R-E-L-A-X. That’s what Aaron Rodgers told Packers fans back in 2014 during a weekly radio interview on ESPN Milwaukee after his team started the season with a 1-2 record. It was solid advice, seeing as Green Bay won its next four games before finishing the season at 12-4 and coming inches away from a trip to the Super Bowl. Though it’s simple advice, being told to R-E-L-A-X can sometimes be the best thing a person can hear.
If John Martin of ESPN 92.9 in Memphis could go back in time, he would give his 26-year-old self that same advice. Though his time travel wouldn’t even take him back a full two years, being a young show host has thrown things his way he’s had to overcome and endure. Learning to relax and trust his talent may have been the best thing someone could have told him.
Truth be told, it’s not easy being a young show host, Yes, you feel ahead of the curve in your career with having an early arrival in the host seat, which shouldn’t be undersold, but with that comes a whole lot of work for a much lower price than the other hosts at the station. You may work harder, heck, you may even think you’re the best in the building, but don’t expect that paycheck to add any zero’s at the end of it.
Being young in this business can mean being both stressed and frustrated at times, but ultimately, it’s your attitude that will dictate how well you handle those situations. Remember, what may seem as challenging and overwhelming today will only help in the long-term of your career.
Martin’s beginning in sports radio wasn’t unlike many others that attempted to make the climb at a young age. For over three years at ESPN 92.9 he was the station’s utility man, serving as a producer, fill-in host and anything else that was needed around the building.
“I wasn’t getting paid to fill-in,” said Martin. “It was just like, hey, Gary Parrish is going to be out these days and you’re filling in. There were days where I would host three shows. It was so stressful. But in a way I realized doing it made me indispensable. I came to the realization that this was the way I position myself for the next host opening.”
It turns out that Martin was right. The lifelong Memphian showed he was both talented and dependable behind the mic, with a real authenticity on the air that the locals demand. But at that point, he still wasn’t a show host. Though it can be hard for a young broadcaster to realize not everything comes at once, Martin was still left wondering if fill-in work was all his career was ever going to amount to.
“A lot of times when you’re young in this business, you start out as something other than what you want to be,” Martin said. “I was a producer and didn’t want to be a board operator. I wasn’t just that, but that’s what my role was. I did a show on Saturday mornings with chiropractors, which was a paid show called ‘Back Talk’. It was only an hour but it felt like it lasted an eternity. I wasn’t as professional as I probably should have been about it, I was 22 or 23 thinking, man, is this really what my career is?”
Okay, nobody aspires to be on the air with a chiropractor talking about back pain. But if it’s your only opportunity behind the mic, you better make sure it’s the best radio show that talks about backs in the entire country. Think about it, if you can somehow make a show like that sound entertaining, a GM or a PD is going to want to find out really quick what else you can do behind the mic. The point, is that you have to take the non-glamorous jobs and treat them like they’re the biggest thing on the station.
Hard work and perseverance eventually paid off for Martin. At 26 years old, he was thrust into the role of full-time host. Though that’s a dream scenario for anyone that young in the business, the new gig came with excitement, but also some immediate challenges, due to who he was replacing.
“There was a popular guy that was leaving the station at that time slot,” said Martin. You know how it goes, everybody becomes 10 times more popular when they leave. No matter what the numbers say or the ratings say, people just hate change. I was watching it all unfold on Twitter, all the backlash from that departure. Even though my goal was to be a show host, I didn’t want to touch it. It was toxic.
“You never want to be the guy that follows the guy. Initially, I didn’t want the gig. But I talked to a friend who said ‘you don’t know how often these opportunities come around’. I had a conversation with my program director and said ‘hey man I want to throw my name in the hat. He looked at me and said ‘I don’t think your dreams are going to come true’. He told me that in a very polite way, but I left that meeting thinking it just wasn’t my time.”
Two weeks later, Martin was walking into the studio for the first time as a show host. Call it fate or destiny, but the job he was told he didn’t have a great chance at was now his. Martin’s job title was now different, but his age wasn’t. He was still 26.
Most young hosts in this position will believe they’re immediately thought of in a different way with management inside the station, just because they’ve been elevated. That’s not always the case. In fact, be prepared to continue to fight the battle of being looked at as your former self that was the young producer or even the unpaid intern.
“When you start out as something other than what you really want to be in the same company I do think it can be difficult for your managers and your higher-ups to start viewing you any differently,” said Martin. “Even when you get elevated to being a show host, it’s hard for them to not look at you as the kid who’s just a producer and hosting Saturday morning shows.
“Unfortunately that’s a challenge and I think everyone in our situation has to deal with. I talk to a lot of people in this industry that say you almost have to leave for your perception to change. That’s not what I want and that’s not what’s going to happen, but I do think that that’s a challenge that young people face.”
I’m not telling you this realization can’t be frustrating, especially when all you want is to be viewed the same way as the other show hosts in the building. But it’s the nature of the business for young people in the business to pay their dues. Besides, that something that’s hard to control. What you can control is the work you put in to make sure you earn credibility from the listener.
“My main objective was to establish credibility,” said Martin. “A lot of that is through my reporting and I think I’ve proven that specifically with University of Memphis basketball. I really think that’s the only way you can combat it. I think it can be tougher for a young person if they’re just a talking head. I think establishing credibility is so important.”
This isn’t made to be a doom and gloom piece, its intent is to shed light on some of the challenges the young broadcaster will encounter. You should celebrate the fact you’re young and have a show. That’s awesome. Sure, at times it’s tough, but nothing that’s worthwhile is easy. Buckle your chin strap, keep at it and be the hardest worker in the building. Sweat equity is how you change your perception.
“For me it was about proving my managers were right for giving me the job,” said Martin. “It was about proving that life can go on after a popular show leaves. When your name is on the show it’s your livelihood. I view it as every day I’m fighting for my livelihood. That’s a mentality that I apply, especially booking guests. I’m not a producer but I work like one. I came from that so I know what a producer’s job is. So yeah I definitely have a chip on my shoulder and I still have one to this day. I think the minute you stop approaching your job that way is the minute you’ll start to fail. It’s a daily grind and you don’t last in this business by being complacent.”
To the young show host out there that’s trying to make their mark in the industry, just trust yourself. There’s a reason you were hired to the position you’re in. Though you may be presented with frustrating circumstances, NEVER let them affect your relationships with your co-workers, PD, sales staff or owners of the station. Trust yourself, your abilities and your show prep. If you can accomplish those three things, you’ll eventually find both success and respect. And remember…
“You can’t make it all happen in one week,” said Martin. “I put an unbelievable amount of pressure on myself. I would go back and say, look, man, work hard, be yourself, and do what you do. It’s all going to be just fine. Luckily that’s exactly what happened.”
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.