I recently had the opportunity to talk to David Smoak of ESPN Central Texas for nearly 30 minutes. There’s something he said that I can’t get off my mind.
“I’ve never thought your market size should dictate how well you cover something. I refuse to do that. At times, management has to reign me in and say we can’t do it, but I’m sure as hell going to try.”
Maybe he learned that life lesson from his father, a US Naval Academy Graduate. Or maybe he just learned it through all the ups and downs of his many years in the business. Regardless, it’s what always has kept Smoak on top of his game and into one of the best broadcasters in the state of Texas
Smoak traveled all over the world as a kid. That’s the lifestyle when you have a father in the military. Regardless of where the family made its home, David would sit at a desk night after night and pretend to call games.
He looked up to Howard Cosell, Jim McKay and Keith Jackson, as he was often more interested in who was calling the game than the game itself. His parents thought it was cool he had taken such interest in a hobby.
Smoak thought it was all a pipe dream, something that would never come to fruition. His passion, however, continued all the way to his high school and college years. While his friends were out partying, Smoak was inside his dorm room calling games.
Three-ring binders and notebooks were filled with box scores and anything else he could use to set the scene for a game. He knew what he wanted to do and that was cover sports. After graduating from Stephen F. Austin State University he immediately got the chance.
Start of a Career
Smoak’s first job came on November of 1981. Fresh out of college, he was immediately on the air and covering football. Until 1989, he would excel on the television side as a sports broadcaster in the small market he was in.
At the time, sports talk opportunities on the radio were hard to come by and had little existence. However, Smoak had a friend in TV that told him about a new sports talk station that had just opened up in Tyler, Texas. The friend urged him to inquire about a host position with the company. Smoak thought long and hard about moving from TV to radio and the risks that could come along with it. He also considered the fact he felt he had hit his peak at the position he was currently in. Finally, even though he knew very little about how to run a radio show, Smoak took a chance and started a show at KTBB.
If asked, he’ll tell you he had no idea what he was doing at first. But before he started he visited with Norm Hitzges and Randy Galloway, two prominent Dallas radio hosts at the time, to get a better feel of how things should operate. That willingness to go the extra mile and seek help, would be one of many reasons the show would become a huge success. In the year 1990, the show was off and running and on the airwaves. Smoak’s goal for the show was simple: Don’t let anyone drive down Interstate 20 and think they were listening to a small-time local radio show.
He busted his ass to get big guests on the show and pump out quality content. Soon after the start of the show, Smoak created some segments that started to generate buzz in the city.
His first stroke of luck came in the same year, when the Dallas Cowboys started to resurface. The franchise was filled with controversy after Jerry Jones had recently purchased the team. Everyone was still upset about the firing of Tom Landry and unsure of where the team was headed.
Smoak saw an opportunity to cover the team extensively. From training camp to games, to everything else in-between, Smoak was everywhere covering the Cowboys. In a town that had never any sort of resemblance of a sports talk radio show, Tyler, Texas was now home to one of the best shows in the state.
For 19 years until 2009, the show continued to grow in popularity. But as life sometimes happens, Smoak ran into a personal situation in the summer of 2009 that found him off the air and out of sports radio. For the first time in over 28 years, he was out of the sports media business.
A New Beginning
You don’t realize how much you enjoy hosting a radio show until it’s taken away from you.
Smoak was out of the business for around six months before he got a break. ESPN Dallas called and asked him to start doing shifts on the weekends. Sure, it wasn’t the daily show he did for 19 years, but it was an opportunity to get back into the business in one of the best markets in the country. For a month, Smoak busted his ass to do the best job possible. After a month, the owner from an ESPN station in Waco called. To this day, Smoak isn’t sure who recommended him, but in June of 2010, he was back doing a daily show at ESPN Central Texas.
Like the Cowboys in the early 90’s, Smoak’s second stroke of luck came when he arrived to cover the Baylor football program. A perennial cellar dweller in the Big 12 and without a bowl berth in over 15 years, the Bears now had an offense that was high-flying and scoring points.
“I was here in 2010 when they clinched a bowl berth against Kansas State,” said Smoak. “Everyone rushed the field. I was like, what in the hell are they doing? But it hadn’t happened in so long, everyone was just so excited. It was amazing. I was very lucky.”
Of course, that was only the start for Baylor, as back-to-back conference championships followed, along with berths in both the Fiesta and Peach bowl, a height most thought was impossible. During that time, Smoak doubled down on everything Baylor football. There was a commitment to attending every event and providing the best content possible. Sales and revenue ideas also were coming along great, as the glory years of doing a sports radio show in Waco had arrived.
The first bowl berth in 2010, the station had just two people in Houston for the game. But the time Baylor was playing UCF in the Fiesta Bowl during the 2013 season, the station had four people in Phoenix for a week. Baylor football was a big time story and ESPN Central Texas was cashing in.
The Dark Years
You’d never wish what happened next on your biggest competitor. Just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any better for Baylor football. Just when a national title was thrown around as a realistic possibility for the program, it all came crashing down at a moment’s notice. Unspeakable acts were reportedly done by several football players at Baylor, casting a dark cloud over the program and bringing a halt to the wild success of the program. Instead of being looked at as one of college football’s best turnaround, it was now looked at as a despicable program that let terrible things happen.
“I lost sleep in 2015 and 2016,” said Smoak. “There were times were I was like, what the hell? What is going on?’ It’s really strange. There were times where I really, really struggled those years. Every day we woke up and seemed like there was something new. I lost sleep over like ‘my God, what’s next?’
Smoak never lost sleep wondering if Baylor was going to beat Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl or OU in Norman. But this affected him. Instead of covering a football team, his daily show had turned into a constant discussion about the terrible crimes committed by the football program.
“2016 was the dark year, because that’s when all hell broke loose,” said Smoak. “That was the Pepper Hamilton report, the coaching firing of Art Briles and all the other stories that came out. Our listenership went up. There’s no doubt that our online listenership, which they don’t use on Arbitron, was massive. I mean silly numbers.
“When the 2017 season started and they lost to Liberty, I realized that even though they lost the game and were staring at not winning one all year, that never affected. It got to the point where I didn’t even know who they were playing, because the story was so much about the program trying to overcome whatever actually happened.”
Though Smoak admits he’s just now getting over what happened and able to enjoy covering Baylor football again, but that is a period of his career he’ll never forget. Covering a story of that nature, especially for such a long time period, is something you’re never fully prepared to do. But Smoak stuck to his morals and what he believed was right. That’s what guided him through, quite possibly, the darkest time of his career.
Baylor football is back on its feet after becoming bowl eligible this year. Some of the wounds are still fresh to many people, but head coach Matt Rhule has done his best to try and move the program forward.
“Obviously, we’re there and doing our job whether they’re 11-1 or 1-11,” said Smoak. “But all of us would be lying if we said it wasn’t easier to cover a team that’s had success. It makes a huge difference. For example, the first time Baylor went to a bowl game they went to the Texas Bowl and we probably had two people there. When they went to the Fiesta Bowl against UCF we had four people there for a week. Winning can absolutely dictate the coverage.
“Last year wasn’t hard because they were 1-11. Our coverage doesn’t change because they only win one game. I refuse to do that. But the last 2 to 3 years? I’ve been in the business since 1981, but I lost sleep in 2015 and 2016. There were some things that I took personally because I was just so blown away by some of the stories.”
God willing, Smoak will never have to endure covering a story of that nature again. But moving forward is what’s best for both he and the station. That’s what both are attempting to do.
“We cover high school football and I feel like we do it better than any station in America,” said Smoak. “I feel like it helped us, being able to focus on that and not just the bad things happening at Baylor.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!
“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”
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!
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.”
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?
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?
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.
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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