Mitch Rosen has been in the radio game for a long time. He’s spent some 30 years in his home market of Chicago, working for a number of well-known and respected stations including WGN Radio, and ESPN 1000. Rosen has been the program director for 670 The Score, since 2005.
Under his leadership, The Score has become one of the most respected sports stations in the country. Rosen added a second station to his portfolio in the Summer of 2019. In addition to leading the Score, he took on the added responsibility of programming 105.7 The Fan, in Milwaukee. He’s a busy guy, and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rosen will be honored at the 2020 BSM Summit in New York next week as the first ever winner of the Mark Chernoff award.
I recently sat down with him to get his thoughts on winning the prestigious award, what it’s like to program two stations simultaneously and just how competitive the Chicago market is with two sports stations on the air.
Andy Masur: You were the top guy on the BSM list of major market PD’s and will be the first to receive the Mark Chernoff award. What does that mean to you, having your peers recognize what you do for the format?
Mitch Rosen: It’s very humbling, I’m very honored two-fold. Number one, Mark and I are very good friends in this industry, so, to receive this award named for him is really an incredible feeling. I’ve learned so much from him. I remember about 16 years ago, I started in February of 2005 and Mark interviewed me over the phone for the job at the Score. Ever since then, learning from him and talking to him and still to this day running ideas by him and consulting him on different things, it’s just amazing that I was the one chosen for this award is a great honor.
This award and honor it’s really not about me, it’s about the people I work with, it’s also about our brand, you know the Score brand was born in January of 1992. I happen to be the one that day in and day out works close with this brand. But it’s about the people, it’s producers, on air talent, people in our digital department, people at Radio.com sports, Entercom, CBS Sports/Westinghouse. So many people touch this brand and oh by the way it’s our audience. Without the listeners of Chicago and folks that listen to our product on the Radio.com app and online every day, you know, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be overseeing this tremendous brand, so even though my name is on it, it’s all about the Score brand and about people that I work with on a daily basis.
AM: What are you looking forward to at the BSM Summit?
MR: I always look forward to collaborating with my peers. Also, watching and listening to the great panels. I think the panels Jason has put together this year are incredible and I always look at it as a great learning experience. No matter how long you’ve been in this business when you can absorb knowledge from some of the people that he’s assembled is great. It’s great to see some of my peers that you really only get to see once a year at Jason’s summit, so that’s what I’m really looking forward to, seeing a lot of people in the industry and talking about great ideas. As we know our industry, I feel, changes on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. To be able share ideas and knowledge is really huge.
AM: What is the competition like in a crazy sports town like Chicago with 2 sports stations?
MR: This market is unusual, you have two stand-alone AM radio stations in us and WMVP (ESPN 1000) and I think it’s a credit to this Chicago sports market. Both stations do very well. I think at the end of the day when you look at it, I think our station has more listeners throughout the year on a weekly basis. Though, if an outsider said you have two stand-alone AM radio stations that talk sports and on a weekly basis combined you cume sometimes a million and a half people a week that’s pretty impressive.
We’ve seen the trend of sports stations going to FM around the country and it just hasn’t clicked yet in Chicago. I think it’s a testament to when there’s great content people find you. When you have two great AM stations, and I think both do a good job in terms of content, its not just the AM band anymore. It’s all the different platforms through social media that people find great content and I think that’s how we’ve survived over the years since 1992 and you have to adjust with the times. You can’t sit back and wait for technology to come to you, I think you really have to follow technology and be ahead of the game. We’ve seen that in what we’ve done with live video streaming on a number of our shows and the OTT products and things like that.
AM: You and Mike Thomas at ESPN 1000 are friends, what’s the dynamic like in competing against him and his station?
MR: He’s a friend, he’s a colleague, he’s someone I respect, but I think he would say the same thing, I wake up every morning and you think how do I get better? How do you get better than your competition? How can you motivate your staff to produce better content every day?
I also think we compete in a world that isn’t just sports. We live in the demographic of 25-54 year-old persons and obviously our main target is men, so how do we do better than some music stations? We are all fighting for an audience, how do we get more ears on our station, more eyeballs on our digital platforms? That’s what we strive to do every day.
AM: In a sports market like Chicago, what is the importance placed on having Chicago guys on the air talking Chicago sports?
MR: Everybody knows their city I think better than others. I’m fortunate enough that I was born in the Chicagoland area. I’ve been fortunate to work in this market since 1988. My first job was at WGN radio, first as an intern, then I was hired at WGN shortly after that. I feel it’s important that people that work in this market in sports radio either grew up here, or worked here.
You look at our lineup from top to bottom, these people have worked here long enough and lived here. I think it’s important that they know the background of Chicago sports, they know the audience, they know geographically where people live and where they come from. They know the passion of Chicago sports, they know what it was like being a fan and they know the teams in this market. Every market is different. I can only speak for Chicago and now a little bit Milwaukee. But for the Chicago market I think it’s vitally important that people live and breathe this throughout their life. That’s how I feel about it.
AM: How do you view the landscape of sports radio in Chicago and the format in general?
MR: I’m still a believer in live and local. I think in this format specifically. We’re in the opinion business, people always want to talk about live and local sports. People in Chicago want to give their opinion about the Bears. They want to give their opinion about the Cubs and about all local sports teams. I don’t see that going away.
It’s how you go about figuring out through which platforms, through what different ways you communicate with the audience, those are the type of things that continue to evolve and change. As a programmer you have to be willing to adapt and change. What I was doing three or four years ago as a PD has changed. Today as a brand manager you just have to be able to be adaptive, go with the changes, be open to ideas and come up with new ideas. You can’t wait for it to come to you. You have to be willing to share things with the staff and be open to feedback and ideas from everybody. That’s how I see it, I think this format is as strong as it ever will be and it’s all about being live and local.
AM: What do you see as a benefit of having team play-by-play on The Score?
MR: I am a firm believer for a sports radio station to be successful you need to have a team’s play-by-play on your airwaves. It’s a great marketing tool that you can cross promote in play-by-play. It brings in a cumulative audience that helps you market your other day parts. From a sales standpoint it’s a great opportunity to generate revenue with the right business deal. Again, for a sports radio station today in 2020 its imperative that you have a play-by-play property/partnership on your radio station.
AM: How difficult is it to be effective as a PD in two cities at once, juggling Chicago and now 105.7 the Fan in Milwaukee at the same time?
MR: I love it. You know, traditionally I’m in Milwaukee for a day and a half a week. With modern technology I’m always in touch with the Milwaukee market. I’m fortunate enough that I have great assistance there with Steve “Sparky” Fifer who also is a co-host on our “Wendy’s Big Show” in the afternoons. I have a great staff there, from our morning show to middays and afternoons.
Milwaukee has really become a great sports town. The Packers had success this year, being a game away from the Super Bowl. The Brewers have been competitive in the NL Central and of course the Bucks. They’re probably the best team today in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. It’s fun, it’s only 90 miles from Chicago and to me being in the business a long time, it’s rejuvenated me in terms of something fresh to work with and great people. You combo that and it’s just been a joy to part of that organization.
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.