Summer is very much here. My article this week isn’t going to cast a wide net, but I hope that the people in the very specific situation I am going to write about will appreciate that someone is taking the time to discuss this issue and take it seriously.
There are a lot of sports talk hosts that work in a market with a minor league baseball or hockey team or maybe a G-League basketball team. If you’re lucky, the extent of your on-air relationship with that team is they advertise on your station and you give some tickets away for games. Maybe you show up at the park or the arena once a month to host a station sponsored night at the game.
Sometimes though, those teams want a little more out of your station, particularly if you are the team’s broadcast partner. That can result in the awkward situation of having to have a player or manager from the team on with some regularity.
I had to deal with this when I was a part of the morning show at Buzz Sports Radio in Raleigh, NC. The station was owned by Capitol Broadcasting, the same company that owned the Durham Bulls. Part of being a good corporate citizen was having the team’s manager on once a week.
Look, the Triangle is very loyal to the Bulls. Going to the games is a summer tradition for a lot of families in the 919. On top of that, thanks to a certain romantic comedy from the 1980s, it is probably the most famous minor league team in the country. For all of the popularity though, it was tough to find people that could name more than one player on the roster, let alone find someone that cared what the Bulls’ magic number was to clinch a spot in the International League Playoffs.
Jared Sandberg was the Bulls’ manager at the time. Now he’s an assistant on Scott Servais’s Seattle Mariners staff. Jared is a nice enough guy and we didn’t want to do him a disservice, but my partners and I knew that his weekly call was an invitation for listeners to tune out if all he was going to do was talk Triple-A X’s and O’s.
It was early in the 2016 baseball season, and I don’t remember what happened, but we called Jared to record our interview for the next day. That was a necessity when dealing with a league that stretches from the Atlanta suburbs up to Rhode Island and every team is traveling by bus. I don’t remember what happened the night before, but Mike Maniscalco brought it up before we even started recording. We were just making small talk and Jared was fired up and cussing about a blown call.
A little light bulb went off. If we have to do this, this is how we should be doing it. A couple of weeks went by and we would have Jared comment on what was happening in Major League Baseball and then let him hit a few talking points about the Bulls to close out the interview. It was fine, but Raleigh and Durham aren’t Major League Baseball markets. The interest in a segment built on Major League Baseball talk is minimal.
Then we got a gift from Heaven above. It was the week of the Bulls’ annual Star Wars night. Now, if you read my columns a lot, you probably know that I LOVE Star Wars!
I casually asked Jared who his favorite Star Wars character was. He said he didn’t know. I pressed him. “Come on man. Is it Luke? It’s not lame to say Luke.”
His response was something I was not ready for. Jared Sandberg had never seen any of the Star Wars movies. Not a single frame of a single film. I spent the next four minutes yelling at him about the Jedi and the Rebel Alliance and the forces of good and evil pulling at Anakin Skywalker.
When we hung up the phone Mike and I looked at each other like we had just solved the math equation from Good Will Hunting. This was the segment! If we had to have the manager of a Triple-A baseball team on every week, the way we were going to make listeners care about the segment was by making the segment about us.
So that is a long story about my experience to tell you this. If you are one of the broadcasters that are stuck having to interview a minor league jock or coach every week, figure out what you need to do to make it entertaining to the largest number of people. It isn’t just in the best interest of your show. It is in the best interest of the team too. Listeners will want to support someone that they know as a fun part of the show.
You will have to figure out the best way to utilize the interviewee, of course. We got lucky in that there wasn’t much we could do that Jared Sandberg was not okay with.
These situations are not limited to interactions with folks from the local minor league teams. I hate hearing stations that bring clients into the studio. I didn’t tune into sports talk radio to hear a 10 minute segment on energy efficient windows!
You need to have good content for the sales department to generate revenue. So it’s weird then that sometimes the sales department will saddle you with something that no one in their right mind would think is good content. When that is the case, you need to figure out how to use that sponsored guest in a way that has the least negative effect on the show. Maybe that’s bringing in a minor league hockey player to talk about what is happening in the NHL, maybe it’s talking to an advertiser about what kind of car he would sell a local player that just signed a huge new contract, or maybe it is getting a minor league baseball player on the phone to settle petty arguments amongst the personalities on the show or receive a barrage of insults from a producer because the manager doesn’t know what a tauntaun is.
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.