If there’s ever been a list of unspoken rules in sports media, not openly cheering for the team you cover seems like it would be at the top. In fact, at some point or another, you were probably told to be neutral about the team you talk or write about. ‘It’s unprofessional,’ is likely the line you were sold.
But if sports radio is all about being your true self on the air, what if your true self is someone that’s openly a fan of the team you talk about on a day-to-day basis? If I grew up loving a team and now get to talk about them every day, why would I hide that from the audience in the pursuit to be neutral?
Logan Booker, co-host of The Morning Show on 960 The Ref in Athens, Georgia, grew up a hardcore UGA fan. Rooting for the Bulldogs was in his blood and still serves as some of his best childhood memories. He realized a dream, when he enrolled at the University of Georgia and set out to follow his passion of covering the Dawgs. But he got a bit of a rude awakening when he found out what sports media would force him to do.
“The sports media program at the University of Georgia was so adamant about trying to knock that fan element out of you,” said Booker. “We were not allowed to wear anything with a sports logo on it to class. Otherwise, they’d say you’re not allowed to be here right now.”
Booker figured he’d have to give up his UGA fandom if he wanted to be in the business. Luckily, while interviewing a host at the station he works at today, he found out that didn’t have to be the case.
“I interviewed my now co-host for a school project, during my internship at the station,” said Booker. “One of the questions I asked him, was how do you turn off the fandom when you’re working? He kind of looked at me like, what do you mean? I’m in radio I don’t have to do that.”
That was the moment Booker can pinpoint to where he knew radio was the route for him. All of the pretending he didn’t care about UGA athletics was no more. He grew up in Georgia and loved the teams within its borders. Sports radio gave him the option of wearing that on his sleeve every day.
Richard Cross of SportsTalk Mississippi never hides the fact he graduated from Ole Miss. He’s also not shy about openly admitting he hopes the Rebels do well. Though a Mississippi State fan may occasionally call him a ‘homer’ that’s really not the case with Cross, nor is it his objective. In fact, he portrays himself about as neutral as it comes while broadcasting games for the SEC Network, no matter which team he’s calling a game for. But Cross realizes the most important factor when openly admitting you root for a particular team: He knows you have to be critical when it’s necessary.
“I feel like the biggest thing in all of this is honesty,” said Cross. “If you’re honest with your listeners, whether it’s after a great win or a heartbreaking loss, you just have to shoot people straight. That’s where the credibility comes from.
“I think fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. If you cover a team, whether we’re talking about on the radio or with the website or you’re a beat writer, if all you do is give people fluff and pump sunshine, they see through that. I think people expect honesty and they don’t want someone who is constantly taking shots at their team, because that gets old as well.”
“One thing I take very seriously, if something is wrong, I’m not going to sit in the radio booth and say, oh, things are fine and we’re going to get better,” Booker said. “We’re going to talk about what’s wrong and what should be fixed without a fear of upsetting someone. But at the end of the day, my audience knows I identify as someone with a rooting interest and I thoroughly enjoy that.”
So is acceptable to openly root for the team you talk about every day on the air? Well, if that’s who you are as a fan, then absolutely. But as Cross and Booker said, you also have to be willing to be critical when need be. At the end of the day, it’s all about honesty with your listener. Be your true self and say what you think.
“We are major parts of people’s daily routine,” said Booker. “For someone driving a car, whether it be for 10 minutes or 30 minutes every single morning, I think they far more identify with someone that’s a fan of the same program. We’re told this at the station a lot, we have listeners that look at us like friends. They think you’re their buddy and for all practical purposes, they are. You spend every morning with them and they’re not nearly going to be as connected or enjoy listening to someone if all I do is criticize this and criticize that. They want to connect with me and feel like they can have a beer with me and talk about the Bulldogs.”
But what if you’re labeled the ‘Ole Miss guy’ on the air in Mississippi? Though Cross isn’t viewed by all Mississippi State fans as that, his listeners that are MSU fans, still likely know where his loyalties lie. That can make for an interesting relationship when the two fan bases are evenly split through the market.
“The fascinating thing with me and Mississippi State fans, is that forever I was just the Ole Miss guy,” said Cross. “But because of the television work that I’ve done, even a bunch of Mississippi State games, there’s some that will never see or hear anything but, oh, Richard, he’s an Ole Miss guy and I don’t give a damn what he says. But I think most people have noticed how I approach doing TV broadcasts. I do a Mississippi State game the same way I do a Tennessee or Ole Miss game, or whoever I’m calling. I think I’ve developed some credibility along the way as a result of that. Hopefully that’s carried over to the radio side.”
Doing radio in Athens, Booker doesn’t have to compete with two fan bases. It’s all UGA, all the time. When the vast majority, if not all, of your listeners have the same rooting interest as you, it makes being open with your fandom on the air a whole lot easier.
But what if another station outside the market wanted to hire him? Say, Atlanta? Would he totally change his on-air persona?
“If I were in a bigger market, especially in Atlanta, yeah I would be able to be the exact same person,” said Booker. “If anything, I would lay out both sides on the table a little bit more. I would probably be a little bit more, hey, this is good, but this could also be the same thing. All of a sudden your audience isn’t going to be 90% your fandom, your audience will be split into a lot more different fan bases. It would be a little bit more difficult, but at the end of the day, I would be who I am.”
Tyler McComas: Doing radio in Athens, do you feel like you have to be a guy that openly roots for UGA on the air?
Logan Booker: No, not 100 percent. I’ll use one of our afternoon show hosts as an example. He’s from Miami and went to the University of Miami. He’s an outspoken Miami fan. He’s not over the top, like “I’m going to rub it in your face, Go Hurricanes and the Dawgs suck”. I think he understands that in order to connect to your listenership he needs to talk about the Dawgs as if it was his wake up, check the news, find out what’s happening with Georgia, and, oh, Miami is just something I do on the side. Whether that’s true or not I think when you’re in a small market, especially a college town, where you know 90 percent of your listenership either graduated from that university or even goes to that university, or employed at university, they have a major rooting interest in the local team. But if you’re not an outspoken fan I think it’s important to make sure you legitimately care about what’s going on with that team. Not necessarily in a blindly positive way but it has to be an interest of yours.
TM: You did something interesting with a poll a while back to gauge how fans view media.
LB: I put up a poll back when I was trying to become a beat writer and kind of get that fandom out of me, asking my Twitter following, hey, do you think that beat writers are fans of the program? Overwhelmingly, like 90 percent, were absolutely, the beat writer is supposed to be a fan of the program.
They don’t get it. They don’t understand that not everyone is from the state or grew up loving the team. We have a couple guys in our market that are Maryland grads. But the fans don’t get that and that’s actually a testament to the good job those guys are doing on the beat.
TM: In general, is it ok for a host to root for the team he talks about every day?
Richard Cross: I think it was Scott Van Pelt that famously said, “Everybody’s from somewhere” Everyone that’s in this business are fans of some teams. If you’re in the sports talk radio business you’re a fan of sports, right? You like it, or at least I hope you like it. Odds are you grew up watching or following some team.
I’m coming at it from a little bit of a different angle, because I host a sports radio show and I work with the Ole Miss Radio Network but I also work with ESPN and the SEC Network. They’re the same skill set, for the most part, it’s kind of different in terms of how I treat each broadcast. But I try not to be over-the-top ever from hosting a sports talk show in a state like Mississippi where you have Ole Miss and Mississippi State, you have to be fair to both sides. I graduated from Ole Miss and I don’t try to hide the fact I want to see them do well. But I feel like the biggest thing in all this is honesty.
TM: Just be genuine, right? Don’t force or fake it to your audience.
RC: Sure, absolutely. I never approach it on the radio side from the standpoint of, let’s talk about the Ole Miss game because I love Ole Miss. It’s not the approach should I go with. Let’s look at all the different angles and point out all the stuff that’s good, but also the things were bad. And I try to do the same thing with Mississippi State. But I’m just not a rah-rah guy. I never have been.
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.