Last week, my colleague Matt Fishman wrote an excellent piece about the way sound is used on a sports radio station. We may not agree on every point, but Fish couldn’t be more right about the lack of attention being paid to the overall sound profile of radio shows these days.
I want to particularly key in on the bumper music. I have been listening to a lot of different shows from a lot of different stations and networks around the country and very rarely do any of them surprise me with the music they use to bump to and from break. I’m not going to sports radio to discover a new favorite song, but in some cases, the music has become so predictable that if I am listening to the same show on Monday at 2:35 pm that I was listening to last Monday at 2:35 pm, I can tell you that they are going to bump back with AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”
Matt Fishman wrote that he wants to hear shows coming back from break with more than just music, and he certainly doesn’t want to hear lyrics. I won’t go that far. I have written before that I think the soundtrack of a radio show is very important for making a connection with your listeners, and to me that means using recognizable versions of recognizable songs is always preferable.
Never changing up your music takes away the ability for music to create any kind of content for you. There is no reason for a host to ask a producer what he is listening to coming back from break. If you aren’t freshening up the bump music, you know what you’re listening to and your listeners know you know what you’re listening to.
It’s not just on air either. Plenty of shows post their daily playlist on Twitter. Some go a step further and turn it into a Spotify playlist. There’s no need to do that if you’re playing the same music everyday.
There is also no need to do anything like that if you are using generic bed music to bump in and out of breaks. It sounds so bad. It doesn’t cost you anything to come back from break with Drake’s hit “In My Feelings.” Why wouldn’t you use that instead of some generic sounding 60 second riff that was recorded to use on a car wash commercial? Honestly, when I am monitoring shows for Barrett, the sound of music I recognize is a signal that the show is back and it’s time to start paying attention again.
When I say freshen up your bump music, I don’t just mean use different songs songs in different time slots everyday. I also mean update what you use. Look, I love Pearl Jam, but I never need to hear the Ten album again in my life. Chances are, you have plenty of listeners that feel that way about “Welcome to the Jungle” or “When I Come Around” or any other jock rock from the 80s and 90s.
Chances are you have plenty of others to whom that stuff sounds ancient. Remember, if your target demo is men 25-54, there are plenty of guys in your audience that were born after Kurt Cobain died and even more born after the Berlin Wall came down. To put that in perspective, the Berlin Wall fell five years after U2 released The Unforgettable Fire. So if you’re bumping back with “Pride (in the Name of Love),” it’s a safe bet that more than a few of your listeners are rolling their eyes.
Mix in some new titles and some different genres. When I was on ESPN Columbia, I had a producer named Josh Ivey, who also worked on our Urban station. I asked him to start bringing in beds, because even though I went outside of the normal sports radio bed realm with a lot of Drive-By Truckers and Steve Earl, I knew my listeners were probably alt-countryed out.
The result was that our listeners really didn’t know what they were going to hear next, and I got some new favorite artists out of it, so I did the same when I moved to SB Nation Radio. My producer there was Tom Okkema.
Tom, as his face might suggest, loved jam bands. I hate them. It created some great content when I would make him explain to me why we were listening to this garbage. It also generated great listener interaction on text and Twitter. People have very strong opinions on the String Cheese Incident!
The other thing I wrote about music mattering in that column from a year ago was that music can set the tone for your show. If your beds are preloaded from weeks or months ago, it keeps a producer from having to think about how a particular show flows or the mood of that day’s broadcast. In other words, whether you realize it or not, it gives a producer a license to be lazy.
Look, I’ve been a producer. I am not arguing that you need more on your plate. There is nothing wrong with using the same bump music for a year or so, but give yourself a lot of options.
When I was producing for Mike Maniscalco and Lauren Brownlow at Buzz Sports Radio in Raleigh, we did a four hour show that took three commercial breaks per hour. That means I had 12 total slots to put in bump music. I had a library of about 80 beds. I didn’t use them on a schedule. I just put them in to match the mood of what we were doing and what I wanted to hear.
Consider this a sequel to the article I wrote last September. If the moral of that story was that your music matters because putting some extra care into such a small detail can enhance your show, the moral of this story is that your music matters because never paying attention to that same small detail can make your show boring.
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.