Not every on-air career moves forward in the same way. That’s why I was interested in talking with Nick Cattles. He left the evening show at The Sports Hub in Boston to return to Virginia Beach to host afternoons. More recently Nick become the station PD in January. Sports Radio Guru Mike Thomas (Nick’s boss in Boston, too) is “a big fan of Nick Cattles!” You’ll see what leaving Mike and the Sports Hub and returning to Virginia Beach at ESPN 94.1 has meant for Cattles’ career.
Matt: So after a little over a year in Boston you decide to return to ESPN 94.1 in Virginia Beach. What went into the decision to leave and then to come back?
Nick: I felt like when I was down here the first time, for about four and a half years, that we had accomplished a lot. We were, at the time, around the top four or five stations in the ratings and ratings had gone up exponentially and revenue had gone up. I felt the station was in a great place.
It came to my attention that 98.5 (The Sports Hub/Boston) was hiring and before I came down here the first time I was doing some work on the air and behind the scenes in Boston. It was an opportunity at a full time gig at a top ten market. A chance to go back close to my home–I’m originally from Rhode Island. I had a great relationship with Mike (Thomas). I still do. I said, “might as well take a shot and do a full time gig up in Boston and talk about the teams that I grew up watching.” So I made the jump.
I was up there for about a year and a half and Mike and I had some conversations. It wasn’t one of those bitter things at all. Some people in this business have bitter conversations and burn bridges. It wasn’t like that at all. I had a very upfront conversation with Mike. 98.5 is a beast, right? They had a very young lineup and it was kind of funky that 11 days after I signed my contract CBS sold us to Beasley. As soon as that information came out I kinda figured that Beasley wasn’t looking to get rid of anything, because 98.5 was so successful.
The night show wasn’t everything I had anticipated it to be. I had expected it to be more of a split between Adam Jones and me. It wasn’t bitter. It was Jonesy’s show. He has the right to run his show the way he wants. He and I had conversations as well.
This opportunity popped up again (in Virginia Beach). I own a bar down here in Virginia Beach and a condo I rent out as well. My wife loves Virginia Beach. We have a lot of good friends down here. This opportunity opened up and I came back here last May and my first show was June 4th, 2018 so it has been just over a year.
Matt: People when they first get into the business probably don’t think about is that there’s more to life than being in a top ten market?
Nick: It’s one of those things you have to think deeply about. It wasn’t an easy move but the conversation with Mike–he was pretty upfront. He was honest. The writing was on the wall to me that it could be another five to six years before I had a shot at a daytime show. Quite frankly Matt, I wasn’t in love with working at night. I found that out rather quickly. Working until midnight in the summertime, Monday through Friday, really didn’t have any time with my wife and to do stuff. To me it just made sense to come back down (to Virginia Beach) and get back in the afternoon drive slot and get reps doing what I do.
I think I found out that I like being the #1 guy (on a show). I enjoy driving a show. I enjoy creating content and being responsible for what we do–whether it’s good or bad. That was something that wasn’t happening up in Boston. This was an opportunity to get that done again. To be able to be responsible and accountable for what I wanted to do on the air and be able to drive my own ship.
A lot of things go into it–personal, professional. I think a lot of young guys don’t think in the long term and what’s best. They kind of just react. You’ve got to think things through. You have to really look at every opening and try to figure out what’s best for your life and what it might lead to.
Matt: Do you feel like it took very long to get your legs back under you as host and now as the station PD?
Nick: The PD thing came about in January. There’s just a million things that as an on-air host you’re not really thinking about. There are things you do as a host that could be seen as selfish even though you’re not trying to be selfish. When you become the program director you now have the health of the station you have to keep in mind.
As far as the show, it took about a month or two until I found my rhythm again and felt a little confident in what I was trying to accomplish on a day to day basis. I was named PD back in January and it has been kind of a whirlwind because at the same time I was being named PD I was fortunate enough to get a hosting opportunity with the network (ESPN).
I had added on a lot of responsibility and a lot of work. It has been a lot and it has been rewarding. Whatever happens from this point on–making that decision to leave 98.5 I think was in my best interest. Mike (Thomas) and Beasley being super professional allowing me to leave that situation in Boston opened the door for not only being back here but also for me to get some programming experience and then it also opened the door to work for the Network. You just take it step by step, Matt.
Matt: A lot of people could have been comfortable and stayed at the Sports Hub…
Nick: If you catch up with Mike (Thomas) and ask him about me, he’d probably tell you that I’m one of the most impatient people in the entire world. I’m just always hungry and I just always want to get better. I’m always driven to be as good as I can be. In Boston, I just felt at times I was the best I could be and at other times I wasn’t.
For people who are a little bit younger I try to tell them, “If you don’t feel like you are getting better, then you need to change something.” If you feel like you have nothing to learn, then you need to leave the business. You need to always look at yourself and say “Am I doing the best work that I can do? If the answer is ‘no’ you have to figure out what you need to do to get there.”
Matt: You are filing in for Will Cain on the ESPN Radio Network over the fourth of July, how do you approach a show like that as opposed to your daily local show?
Nick: Content wise it’s very similar. Down here in Virginia Beach we are a very transient area, there’s 300,000+ military so we’re pretty much doing a national show every day. If something big locally happens we’ll talk about it, but there’s not much content difference between that and the national show.
The biggest changes (for an ESPN Network show) are behind the scenes and from a technical standpoint. When you’re doing a network show, you have two hard outs. If you don’t hit those hard-outs, it’s not good, no bueno! So you gotta be able to hit those. The conversation between you and the producer is different. Working with different co-hosts in different states is unusual. Working with a producer in a different state is unusual.
When you work with the network they obviously understand all of these things. When you look at programs and what they do, we have a screen sharing program where we can chat with the producers and can share all the live reads and sponsorships. Some producers like writing teases, but I like writing all my own teases.
What the network does is it really teaches you how to be really fluid and how to react to different situations, how to work with different people and how to power through different scenarios. Personally I don’t try to change my style. When I go on the network I’m going to be me. Stylistically speaking I’m going to be myself. I’d rather be genuine, be real than be a carbon-copy of anyone who is doing this.
Matt: Where does local sports radio fit in the greater audio landscape today?
Nick: Pacing to me is very important. I look at the podcast world differently than the radio world. Most podcasts are directed at a certain audience. Most podcasts are about a certain sport or product. I’m a big UFC guy. If I’m gonna do a big UFC podcast, 40 minutes, the people listening to the podcast will listen to the whole 40 minutes. If I’m talking about the UFC on my show–first of all, it’s gonna be Connor McGregor, or somebody else that big– maybe Brock Lesnar, John Jones or Rhonda Rousey before she got her face kicked off. You’re talking about UFC for maybe three minutes and then you’re moving on. People in their cars are quick. Attention spans are shorter. People will not hang around for ten or fifteen minutes.
One thing that I changed drastically from when I worked down here the first time, a lot of times I would do one topic per segment. Now we’re focused on trying to hit two or three things per segment. For example, yesterday we talked about Mike Thomas and Julio Jones contract situation for five or six minutes and then we flipped it around and talked about the Cowboys because the Cowboys have the Amari Cooper negotiation going on. You gotta keep it moving and you gotta give people the feeling that there’s no slowing down. You don’t want to give them a hesitation and a chance to put some music on.
As far as local radio, I’m probably going to echo what a lot of people in radio are saying right now. We look at terrestrial radio and we say 90-93% of people still listen when they are in their car. I do believe that. I do believe there’s a feel of a local radio show. Whether it’s a big market, small market, whatever. When you’re doing local radio you’re there. People feel you. They feel a connection that’s a little different. There’s that connection that people can’t get from listening to a podcast or to national radio. I think it’s still as relevant as it ever has been. Now we’re seeing a shift where we are talking about stories rather than in the weeds with X’s and O’s. Analytical people will be able to get their analytics from Pro Football Focus. Most people listening to the radio want the overarching storylines. What are the stories? We saw that during the NBA Playoffs.
I think radio is fine. I try to keep it simple. To me, whether you are in Sheboygan or in Chicago, whether you are doing a podcast or a live radio show, just give the people the most entertaining, honest, compelling content and you’re going to do fine.
I think a lot of people are trying to do this or that. The world tries to make everything black or white and that’s stupid. Somebody feels like they gotta be a “hot take guy” or stand on “morality mountain” when something comes across. Everybody is trying to put their own cape on. In the real world, Matt, we’re all different. We’re all full of gray area.
If you are just honest and treat individual situations and topics honestly then you’re going to do well. If you try to be hot and steamed about something that you’re not really hot or steamed about, I don’t think it’s gonna work. Now a few people have pulled it off and those people are making millions of dollars per year. We know the names. I think it’s always a danger. They’ve kind of cornered the market on that. If you try to be hot take guy, it’s going to come off as a fabrication. It’s going to come across as you trying to be someone else. If you try to do a show like Dan LeBatard, there’s only one Dan LeBatard, you’re going to sound like a cheap Dan LeBatard. So be true to yourself and bring the best content every day and I think you’ll be fine.
Matt: Is there anything you haven’t done yet in your career that you’re looking forward to doing?
Nick: I think there’s always challenges. To work at the network and do a national show every day would be a challenge. To drive a station in a Top 10 market that would get behind you, that would be a challenge. I’m not necessarily saying I would jump at these situations if they were put in front of me, but If you’re asking me to give you things that I haven’t done that I feel would be a challenge–I’d say do an every day show nationally, a Top 10 show daily.
Another challenge is right here at Virginia Beach. We are not in the spot we were when I left the first time. Right now we need to be better. The challenge right now is day to day to be the best host that I can. To be the best PD that I can.
Shoot, I would love to do play by play. Those questions are always difficult. A year from now I could be in a completely different spot personally. As you evolve as a human being, I don’t have kids. If I have a kid in the next year or two, how does that change what I’m looking for? So those are the three things: Virginia Beach-getting us to where we once were, a national show, doing a drive time show in a top ten market those would all be great challenges.
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.