It’s no secret: Atlanta is a city on the rise thanks in large part to the success around its sports clubs.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosted Super Bowl 53. Atlanta United won the 2018 MLS Cup, the first major sports championship since the Braves 1995 World Series win.
The Falcons and Georgia Bulldogs football team are championship contenders year in and year out. Meanwhile the Braves, Hawks and the Georgia Tech football team are all showing glimpses of promising futures.
Entercom’s 92.9 The Game has grown in a seemingly parallel timeline with its city. What was once an adult alternative station called The Dave FM has grown into the top station of one of the nation’s fastest rising markets.
Much of The Game’s success is rooted in its humble beginnings. When it made the jump to sports, the initial ratings were low and CBS was questioning if it was the right move. Every station has those struggles out of the gate. The station’s leadership was confident that once the market was down to two sports stations, The Game would thrive.
“Inside of the building there was confidence that we would get to where we are right now. I don’t think there was any panic,” said Carl Dukes, co-host of Dukes & Bell, the station’s number one show, who has been with The Game from the beginning. “The commitment was there from Chris Oliviero and CBS and the folks that wanted to start this thing.“
With that confidence beaming in the young station, The Game’s foundation came from having the rights to Atlanta Falcons play-by-play rights with Wes Durham on the call. Durham said that it wasn’t just having the Falcons games on the air, but rather the availability to such a large area due to the station’s signal, saying the signal could be heard as far south as Macon and reaching north into Greenville, South Carolina.
“Rick Caffey deserves a tremendous amount of credit for understanding it was not an overnight process,” Durham said of The Game’s rise. As station manager, Caffey pushed to have the Falcons play-by-play and made The Game his baby and built it into the powerhouse it is today.
“When you go from being basically an adult rock station and then in 30 days you’re an all sports talk station, in a market that at the time already had two sports talk stations, I think Rick went out to find people that had proven they could do it in other markets,” Durham said referring to guys like program director Terry Foxx and Carl Dukes.
Dukes & Bell is the lead program for The Game, but it was a patient build to have the team come together. Dukes came on quickly for The Game, but Mike Bell was working with David Pollack at 790 The Zone and Dukes already had a partner for his afternoon show.
Dukes and Bell were good friends before teaming up for The Game and felt they could put out a great product if they had the chance to work together, so much so that both of them worked to bring the other over to their radio stations. But once The Zone folded, Bell decided to take the leap. After some moving around, The Game had created its number one show.
“The irony is, a lot of people think that because you’re friends with guys sometimes that won’t work,” Dukes said. “But you have to know and trust yourself. Him and I, we just mesh well together.”
“I always thought that this would be the perfect fit, that we could make it work,” Bell said.
A new station in town creates intrigue and curiosity, but that only goes so far. Once the station had its top attraction and show it was time to reach into the city and connect. After The Game found its footing, the perception in Atlanta of the station was one of momentum and excitement.
“Anytime you launch, there’s obviously going to be some tweaks,” Bell said. “But our station, our format, and our version of sports talk, is much more reflective of what this city is.”
The Game hasn’t just grown on a parallel plane with its host city, it’s ingrained itself and become a part of Atlanta’s sports culture.
“This is, I think, the golden age of Atlanta sports because the way the city has grown, but also, I think for all those years that people talk about this being a bad sports town, which it certainly is not,” Dukes said. “Unlike New York, Boston or Chicago you don’t have people who necessarily grew up here, who have been here for 35 years or two or three generations of families. Instead you have people who have come to Atlanta and adopted the teams and grown with the teams, and now you really have this passion I don’t think Atlanta has seen before. It’s a unique situation and it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”
Dukes and Bell even put out a beer that has helped them connect with their fans with something that, although tightly related to the enjoyment of sports, is separate from the subject the duo spend on-air time discussing.
But the national headlines are always prevalent and for a top market, those stories refuse to be ignored. That responsibility to report doesn’t trump The Game’s responsibility to consistently find a way to bring the story back home to Atlanta.
“The wonderful thing is that we’re a local radio station that can create that debate and spark that interest so people will respond and talk to us about it,” program director Terry Foxx added. “And that’s what’s crucial. Every radio station should always focus on their market and making sure the fans who are listening really do get a sense of what’s going on with their team.”
“The Game is good for Atlanta sports radio and the Atlanta sports fan, because I think a competition in sports is what we talk about all day long,” John Kincade said, coming from a rival’s perspective at 680 The Fan. “ It’s our lifeblood.”
The Game is at the top of Atlanta now, in less than a decade. That doesn’t mean the work has ended. The drive to continue to inform and entertain the now proud and excited fanbase of Atlanta is what powers the station moving forward.
“At the end of the day, I think for us, I hope that you’re entertained, but also maybe learn something and I hope that you’re informed,” Dukes said. “If I can do those things everyday then we feel good about the show and where it’s going. I think you have to be immersed in what’s going on. And I’m not telling you that that’s what every host has to do, but that’s what we’ve done and it’s really helped us connect with people who listen to us on a daily basis.”
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.