There may not be a more humbling start in sports radio than landing your first job at the smallest station in the smallest state in the country. At one point in the late 80’s, that exact station was WKFD, a 500 watt by day, 150 watt by night signal in the small town of Wickford, Rhode Island. Needless to say, with that type of signal strength, the hosts were probably better off broadcasting with two cups and a piece of string.
But as small as the no-longer existing WKFD was, in 1988 it served as the first job for a future influential host. Albeit only for one year, one man in particular went from working at the smallest station in the smallest state in the country to becoming one of the biggest sports radio personalities in Boston at WEEI. That same man then went to southwest Florida and helped create one of the most successful sports talk shows in the area.
That man’s name is Pete Sheppard. And sports radio has given him one helluva ride.
It’s been over six years since Sheppard took to the mic and quit on the air at WEEI, but he doesn’t regret it one bit. In no way did the decision reflect his views on the entire station or his co-workers. In fact, he loved the people he worked with. The action was simply about one man in charge whom he never saw eye-to-eye with. Most, if not everyone he worked with, said it was the gutsiest thing they’ve ever seen. Only a couple of people called him an idiot. He must have had a point, because even after he quit on the air, WEEI hired ‘Pete the Meat’ back a short time later.
Though the pinnacle of Sheppard’s radio days happened in Boston, specifically his role on The Big Show at WEEI from 1999 to 2010 that received incredible ratings, sometimes you just need a change of scenery. In the early months of 2017, Sheppard and his wife packed up and left the harsh winters of the northeast in the rearview mirror.
“I was through with the 8 and a half months of snow,” said Sheppard. “I couldn’t take it. Once my wife found out that she could work from home in Florida for her job, we left.”
The initial plan was to still do shows for WEEI while living in southwest Florida. Seeing as how good the technology has gotten for radio equipment, this wouldn’t have been an issue for either party. But as Sheppard settled into his new home, he couldn’t help but look up what sports radio stations were in the area. He then found one that caught his eye.
“I saw 99.3 ESPN and I thought, alright, let me see what’s going on here,” Sheppard said. “So I actually texted Chris Beasley the program director about late March when I knew I was going to come down here. I was like, hey, let’s set up a meeting. He didn’t get back to me for a while. But I later found out it’s because he was at The Masters.”
Upon moving to Florida in early April of 2017, it took Sheppard less than a week to meet Beasley in person. After a 45-minute discussion, Sheppard was soon on the air with 99.3 ESPN in a limited, Friday only role. But that wouldn’t last long. In late-May of the same year, Beasley called Sheppard and wanted to meet for lunch. His reasoning behind the meeting was simple: He wanted to offer Sheppard a co-host role for the afternoon drive show. Just like that, WEEI was no longer an option. Sheppard had a new role with a new station in a new market. His Boston radio days were finished.
Once Sheppard left Boston sports radio behind, he left behind his nickname, too. In Southwest Florida, he’s simply known as Pete Sheppard, not Pete the Meat like he was known for so many years at WEEI. The nickname came from former radio partner and 5-time NFL Pro Bowler Fred Smerlas, which immediately stuck. But these days, the only people that refer to Sheppard by his old name, are guests who join the show that have a long history with the former Boston sports radio host. But that’s just fine with him. Though his new radio home at 99.3 is different than bringing in 14 to 16 shares at a Marconi Award nominated station, that doesn’t mean he likes it any less than his old home.
“I love the pace here and I’ve totally embraced it,” said Sheppard. “I’m not even going to say it’s slower, it’s just much more diverse. People have different passions for a lot of different teams down here and I love it. People call from the northeast about the Patriots and the Giants, but we also have a Big 10 contingency. Then there’s the Miami contingency. We have Michigan and Ohio State people going at it, Pittsburgh people as well as the Florida people, it’s just tremendous.
“It’s a lot less nasty, let’s put it that way. I really appreciate that. In the entire time I’ve been here I think I’ve only heard two calls that have gotten nasty. And of course, my idea of nasty and Chris (Beasley) and Craig’s (Shemon) idea of nasty are two different things (laughs).”
Trading in the snow for the sand doesn’t seem to be a decision that Sheppard has thought twice about. His life is going well, the show is going well, and heck, he can even play golf all year long. But is it possible he never thinks about Boston? Think about it, the guy did radio in the city for nearly 20 years. After that much time, there naturally starts to be a connection to the sports team in town. So even though he’s totally content and happy, does that mean he still can help but pay attention to what’s going on across the airwaves in Beantown?
“Oh I tune in to hear Tom Brady every week in the morning,” Sheppard said. “When I was in Boston, I was part of an afternoon show that had Bill Belechick on every Monday at 4 o’clock. When he’s on now, I’m doing my show. But if I see anything that’s remotely interesting I’ll listen to it after the show. Me and several old co-workers follow each other on Twitter. We keep track of each other.”
Sports radio case studies are always fascinating. Especially when it comes to how different certain markets are from one other. Just because you succeed in Nashville, doesn’t mean you’d necessarily succeed in Seattle. Each market has its own vibe and personality that makes it unique. That’s exactly what Sheppard had to immediately deal with when moving to Florida. Sure, he had a long track record of success in one of the biggest markets in the country, but this was a totally different vibe with a co-host he was unfamiliar with. But as difficult as some situations can be, talent almost always wins out. The situation was new, but Sheppard will tell anyone how blessed he was to be paired with Craig Shemon.
“When we started, Craig and I were totally different in a lot of ways,” said Sheppard. “He worked nationally in Los Angeles for over a decade and then Houston doing a lot of national radio. What Chris loved about me is that I love college football. We don’t get to talk a lot about it in the northeast, it’s all about Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics. Moving here wasn’t really even a challenge because I love adversity.
“I’m a huge University of Miami Hurricanes football fan. I rooted for Miami before they were cool. It took a couple of months to get our chemistry going but compared to where we were 2 and a half years ago, it’s like night and day with the ratings and some of the features that we have. I love working with him and Chris is a great third-man, along with being the program director. The people down here are fantastic and the weather is second to none.”
Fort Myers, where 99.3 ESPN is located, sits just over 150 miles to Miami. 126 miles to the north, sits Tampa. The location makes for an interesting situation when the decision comes to where the majority of your content should be spent.
“We carry the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Florida Gators on our station,” said Sheppard. “We have plenty of fans for the Buccaneers, for the Dolphins, Gators, Miami Hurricanes, Florida State, you just never know from one day to the next. Like yesterday, we got a bunch of calls about Bruce Arians from disappointed Buccaneers fans. But then with the Dolphins it’s like, are we thinking about tanking for Tua? Are we going to go after Jalen Hurts? I would say it’s more of a college football area than a pro football area. I think Craig, Chris and myself will all agree on that.”
Only God knows what the future holds for Sheppard in sports radio. But after a career that’s spanned over 30 years, he has a lot to be thankful for. He’s proud he was able to create his own breaks so early on in his career. That’s an admirable feat that set himself up for success. But he can’t take the all the credit for how things turned out. There’s been too many people involved that helped.
“I’ve just been around a lot of smart and really good people,” said Sheppard. “The talent that I’ve been around all these years, Glenn Ordway especially on The Big Show for all those years. The professional athletes I’ve got to work with and know. I’ve gotten the chance to be around some great ones that are entertaining and really know their stuff.
“And then the producers, I cannot stress enough how underrated the producers that we had are. I don’t think people realize, especially sports talk radio, if you don’t have good producers, you don’t have a good show. I’ve been extremely fortunate, most of my career, especially Boston and southwest Florida, of the producers that we had. Just off the charts. I’ve been so blessed working with Craig and I think we have something special.”
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.