This time of year we take time to reflect on what we have to be thankful for. Since July 1, 1987 when the format debuted on WFAN in New York, sports radio has a lot to be thankful for. Some of these will be new, some may have more gray hair on them. Here we go, the things sports radio has to be thankful for:
- Jeff Smulyan/Emmis: Likely someone else would have stumbled their way upon what is now a juggernaut of a radio format, but they didn’t. Instead, Emmis’ Jeff Smulyan went for it in when he started WFAN in 1987 and never looked back. For everyone who works or has worked in sports radio, we ought to be thankful to Jeff Smulyan.
- The Cell Phone: Hard to think of life without your phone today, but the technological explosion of “car phone” which became “cell phones” then “mobile phones” and now “smart phones” were and are essential to the format. These phones enabled the connection between the callers and the stations they listened to. Additionally, cell phones allowed greater access to guests literally from the field. I remember the early days of The Score/820 AM in Chicago when players were put on the air via these brick-like cell phones.
- The Internet: Let’s just assume I’m old enough to have worked in sports radio before the internet. Back in 1994 if we needed a baseball player’s stats and it wasn’t in the local paper or USA Today, we had to call the team’s PR department and have them read us his stats over the phone. Now it’s nearly impossible to imagine a sports radio show without the internet. Talent can now host from nearly anywhere over the internet. Stations can reach their fans directly via social media or email blasts.
- Newspapers: While the newspaper business has seen a steep decline over the past 20 years, a quick look at some of the nation’s top sports radio talent shows they came from the sports pages. You don’t have to look far. 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston’s top rated afternoon show features two sportswriters–Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti. Interestingly, when sports radio first started it was sharply criticized by sports writers.
- Digital recording/editing: The hours saved by digital recording and editing cannot even be counted. An industry that used to record shows on cassette tapes and Betamax video tapes, was now spared the storage and sorting nightmare that years and years of shows created. This also includes mobile recording for reporters in the field. No more clunky Marantz cassette recorders. For editing, digital audio files replaced reel to reel tape, grease pencils and razor blades.
- Free Food: Anyone who works or has worked in sports radio understands the thrill of hearing that there is free food in the station. That is immediately followed by the panic that it’s all going to be gone before you get some. Whether it is bagels or donuts for breakfast; pizza, bbq or sandwiches for lunch; ribs or steak for dinner, free food has sustained sports radio station employees from coast to coast.
- Loyal Advertisers: It’s easy to sponsor a station that today is pulling a 10 share in afternoon drive but think back to the early days of your local sports station, those advertisers were really taking a leap of faith. Car dealerships, bars, beer companies, gentlemen’s clubs, hardware stores, restaurants, you name it. The faith of many of these sponsors helped to sustain stations until the ratings arrived. Over the years sports radio has shown that their loyal followers support their sponsors.
- Football As much as I LOVE baseball, sports radio wouldn’t be what it has become without football. Look at any major station in the country and you will find talk about the NFL or college football dominating at least half the year. In some markets football dominates all year round. WJOX in Birmingham is a great example of a station that rarely needs to talk about anything but football.
- Legalized Sports Gambling: Sports betting related programming has exploded in local and national sports radio. When the Supreme Court ruled in May of 2018 to allow states to allow legalized sports gambling, the race was on. VSIN and Matt Perrault were at the forefront of the new genre. Now everyone is jumping on this hot new sector of sports radio.
- Live play by play: In today’s age of podcasts and everything being on-demand, live radio play-by-play has never been more important to a sports radio station. Not only does play-by-play provide cume and ratings, it’s one of the few things that you have to catch live. Plus the many added programming, promotional and ad sales opportunities that come with being involved with a major pro or college team are a huge reason why radio play by play is as hot as it has ever been.
There are probably at least 100 people and 20 more topics I could have thanked for this Thanksgiving, but this gives a good glimpse at what put sports radio on the map and what will sustain it for years to come. Happy Thanksgiving!!
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.