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How 97.1 The Fan Rethought What a Program Director Is

“I wouldn’t call it seamless. It definitely helped in our situation to have two guys that have the familiarity with the product and with each other. But they’re still two guys filling one role.”

Matt Fishman

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Nearly a year ago, The Fan in Columbus was looking for its next Program Director. They started by posting an ad for the position and talked to a number of candidates, but Vice President and General Manager, Todd Markiewicz took a second look at it and approached the opening from a different point of view. In December of 2018, Markiewicz split the programming position between two guys who had been a part of The Fan for years. I spoke to Todd about this “outside the box” thinking and how it looks nearly one year later.

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MATT FISHMAN: Where did the idea to split the PD position between two people come from and how did it come to fruition?

TODD MARKIEWICZ: When I started searching for a new Program Director, it became apparent to me that some candidates were really good on the operations side and some were really good on the content and imaging side. But it was really difficult to find somebody who was really that 50/50 creative and analytical brain that excelled at both of them. So I started thinking, “Why do we have to do it that way? What if we could do this?”

I always love the “what if” questions, especially in this day and age in media because I think we have to ask ourself those. So I was looking for who is really good on the content and imaging in the building or that I interviewed, and who is really good on the operations side.

I knew that the creative and content side and our ability to change and morph with where our industry is heading was going to be really important as we move forward. The best content and image guy I know, and I’ve worked in a lot of markets for a lot of companies in a lot of formats, was right there in our own building. That’s our afternoon personality, Mike Ricordati, who’s known as “Common Man” on the air. He’s built such a powerful voice in our market and a powerful platform. He’s done it because he’s a super smart radio geek. He loves it. He understands what you need to do on-air to deliver an audience. He proved that he could do that.

He and I had talked often. We’d go out for dinner and  just dream what we would do if we ran the station one day. This guy is right here in our building. I’m not adding body count and I’m tapping into the genius of his radio brain and I have to tell you he has done an amazing job. The metamorphosis of the radio station over the last year has been really fun to watch under his guidance and creativity. He’s done a phenomenal job just tightening the tone and texture of the station and giving it punch and giving it attitude. The other day when the ratings came out we are hearing from our clients and our listeners, “man, the station sounds great right now,” but they can’t put their finger on what that is. They don’t understand the details and nuances of the changes but they’ve all accumulated to create a sound that snaps, crackles and pops and almost has the feel of a classic rock station with its attitude and delivery. 

On the operational side, we had someone at the radio station who was great at it, who had done it for years and that’s Matt Erhard. Matt had left because he was frustrated with some things. Matt was very loved in the building and I had a tremendous amount of respect for Matt. I thought it was a great opportunity to fill that position with two (people) and use Mike who was internal and bring back Matt. The two of them together have done a fantastic job of working together, communicating and acting as two brains in one body. You can see the numbers, they kind of speak for themselves.

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(Writers note: It has been a HUGE year for The Fan in Columbus. Their continued rise in the ratings led IHeartRadio to give up on their Columbus sports station in February after only 2+ years trying to garner an audience. The October Nielsen numbers for The Fan in Columbus, Ohio are gigantic for a sports station. The Fan tied for first with a country station for Adults 25-54. Yes, you read that correctly–Adults–not just men!)

MF: Was there ever a time where there were some bumps in the road with the new arrangement or was it seamless? 

TM: I wouldn’t call it seamless. It definitely helped in our situation to have two guys that have the familiarity with the product and with each other. But they’re still two guys filling one role. We had to work through a lot of communication things. We’re still working through those at times. So that we don’t double up on effort and we’re all keeping each other in the loop.

We have to resist the temptation that because Matt (Erhard) decides to do something and he doesn’t think it is important for Mike (Ricordati) to know so he doesn’t share it with Mike. That’s where the disconnect can definitely happen and we struggled with that. I put it on those two guys to map out the role specifics and to outline the job duties. I wanted them to work on that together and there were actually some areas that overlapped. It was challenging at times. 

MF: So did Mike Ricordati have to go from being a host to managing his peers?

TM: This is just another distinction of the position. Mike really doesn’t want to as content/image guy manage them. He considers what he’s doing “coaching them” to understand the form and function of radio. As General Manager, I am still handling all the contractual and financial elements. Mike really wanted to keep that line of demarcation. He didn’t want to be that guy on-air, he’s a peer and also negotiating their contracts.

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MF: Everyone in radio always says they love collaboration but this sounds like a great collaboration coming to fruition.

TM: I think the key there, again, is that we had this unique situation where I knew these guys and I trust them. They knew each other and trust each other. We all know what we’re good at and we’re all willing to say “I’m not good at that.” When you sit in a room and figure that all out all of a sudden you have everyone managing to each other’s strengths, that’s a pretty powerful thing. It’s been a year and a half of consistent growth and I still think there is more room for us to grow. It was almost instantaneous within a three month period (of this move) that the ratings started to grow. 

MF:  Where specifically do you think The Fan has room for growth?

TM: All radio stations no matter what the format are so locked into their core demo and cater to the core demo and I get that, and we do that. I want to make that clear, we are not abandoning that. But we’ve seen growth and it’s intentional with shows that we’ve added and promos, our Fan store products, we’re trying to build a culture of listeners. We’re trying to build a brand that transcends the core demo. 

We knew we had to get younger. We had to attract more 18-34 year olds. I think any radio station worth its salt knows they have to find a way to do that these days. That’s where a lot of the tone and texture of the station is really catered to the 18-34 without alienating the 34-49 or 34-54 year olds. 

MF: After a great year for The Fan, what keeps you up at night? 

TM: I think more than anything as we move forward, we have to get better at our snackable content, our podcasting, and we have to continue to fine tune how we will deliver content via social media. We’re hiring a social media director which we’ve never had before. We’re spending money and putting resources into the positions that are going to dictate our future.

When so many stations are held under that “expense gun” I still believe that if you spend the money on the right positions, resources, and people that it will come back to you tenfold and I believe we have to grow our revenue in a different way. Stations are cutting and I think it hurts the industry as a whole. 

Despite being a long time sports radio PD, I love when people aren’t afraid to try something different. When the decision was made to split up the PD position at The Fan in Columbus, Ohio, Mike Ricordati became the station’s Director of Content and Strategy and Matt Erhard became Director of Operations. Congrats to Todd, Mike and Matt on a phenomenal year. 

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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