“How do we get younger?” That’s the question that was posed to me earlier this month by the owner of the radio station I’m currently employed at. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized just how differently the younger end of the demographic consumes content compared to the older end. But what’s the right approach to attract young listeners and not abandoned the older crowd that’s always been loyal to your station?
For that answer, I wanted to poll one host from a small market, one from a large market and another in national radio. The more perspectives the better, right? The main idea, I believe, is that you have to put yourself where the young people are. In essence, bring your product to them so people can consume your product whenever they want.
Though that’s a great starting point, I also wanted to find even more ways to attract young listeners. What content interests them? How do they want to respond and interact with shows? How can older show hosts resonate with the younger crowd?
I do think all these questions are important and are probably being asked in various stations across the country. Good content can win out, but putting that content in the right place is probably more important than it’s ever been. Luckily, Matt Perrault of SB Nation Radio, Danny Parkins of 670 The Score in Chicago and Heath Cline of 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC, have given us a lot more clarity in how to reach the younger demographic.
Matt Perrault – SB Nation Radio
TM: How interested are young people in sports radio?
MP: I think young people are going to be much more interested in sports talk radio because of the legalization of sports gambling. I think the way that stations and networks are going to reach a young demographic is by being able to talk about sports gambling in a way that’s not in the weeds, but that appeals to a younger audience. I’ve seen this from my two younger brothers, who are both under the age of 26. They both love sports, but they love their own bets even more.
I think the way we’re going to reach the younger audience is by them being inclined to listen, and even be attracted, to hosts that are going to be able to present both a topic and a proper explanation of sports gambling for what’s going on that given night. So, it can’t just be, here’s my 5 Star Play of the Week! Nobody cares about that. Young people roll their eyes at that and think it’s stupid. But they do want an educated conversation in a way that makes them say, okay, I can really trust or believe in this because I’m really enjoying the newfound ability to sports gamble.
TM: Nowadays, we can find anything we want to consume on demand. Younger people seem to really be leading the charge on that. How does that change the future in how we operate in sports radio?
MP: Why do the television networks pay big money for play-by-play broadcasts? Well, it’s because you can’t get it anywhere else. Well it’s the same thing when it comes to sports gambling, where, when a game goes off, that’s gone. That play is now gone.
So if you’re talking from 5 to 7 on afternoon drive and you’re leading up to kick off or first pitch of a game, conversations leading into the game about what may happen that night, what side you should be on and what you’re expecting to see, you can’t on demand that. You have to be listening right then and there, because your bets are placed before the game goes off. To me, that’s one way of making people listen right before the game, because that information is so crucial and vital.
Everything is on demand. Everyone binge watches or goes back and watches it later, but that’s also one way for radio, I think, to capitalize on that ‘need to be live’ moment right before a game goes off.
TM: With that being said, do you believe hosts need to be more open to talking about sports gambling on their shows?
MP: Look, I’m totally biased in this. I’m all in on it. I’ll preface my answer with saying my show is called Pushing the Odds. I work part time for The Action Network. My studio used to be at a casino, it’s now going to be at another casino coming up for football season. So, the answer is yes to me. 100 percent yes.
You better be ready, you better be able to see the shifting tides, that’s where the money is going to be coming from, nationally, regionally and locally. If you’re in New York or in New Jersey and you’re not gearing your fall shows to incorporate heavy sports gambling content, I think you’re making a massive mistake. When you look around, a lot of states are getting ready to do it. I’m not talking about a starting a podcast, I’m talking about every day being able to talk about it intelligently.
For your pregame shows, your hosts better be able to talk about what’s going on and where the number is going. Your postgame host should be able to talk about it and reference it. That doesn’t mean they have to go way in-depth, but there needs to be mention of it.
TM: So if a show makes a commitment to steer more content towards sports gambling, how do callers fit in? Do they fit in at all?
MP: I’m not the biggest caller driven radio guy anyway. I think it’s up to the host to create content that’s going to make sense to someone that’s listening on demand 4 or 5 hours after your show is over. Look, I’ve been on this for daily fantasy, I’ve been on this for season long fantasy and sports gambling, that’s your business and the audience doesn’t care. So if you say, hey, call me up and tell me what your favorite bet is today, or call me and say, hey Matt, should I be on the under tonight on the Monday Night Football Game? I mean, you can have that conversation, if it’s what you’re already talking about, but I would never say that you should never have a call to action for people to ask a sports gambling question. Unless that’s all your show is, just people calling for betting advice, otherwise no, I wouldn’t do that.
TM: Let’s say I’ve been hosting a show for 25 or 30 years and I really don’t want to turn into a dinosaur in this industry. How do you think an older show host should stick true to what got them to that point, but also adapt to things that younger listeners are interested in?
MP: I’m 41 years old and have been in talk radio since 1997. If you’re not able to change in this industry every five years, then I don’t know how you really survived anyway. You kind of have to.
If you’re someone who’s done the same show, with the same topics, I think you really have to be willing to change and adapt. This is a changing landscape and while your state or region may not be changing as fast as another one, you better see what’s coming down the pike and be able to change and adapt. You can’t just throw your hands up. It’s like the national anthem debate, you can’t just say you’re not talking about it, that doesn’t work.
You have to be willing to have a conversation and even though there’s going to be people that think sports gambling is gross, dirty or wrong, or whatnot. There’s going to be a whole generation of kids that are going to grow up, like they did with cell phones, they’re going to be used to sports gambling and they’re going to be looking for sports gambling content.
Danny Parkins – 670 The Score
TM: How interested are young people in sports radio?
DP: I think they’re interested in good content and on demand content. I don’t think that the actual delivery mechanism matters quite as much. A 21-year-old might not be listening to as much traditional AM radio, but they know how to stream live content on the Radio.com app, or get a podcast downloaded on demand for whatever it is that they want. Even if the numbers would be down demographically, which research doesn’t even necessarily say that it is, over 90 percent of people still listen to radio.
I do think there are still plenty of people that are still listening to radio, it’s just, AM sports radio, is that trend young? Obviously not, but good content in an on demand way I think is still very appealing to young people.
TM: How much should you alter your station’s identity, if at all, to curb things toward a young demographic?
DP: Well, I don’t run a station so I don’t know if that’s really for me to say. I think that, sometimes, people really overcomplicate this. The numbers for shows that I have been a part of, dating back to my time in Kansas City, when I’ve been able to study the market trends and the ratings, skew better with young people. The young audience goes up. I don’t think it’s because I have some sort of magical gift to speak to young people, I think it’s because I am a young person.
In Chicago, as an example, the ’85 Bears are beloved in this town, but I was born in 1986. So, I don’t have the same reverence for them as others. I respect them, and I’ve learned a lot about them, but when I speak about the Bears, I speak from the standpoint that I’ve seen one Super Bowl appearance in my life and for the vast majority of my life, they’ve been one of the worst organizations in the NFL. So where I make a reference to the Bears and their futility, I’m coming at it from my perspective. Or if I’m referencing Game of Thrones, like something that is a current trend, and an older person references movies from the 70’s or 80, some of which I really like as well, but the references are more updated and the sports opinions are more current.
So if you’re listening on radio or podcast or whatever, you have the ability to say, oh, this person is coming at it from a similar standpoint as I am. I can relate to that person, therefore I will listen to that person.
TM: Not to take a shot at anyone at 65 years old and in the host seat, but can you have older hosts at a station and still appeal to a younger audience?
DP: I mean I hope so. My current co-host is in his mid-50’s and we’re building a show. The target demo is 25-54, that’s what we sell to advertisers. I look at it being a real strength. If he appeals to the older end of the demo and I appeal to the younger end of the demo, and we can have a blend, whether it be father and son, drunk uncle and drunk nephew, like, I can mock him for being a dinosaur and he can mock me for being a millennial, that dynamic plays out across generations and hopefully we can appeal to a wide range of people.
TM: In terms of outside the box content ideas to appeal to a younger demographic, do you feel topics that are both current and non-sports related can attract that demo more?
DP: Yeah, but I think that appeals to the older demographic, too. I really just think it’s all about good content. I absolutely think that if I’m doing a five-hour a day show on a sports station, they’re coming to us for sports but hopefully they’re really coming to us to be entertained. Whether we’re talking about fishing, movies, golf, Game of Thrones, video games or the Bears, hopefully we’re doing it in an appealing way so that people of all ages can relate to it in some way.
I don’t wake up every day and think about ways to get young people, maybe that’s because I am a young person, but my references, my speech patterns, my slang, what I do on the weekends, I don’t have kids, I wear t-shirts to work every day, I’m always on Twitter, all of those things paint the picture of a young person and then hopefully that relates to young people.
Heath Cline – 107.5 The Game
TM: How interested are young people in sports radio?
HC: Yeah, in my experience I think they really are. Now, I think we have to understand that how they might be interested in sports radio may not be the same way that the 45 or 50 year old got interested. Let’s put it this way: I don’t get nearly as many calls. When we do calls, I don’t get near as many of them from younger people as I do from folks that are up in the demographic.
On the other hand, if we’re out on a remote, I’m as likely or maybe even more likely to see the younger side of the demo showing up than the older, who has a couple of kids and a wife at home he has to deal with. I think younger people are more interested in participating and potentially feeling like they’re involved in some way like the station is a club.
You look at things like the Wing Bowl in Philadelphia. That’s not because people find eating wings so fascinating to come out and watch. It’s because it’s an event that the people of Philly feel like they’re involved in. I think that part does translate. I think the part about staying on hold for 28 minutes to say ‘fire the coach,’ I’m not sure that’s where the young people want to be.
TM: Do you feel it’s true that younger people are more interested in listening via their phone or computer compared to an actual radio?
HC: Everything you read is that the younger generation is much more likely to be into the podcast and that aspect of it. When it comes to social media interaction, certainly it’s not all young people, but if someone is going to send me a tweet during the show, I’d guess it would be a person under 34 opposed to someone who’s over that age.
There’s so many people now that don’t call anyone, much less a radio show. How many people just don’t call anybody? All they do is text. That’s how they’re going to choose to interact with you. You need to be able to handle that. If you want to meet them on their terms, you probably need to have a plan to do so.
TM: Do you think social media interaction will end up becoming the replacement for phone calls in sports radio?
HC: In a lot of ways, I think we’re kind of already there. Most stations are really going to the way of text lines. One of the other things that’s tricky, and this isn’t the case in every market, but if you’re in a market like mine where you have a major university, we have a lot more younger listeners that may not show up in the ratings, because they’re not sending the diaries to fraternity houses or dorms or temporary apartments that people are always in and out of.
We know these people are there, because we do an event and see the participation level. Our numbers are pretty good, but if there was ever some genuinely accurate way to measure younger demos in places that are more likely to be transient than to be someone who’s going to be at the same place for 5 or 10 years at a time, I think we’d have a better feel for ratings on them. But, they’re there and the value for them supporting sponsors, the value of them turning up at your station’s events are huge. You can’t ignore that, even though it’s not always going to show up in the book.
To me, being authentic is more important than this idea of, well, I hear the millennials are into this, this and this, so we better pretend we’re into it too. Ideally, I do think you need to have some people on your station that are younger and have that viewpoint. What you can’t do, is put a 28-year-old on the air that doesn’t necessarily have a background in our area and doesn’t understand everything about the market.
One of the biggest sins of younger hosts, is that you have to prove yourself right on everything. You’re wanting to come off as smart, but in retrospect you realize you’re coming off as just way too arrogant. You have to make sure that if put young people on the air, they don’t come off of as condescending dickheads to the people who are still a core of the audience.
Young, sure, if you can find the right young talent, go for it. But just putting young people on the air without making sure they know how to handle the older people in the demo can be a mistake.
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.