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Scott Masteller Is Open To Doing Things Differently

“What I find is not every talent can do everything. I like on a radio station to have all the talent be kind of different. If you had the same traits in every talent it could get boring all day.”

Brian Noe

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Scott Masteller has over 40 years of experience in the radio/audio industry. We aren’t talking about a guy that has worked in a tiny market and once covered the line dancing competition at the local fair six years ago. Scott was one of the biggest of the big wigs at ESPN Radio in Bristol. His title was Senior Director II – Radio/Audio Content. That just sounds fancy — as if the person with that gig either sips lattes with a pinky in the air, or drives something that goes 0 to 60 before you can blink.

In addition to being a program director in Dallas, Portland, and currently at WBAL in Baltimore, Scott has a ton of on-air experience. He was an afternoon drive host in numerous markets including Portland and Salt Lake City, as well as a play-by-play announcer. He not only has overseen transcendent talent like Colin Cowherd, Scott fully understands the challenges that hosts face in order to create great radio.

The Pennsylvania native has experienced so much in the industry as a sports, news, oldies, and adult contemporary programmer. Scott has worn a suit as an executive and rolled up his sleeves behind a mic as a host. Practically the only thing he hasn’t done is save a whale, which come to think of it, I didn’t ask him about so don’t quote me on that. As you will see in the interview below, Scott has a lot of wisdom. It would be wise for you to tap into it. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What are you looking to gain by attending the BSM Summit later this month?

Scott Masteller: I think it’s always good to get out and see different events and see what is going on. I don’t work in sports the way I used to. I have some involvement, but it’s spoken word. A good programmer is what I’m looking to hear from. There are some really good programmers who will be participating in this event. Anytime you can learn — part of that to me is really important so I can help other folks.

I’ve been very blessed with a really good career experience. I’ve done a lot of cool things and I’ve always tried to give back whether it was when I was at ESPN or other sports stations, or where I am now, I’m just trying to help that next young talent get an understanding of what it’s like. Obviously it’s changed a great deal in the last several years — multiple platforms, different ways to hear content. So it’s two-fold; wanting to understand what’s happening so I can be as competitive as I can be in the current business that I’m in, and then also allowing me to teach and coach talent that either work for me or talent that I know and I want to try to help.

BN: What are a couple of the best nuggets of advice you can apply to the rapidly changing world of radio right now?

SM: I would say be open to doing things differently. Everywhere I’ve gone, you go into a building and you’ll hear the phrase, “We’ve always done it that way.” I think we’re in a world where we have to be creative and different and understand that there are different ways to consume content. Most of the radio listening is done in the car. But so many people are streaming and they’re also listening to podcasts. They’re listening to content in different ways. I think that’s important.

They also have to be able to understand what plays best with the consumer. What does the consumer want? I did this when I was on the air; I would want to talk about a certain topic, but was it really the right topic to play to what I call the broadest set of the audience? I think it’s important to understand your audience and what they’re looking for. If you can get that part of it right, that opens up a lot of other avenues.

BN: If you look at the world of sports radio versus news radio, what would you say is the biggest striking similarity and the biggest difference between the two?

SM: I’ve always subscribed to the theory that when I worked in the sports arena, the NFL was the world’s greatest soap opera. That’s what I talked to my talent about is understand that that’s part of what you’re trying to convey to the audience. Well it’s very similar in the world of politics. You’ve got a president who is not afraid to speak his mind. There are all the elements at times of a soap opera and you have to be able to kind of roll with that flow.

The biggest difference that I see, in sports if you’re in a local market, if you’re in Philadelphia you’re going to talk about the Eagles. You’re going to talk about the Phillies. Those things play into it all the time. In news talk you’re going to try to play to whatever the biggest story of the day is and it depends whether you’re local or national where you go with that. My station is local all day from 5am to 11 o’clock at night. We’re looking for both great local stories but also the big national stories. There are similarities but there are also differences.

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BN: You’re going to be on a panel at the Summit. What is your on-air background? 

SM: I started at a small radio station in my hometown of Williamsport, PA. I was a jock playing music. Then I started covering sports — high school games. I actually did some minor league baseball; I did five years of Double-A. From there I got into sports radio and went to Lexington, Kentucky. I was also a program director. I was on in that market, then Salt Lake City. Spent time in Portland, Oregon for about five years. Then when I went to Dallas and went to work for ESPN, I became primarily an off-air program director.

I always felt being on air helps me coach talent because I can point out and say, “See how you made that mistake there? I made that mistake many times.” I liken it to a manager in baseball that played the game; there’s just an ability to connect with the talent in that way. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a great program director if you were not on the air, but I do feel it’s helped me in what I try to do.

BN: With you being in news talk now, I think of it a little bit like a football player who retires. He might say, “Man, I miss those guys looking at me in the huddle, but I don’t miss the practices at all.”  What do you miss the most about sports radio and what do you not miss whatsoever? 

SM: That’s a good question. I get to cheat a little bit because I’m in charge of the production of the Baltimore Ravens. That’s the fun part of my job. What I miss is the excitement around a winning team — when things are going really, really well and everybody is fired up. I remember when I was working in Dallas and the Mavericks made it to the NBA finals; the whole city was just abuzz and just excited to no end about everything that was going on. I look for those goosebump moments that as a fan you get really excited about. I had a great experience in sports radio. People ask me do I miss it; sure I miss the friendships and the colleagues, but I’m still doing spoken word radio.

What’s been kind of interesting to see is that there are several sports programmers like myself who have gravitated over to general talk and have done really well with it. Kevin Graham is someone that I worked with at ESPN, now is in Dallas overseeing WBAP. I worked with Brian Long at ESPN. He’s still got a FOX Sports station, but he’s also got a great news talk station. I’ve learned different things being in news that maybe I couldn’t have learned while I was in sports. It’s kind of an evolution of the process.

BN: Which talent do you think improved the most that you were able to work with?  

SM: Oh, that’s easy. That was Colin Cowherd. I was fortunate to be Colin’s program director in Portland, Oregon. He came in and he was very raw, but he was really, really talented. He just worked really hard. Now he’s arguably, in my book, the best spoken word talent that is out there. I’ve got other talent that I’ve worked with — when I was in Dallas, Randy Galloway, who has since retired was doing sports one way and we adjusted it and put him in an ensemble and he really took off. He was one of the best talents that I ever worked with.

Then on the news talk side I’ve got some great talent as well that I’m working with that are as good as any in the country. It’s all about being able to adjust to the format, being able to adjust to the talent, and helping the talent understand I’m not there to tell them what to do, I’m just there to be a resource to them to help them look at things from a different perspective and hopefully take that and improve upon it. I’ve been very blessed with that.

BN: When you say Colin was raw, which areas specifically did you see improvement in?

SM: I saw him be better able to close out the payoff. I’ve always talked about that if you’re an on-air talent, you’ve got to deliver the payoff. He does that I think as well as anybody right now. He’s got great people he’s working with including Scott Shapiro — who we worked together at our time at ESPN — he’s really helped him. He’s able to also look at things — he always did this — and use analogies and different perspectives to make it easy for the common person who’s driving around in their car to grasp what he’s talking about. It’s like anything, the more he did what he was doing, the better he got. That’s why at one point ESPN found that they had to hire that guy. Of course he did great there and then he’s gone on to FOX. He’s just truly a magnificent talent.

BN: With Cowherd or any great talent in mind, I think it’s fascinating that although they’re raw at one point, you can still see that it’s going to click. What is the it factor that lets you know once it does get sorted out, the host is going to be really legit?

SM: I’ve always been one to look at how you’re able to get the audience to stay engaged. Knowing that there’s a lot of discussion about ratings and you have to get the five minutes to get the quarter hour; when I heard him initially it’s like you could just tell he’s got something. He’s able to keep the audience engaged for extended periods of time.

Now that being said, it’s hard to do that. I was at enough sessions with him and other talent where they’re being tested by panels of people listening. They might really engage them for three or four minutes, but then they kind of run out of steam. Colin got to the point where he can go on and keep going and keep it interesting. I knew he had that in him as soon as I heard him the first time. That was a long time ago in the ‘90s in Portland, Oregon.

BN: What do you consider to be the most important qualities for a radio host to possess?

SM: It’s simple things. A great talent is always curious. I believe self-deprecation is one of the greatest traits of a talent; that you can poke fun at yourself. I think the instincts are there to know what to do in an interview; ask short succinct open-ended questions to get the most out of the talent. What I find is not every talent can do everything. I like on a radio station to have all the talent be kind of different. If you had the same traits in every talent it could get boring all day.

Every talent is like a quarterback and has certain skill sets that are better than others. What does Colin really do well, better than a lot of people? He tells a story. Every talent is so different in what they can do. I believe energy is really important. You’ve got passion. You give strong opinions and it comes across to the audience. “I’m really happy to be here today.” Likability is a really strong talent. I know if I have a talent that’s got a half dozen of those traits, then I feel that’s a talent that’s got real potential and I can work with.

BN: If one of your hosts has a view that the audience just doesn’t want to hear — maybe it’s critical in nature — what advice would you give to your talent on how to approach those situations?

SM: What I tell my talent is do it from a foundation of fact. You have some kind of fact to back up what you want to say. On my station we’ll say do it from a foundation of news because that’s basically what we are. We’re always talking about the news events of the day. The second thing — and I was very consistent about this everywhere I worked — never make it personal. If you make it personal that’s where problems happen. Whether it’s sports, news, a morning show; that’s not going to help you. My midday host, Clarence Mitchell IV, is a former Maryland politician. He’s well known by everybody in the market. He’s a really passionate guy. He’s not afraid to go after anybody. But he never, ever gets personal. That to me is the big difference.

When you’re a flagship for a professional sports team such as my station is for the Ravens, if the team is losing and having real problems, you still have to talk about it. But you’ve got to be smart in how you do that because you’ve got that partnership and you want to make sure that it moves forward in a positive direction. We had a case like that a year ago when the Ravens were struggling before they decided to put Lamar Jackson in. People on the talk shows were very upset that the team wasn’t doing what they should be doing to win football games. We were involved in that, but we made sure we communicated to the talent about how to approach it and not get to a point where it becomes personal. When it gets personal you’ve got problems.

BN: I’m curious about your personal background, have you always been big into politics?

SM: Not really. I really wasn’t even big into sports. But I got big into radio. I loved being an on-air jock playing bad disco records in the late ‘70s. I played a lot of those, but I was on the air and it was just engaging to me.

The best program directors are ones that can do multiple formats. I did sports for a long time. I also did adult contemporary. I did oldies. Now I’m doing news and spoken word. The medium is still very engaging to me. It’s changing and we have to be smart and adapt to that. To me it was always about wanting to be a broadcaster. 

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BN: What do you think about Jason Barrett putting on the Summit and the work he’s doing with BSM?

SM: The biggest thing is, I think it’s important to understand the amount of work that goes into putting a conference together. My last year at ESPN I had to put together a conference for a bunch of affiliates from across the country and get them to come to Bristol. When you work on a project like this, it takes up almost a year.

I noticed Jason was reacting as soon as he was done with the last one. Where is he going to have it? He’s got to find a venue. He’s got to then set up who he’s going to have involved in the conference. He’s got to put the agenda together. There’s so much behind the scenes work that goes on. By the way that’s while he’s doing all of the other stuff he has to do in his business. That to me is what it’s all about and understanding how to prioritize. You can’t do it all by yourself. He’s got to have people he respects and counts on to help him put that whole process together. I’m looking forward to the event and checking it out because this will be my first time attending.

BSM Writers

5 Takeaways From New Big Ten Media Deal

Each partner received an equitable fair share of content that will make the conference a cornerstone of each respective network for years to come.

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It’s been well known for weeks that the Big Ten was about to make television history but the official confirmation came on Thursday morning. FOX, FS1, BTN, CBS, NBC, and Peacock will now be your exclusive homes for everything Big Ten for the foreseeable future. Each partner received an equitable fair share of content that will make the conference a cornerstone of each respective network for years to come. Here are the five most interesting things I take away from the new agreement.

Amazon gets spurned again – Richard Deitsch of The Athletic reports Amazon was willing to pay more than CBS and NBC for a package of games in the 3:30 p.m. time slot or the primetime slot. As we now know, they were rejected. They didn’t even win the streaming package that was being offered, as I had previously predicted (Being on Peacock guarantees promotion across NBC platforms including “Today” or during NFL games). This shows that leagues, now more than ever, care the most about reach.

Michael Mulvihill of Fox Sports says if CBS, NBC, and Fox “promotes their next B1G game twice in their Sunday NFL games, that’s over 150 million promo impressions for the B1G every NFL Sunday.” Amazon has 172 million Prime subscribers in the U.S. according to a Consumer Intelligence Research Partners report from last January.  But it is much easier for the average viewer to find CBS, NBC, and Fox than it is to find Prime on their television sets. It’s a plain and simple fact that may not change for a long time.

We might have to wait for the next rights renewal process for Amazon’s reach, accessibility, and recognition to be anywhere near the same as the broadcast networks. Ad Age reports the internet behemoth is already lowering ratings expectations for the upcoming season of Thursday Night Football because of those same concerns. 

Seven years from now, things might be different, and having essential NFL games on Thursday nights may help viewer habits adjust no matter what age group they’re in. But for now, broadcast is still king. Local stations and broadcast networks have a decades-long affiliation with Americans that might be impossible to ever overcome and are the easiest channels in this country to access.

Peacock becomes even more of a must-have app for sports fans – As part of this comprehensive deal, Peacock will have the rights to eight exclusive Big Ten football games and as many as 47 exclusive men’s basketball games, and 30 women’s basketball games. As much as broadcast may be king, streaming is here to stay. Big Ten fans will now join hockey and soccer fans in having to watch a huge chunk of their school’s season on a streaming service. For fans, it will be an adjustment.

Depending on your internet signal, it might be difficult to screencast or connect an HDMI cable or access a smart TV app to watch your school’s games but eventually, it is a behavior we will all need to adjust to if we haven’t already. For NBC, it gives their app even more leverage to distinguish itself and prevent churn as much as possible. Hoops season will probably be the moment fans truly notice the change.

My viewing habit in the past to watch Big Ten basketball games was flipping the channel to ESPN or ESPN2 by happenstance. Unless my Terps are playing or there’s a game that’s being discussed heavily throughout the day on Twitter that’s a must-watch, the chances of me figuring out how to access it on Peacock are slim to none.

The Big Ten and Peacock’s hope is that during the duration of this deal, my habit changes to not only flip channels on my basic cable package but also flip through my streaming services and see there’s a Big Ten matchup happening and that I need to tune in. I wonder if Xfinity and other cable providers will consider a virtual channel placeholder that makes it easier to connect to a streaming service’s sports events in the future.

For example, if ESPN is channel 6 on my cable listings, ESPN2 is channel 7, my local RSN is channel 8, FS1 is channel 9, could a cable provider make channel 10 something like “Peacock Sports” with a listing of a Big Ten game that’s on that connects me right into the app and right into the stream without me having to search for the app, then look for the sports section, then scroll to see what’s live. Accessibility will make streaming sports so much easier. Watching television is a lazy man’s sport. The harder a viewer has to work, the less likely they’ll watch or discover your content. Peacock will also serve as a major home for Olympic sports.

It will be interesting to see if being on the same app as hit shows like Belair and Love Island helps with increasing the visibility of these sports. The Athletic also reports that there will be times Peacock will be airing a primetime Big Ten game while NBC airing a primetime Notre Dame game. Will they complement each other or take away viewers from each other? These are questions we will know the answer to soon enough but I salute the Big Ten and NBC for taking a measured but aggressive leap into the streaming world.

CBS bolsters television offerings despite streaming and SEC losses – When it was first revealed that CBS was signing with the Big Ten for more money than they would’ve used to keep the SEC’s top football game of the week, everyone cried wolf about how CBS took a major L. But when you look at this deal, it seems like more of a win for CBS’ overall sports portfolio.

The Tiffany Network will have access to two Big Ten Championship games in 2024 and 2028. NBC may have more streaming exclusives for their app but CBS will have an extra college football postseason game that NBC doesn’t have (NBC has one Big Ten Champ Game in 2026). They’ll carry 15 MBB games along with the Big Ten Tournament semis and final. They’ve also just added the Big Ten WBB Tournament Final. Women’s basketball ratings are continuing to soar whether it is the college game or the professional game.

A new set of advertisers are seeking to showcase their products during women’s sporting events as awareness and conversation have shifted to giving the women’s game just as much attention as the men. CBS has been a witness to the growth through its NWSL and WNBA broadcasts. CBS also gains a lucrative Black Friday afternoon football game that they’ll be able to sell for even more lucrative prices due to the time of year when millions more people than usual are glued to their television sets.

With their deal with the SEC, they only got SEC football. This is much more expansive for them. It also helps that the markets where Big Ten teams are located are much more aligned with their owned and operated stations than the SEC was which will help with local ad sales in those markets. In my hometown of Baltimore, CBS owns WJZ-TV. The University of Maryland’s biggest market with the most fans besides Washington, D.C. is Baltimore.

Is there still a chance for ESPN and the Big Ten to be business partners again? – As crazy as it sounds, there is a possibility that the Big Ten will expand AGAIN to include Pac-12 schools like California, Stanford, Oregon, and Washington, CBS Sports reports. With Fox, CBS and NBC already having their schedules set, ESPN could be the perfect rights holder to step in and pick up games.

As I noted last week, I don’t think the Big Ten will lose any relevance from a college football perspective by no longer airing on ESPN. Big Ten schools will still be eligible candidates for ESPN’s CFP property and the Big Ten’s football fanbase is too large to neglect on ESPN’s talk show circuit without monetary consequences on ESPN’s end. The basketball season might prove to have much different circumstances. Major basketball games will still air on fully distributed networks like FS1 and BTN.

But does the human psyche of not being on ESPN affect the way a basketball team is perceived during the selection process of the NCAA Tournament? If there is an actual connection, could we see the Big Ten sublicense some of BTN’s inventory to ESPN? Events like the Big Ten/ACC Challenge also hang in the balance. Could we see those types of tournaments sold separately to ESPN or another media outlet like Turner, Amazon, or Apple?

The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach reports the Big Ten could explore selling the rights to “specific one-off events.” Darren Rovell of The Action Network points out that live micropayment moments could be the future of watching live sports. “You’re going to be able to buy the last quarter for $2 or the last two minutes for 99 cents,” Rovell wrote. This type of technology already exists via the Buzzer app which has signed deals with the NBA and WNBA to send push notifications during key moments of games and encourage viewers to watch what happens next for 99 cents or $2.

ESPN has one of the most used sports apps in America. Could a deal ever come into place that gives ESPN the ability to sell these live micropayment moments of Big Ten games for similar prices, connect their user to the Fox Sports app or Paramount+ or Peacock depending on where the game is taking place, and split the profit between the rights holders, the conference and themselves? It’s a crazy concept of cooperation that may not be possible but we’ve seen crazier concepts happen in sports media before.

Commitment to academics – One of the coolest parts of this deal is NBC’s commitment to promoting the academic missions of Big Ten schools. Michael Smith of Sports Business Journal reports NBC will dedicate $100,000 of its advertising budget to this initiative.

NBC has tried its best to be mission-driven lately even with their HBCU football slate which will grant select students from HBCUs an opportunity to cover a game for NBC’s digital platforms and give other students the ability to network and improve their career prospects with other divisions of NBCUniversal.

College sports broadcasts are not only good recruiting tools for athletes. High school students deciding on where to go to school post-HS that will never play a sport are also watching these games. They can be influenced to attend these institutions which NBC has rights to because of the experiences NBC is providing at these universities or because of the awareness NBC is giving to what the university stands for. It helps drive a mission of purpose and business-wise, NBC is potentially building a young, new fanbase for the future.

A student who eventually builds allegiance to a certain university through NBC’s initiatives might be more inclined to consume content regarding that institution on NBC platforms in the future. It’s probably far-fetched, wishful thinking, and a bold hypothesis with no analysis but who knows? Haha.

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BSM Writers

How to Sell Sports Radio During Layoffs

The employees laid off pay the ultimate price, but the salespeople who are charged with representing these companies have a tough job.

Jeff Caves

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Layoffs

How do you handle layoffs at your station with your clients, or worse, the rumor of layoffs? If you were the sales staff at 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee, I doubt you had much of a heads up before the cuts were made. I have worked through local programming cuts and two bankruptcies with a station group. Looking back on it, I should have been more plugged into the bigger picture of my company.

I could have considered moving to a company that was adding resources for local sales, not eliminating them. We all have the option, and I am sure there are salespeople now considering their futures. And that is a good thing. 

Local layoffs, though, are not a good thing. I have handled them myself. Usually poorly. The employees laid off pay the ultimate price, but the salespeople who are charged with representing these companies and their moves have a tough job. So, how do you push your station forward with clients when the company cuts it back? I bet the sales people at Audacy could tell us, having faced this situation two times in the last 28 months.

Former Audacy sales manager Dave Greene gave some advice to salespeople when he departed about a year ago about working in big corporate radio. When dealing with layoffs, here is my advice. And, it has been my experience that my best clients were more interested in if I was staying, not in whoever was being let go on air. Keep that in mind. A proactive approach with clients who want to be in the know, agencies who hear all the gossip, or specific clients who like the laid off on air person should be taken. 

#1 Don’t tell who doesn’t care. Why be the bearer of bad news to clients who don’t listen or care? You know who they are. Be prepared for a response if they ask, but I don’t think running around to every client with a story will produce much more than a bunch of other rumors about you, your station, and your company.

#2 Bring out the Big Gun. Ask your GM or Regional manager to make calls with you with any high-maintenance client regarding a touchy layoff. Let them face the music and take full responsibility for their actions. The client will feel valued and impressed they had direct access to the decision maker for the explanation. 

#3 Use soft hands. If you have a client who is very sympathetic to the laid-off employees, tell them how the person was treated. Some clients care about how others are treated if they have listened to them on the air and feel like they know them well. Severance deals, other company employment offers, or maybe even re-employment at the same station could all be communicated.

#4 Give them the corporate scoop. Tell them why the layoffs happened. Was it to expand into podcasting more aggressively? Were they trying to manage costs JUST LIKE YOUR CLIENT? If we blame it on the economy, we miss a chance to relate to our clients differently. This approach works well with small business owners specifically. We want them to tell what just happened on a personal level. Ask them if they have had to do that in their career. The idea is to make them care MORE, not less. 

#5 Don’t be slow and generic. You owe yourself and your family to be intelligent, strategic, and swift. You owe it to the people who were cut to be specific, open, and sympathetic. 

If you find yourself in this situation, please be proactive and take control of the narrative with your clients. If you don’t, your competitors will. 

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BSM Writers

Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes

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Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3xYq3Oe 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3JVYgDp   

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3JWPFQS 

Google: https://buff.ly/3w9RBzX 

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3psPDGZ  

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