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Jason Romano Is Spreading His Faith Through Podcasting

“Look, nobody in the media business, even people in the ministry business like we are, doesn’t appreciate having more people visit their website. That’s always a good thing. But that’s not all we’re about.”

Tyler McComas

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If you were called to leave your dream job today, could you do it? Could you take less money, give up great benefits with a successful company and head into a position with more uncertainty because you felt the need to do more for what you spiritually believe in? 

Not only does that not sound easy, it would be downright terrifying. 

Three years ago, Jason Romano was faced with this exact decision. For 17 years, he had his dream job at ESPN. The experience was beyond his wildest dreams. Plus, it didn’t hurt to have all the benefits and perks that come with working at Disney.  But even though he was having the time of his life, Romano felt his career life and his love of God weren’t intertwining like they should be. He was a Christian, but it felt like a separate part of his life from ESPN. He wanted to do more for God. So he prayed. 

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2016 was Romano’s favorite year at the Worlwide Leader. Working on The Mike and Mike Show was easily one of the highlights of his career, as he enjoyed all the co-workers he was surrounded with while being an integral part of a successful show. But as great of a year as it was, it didn’t stop him from continually praying about doing enough for God. During the fall of that year, he received a call from a connection he had already made. On the other line was Steve Stenstrom, the president of Sports Spectrum to ask Romano if ministry was on his mind. After purchasing Sports Spectrum in the prior summer, the goal was to revamp the digital side of the website and start a podcast. Romano was just the guy Stenstrom was looking for to help give Sports Spectrum a new look. This was the sign Romano was looking for. He knew it was where he was meant to be. 

So, Jason left it all behind. The dream job, the benefits, the perks, ESPN, all of it for an offer where nothing was guaranteed other than working for God. On February 10th, 2017 Romano left ESPN. 

The Sports Spectrum podcast was one of the first things Romano started when he arrived with his new employer. The idea behind it, was to mix sports and faith into a podcast. Which, with his background for so many years at ESPN, made Romano the perfect host. The podcast quickly took off. With his connections during his days at Bristol and the comfortable feel the platform gave to athletes, coaches and media members, big-name guests started to fill each episode and reveal a side of themselves most fans didn’t know about. 

Fast forward to today and Sports Spectrum has now hit 1 million downloads. For any podcast, that’s an amazing achievement, especially in the relatively short amount of time since its debut episode. Romano wants a large number of downloads like anyone else behind a mic, but it’s not the overall goal. He’s aiming for something way more impactful, which makes quantifying success a tricky issue.  

“That’s something I wrestle with all the time,” said Romano. “I came from a place that success is quantified by the amount of people that watch, read and listen at ESPN. How many downloads did we get? How many likes did we get? How many followers did we grow with our social media platforms? It’s quantifiable numbers that equate to success in a lot of ways. 

“I think success for me is the same as when I released my book. I said if one person reads it and they’re impacted by my story then it’s a success. If it’s just one person it’s a success. That’s kind of how I look at it with the podcast. 1 million is a large number and one so far beyond anything I ever thought about when we started this. But when you hear it, you can compare to other large networks, where people are getting that in a week. 1 million downloads, to me, is more about the impact they can have on that one person.”

Having high-profile guests on your podcast, especially in the beginning, can be so critical to the eventual success it has. For one, it creates more intrigue to the episode, which will likely lead to more downloads. Two, the opportunity presents itself where a simple retweet of the posted episode by the guest could draw in thousands of new listeners that didn’t know the podcast previously existed. Romano has had over 400 guests on the Sports Spectrum podcasts. Names such as Maria Taylor, Andrew McCutchen, and Mark Richt, to just name a few, are just some of the guests the podcast has had to offer, with each telling their own unique story about their faith. 

Although guests are primarily there to share stories about their faith, that doesn’t mean breaking news hasn’t happened before on an episode. Though Adam Schefter is normally the one to break NFL news, it was Sports Spectrum’s great fortune when Matt Forte announced his retirement on the podcast with Romano.   

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“We’re not in the business of breaking stories,” said Romano. “But people feel comfortable with us because they know we’re not out trying to get a story for clicks. Look, nobody in the media business, even people in the ministry business like we are, doesn’t appreciate having more people visit their website. That’s always a good thing. But that’s not all we’re about. We’re out to share encouraging stories and bring Jesus back in the conversation.”

In terms of getting big guests, the reasoning behind the podcasts has made it, in most cases, a lot easier to get attractable names.  

“Recently we had Matt Hasslebeck interview Mike Fisher, the hockey player who’s married to Carrie Underwood,” Romano said. “Mike doesn’t do a whole lot of interviews, he’s actually a really shy guy. But I knew that if we were to talk about Jesus he was going to say yes. I just knew it because that’s the most important thing in his life. A lot of people have said yes, because of that factor.”

Whether its radio, television or podcasting, the best interviews are usually done when both parties are seated at the same table. Romano agrees with this and tries his absolute best to make sure he’s in the same room as the guest. Unfortunately, logistics don’t always work out. That’s life in the audio space.

Twenty percent of the interviews on the Sports Spectrum podcast are done in person. The next preferred method is through Skype, because he’s still able to see the guest through a webcam, which makes for a more personal feel during the interview. Romano will even use FaceTime for interviews if it ensures he can see the guest. Anything to make things sound more intimate for the listener. 

Though Romano has gotten about 60 percent of the interviews he wanted to get when he started Sports Spectrum over two years ago, there’s still a couple of big names he really hopes to have in the coming year. 

“Stephen Curry and Tim Tebow,” said Romano. “Any faith based media company would love to talk to those two. When you intersect sports and what we’re all about I think both of those guys exemplify that. I don’t have a connection with either of them, other than people that I know who know them. But I feel like I’m just using relationships if I say, hey, will you call Tim and see if he’ll come on the podcast? I’d rather get those organically. I’ve done that in the past but I try not to do it too often because I feel like that’s cheating in a lot of ways. I want to try and do it the way that I learned for so many years at ESPN, which is build relationships and try to get to the person directly.”

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There’s no podcast out there that offers the type of content Sports Spectrum has to offer. There’s a lot of sports podcasts, even faith-based podcasts, but none has intertwined the two quite like Romano has. The uniqueness of it is exactly what he’s most proud of. Romano loves the fact Sports Spectrum could potentially be a pioneer for this style of podcast. While some in the audio space fear competition, Romano wants there to be as much as possible.  

“I hope in five years, there’s 20 of these or even 100’s,” Romano said. “Even though the Sport Spectrum brand has been around for 30 years, for the past couple years while we’ve been doing this, we found there’s just not any other podcast like it. I’m proud of that. We always thought that there was an appetite for a podcast like this and I’m proud that’s proven to be true.”

The high number of downloads for Sports Spectrum isn’t going to stop. Neither will the big-name guest list. But Romano sees a much higher ceiling than one million more downloads in the next year. Of course, he admits it’s about God’s overall plan for the podcast and not his own, but there are visions as to how operations can be expanded. 

“I envision a Sports Spectrum network someday,” said Romano. “A place where there’s several organized podcasts that all have something to do with sports and faith. I love what Bill Simmons has done with The Ringer. That’s a model that I look at and envision us doing on a much smaller scale.”

The vision doesn’t stop with just adding more microphones. It’s also about getting out from behind one and brining the product to a live audience. 

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“I also envision a Sports Spectrum live event scenario in a couple of years,” Romano said. I’d love to go out and interview an athlete in front of an audience. We would tape those and then they’re obviously podcasts, but they’re bigger events with people listening in an audience. The athlete we interview can sign autographs after and share their testimony. It’s almost like a church centered night where there’s a pastor giving a sermon and the worship band is playing music. It would be an event where people can come and be there in person.”

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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