The last six weeks haven’t been easy for sports media brands throughout the country, whether they’re a small business or publicly traded company.
For 93.1 The Fan in Lima, Ohio they weren’t far removed from challenges of their own when the COVID-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented shutdown of sports and the economy. Last October, The Fan’s longtime weekday host and play-by-play voice Vince Koza was diagnosed with cancer, forcing him to step away from his role with the station. In January, Koza succumbed to the disease.
As a member of the Associated Press Ohio Broadcasters Hall of Fame and a prominent voice on The Fan for over a decade, the station was tasked with replacing a local icon. Launching a new show presented its own challenge for the station and new afternoon host Marty Bannister, but they soon had to deal with the sports shutdown and vast economic impacts of a global pandemic.
Salary reductions, layoffs and furloughs for national sports media brands made mainstream news, but smaller market companies are equally impacted. Privately owned radio stations might not be dealt the hand of reducing a seven-figure salary, but those mom and pop media companies still represent a chunk of the broadcast industry.
I spoke with Garrett Searight, 93.1 The Fan program director and producer of The Drive With Marty Bannister to see how The Fan is dealing with the negative impacts of COVID-19.
Brandon Contes: How has the business side of 93.1 The Fan been during the last couple of months? Have you seen a significant impact in your number of advertisers, sponsors and clients?
Garrett Searight: We saw a big drop off right at the start. Those weren’t a fun couple of days for our sales team. I understood the apprehension and concern from our clients, but it was difficult. The vast majority of anyone who wasn’t a restaurant, either cancelled or cut back by 50%. This week, though, we’ve started to see a shift and sales pick up a bit. There’s some hope because the governor of Ohio has been talking about reopening part of the state a little at a time beginning May 1st.
BC: Are most of your clients locally owned businesses?
GS: Yeah, which is something we’ve talked about, because some other stations in town are iHeart owned. They get national spots that companies are buying on thousands of iHeart stations, while we’re hitting up mom and pop shops that are working from home or offer a non-contact service. It’s an extra challenge for our sales team and you need really strong relationships with these folks. But I would say about 80% of our advertising comes from small, locally owned businesses.
BC: With the clients you have lost, are there ways you look to maintain a relationship with them so if Ohio does start opening back up May 1st, those clients are looking to you with their advertising budget?
GS: A lot of our sellers are really good about that because we can’t just say ‘hey! this station is the top-rated rock station in the market!’ We build relationships where our clients trust our salespeople and know there’s no BS. Our sales team stays in contact with those clients, so they know we’re still here for them.
BC: What about having less commercials, how are you filling those spots? Has it increased the amount of content you need to create in an hour for your local show?
GS: It’s changed, we were doing a SportsCenter update every 20 minutes during our local show and we stopped it recently because the volume of topics to talk about and update listeners on just isn’t there. That creates six more minutes of content you have to fill each hour and then your spot blocks go from four minutes to 90 seconds, so we’ve had to rearrange the format of the show a little bit. Instead of 44 minutes of talking in an hour, it’s now more than 50 minutes and that’s during a time when everyone’s looking for things to talk about. It presents a challenge, but it’s also not a bad thing to have more time for longer form interviews, or delve deeper into different topics.
BC: You have one local weekday show?
GS: Yeah, 4 – 6p with Marty Bannister and then we had a Saturday morning show from 8 – 10a that we put on hiatus for now because those hosts, one is a financial planner and the other works with the Chamber of Commerce. They’re sports hosts, but when it’s not your full-time job, it’s difficult to find two hours of content without sports.
BC: And what about evening programming, did you carry local play-by-play, and was that impacted?
GS: We carry girls high school basketball, there’s also a local college that we did 10 of their 25 games. But the majority of it was finished by the time everything shutdown. In Ohio, they cancelled seasons about 20 minutes before the first girl’s state semifinal.
BC: For those local broadcasts, are the announcers hired by the station?
GS: Yeah, we’ve got a rotating group of announcers. And if you go back a bit, station programming was largely built around Vince Coza who hosted our daily show and did a lot of play-by-play. In October, he found out he had stage IV cancer and passed away in early January. So from late September through now, there’s been a lot of upheaval, change and challenges.
BC: I do think there’s something to be said for small market radio stations being used to dealing with abnormalities. Not to say that anyone could have prepared for this pandemic, but running a small business, you’ve had unexpected issues pop up before.
GS: When everything started getting cancelled, our boss asked what are we going to do with the show? My initial reaction was to shut it down and turn on The Will Cain Show. But then I thought, well that’s kind of a crappy, take the easy way out approach – so we stayed with our local show.
Our market manager Allen Willis would send me articles from Barrett Sports Media about what other stations are doing. But a station like 101 ESPN in St. Louis, might have more people working on one show than we have in our entire building! It’s different, we’re not apples to apples here, but we’re experienced in problem solving and going through challenges.
BC: And now looking back, how do you feel about the decision to keep the show going?
GS: I’m really happy we didn’t just take the easy way out. People are going to remember who was there for them, who put in the effort and who tried when everything turned. We’re in the same boat as our listeners. All of our lives have been disrupted and it’s been a good way to connect with our audience and say, ‘we’re in this, just the same way you are.’ It brings an authenticity to the show that I don’t know if a syndicated simulcast from New York City could’ve had.
BC: Because you’re going through this together with the audience, has it helped listeners connect with Marty as the new afternoon host?
GS: For Marty, it’s definitely not easy to step in and replace someone who was a prominent voice in this market for years. But when two months into your full-time stint replacing that person, everybody has to go home and stay there for who knows how long, it’s pretty endearing to be a steady voice for everyone, every day. Now you also have more time to talk and build those connections because it’s not as fast paced of a show that we’re used to. It’s a slower speed and you do get to know somebody that much more because of the situation we’re in.
BC: Are there things you’ve implemented into the show as a way of trying something new since you don’t have games to react to everyday?
GS: Actually, on Monday we’re starting a segment called ‘Football 4:15’ because no matter what, it’s always football season on sports radio here. Even without sports, no matter what day it is, we can still talk Ohio State football, high school football, Bengals, Browns, it doesn’t matter. So every day at 4:15 we’re talking football. We’ve had segments where we talk to local golf course owners or the city Parks and Rec Department about how they’ve been impacted, while also getting information out there regarding new schedules for local baseball, tee ball and other youth sports. It’s been nice to offer more community-based content that we may not have time for in a two hour show when the world is normal.
BC: How about when sports do return, will some of these changes carry into the future? Maybe you keep commercial time down or continue with some local spotlights?
GS: The longer we’ve gone without doing SportsCenters, I’ve thought about if it’s better to have more time to talk instead of me just regurgitating that Francisco Lindor hit a homerun last night. There are things to reevaluate. And I’ve told my bosses this, I don’t think we’re just doing good shows considering the circumstances, I think we’ve been creating really good shows even if everything in the sports world was normal. And since we’re all working from home, now we know we can take the show on the road more if we need to for our clients. We can do remotes more easily than I ever thought we could. So we’ll look back at what we liked from this time frame and see what changes to implement going forward.
BC: Have you seen more website or social media traffic in recent weeks?
GS: Social media is up, our Facebook numbers have been up and Facebook isn’t typically the ideal social media platform for a sports station. But now we’ve started producing more content for Facebook and Twitter and our audience has reacted pretty positively to those videos and engagements. That’s something we’ll certainly look at continuing in the future.
BC: Do you know if the company applied for or received small business loans?
GS: Yeah, we did, and we did get approved which is certainly reassuring. We see other markets and how it’s not going great for people even in larger markets and big media companies. So it’s good to have that reassurance and know we have some financial help.
BC: How long could the station operate without that assistance?
GS: That’s a good question. Part of the good of being a small company and part of the bad of being a small company, is that you are frugal. You’re used to finding corners to cut and save where you can. It’s something we’ve been cognizant of for years and maybe helped prepare us for this.
BC: Did the station have to make any personnel cuts?
GS: No, we’ve been lucky that everybody is still on. There was discussion of having five furlough days before the end of May, but even that was deemed not necessary for now.
BC: Is the unknown exciting in a way? The priority is to survive into next week and next month, but you’re also balancing finding ways to grow and build a better radio station.
GS: I’ve looked at it as, if we shoot for thriving and miss – at least we’re surviving. If I shoot for surviving and miss, then we’re in trouble. Let’s not think about whether or not we’re going to make it through the month, let’s try to win a Marconi this month and if we miss? We’ll still be doing alright.
Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call
“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”
I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.
The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.
Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.
Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.
We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.
I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.
You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.
People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.
How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.
Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.
If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.
In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.
Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.
What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.
Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!
“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”
Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?
Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.
To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:
#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?
#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?
#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?
If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!
Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.
Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:
#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.
#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.
#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.
#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.
#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.
Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!
Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas
“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”
Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?
Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!
One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.
Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.
There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.
Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.
I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.
Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.
It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?
Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.
If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.
Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.
A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.
“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.
We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.
As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.
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