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Blue Wire Is Taking Chances Radio Stations Can’t

“If you have 15,000 followers and your impression rate is really high, I think you can have a successful podcast, because not only do people follow you, they reply to you and you have a little bit of a community here”

Tyler McComas

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Taking a leap of faith is never easy. No matter what the venture is, putting yourself in a situation with potential failure is one that’s always going to cause a few nerve-wracking moments. But sometimes, it’s the ideas that require betting on yourself that create something truly unique and special. A plan nobody else imagined that revolutionizes an entire industry. 

Kevin Jones of Blue Wire is betting on himself and his company to do just that in the podcasting world. A former media member that worked in radio, TV and even for the Cleveland Browns, Jones was certainly talented, but he had a hard time with the realization that nobody was trying to help him grow or develop his talent. So, upon his exit at his last job, KNBR in San Francisco, Jones took a leap of faith with a formula to create successful podcasts unlike anyone else in the industry. Thus, Blue Wire was born. 

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The Idea 

Jones wants to build an audio space that the young millennial craves. One that can expend across multiple social media platforms into the eyes and ears of the individual that current sports talk radio isn’t connecting with. 

“We’re trying to build a radio station for young kids,” said Jones. “In high school I used to talk about the Sports Junkies in Washington DC. I loved sports personalities and we’re trying to be those personalities for the next generation of sports fans.

“We have a bunch of different types of personalities, but the common thread is that we all highly engage communities on social media. I need to know that your followers engage with you. If you have 15,000 followers and your impression rate is really high, I think you can have a successful podcast, because not only do people follow you, they reply to you and you have a little bit of a community here. We’re putting these small communities together and that’s what Blue Wire is.”

A big driving force behind the creation of Blue Wire, was the idea that Jones could help other people grow both their brands and careers. In turn, their success would help grow the start-up company. When the idea came of how to find talent, Jones went with a non-traditional approach. He focused heavily on finding talented people across the internet that, regardless of their experience in radio or podcasting, could have the ability to excel in the audio space. 

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“I’m taking all really good types of content across the internet, people who are really good at Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, or even writers, and I’m giving them a podcast,” said Jones.

The Beginning 

In September of 2018, Blue Wire officially launched. Almost immediately, the network began to see positive results. 

“We started growing,” said Jones. “In September we had three podcasts, by October we had six. November we had 10, by December there were 14 and we just kept adding like 5-6 podcasts a month. We’re growing at a pretty high clip right now and downloads are increasing by 30-40 percent every month.”

Ted Nguyen of The Athletic was the first podcaster to sign on with Blue Wire. Nguyen hosts Coffee House Stunt, focused on the Oakland Raiders and NFL film breakdowns. By luring such a relevant talent with the first hire, it gave the network a sense of instant credibility. This would only help Jones’ recruiting pitch to other potential podcasters as more-and-more talent continued to join Blue Wire in the first few months of its existence. Jones’ other selling point is an infrastructure that has held talented creators outside of the podcasting space. 

“We edit the podcast for you and teach you how to use the equipment,” said Jones. “People are a little scared of podcasting right now, there’s a barrier to entry and it’s not the easiest thing to do by yourself. We provide that support and infrastructure.”

Blue Wire distributes “podcaster playbook” coaching documents on a monthly basis to podcasters. These include best practices for microphones, optimal times to release podcasts, posting to Twitter and engaging the audience by structuring the podcast a certain way. Jones is self-taught and had his own podcast for three years before launching Blue Wire. 

“I can kind of hold their hand and help things get off the ground,” Jones said. “It’s me helping them grow their brand and it’s them helping me grow Blue Wire at the same time.”

Early Success 

Blue Wire is still in its infancy, but that hasn’t stopped the positive results from rolling in. Last week, Real_Sports with Jack Settleman and Abe Granoff was No. 1 on the Apple Podcasting’s Top Charts – topping Barstool’s Pardon my Take and The Ringer’s Bill Simmons Podcast. Top charts measures the number of new subscribers. 

The most impressive thing? Neither of the hosts are over the age of 24. Settleman and Granoff run a Snapchat account, also named Real_Sports, which has amassed 1 million followers. They are a new breed of content creator that other outlets aren’t taking chances on. 

“What’s really essential for us is the chemistry my co-host Jack and I have,” said Granoff. “We’ve been best friends since we were nine years old and both die hard sports fans. Even without a mic, we’ve been arguing since then, so we thought we might as well throw a microphone into our discussions.” 

Real_Sports is exactly what Jones envisioned with Blue Wire. Two young talents that are pulling in the next generation of sports fans to a podcast they can both enjoy and relate to. But what does it mean for the future of podcasting if a 22 and 23-year-old can lead the charts?

“It says no one is talking to Gen Z like Blue Wire,” said Jones. “Their audience for the podcast is like 16-24. We are building the next generation platform that young kids are getting excited about it. 

“Jack and Abe, yeah, they grew up talking about sports and they have good chemistry, but it’s the same thing, we’re giving these people an opportunity. A radio station would never take a chance on a 22-year-old kid. We can take chances at Blue Wire that traditional media outlets can’t.”

Settleman and Granoff are just two of 45 podcasters that believe in Jones’ vision of Blue Wire scaling a network of 300+ podcasts and becoming a main stay in the audio space. Jones plans on unearthing more “non-traditional” talent and bringing more influencers from YouTube and Instagram into the sports fold. 

And that’s just the start.

Monetizing the Product

There’s a lot of good podcasts out there, but few have figured out how to monetize their content to make it truly worthwhile. Inevitably, Jones was going to have to try to find a way to monetize a network that he wants to see grow into 200-300 podcasts. Obtaining high-level talent was going to be an obstacle, but not like finding ways to make money off his unique game plan. Luckily, along with early success in the charts, Blue Wire has found a way to bring in digital dollars. 

“We bundle most of our ads sales together,” said Jones, who partners with Crossover Media Group for ad sales. “We sell as one unit, instead of one individualized show. That way an advertiser can blast out across 25 different markets in the country.”

Harry’s Razors was Blue Wire’s first major brand to sign up for an entire year. The podcasters ran dual podcasting ad reads with a social media post and Blue Wire’s listeners responded with online orders.  

“It’s been attractive to investors that we were able to do a deal right out of the gate with Harry’s as a young company for the whole year,” said Jones.

Coaching

As previously stated, Jones really wants to help develop and grow his talent. That’s more than just lip service from the Blue Wire CEO, as he backs it up by providing the necessary tools for his talents to improve. 

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“We coach them, for sure,” said Jones. “It’s something we’re trying to get better at. Essentially, this is a startup and I’m the CEO. I oversee the legal and finance side of things, as well as recruiting podcasters, marketing, everything.

“Coaching is one of those departments. We give everyone monthly feedback with really detailed stuff. I have a support staff of 15 people, all who reached out and wanted to join my team, who work in sports across the country and just chipping in part time.”

The talent across the network, such as Jake Burns of Browns Film Breakdown, have been very open and receptive to the coaching given by Jones and the rest of his team

“They’ve been very hands on with teaching both editing and the best podcast practices,” Burns said. “Kevin has always been very easy to communicate with and he makes it easy to understand. His editors make the process seamless and easy for hosts to get quality work done in a timely fashion.”

A few names that are helping build Blue Wire alongside Jones are Director of Operations Greg Mroz, Director of Podcasting Meredith Kain and Executive Producer Charlie Egli. All three reached out to Jones wanting to be a part of Blue Wire. 

“We’ve kind of all come together here over one common idea,” said Jones. “We’re building a sports podcasting ecosystem internally to bring creators together. And we’re scaling to try and build a robust audio channel before other sports media outlets do.”

The Team

Currently, Blue Wire has 40 different podcasts. The content ranges from a 49ers podcast to a Bulls podcast, to even one that focuses on the play of the offensive and defensive lines. The goal is to grow to around 200-300 podcasts, but along with quantity, Jones will still heavily focus on the quality of each product. 

“I think our roster stacks up with any radio station in the country, in terms of talent,” said Jones. “We know how to talk to talk to fans. Pound for pound, our roster stacks up with any radio station in the country.”

Sam Esfandiari of the Light Years podcast was hoping for growth when he joined Blue Wire. Granted, covering the Golden State Warriors never leaves you short for story lines, but Esfandiari and his co-host Andy Liu just needed the right partnership to take Light Years to the next level.

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“We were looking for a place to help grow our podcast,” Esfandiari said. “In Blue Wire we found a motivated team who gave us the tools to expand what we were already doing.”

The Vision

The first nine months for Blue Wire has been about as good as Jones could have imagined. But even he’d tell you there’s a long way to go to accomplish everything he thinks Blue Wire is capable of. Amongst many other things, Jones’ goal is to continue to find the best creators on the internet.

“Audio is only going to increase,” said Jones. “I don’t read as many articles as I once did. I really think audio is the way to deliver news. The Ringer is its own thing, Barstool is its own thing, ESPN is its own thing, but there can be more audio channels. Blue Wire can get to a level of them if we execute our plan properly.”

Blue Wire is on the verge of something special in the audio space. Though the podcasting industry is one that’s tough to break through in, don’t count out Jones and his plan for success to continue to rise up the charts. 

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“The No. 1 reason I believe Blue Wire can and will be a huge success is because of Kevin Jones,” said Fallon Smith of Keeping it 300 podcast. “It starts at the top. His tireless effort and drive to learn the business, scout talent, meet with venture capital firms to sell his vision and create a podcast sports network for fans across the country has been inspiring to witness.” 

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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