some of our better known callers. By getting to know them, I think we let them know that they were very important to the show. It started mushrooming from there. The lunch became an annual event and occasionally we would have callers come down to the studio. That just morphed into the callers becoming the show.

I think we realized being in Birmingham that we really couldn’t compete with Chicago, Philly, and New York for the a-list guests but we could dominate maybe by having the most unique callers. All of a sudden I would go around town and people would say what about so and so.  Then when we went national with SiriusXM, I could be anywhere in the country and somebody would say “I’m Tammy” or “I’m Phyllis!” and it just caught on.

When we went to ESPN, I thought it was going to come to an end. There was a feeling there that the callers weren’t necessary. I think it was about 2-3 months into the ESPN show Alabama lost the Ohio State game when they lost to Urban Meyer. The next day everyone declared Urban Meyer the best coach in college football. Nick Saban was done. Cowherd just did this epic takedown of Saban. 

Later that day we went to (caller) Phyllis from Mulga and she just went in on Colin Cowherd, called him “Cowturd!” One of our guys sent the clip up to Bristol and about five or six o’clock I saw it on SportsCenter and I think for 24 hours they ran the Phyllis clip. At that point it was no longer, “Hey you be a good host and get great interviews. Let’s hear the stupid callers!” 

I realized “why are we trying to re-invent the wheel.”  It doesn’t matter where I am—whether it’s with someone I’ve never met or a famous person—they know about the callers. It also helped having a guy like Harvey Updyke call. 

(Writers note: Harvey Updyke was a big Alabama fan who literally poisoned the famous trees at Auburn’s Toomers Corner. Instead of keeping it to himself, he called the Finebaum Show as “Al from Dadeville” to brag about poisoning the trees. Full story here: https://bit.ly/2Mziuol )

If Harvey Updyke had called our show in Birmingham it wouldn’t have been a big deal. I think I’ve run into 20,000 people who claim to have heard that show.  It was on SiriusXM and I say this—that call because we were on a national platform made it more important. The national platform back in 2010 also enabled callers.  Suddenly, Shane, Phyllis, or Tammy or Jim started thinking “I better up my game we’re on national radio.” That was the line of demarcation; where callers said “I can’t just call up and be a normal caller, I’ve got to put on a show!” 

That moved to television with the show. I had a guy call in the other day when we were only on radio, not on television. I asked him if that was a big deal to him and he said “Yes! The second I get off the call with you, I run back into the other room and rewind the DVR so I can listen to my call again!” I had never thought of that. 

Matt: You started your career as a newspaper man, at what point did you realize that radio was really your future and not newspapers?

Paul: Early on I could see the signs of the newspaper business. I’m not sure there’s anything I’ve ever loved more than being a newspaper reporter. To me I thought that was the ultimate in life! If my dreams had come true in my 20s I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. I wouldn’t have a job!

What newspapers did was help me prepare for radio. I never looked at radio as work. To me it was something kind of fun to do. I still don’t think of myself as a television person. That is really a foreign animal. I feel like I’m still somewhat awkward on television but maybe that’s just who I am. 

Matt: I think you come across as very genuine on TV and that you are being yourself. 

Paul: I think it comes from age, too. I was always tilting at windmills early on. I’m not alone in this. I was at an ESPN Meeting a couple of years ago and a guy said, “When you give that opinion on the Kentucky-Vanderbilt game you gotta really sell it!” It’s hard for me to believe that someone really cares what I think about that game. 

When you’re talking about an important subject—I get it.  Listen, I admire Stephen A. Smith. We have become very good friends. I had dinner with him last year and I think he’s calmer on television than he is at dinner. I’m not like that. I learn from others more than myself sometimes. Now he’s entertaining. I could listen to Stephen A. Smith read the Manhattan phone book. He would make it interesting. The people that bug me are the people who aren’t remotely interesting but pontificate and think that everyone really cares what they think. 

As opposed to being the guy behind the camera talking to the person at home, I picture myself more as the person driving the car or watching on television and how do they feel about an issue and they don’t want to get talked down to. I watch a lot of politics—that’s one of my hobbies. The second that Wolf Blitzer says “we have a Republican and Democratic congressman to talk about the new health care bill” and they start just lying and making stuff up–I quit listening. I don’t want to hear that conversation. I want honesty vs. party-line. It sounds self-serving but I really do care what the person is consuming and when we waste their time with the company line, it offends me!

Matt: Now that you’ve signed your new deal with ESPN(three years) what that you haven’t done yet at ESPN would you like to do over the next three years? 

Paul:  Hmm…sounds like the conversation over the past two years (laugh). I want to keep doing different things. This year for football season I’ll go to Bristol for Sunday Mornings and I’ll be in New York for Wednesday morning “Get Up!” and “First Take.” For me that’s a new element. It’s a different feel to actually be there. I did 25-minutes of “First Take” this morning from a bureau where I couldn’t see anything. It’s like driving at night with your headlights off. 

I’d like to continue to expand interviewing people from different walks of life or sports. I love to interview. (Former SEC Commissioner) Mike Slive heard me with one of my callers—Phyllis or Tammy—and he called me and he said “Do you have to do that? Can’t you just do a show more like NPR?” I said, “Yeah I’d love to do that, Mike, but I’d like to also make a living!”

If you asked me the perfect job, it would be doing probably what Larry King was doing on radio 25-30 years ago. Bring in a guest, take some calls. I love to interview people. I used to be somewhat cynical about Larry King. It almost felt like he barely knew what the guest’s name was let alone what they had done. Whether it was Paul McCartney or Paul Ryan. But I was on his show one night 12 years ago and I found out how good he was. He is so inquisitive. He wanted to know everything.

That’s what I like to do. I really love to talk to people. I will try to keep expanding that. I talked to (Apple CEO) Tim Cook, John Grisham, and Billy Payne (Augusta National). I love doing that but it’s also difficult to do that with everything else. If there is another job I’d really love, other than the one I’m doing, is as a correspondent for 60 Minutes.  I’m sure those jobs are easy to come by (laugh). 

BSM Writers

Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call

“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”

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I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.

The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.

OKC Radio Host Sam Mayes Fired After Racist Audio is Leaked

Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.

Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.

We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.

I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.

You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.

People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.

How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.

All About the Lucky Star Casino in El Reno, Concho
Courtesy: TripAdvisor/Adam Knapp

Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.

If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.

In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.

Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.

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What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.

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BSM Writers

Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!

“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”

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Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?

Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.

To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:

#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?

#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?

#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?

If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!

Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.

Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:

#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.

#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.

#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.

#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.

#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.

Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!

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BSM Writers

Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas

“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”

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Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?

Chevy Chase, aka Clark Griswold, to light up stage in Berks | Berks  Regional News | wfmz.com
Courtesy: Warner Bros./National Lampoon

Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!

One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.

Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.

There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.

Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.

I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.

Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.

It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?

25 Best Christmas Inflatables - Top Inflatable Christmas Decorations

Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.

If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.

Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.

A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.

“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.

We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.

Kevin Anderson on Twitter: "Just noticed that I've been blocked by the  international civil aviation authority @icao Have others working on  aviation emissions also been blocked? Appears to be that their commitment

As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.

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