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Lawton Swann Uses Clemson’s Success To Fuel His Own

“I’ve told our listeners to not take this run for granted. In 1981 Clemson won the national championship and I’m sure people thought they’d be back the next year. They weren’t back for 34 or 35 seasons.”

Tyler McComas

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Covering the Clemson football program is as exciting as it’s ever been. The team can’t seem to lose a game, the head coach has turned into a character that’s either loved or hated across the country and there’s even an historic winning streak that’s within reach if the Tigers win on Monday night. Storylines are a plenty right now for media members in South Carolina. 

Lawton Swann of Clemson Sports Talk is talking about the dominant run on a daily basis. The new normal for the Tigers is ‘national championship or bust’ expectations, which, for the vast majority of Clemson’s existence, hasn’t been the case. In a lot of ways, this is still brand new territory. 

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Though covering an elite team with soaring expectations almost always makes for great content, Clemson’s recent run through the ACC has been anything but challenging. Top to bottom, the league is one of the weakest in college football and rarely threatens Dabo Swinney’s teams at Clemson. So, with that being said, does the regular season offer show hosts the challenge of always trying to find a way to make games interesting when the team is a multi-score betting favorite? 

“I think it would be difficult, except the fact we’re in the society now with so much access to different kinds of media,” said Swann. Even though Clemson is as good as they’ve been, they aren’t necessarily considered one of the ‘power brokers’ of college football, historically. People want to bring up Michigan before they bring up Clemson. People want to bring up Miami, Florida state, Oklahoma, Texas, Southern Cal. With that, they’re able to carry an edge, because it feels like they’ve been slighted to some degree. I think that helps them when they’re looking at the matchup’s that are looming and they know the people don’t necessarily believe in them, so they’ve got something to prove. So they really don’t overlook anybody. They really play that up to their advantage. You know, the ‘little ol’ Clemson’ moniker.”

For an elite program, it’s funny that Clemson seems to carry such a massive chip on its shoulder. A lot of that comes from Dabo Swinney and his constant comments about being disrespected, but according to Swann, that mentality has seeped over to the fan base, as well. Needless to say, with fans from an in-state rival constantly jabbing Clemson it plays well over the air. 

“South Carolina fans make it easy, because the conversation always turns to how much greater the SEC is,” said Swann. “You know, there’s always the comments that Clemson never has to play anybody and those things continue to keep the fan base on edge. But a lot of Clemson fans didn’t go to Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl and a lot of them may not end up going to New Orleans for the national championship game.

“I’ve told our listeners to not take this run for granted. In 1981 Clemson won the national championship and I’m sure people thought they’d be back the next year. They weren’t back for 34 or 35 seasons. Just because you feel like you have the number one recruiting class and everything‘s going to keep churning the way it is, you really never know. It’s hard for me to tell people how to spend their money but if I had enough money to go and do all these thing as a fan, I’d do it.”

Swinney definitely has an ‘aww shucks’ sort of personality. Though his success on the field for the past seven years can only be rivaled by that of Nick Saban, the two couldn’t be any more different as head coaches. Swinney’s ability to play up the disrespect card may work for his team, but there’s no denying it’s starting to wear on college football fans across the country that don’t hold loyalties to Clemson. Especially fans of the South Carolina Gamecock fans, who have grown extremely irritable of Swinney. 

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“Oh yeah, you nailed it with South Carolina fans getting annoyed at him,” said Swann. “From Dabo’s standpoint, he realized pretty quickly that he had to manage his time better. When he first got the job he would go on any and every radio show or podcast. Eventually and unfortunately you have to tell some people no. He came on my podcast back when he was the interim head coach, before I had a radio show and he’s actually never been on our radio show, because of the time constraints and everything that he has going on. And that’s even with us being in multiple markets in the state of South Carolina. Now I am fortunate we’re one of the affiliates so I do have plenty of audio and things of that nature that I can carry that maybe some people can’t.”

Clemson currently has a 29-game winning streak. A win over LSU on Monday night would send that number to 30 heading into the offseason. Oklahoma currently has one of the most coveted records in college football with a 47-game winning streak that has withstood the test of time since the Sooners reached that mark in the 1950’s. Obviously if Clemson was able to run down that record, it would change the way people compare the program to other bluebloods across the sport. So, with something so significant potentially on the horizon, is the all-time winning streak a hot-button topic? 

“They haven’t yet, but beat LSU and that will change,” said Swann. “Factor in Trevor Lawrence coming back, as well as other key pieces, having the No. 1 overall recruiting class and I think those conversations will begin. But you still got to go out there and win ballgames. I think the College Football Playoff era presents a unique finish against two really great teams. If Clemson does win Monday night, their 30-0 run, I think you can make an argument it’s the best we’ve ever seen in college football, simply because of the teams they’ve beaten. Now, it’s not the longest winning streak, but I think they’ll have a real shot at 45-0 if they win on Monday night. I don’t think that’s outside the realm of possibility.”

Selfishly, it’s hard to not root for the dominant program you cover, just because it’s normal that more opportunities will come your way. Swann has seen that develop with his career during the Tigers’ recent run. 

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“It’s been great, because I’ve had the opportunity be on radio stations from coast to coast,” Swann said.  “We’ve seen a boost in the number of people visiting the website, my overall followers on Twitter, and all those things. Yeah I think anybody covering Clemson right now has heavy expenditures and they’re also building a lot of exposure for their brands as well.”

Things can quickly change for teams on dominant runs in college football, see Nebraska in the early 2000’s and Miami for the past 15 seasons, but it doesn’t feel like Clemson’s run is going to end anytime soon. With the manageable schedule it plays every year, the highly-ranked recruiting classes and the elite coaching staff all housed in a small corner in South Carolina, regardless of Monday night’s outcome, you’ll be seeing a whole lot of Tigers in national title games in the future. 

“I think the most impressive thing about covering Clemson right now is just the consistency that they play with,” said Swann. “I really think that that’s set them apart from other programs. Dabo Swinney has taken the philosophies of some of the great head coaches of all time, John Wooden might be the best example, and that the mindset is not about the opponent, the venue or how much is riding on a game, what it comes down to is Clemson and if they’re playing up to their standard. He introduced a phrase ‘Best is the Standard’ several years ago, right when Clemson went on this magical run they’ve been on. I think it’s sort of changed the complexion of what this program is. It’s not an up and down, roller coaster type ride anymore, it’s much more consistent. That’s why you see them winning the way that they’re winning right now.”

There’s no doubt there’s never been a better time to cover Clemson. Beating LSU would mean three national titles in the past four years, but more importantly, it would bump Alabama down as the most dominant force in the sport and move Clemson to that spot. 

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“I don’t think you can dismiss what Alabama has done,” said Swann. “I think we’re probably in an era over the last half decade of equal dominance between the two teams. I’m not quite ready to think that Alabama is gone, by any means. But when people ask why Clemson doesn’t get in a tougher league, the reality for me is the way things are set up. Clemson is way better with the way things are. They have a road into the College Football Playoff every year and it doesn’t really matter about who they play.”

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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