Surely you’ve heard The Steve Miller Band’s song ‘Rock’n Me,’ right? You know, the one that goes, “I went from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.” If that doesn’t ring a bell I’ll have to seriously question your knowledge of music.
Jim Graci, the program director at 1020 KDKA and 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, used to jokingly tell people that song was about his resume. If you didn’t know any better, you could see how it might be true, seeing as Graci’s radio career has taken him to just about every corner in the country, including the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Deep South and now the Northeast. In reality, as many different cities are named in ‘Rock’n Me’ it’s pale in comparison to how many markets Graci has actually worked in.
In two weeks, Graci will be one of the many talented industry professionals at the BSM Summit in Los Angeles. Along with others, he’ll be featured on the Evaluating Content and Talent panel. I can’t tell you how excited I am for this portion of the conference. The opportunity to learn from someone who’s been in the business since 1974 and developed talent in markets such as Dallas, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and others is a unique opportunity. Plus, I wouldn’t even mind hearing about his experiences as a public address announcer for both the Atlanta Hawks and Seattle Supersonics.
Graci first dipped his toe into the sports radio industry at 16 years old. Since then, he’s gained a wealth of knowledge and experience that has turned him into one of the most well-known and respected program directors in the country. With the unique duty of being a PD at both a news talk and sports talk station, Graci has to equally balance time between both stations to make sure each is successful. Obviously, that’s easier said than done.
Being a PD at two different stations probably means long days, constant coaching and countless planning and programming. It even means watching a long State of the Union address from President Trump, as Graci did on Tuesday night, seeing as he needed to be familiar with the speech, considering his daily programming duties with 1020 KDKA. But it’s still a blessing way more than it’s a curse. Graci knows this and looks forward to each task and challenge the everyday life in radio brings.
Truly, its guys like Graci who will make the BSM Summit in a success. The ideas and suggestions that will come out of the summit will be invaluable to every host, producer, program director, etc. in attendance. But Graci isn’t coming to Los Angeles just to help out all his other comrades in the industry. He’s eager to learn, too. We talked about the BSM Summit and much more.
TM: What do you look for when someone sends you their demo?
JG: First of all, personality. Whether they sound confident, whether they’re a good story teller, whether they’re concise, whether they catch my attention, those are just the basic things of what makes a good talk show host.
TM: Are there certain things you don’t like when someone sends you their demo?
JG: When people send demos, they should send their demos with them right up top. They should lead off with their best foot forward, they should give us their A-game in the first 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Sometimes, people will wait 2, 3, 4 minutes into the demo until stuff starts hitting, whereas you’re never guaranteed that a program director is going to listen past the first 30 seconds. If you only get 30 seconds of their time at the very start, don’t you want to grab them with your best material? When I would build a demo I would think about how to keep the program director listening for the next 30 seconds of my demo.
TM: Pittsburgh is always going to be a Steelers town. It’s always going to be football heavy. But the Penguins and NHL still have a big draw. Is it a requirement of a host that you hire to be able to talk hockey? Or do you think you can train a skilled talk show host that’s maybe lacking on that side of their sports knowledge?
JG: Well, I think you need to know what’s going on in your town. Certainly, hockey is important in Pittsburgh, as well as a lot of other northeastern cities such as Buffalo, Boston, Toronto, I can think of a lot of other cities where hockey is a relevant conversation during its season. But hey, if it were an NBA town, I’d expect them to know NBA.
If I was in Seattle or Atlanta I’d expect a host to be able to know about soccer. You have to know what your town’s fans are really enjoy to be able to relate and talk about it. So yeah, hockey is important in Pittsburgh, so sure I would expect anyone coming in here to know what they’re talking about with the sport, along with the Penguins.
TM: You’re a PD of both Newsradio 1020 KDKA and 93.7 The Fan. Which station takes up more of your time and is it difficult to juggle both a news and sports talk format?
JG: Well, its talk so we’re all trying to relate in spoken word format, so there’s that similarity. It’s easier to be able to coach in that regard, because you’re approaching the same dynamic, whereas, if I was doing news talk or if I was doing a music station, I would coach the disc jockeys a little more differently than I would the talk hosts. But which one takes up more time?
That’s almost like asking which of my children I like best or which finger I would keep over the other, I can’t make those choices because I go by the day and coach by need, listen to both and try to spend as equal time as possible on each.
I’m blessed because I have two stations that are live and local from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. 7 days a week. That’s a lot of local programming, so for me, it’s a constant level of trying to relate to our talent on both the news and sports side. Which, both are very vibrant in Pittsburgh.
TM: Is there a particular name or set of names you’re looking forward to hearing from at the BSM Summit?
JG: I’ve been in this business so long, it’s hard to name just one. Really, I’m just excited to see everyone there. I am really excited though to meet some people I’ve never met before. Those are the fresh perspectives that I want to hear.
TM: What do you hope to get out of the BSM Summit in Los Angeles?
JG: I love sharing ideas. I love talking to my contemporaries and comrades. I love everything about the business of radio and everything that goes into what we do and how we do it. To talk to and see a bunch of my old friends, as well as talk to a bunch of people about how we can all make our radio stations better, because let’s face it, our industry, when we’re compelling, people will turn to us.
When there’s something that’s going on, people want to know and they’ll turn to us. To be the best we can be, is what we all strive for. The only way to be better than what you are today, is to use your mind with fresh ideas. That’s why I love going to sports radio conferences like this one, because I just love to remind myself of the basics, the blocking and tackling, but also what trick plays I can use down the road.
TM: How would you describe yourself as a PD?
JG: I try to be honest with whatever feelings I have with anybody. If it’s my opinion and how I feel, I’m going to tell you. But at the same time, I’m going to try to be sympathetic to delivering news that you don’t want to hear, but I think it’s beneficial to know what you’re dealing with. It’s my job to help talent be better and identify what kind of road blocks I can get out of their way to perform better. I look at constructive criticism as a way to remove intimidates rather than something that’s hard to do.
You still have to talk to people about accenting their strengths and showcasing what they do right as well as what they do wrong. I try to balance that out to help people be better at what they do. I would hope my bosses would do the same for me, point out my flaws that I need to work on and improve to be a better person and performer.
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.