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Spence Checketts Learned His Pain Tolerance

“There are still people that will bring it up and I think that will always be a part of my life. Again that’s part of the consequence of making a decision that could be damaging to other people.”

Brian Noe

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To err is human. Not all errors are the same though. Many fall short of threatening to derail a successful career. Spence Checketts made a mistake two years ago that nearly took away the job he loves. However the afternoon drive host on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City has rebounded strongly from the bad situation.

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He has chosen not to hide from it. Checketts has also done an impressive job of shifting his perspective; he is much more appreciative of the opportunities he enjoys.

Spence’s career path is unique as well. The business isn’t crawling with hosts that were once NBA scouts for three years. One of the most thought-provoking comments below is Spence highlighting a trait in sports talk hosts that is important to succeed. Ironically people in the business rarely mention the same trait as necessary. Spence is an interesting guy with smart views and a redemption story. That’s a recipe for a compelling read. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: Tell me about your career path, Spence. Where did it start for you and how did things unfold to where you are now?

Spence Checketts: I fell into this thing. Growing up my father [Dave Checketts] was an executive in the NBA first with the Jazz and then later he was the CEO at Madison Square Garden for about 12 years. He was the president and GM of the Knicks. Seeing the way the New York media treated my father soured me to the media in general. I was actually raised to believe that the media was the enemy a little bit. I never thought for a second that this would be my career path.

I was working in marketing and advertising for a cluster of radio stations here in Salt Lake City. One of the stations that we sold for — and we did all the branding and marketing for — was the station that had the Jazz as one of their properties. I got pretty friendly with some of the producers and on-air hosts. One of the guys there one day just asked me have you ever thought about a career in radio? I said no, absolutely not. He actually said you have a radio voice and you grew up playing the game and you grew up in the league. I had some relationships from my time — actually I was a scout in the NBA for three years.

I came out here and my plan was to play for Rick Majerus at the U. It’s kind of a left-hand turn, but this will tell you what eventually landed me in radio. Back in the day before you could get online and see who the big time high school players were and who the recruits were — I had no idea before I came out here. Rick’s whole thing with me was come walk on and you can become a scholarship player maybe your sophomore or junior year, but come walk on as a freshman. I came out here and the other freshman point guard was Andre Miller.

BN: Oh gosh.

SC: Yeah, so I joke all the time that Andre Miller made me retire from basketball because that’s when I knew I wasn’t — I thought I was really good up until I played against NBA guys. I had a chance to go to five-star basketball camp for a couple of summers. I remember the first time I played against an NBA guy. Do you remember God Shammgod Wells?

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BN: I do, barely. I remember the name though.

SC: He played for Providence College and in the league. I was matched up with him at basketball camp and I couldn’t get the ball past half court. He picked my pocket three straight times and that was it. I came home from camp all depressed and my dad was like what’s up with you? I said I’m not going to play in the NBA. I realized this as a 16-year-old. Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace were at that camp. I thought I was good enough to play college ball so I came out here to play for Rick and then went up against Andre.

Within a month, I was in Majerus’ office and I said hey you got to shoot me straight. I can’t play with this guy. He’s bigger, stronger; he’s better than I am.

To Rick’s credit he was very honest with me. He said look you can really shoot it and you can really pass it, but Andre Miller is my starting point guard. I left the team and didn’t end up playing for Rick for longer than a couple of months. That’s how I got into scouting. Then I started scouting for the Knicks, which I did for about three years on a regional level, but I wasn’t getting paid.

I had to find a job and I decided to get into the advertising and marketing side on radio and TV — and back to the original point — became pretty friendly with the producers. Then one of them just asked me, hey you should give it a try. Just come on my weekend Saturday show. That’s how I got into it. Within a month it just felt natural. It felt like trying on a pair of pants that fit really well the first time I cracked a microphone. I knew that maybe I had found something. Within a month I went from doing their Saturday shows to doing afternoon drive and the Jazz pre, half, and post. That’s how it all started just kind of randomly. I didn’t take any journalism classes in college. I didn’t have a radio background. I just kind of fell into it like that.

BN: Because of your scouting background — if you were running a station and had to scout radio hosts instead, what are the qualities you would look for that you believe would make a great host?

SC: That’s an interesting question. First of all I’m a big fan of presence — not necessarily voice, but presence. I grew up on Mike and the Mad Dog. I loved Dog and I still love him to this day. He does not have a classic radio voice, but he has great presence. Just the way you command your airwaves with your presence even if you don’t have the classic, deep, play-by-play voice or radio broadcaster voice. That to me is number one. There are so many guys out there who even if the content isn’t great they can fool you into thinking it is because of the way they command their space.

I think all of us have a certain level of knowledge, but as far as your cadence and how you deliver that knowledge to the listener is a big piece of it. Being in this business now — this will be my 16th year coming up — if I travel and find the local sports talk radio station and I fire it up to see what’s going on, I can tell within two minutes if they’re doing the work. If they’re preparing, if they show up and crack the mic and they’re ready to be on air.

I take the work very, very seriously. If I’m not prepared one day I just get tremendous anxiety. It’s almost a selfish thing for me to be a little bit more settled in to do the work. I would say presence, work ethic, knowledge, and then simply entertainment. It’s fun after all. You just want a guy with a fun personality as opposed to somebody who takes themselves way too seriously.

BN: Sometimes showing the audience that you aren’t perfect is a huge thing that helps you connect with listeners. The DUI you got — how have you approached that situation on air and has it helped you connect with your audience?

SC: The biggest thing is just not running from it — being authentic about it and being honest and upfront with it. I know there have been guys in my shoes — whether it’s a DUI or something else — that have done everything they could to bury it as far as they can and then just hope every day that nobody ever finds out about it. That’s not the reality of how our business works now. We have the internet. People are going to be able to find out. Maybe 20 years ago you could try to bury it, but that’s not how it works. I think trying to hide from it is entirely disingenuous. Just acknowledge it, be upfront about it, and be honest about it.

Utah sports radio host Spence Checketts resigns from The Zone after DUI arrest

It was a really tough situation. There are people that will always brand me as the guy who got the DUI. I will never be able to change their mind as far as who I am. That’s my reality. That’s what I have to live with and that’s what happens when you make mistakes. It’s like my mom used to say, consequences are a bitch. But they’re part of it, that was part of the drill.

My whole thing throughout the course of coming back to being an on-air personality, right away in the first meeting I had with my GM, who has become a great friend and a real mentor, we talked about it and he actually said “Well, how do you want to handle this? Should we not even acknowledge it?”

I said no no no, I’m going to address it in my very first segment back on air. I’m going to talk about it. I’m going to be honest and authentic about it and I’m going to be real about it.

The cool thing about it is, I did a piece with the local paper here where we talked all about it. I can’t even tell you how many people have responded and have said ‘Hey just so you know, last weekend I was out and I had some drinks. I had my car with me. Instead of getting behind the wheel, I Ubered home and got my car the next day because I read your story.” That’s been the coolest thing about all of this. Whenever I hear from somebody who elected not to drive drunk or got caught at some point and can relate to the story and is thankful for the fact that I did stick it out and I did decide to come back.

For a minute, dude, I didn’t know that this was going to be my life anymore. I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue to do this because of how many bullets I took publicly as a result of a real unfortunate situation. I think whether it’s me or anybody else when it comes to a slip-up or something that’s happened in life, it shows the audience that you’re human. It hopefully inspires them to be a little bit better if you show that you can bounce back from your mistakes.

I’m a firm believer that things don’t happen to you, they happen for you. That’s how I’ve chosen to approach it. It’s been coming up — it’ll be two years since everything went down. There’s been a good amount of space that has taken place. There are still people that will bring it up and I think that will always be a part of my life. Again that’s part of the consequence of making a decision that could be damaging to other people.

BN: What all was involved in the timeline starting with the DUI and then coming back on the air?

SC: I was upfront with my employer. As soon as it happened I called him just to let him know, like hey here’s the situation. They suspended me initially. I went up to a inpatient rehabilitation facility for 45 days. While I was up there they deliberated and made the decision that it wasn’t in their best interest to bring me back. I can’t comment as to why. That’s a conversation you’d have to have with them.

I was really bummed out but I understood. I get it. No part of me was ever angry at them. It was a station that I really loved and I helped build. They’re all still friends of mine over there. I talked to them quite a bit. 

My whole thing was to own the entire pie and not be upset that I didn’t get my old show back, or my old job back, and understand this is part of the deal. I was left to wonder what was next. There was probably a five- or six-month period where I really thought that it may be over. I heard from a lot of people in the industry. I remember I had a conversation with Ryan Hatch. I don’t know if you know Ryan at all.

BN: Yeah.

SC: So Ryan was a guy here who I worked with a little bit. He was a personality here in the market. I really like Ryan. I really respect Ryan. I consider him a good friend. I spoke to Jason Barrett too. Jason’s been great throughout this entire thing and a real supporter of mine. Ryan’s a guy who saw some talent in me early on. I reached out to him and Ryan said to me, “Look, you have to acknowledge the possibility that this may be over for you.”

BN: Wow!

SC: He was the first person who said that to me. I went, “Oh holy smokes!” I started recalibrating a little bit like what am I going to do here? What’s next for me? Not to sound arrogant, but I feel like I’ve been if not thee guy here, one of the main two or three guys for 13, 14 years. So I just figured if I could put a little time in between the incident and continue to make sure I’m keeping my backyard clean that the phone would start ringing. Eventually it did, Brian, but for a while it didn’t. When that phone is not ringing you go “holy smokes!” It took a year and a half for me to get back on air.

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I thought about moving. I spoke to a station in Denver. I was in advanced talks with a station in Atlanta and really thought that was going to be my next destination before ESPN 700 here called, which ironically enough was my old station before I went and worked with the Jazz station [1280 The Zone] for seven years.

The opportunity presented itself. I wasn’t necessarily looking to move, but I was open to it. It was just a matter of learning about my pain tolerance and kind of waiting it out. Continuing just to make sure that I’m doing the things that I need to be doing so when that phone did ring I can answer the questions that I needed to answer in order to approach this next project with everything I possibly have. But it took a year and a half. It was hard. I’m not going to lie. It was really hard and I thought it could be over.

BN: Man, I know that was tough. Has the whole situation of your career possibly ending made you hungrier each day and made your drive a little bit more intense?

SC: Yeah, and that’s a good question. I’ll tell you what it did is it took away every bit of entitlement that I may have had. Instead of approaching this as “I deserve this job. I worked hard at it and this is something that I deserve,” it’s like no, “I’m extremely lucky to have this job.” I know that every single day, regardless of the real estate you carve out for yourself in a market, it can go away like that. For some people when it goes away, it never comes back. 

I’ve always been a driven person. I’ve never been afraid of work. That’s how I was raised, but I learned that you can have talent, you can be driven, you can work hard, and it can still go away if you don’t keep everything in line. I always said if I get another opportunity there’s definitely some things I’m going to do differently, but the main thing is no entitlement and just realize how blessed I am to be in this spot.

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I probably needed it taken away from me for a while to learn that. As I look back on everything my new favorite word in life is serendipitous. It’s so serendipitous how it all went down. There was obviously a clear reason for why it went down. Again I probably needed it to be taken away for a while to approach it with the fervor and passion that I try to on a daily basis.

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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