John Canzano couldn’t escape that feeling as he sat behind the mic on The Bald Faced Truth for the first time ever. But the nerves weren’t for the reason you’d probably suspect. It wasn’t because it was his first show on a new station, it wasn’t because he was trying out sports radio after years as a successful sports journalist and it wasn’t even because he’d only spent a handful of months in the business. It wasn’t any of that. It was all because of his very first guest on his very first show: Barack Obama.
There probably wasn’t a more relevant guest during the summer of 2007 than Obama. Forget what format your station was in, news, sports, politics, it didn’t matter. If you could get the man that was attempting to be the first African American in the White House, it meant something.
The thing was, Canzano wasn’t a stranger to doing interviews with big-name people. He had covered Major League Baseball and the NFL at the San Jose Mercury News. He covered Bob Knight at Indiana as well as Notre Dame Football and various Olympic Games. But there was something about interviewing Obama that brought out the nerves.
“At that time, he was running for president and was in a tight race with Hillary Clinton,” said Canzano. “His camp decided they were only going to do one interview in the Portland market. We requested him and they picked it because they thought it was a real change for him from talking about healthcare and all the other issues.”
Though the get was huge, especially during his first show, Canzano was now conflicted on how he should conduct the interview. Should he interview Obama with similar questions as everyone else had done? Or should he just ask him the things he really wanted to ask? Luckily, Canzano found a voice of reason when he asked his wife, Anna, a local TV anchor in the market, which way he should take the interview.
Her response: “That’s a dumb question.”
Canzano asked Obama what it was like to throw out the first pitch at a White Sox game. He asked how the man kept not only in shape, but his sanity while out on the campaigning trail. But the connection really happened when the two started talking about their daughters and what it’s like to be a parent. It was much different than the normal radio hit the soon-to-be president had done, but it worked. And the audience loved it.
“There was a moment about two or three minutes into the interview where I could really feel him relax and go, oh, we’re not going to be talking about health care,” said Canzano. “He really settled in after that and acted like it was just two parents talking about sports. He was so interesting and so good.”
It’s one thing to come out swinging during your first show, it’s another to have on arguably the most relevant guest in the free world. That day was a pretty good indication Canzano would transition just fine into sports radio.
A sports columnist for The Oregonian since 2002, Canzano is still in both print and sports radio. His weekday show, The Bald Faced Truth, which came from a submission from a listener, is from 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. on 750 The Game in Portland and is syndicated throughout much of the state.
In the following Q&A, Canzano covers how he got into radio, balancing both writing and being on the air and even the demands of being the biggest sports media personality in the area.
TM: So after so much success as a sports columnist, how did a hosting opportunity in radio come about?
JC: I had always been a newspaper guy who occasionally appeared on radio shows. Really, that’s how I got my start. When I was in The Portland market I would go on different shows and do five to eight minute hits. What happened was, the Blazers in the draft lottery, got the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Rose City Radio, who had a hip-hop station on 95.5, decided to flip that format in the sports, because Portland was going to win multiple championships. You’re going to need multiple sports stations. They took me, they did a really smart thing, for a period of about four to five months they stashed me on KXL, which was a political talk station and they had me do nights. I was just working out a lot of kinks and figuring out how to do a radio show and learning the format of it. Ultimately I think the first show was Labor Day of 2007.
TM: I have to imagine the cross-promotion between print and radio really helps each other out. But more specifically, how does the newspaper help out the radio show?
JC: When I was hired at The Oregonian one of the first questions was, do you ever want to do radio? They had a real aversion to it. The publisher was old-school and didn’t like it because he saw his competition. Over time they came to sort of embrace that, hey, this could be good for the column. It creates a conversation beyond the column and gives the readers a chance to talk to me about what I wrote. I’ve even had the former general manager of the Trailblazers, Kevin Pritchard, tell me he loves the show because I write something in The Oregonian and the show gave him a chance to challenge me on it.
They really walk hand-in-hand now, in that media has become so diverse. The radio show, podcasts, the best interviews, I’ll put them on OregonLive.com and give our readers a chance to hear part of the radio show. Of course I bring on the writers at The Oregonian who have written something interesting that day. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.
TM: It takes a lot of time to prep for a three-hour show. It also takes a lot of time to have well-researched and well-written articles that attract readers. How are you doing both and balancing your time?
JC: It’s a real challenge now, seeing that news is so immediate. You really have to have a rhythm when you host a three hour radio show that’s in the middle of the day. I do a lot of my writing in the morning. There’s overlap in the preparation and there’s overlap with the guests, too.
Maybe I’ll write something and then someone who I’ve written about will come the radio show. A great example of that, Saturday night I was at the Oregon State-Stanford game and I wrote about the economics of college football at Oregon State and how they were the least funded program in the Pac 12. On today’s show I have the athletic director at Oregon State which will fit in nicely with that column. Now, there’s not a lot of prep I need to do for it, because I did that all on Saturday. I also lean on really good staff members. I have hired two production people out of my own pocket that work for me, not the station. They do a lot of work behind the scenes, such as prep work, guest booking and just helping out the show on a daily basis. I could not do it without them.
TM: Are mid-days perfect for someone who has as much going on as you do? Or would another slot fit better?
JC: I like the mid-days because it fits with my life. I’m a parent and I’ve got kids that are in school. My 16-year-old plays volleyball and I get to go to all of her matches. I get to come home at the end of the day and be there for dinner. I think the radio station has embraced having a mid-day show, I’m the only local show on the station right now. They’ve embraced having that revenue in a timeslot that normally isn’t a huge revenue generator. They’re still able to sell afternoon drive to potential advertisers but having your mid-day show fill at a level that really fattens up your station is pretty good strategy.
TM: I really like your Facebook page. It’s current, has a lot of content and features a ton of videos. What’s your strategy with that?
JC: I’m just a big fan of, as a newspaper columnist, I feel like when I’m writing I’m doing so to one reader. As a radio host I feel like I’m always trying to talk to one listener. If I can draw in one more listener with the Facebook page or with Twitter, Instagram Live, I should be in as many places as I can possibly be in. Now, there is a balance there. Sometimes you’re a little frayed because you’re trying to do everything, you still want to maintain quality with what you’re doing. I just found out there’s a segment of my listeners who are on Facebook. I have to speak that to them when I need to speak to them.
TM: When people think about sports in the Portland area, do they think about John Canzano? If so, what comes along with that?
JC: I think that most people would probably tell you that. I also think that’s a tremendous responsibility. You have to be, if you’re the voice of a region, you have to be right, you have to be researched, you have to speak from authority, you have to be sourced and get answers when you don’t know them. I think there’s a lot of people that will sit back and spout their opinions, but what really set you apart is the ability to maintain those relationships, be critical when you need to be critical, but really, it’s not a race to be first when you’re the voice of a region. It’s an obligation to be right.
TM: Do you view your show as more Oregon and Oregon State or the entire Pac 12 in general?
JC: I think a Pac 12 show. I think you have a transient population that listen to the show. My show is broadcast pretty much state-wide and we get a lot of listeners outside of the area. Plus, we have the podcast and the stream.
I try to talk about and interview people that I’m interested in knowing more about. This week it was Herm Edwards at Arizona State. Today will be Scott Barnes at Oregon State and it might be Mike Leach of Washington State two days from now. I don’t consider my show to be the home of the Ducks or the home of the Beavers or even the home of the Blazers. I always joke that it’s the home of the truth. I do think there’s truth in that, because I’m trying to serve everybody but also do a show that I would listen to. The show that I would listen to would not be all Ducks all the time or all Beavers all the time. I think you have to have a real diversity of approach and interest. Sometimes we’re not even talking sports and I think that’s OK, too.
TM: What about the NFL? The Seahawks are the closest team, is there a big fan base in your market that dictates you talking about them?
JC: I think I probably talk as much Seahawks as any of the other NFL teams. It’s three hours away and it got force-fed down the throats of the Portland market back in the day when they could only watch one NFL game during one timeslot. There’s a lot of people here who are Seahawks fans just because that’s all that was on TV. So we address it but we also have a lot of 49ers fans, Rams fans, Patriots fans so whatever is big in the NFL that day is what I’m talking about.
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.