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Erik Ainge Has Been Hit In The Head A Lot

“I want to do daily radio covering Tennessee, the SEC, and sports in general, but I also want to be in the booth on Saturdays.”

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If any program director in the southeast had three wishes, they’d probably spend two of them to have an employee like Erik Ainge. He’s a former SEC and NFL quarterback, a talented show host that brings opinions and analysis that few others can match, and oh, most importantly, the guy even sells for his station. Imagine walking into a sales meeting alongside one of the best QB’s the local team has ever seen. You think you’d like your opportunity to make some money that day? 

Ainge brings it all to 99.1 The Sports Animal in Knoxville, Tenn. Especially during his daily 9 a.m. to noon slot. But though he’s a major success story now and a huge influence across the state of Tennessee, it wasn’t until life after football when he decided that sports radio might be for him. 

“I always thought, that, by being a starting SEC quarterback, you got a minor, or even a major, in broadcasting and communications, because of all the interviews you do,” said Ainge. “But you’re always on the other side so I never really thought about being in sports media. But as soon as I got done with football I had to decide what I was going to do.”

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After a career with the New York Jets, the Oregon native moved back to Knoxville. Mostly, because he loved the people there. While doing some job shadowing and trying to figure out his next venture in life, he made his way on the radio to do various interviews. The natural talent was evident right away. So much so, that many people told him he needed to explore doing sports radio. Initially, Ainge loved the idea. He knew he was funny and entertaining, but there was one big problem: There’s no money in sports radio. Especially for someone with zero experience. 

If you don’t believe in fate, Ainge’s story in sports radio might sway your mind. Just like other people took a chance on him, he took a chance on the business. The intricacies of doing a radio show were all new, but Ainge’s quick learning curve made for an easy and smooth transition. He was having a blast with his new job and it shined through over the airways in east Tennessee. 

But then came the inevitable decision on who the ex-QB wanted to be on the air. Luckily for Ainge, he didn’t think about it too long. To him, it was obvious. He wanted to be honest. If that meant ruffling a few feathers and calling a spade a spade, so be it. 

“It was harder for me during the Butch Jones era, because I knew that he tried hard and wanted to be here,” said Ainge. “I didn’t believe Derek Dooley did. It was actually easier for me to call the spade a spade, because I wasn’t necessarily rooting for Dooley. I’d never root against Tennessee or whoever the head coach is, but after the 2011 season he tried to get out of a job and the AD said no. When I knew he didn’t want to be here anymore, it made it really easy for me to be on the air requesting that he wasn’t.”

Covering a program, especially one that’s fallen on hard times, can be difficult for the ex-player. Half of the people, such as administrators, coaches and even some fans, want you to be a mouthpiece for the program that constantly pumps sunshine. The other half, which normally consists of the majority of your listeners, want you to be brutally honest and tell it how it is. It’s a fine line to walk. Especially for someone who wants to stay in good graces with the university. 

Still, to this day, Ainge walks that line on a daily basis. But even more so now, because he’s identified what he wants his next step in the business to be. 

“I want to be the next on-air color commentator for the Vol Radio Network,” said Ainge. “We always have a former player do the color commentary and I want that to be my job. I want to do daily radio covering Tennessee, the SEC, and sports in general, but I also want to be in the booth on Saturdays.”

It’s probably fair to assume Ainge has a real puncher’s chance when the job becomes available. Heck, not even mentioning his on-air success, who better than the last quarterback to lead Tennessee to an SEC Championship Game berth? But until that day comes, Ainge is taking the necessary steps to ensure he’s giving himself the best possible chance to land the position. 

“I think a lot of its relationship based,” Ainge said. “Every day I’m on the air is an opportunity for me to be auditioning to be able to do it. My ability to break down the games, give good information and insight, you know, the feedback I probably get the most is people appreciating my ability to break down something as complex as football down to where a common fan or a hard-core fan can understand what’s going on. Every day is practice.”

Making mistakes on the air and learning from them is something every radio host has to go through early in their career. Ainge was no different. In fact, when he first started hosting a show, the program was named Morning Wood. The thought behind that decision? Hey, any PR is good PR. 

“It was a different radio station than the one I’m at now,” said a chuckling Ainge. “Cumulus Media would have never gone for that PR stunt that we did. We wanted everyone to know that I had started doing sports radio in the market, so sure enough, the newspaper, local news and everyone else, put the name out. I know it wasn’t good PR, but we subscribed to the any PR is good PR at this, since we’re going to be a competitor in the market.”

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Needless to say, even though it could have stood as the funniest show name in the country, Morning Wood lasted less than 24 hours. 

The Erik Ainge Show subscribes to the three E’s, which are engage, enlighten and entertain. Every day the show hits the air, that’s what the mark is. In Ainge’s mind, if those three things are consistently given to the audience, no matter what the subject matter is, they’ll come back. 

The ability to engage, enlighten and entertain have been an instrumental part in the success of the Erik Ainge Show, but most importantly, it’s the credibility that’s been upheld since its inception. 

“One thing I’ve learned in radio is that your opinion can change, as long as you believe everything you say when you say it, then your credibility can be maintained,” Ainge said. “If you ever say stuff you don’t mean, I’m not smart enough and I’ve been hit in the head a lot, I would forget what I was saying. It’s easy for me to be honest on the radio, because I take the mindset of, if I’m not doing that, then I’ll put my foot in my mouth and contradict myself to the point of people not wanting to listen to me.” 

The show is as healthy as it’s ever been. If the numbers aren’t enough proof, then a No. 17 ranking in the BSM Top 20 for Mid-Market Mid-Day Show of the Year might help. If that doesn’t even prove it, well, stay tuned for exciting news coming to the show in the near future. 

Don’t expect The Erik Ainge Show to slow down anytime soon. Actually, you should probably expect the opposite. Whether it’s his versatility on the air, or his ability to get into doors for sales opportunities that most can’t get, Ainge will be able to accomplish whatever he wants in the Knoxville market. But whatever he earns, he’ll do so by sticking to one common principle: Being Erik Ainge. 

“If you’re genuine, people know,” Ainge said. “If you’re not, they know. I don’t think people are attracted to those who aren’t genuine. As long as you just keep being yourself, you’re not going to make everyone happy, but I think you make more people happy than not if you’re just genuine and coming from a good place.”

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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