Arnie Spanier walked into a gymnasium where his little brother was playing a high school basketball game. He had just quit his job at an advertising firm in Los Angeles, where he was employed for one year and a day. The firm wanted Spanier to be a full-time employee, but there was just something about the 8-5 lifestyle that turned him off. He declined and walked into the gymnasium that night, jobless, in his 20’s and still not far removed from college.
The game that night was to be broadcasted on a local cable channel. However, the two guys doing the game never showed. In a mad panic, it sent the TV station into a frenzy trying to find someone who could broadcast that night’s basketball game. Spanier calmly walked up and offered his services. Sure, he was wearing sweat pants, but he knew his brother’s team really well. The only issue, besides the sweat pants, is that he didn’t know the other team at all. With no previous experience in the broadcast world, Spanier called the game that night on TV. The bug started at the most unusual place and time of his life. Afterwards, he knew he needed to try to find a way on the radio.
When Spanier arrived at The University of Arizona, pursuing sports radio as a career was the furthest thing from his mind. The format was still in its very early stages and not nearly as prevalent as it would be a few years later. With little experience and no tape to show program directors, Spanier was literally starting from the bottom in his pursuit of a career he had just recently become interested in.
One station Spanier was aware of, was the Sports Entertainment Network in Las Vegas. He listened to one of the shows on the network and thought he could do just as good of a job as the host he was listening to. So, Spanier headed to Vegas to try his luck on getting a shot with the station. Upon meeting with one of the big decision makers, Spanier expressed his desire to do some fill-in work. The man asked the question that anyone else in charge of a big station would ask, “How much experience do you have?” Unfortunately, Spanier had nothing to offer on that front and was honest about it.
“Get the hell outta here! Go work some place like Little Rock for a couple of years and then give me a call,” was the response Spanier heard. But instead of walking out the door and dealing with striking out, Spanier asked the guy to reconsider. Finally, he was told to call back in a couple of months to see what the station had. He loaded up and drove back home both hopeful and excited.
All throughout that summer, Spanier’s calls to the station went unreturned. Living in his parents’ house didn’t make the waiting any easier, but he had to, seeing as he had no money at the time. Finally, out of the blue, he got a call from the network and asked if he still wanted to do some shifts. Without hesitation, Spanier said yes. He was instructed to do the midnight to 6 a.m. shift on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Probably the four-worst shifts he could have been asked to do, but he didn’t care, his opportunity had finally arrived.
More than anything, Spanier was excited he’d have some tape to show other stations that were potentially hiring. He didn’t know what to expect, only that he would be leaving with cassette tapes in hand to mail across the country. When he walked into the studio, he had no idea what he was doing. Much like his career, his knowledge of a working radio studio was starting at the bottom.
Regardless, Spanier made it work and did all four shifts he was asked to do. In his mind, it went well, so he approached the boss on the following Monday morning to thank him for the opportunity. But as he walked to his office, all he heard was yelling and a lot of four-letter words. Two men came storming out and left. Spanier casually walked in and was told, “Who are you?!” “Woah, woah,’ Spanier said, “My name is Arnie and I just want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to let me host the four shows over the holidays.”
The response that Spanier got was one he’ll never forget.
“If you want to thank me, you can start today from noon to 3 p.m.”
Just like that, not only did Spanier have his first job in radio, he was now hosting a national show. Talk about fortunate. For a week he did the noon to 3 shift. After that, he was in drive time from 3 to 6 p.m. The soon to be ‘Stinkin’ Genius’ was just getting started
Along with a ton of excitement, stops in several markets across the country would follow in Spanier’s career, such as Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix. Spanier and his wife Beth even appeared in an episode of The Newlywed Game. Today, you can hear him every weekday on 101.3 The Game in Burlington, Vermont from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. along with Rich Haskell and Brady Farkas. Spanier is also still doing national radio. You can hear him every Sunday night on Fox Sports Radio alongside Chris Plank.
TM: You’re talking every day with your co-hosts on the show in Burlington. Mostly, face to face, I’m sure. But what about your Fox Sports Radio show on Sunday night? You’re in Vermont and Chris Plank is in Oklahoma. Have you ever seen each other in person?
AS: We’ve never seen each other face to face in the 5 or 6 years we’ve been doing a show together. We’ve only spoken on the phone, like, less than a half dozen times. It’s around once a year, we’ll call each other maybe for the holidays or something. But we do text each other a bunch during the week. If there’s something I see that we can use for our show, or even his local show, I send it.
TM: What are the challenges of doing a national show, compared to a local show? Is it harder?
AS: I don’t think it’s harder. It’s different in a few ways, you’ve got to figure out the main topics and which games are the most relevant to talk about. Like on Sunday, you had the Saints playing the Rams, you had the Packers and Patriots, so you concentrate on those games.
You really don’t know what’s going to happen or take off nationally. I like both of them, because I’ve done a lot of local radio and I’ve done a lot of national. But I don’t find national any harder, you just have to keep up with things a little more. The only thing that may be tougher is college basketball. Even though you’re not going to talk about the smaller teams or even breakdown the games, keeping up with everything going on makes it tougher.
TM: In that sense, is there any way that doing a national show makes you better as a host? Just because you have to broaden your horizons and talk more than just what’s local?
AS: I think both ways. I think the fact that I’m up in Vermont and a small market for the first time in my life, we do a lot of Patriots and a lot of Giants. The stuff I talk about locally, I can definitely bring over to my national show, because we breakdown the Pats like no other. Then, I can bring stuff from my national show and let them know what the rest of the world is thinking about the Patriots, Giants, Knicks and the rest of the area teams. I think it’s not just one way or the other, the local show helps the national show and the national helps the local.
TM: Where did your nickname ‘Stinkin’ Genius’ originate from?
AS: Nebraska was playing Arizona State and they absolutely crushed them. Nebraska absolutely crushed them. If I remember correctly, gosh, it’s been so long, Nebraska scored on a late touchdown and I think they won 77-28. Immediately, I said, “Ohhh, you’re going to pay for that, big boy! Running up the score! I said, you watch and see if Arizona State doesn’t sit on this one for a year and circle this one on the calendar! I wouldn’t be surprised if they shut them out!”
The next year, Arizona State shutout Nebraska 19-0 and I think it was the biggest prediction. Nebraska hadn’t been shutout in a long time. So, some people said, wow, you’re just like a stinkin’ genius! That kind of stuck and it’s been going on for several years.
TM: As fun and cool as it is to have that nickname, how much has it helped people identify you?
AS: I think it’s definitely helped, especially early in my career. But I think other things also, just little things like the way I give out the phone number, or my style, just other things. But yeah, Stinkin’ Genius, that really helped people identify me early in my career.
TM: Even though you mentioned that you really didn’t know what you were doing in the beginning stages of your career, was there something inside of you that thought you were pretty good?
AS: Yeah, of course in my mind. We were told to take a lot of phone calls, so I would churn out like 50 calls an hour. After 6 hours that would definitely take a toll on you, but that’s what they wanted back then.
We used to get a lot of calls and have a lot of fun. I was like, damn, this is working out good. We have a good show with a lot of calls, the boss even likes me, I’m actually getting paid, living in Las Vegas, I got a mustache and a ponytail, what more could I want?
TM: You’ve done shows all over the country, but can you say that you enjoyed one market over any other?
AS: I would say Phoenix. I went to U of A so being in Phoenix was unbelievable. There was a lot of ASU and U of A, the Suns were good at the time, and I got to bring the morning show from the network along with me. I got John Cannon hired, and another guy hired, it was like my own station. We just completely captured the city and had big turnouts all over the place. Remember, I worked in some good markets. Dallas, Atlanta, but I would say Phoenix was the most influential one.
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.