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Talking Through Tragedy With Will Palaszczuk

Tyler McComas

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May 20, 2013. 

A day I’ll never forget.

I had been in the radio business a little over two years. Just 23 years old, my main duties included producing various shows throughout the day, setting up live remotes and doing color commentary for high school football games. This particular day, I was headed to set up a remote for the afternoon show that began at 2:00. I was to arrive at Norris Marine at 1:30, a boat store in my home of Norman, located less than three miles away from the city of Moore, Okla. 

Spring days in Oklahoma typically mean warm, muggy days with the chance of thunderstorms. Living in this state, you accept the fact that severe weather is routinely going to be a part of your daily life. That’s just how it is. As Will Rogers, a famous columnist, radio personality and actor, amongst other things, once put it, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it’ll change.”

Image result for will rogers

A quote all Oklahomans know by heart became a stunning reality on May 20th. 

The potential for severe weather was high that day, but it didn’t seem that way, as I drove across town under bright, sunny skies and warm weather. Though two lives were claimed the day before due to tornadoes, the early afternoon hours were nearly picturesque and gave a snapshot of an ideal spring day. 

At 2:30, the show was off and running after two opening segments. As usual, I was still on-site at the remote, just in case the connection went bad and kicked the show off the air. By then, nobody could turn their attention away from the skies that had went from sunny to dark and ominous in a matter of a few minutes. Seemingly, out of nowhere, the risk of a severe tornado was suddenly imminent as a nearby TV filled live shots of the storm located just a few miles away from our location. 

At 2:56, an EF-5 tornado with a width of over one mile, dropped on the ground. It raced towards Moore, a city that had been devastated by a similar tornado just 14 years prior. For 40 minutes, the deadly twister traveled 14 miles, causing billions in damage and claiming the lives of 25 people. 

By the time the storm had dissipated, two hours still remained in the show. One would probably assume the show would be cut short, however, with new affiliates just signing on, the two hosts were required to stay on the air during the entire four-hour broadcast. In one of the darkest days in the history of the state, how could one be expected to carry on with a sports radio show? How insignificant must talking about sports feel when people just lost their lives a few miles down the road?

To this day, I still admire how both of those guys, Teddy Lehman and Dusty Dvoracek, were able to handle that afternoon and finish the show. Even for the most experienced show hosts, there’s no blueprint to know how to handle a situation like that. No esteemed university, successful program director or thick textbook can teach you how to conduct a sports radio show amidst tragedy in a nearby area. 

Image result for Teddy Lehman and Dusty Dvoracek

That’s the prevailing thought I had last week, as Hurricane Florence bore down on the coastal states. Several college football games were cancelled as the incoming storm was almost sure to bring along flooding, heavy damage and loss of life. When Monday came around after the damaging weekend, what was a sports radio host in South Carolina supposed to talk about? Do you discuss the weekend of college football and NFL action, just to provide an escape for people? Do you offer updates on the aftermath of the hurricane and dedicate your entire show to it? Again, there’s no blueprint for how to handle a unique situation such as this. God willing, none of you reading this will ever have to experience it. 

But some have, including Will Palaszczuk a host on SportsTalkSC in South Carolina. Though Palaszczuk does his show in Columbia, which didn’t suffer near the damage that other surrounding coast cities did, several affiliates of the show across the state suffered heavy damage from the hurricane. 

Image result for Will Palaszczuk

Sometimes, your role as a show host in this situation is to carry on as normal. Try your best to do a normal show to serve as an escape for the listener. Other times, it’s to inform and offer condolences to the situation at hand. Maybe the best way, is to mix in both, providing the best of both worlds to the listener. Regardless, it comes down to your instinct. Trust it. Whatever feels right at that time, go with it. 

Palaszcuk doesn’t have a handbook to teach him how to handle a show during a week like this, but he’s making due and moving forward the best way he knows how. How exactly has his show handled it? He answered that question and more during a tragic time for his state of South Carolina. 

TM: Where are your affiliates at and which ones were affected the most?

WP: Our show broadcasts out of Columbia, SC, but we have affiliates in the upstate areas such as Clemson and Greenville, and other affiliates in affected areas such as Florence and Myrtle Beach. Altogether we have about 30 affiliates, all across the state. 

TM: Knowing last week that this storm was coming, and football games across the coast were being canceled, how did you guys brace for it?

WP: Our role is unique as a network sports talk show. We feel like our local affiliates are handling the micro situation as far as whats happening with local communities. We set our role as the sports talk show, we want to run a sports talk program, but we also want to be sensitive to the fact that there’s another thing going on.

We didn’t ignore the issue, but felt our role was to create a diversion. We knew there were a lot of stations that were going wall-to-wall with weather coverage, especially in the affected areas. From that standpoint, we wanted to provide what we think is our best option of programming, which is a sports talk show. We do that, but with the sensitivity that there will be certain events that are impacted by the hurricane.

We covered South Carolina’s game being cancelled, we had the athletic director on the evening it was announced. Clemson didn’t make a final call on their game until Friday, but we had their athletic director on to discuss the decision for them to decide to play. Having the relationship we do with both of those athletic departments, gave us the ability to go to them and let them voice the reasoning behind the decisions to a statewide audience. 

It’s different, having covered a lot of these on a local level, I spent a lot of time in the Midwest and as you know in Oklahoma, you cover a lot of tornadoes and things of that nature. You kind of have to go into almost a news, wall-to-wall type mode. But like I said, in this instance, our role was unique that we’re a sports talk network that provides sports to a number of affiliates. We just felt our role was to create a diversion. 

TM: Did you get a lot of positive feedback from that? 

WP: We didn’t get as many calls as we would in a normal week, just because people were so preoccupied. The one thing we did get a good response from, was the interviews with both athletic directors. We got a lot of praise in that regard. Just the fact we were able to handle it from an outreach standpoint that we were able to get both of them on.

The one thing we try to do, is take the pulse of the South Carolina people. It was hard in this state to not be cognizant and mention the storm. We couldn’t totally ignore it, but I don’t think it would have served us any good to go wall-to-wall with it. That doesn’t serve our general purpose. 

TM: What about social media? Your own, the show’s account, was that very dedicated to news stories or was it business as usual there, too? 

WP: We put out, anytime there was a cancellation, especially with our smaller schools in the state. We had a couple of those. We try to use our page as not only a news gathering situation, but also to inform and show people the content we provide. 

TM: How much did the cancellation of football games change the way you cover college football in the state? 

WP: Well, between my partner and I, one of us is usually at a South Carolina or Clemson game. We usually split that duty up. One of us is at one, the other is at the other. It just happened to work out that my partner was at Clemson and I was at home. We didn’t see it being productive for us both to go to games, in case something was to break, especially since the storm was supposed to go through Columbia that day.

If anything was to break, I was on standby in case anything happened. Fortunately, nothing did, at least in our part of the state. But there were places that did get hit hard and we acknowledged that, right off the bat, on Monday. There are some parts of the state that are still largely affected, and we’re sensitive towards that.

Image result for south carolina hurricane damage

The big story, sports wise, is how South Carolina is going to make up that game. As an impartial network, our role is to, sometimes, ask the tough questions. When we had Clemson’s athletic director on, we asked how he would respond to the people that are critical of his school still playing a football game during this time. I would think you’d probably get a fair answer, but it’s probably still open to criticism, because of the fact there were a lot of those emergency personnel that could have been used in other parts of the state.  

TM:  Maybe sometimes, we, as show hosts, can lose sight of what’s really important. Was this a good reminder for you that it’s all about serving the audience and really providing an escape for them?

WP: I do know, that at least for those two hours, it was an escape from the Weather Channel and things of that nature. When you are a producer of a consumer product, such as a sports talk show, you also, by default, are a consumer as well. You’re consuming what the masses are consuming, which is a lot of weather related news and apps. We were all in the same boat and it makes you feel very connected with the listener.

At least from our perspective, we wanted to make sure that those who wanted to come to our show for sports talk, got sports talk, but with the understanding that we were mindful with what was going on. Even though it wasn’t going on outside of our window, it was going on outside the window of several people listening to us. We continued to pump out info for how people could donate to the relief effort, the Carolina Panthers put out a t-shirt that goes straight to relief efforts, and we pumped that on Monday.

It’s something where we feel we’re the voice of the people in our state. We recognize who we are, and what our role is. In this particular situation, we believed it was to be to provide an escape. 

 

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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