I always find it interesting, a city like Houston with championship-level professional teams in the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball produces sports radio ratings lower than most top-10 markets around the country. There are multiple explanations you can point to, but I can comfortably say it’s not for lack of on-air talent.
At the start of July, I was a first-time “LoopHole” where my only previous experience listening to Sports Radio 610’s midday show hosted by Landry Locker and John Lopez was a segment with Shaun Morash. Without any preconceived notions of the show, I tuned in July 1, hour one to hear Locker recite a poem he wrote, and Lopez sing an original song recapping the unprecedentedly brutal first half of 2020. Shortly after, In the Loop played sound from Mike Francesa and I was officially locked in. Little did I know, those were going to be recurring themes throughout the month: originality, rhymes and sound. A lot of sound.
I generally enjoy shows that are hosted by former producers. That’s not to say hosts who haven’t produced don’t care about their craft and aren’t willing to put in the prep work. But there are hosts who get to the studio, flip on the mic and let their audience do the work. I’d be willing to bet most of those on-air personalities never produced a show.
Locker’s professional background is as a producer. Actually, it’s as a fireworks sales manager, but his start in sports radio featured production experience, including a near four-year stint behind the glass for 610’s morning show. Now hosting middays since 2018, In The Loop sounds like a show with a willingness to try new things, it’s organized through ample prep work, builds out each show block and features a lot of harvested soundbites. It’s not a coincidence that this occurs with a former producer behind the mic, someone who can be an organizer and originator.
Lopez adds his experience as a longtime radio host and columnist for the Houston Chronicle. His knowledge, having been around teams and players, provides excellent insight on topics such as whether NBA players will ditch the bubble for extracurricular activities. The frequent analogies from Lopez are timely, often comparing sports to work and relationships in a way the listener can relate. Not quite as creative as Colin Cowherd, but also not as occasionally bizarre. As a listener, I enjoy a good analogy, especially ones I don’t have to decode.
In The Loop’s producer, Figgy (Edward Gilliard) has his work cut out for him each morning, but credit both hosts for regularly showing appreciation for his contributions. Segments for 610’s midday show are frequently built around sound clips. Finding, organizing and playing the audio is likely a collaboration, but Figgy surely plays a large role in making sure the show is running on all cylinders.
Pulling content from other shows and platforms is often underutilized in sports radio. Media personalities make millions of dollars to spew their professional opinions for everyone’s entertainment and if Skip Bayless says something outlandish, you should debate it on your show. In The Loop does not fall short in using and localizing outside content to react to, if anything, they might overutilize it. Whether it’s audio from another show on 610 (which they do a great job of cross-promoting), an NFL Network segment from Charlie Casserly, or sound from yesterday’s Astros presser, you’re going to hear a lot of voices on In The Loop.
Playing, replaying, analyzing, scrutinizing and reacting to sound is a big part of 610’s midday show. As a listener, I like it for the occasional set up, but I don’t need it as a lead-in to every opinion. Too much can take away from the pure and instinctive beauty of talk radio. Unforeseen conversations and debate can be lost when so many segments are designed to feature outside sound.
Separate from the clips, In The Loop also plays a lot of background music. Talk radio has the ability to connect with listeners and make them feel like they’re part of the show. Entire segments with background music reduced the personal feeling of the hosts talking to me. Instead, it feels more like a national ESPN program than a radio show.
It’s common for shows to play the NFL Films soundtrack during picks, and maybe include something upbeat for a short rapid-fire segment, but when used for more than just a few minutes it becomes distracting. Understanding this is my personal preference and maybe 610 conducted a focus group determining Houstonians like cheesy music beds, but I say this as a compliment more than a criticism. Lopez and Locker already move at a good pace with plenty of natural entertainment value as a duo and it’s not because of a sound bed.
It’s a small note, but it’s great that the show named their audience. It inherently builds the communal feeling that surrounds a radio show: LoopHoles in Houston, TOLO’s in Dallas, Kirk Minihane’s Minifans, and the more common “(insert show host) Nation.”
Lopez and Locker use the text line frequently and take calls from LoopHoles occasionally. In The Loop picks their spots for opening the phone lines and it does a good job of adding unique conversation to show’s inherent organization. Callers also create the potential for finding sound drops. Hopefully the show saved Locker’s, “it’s not about the booty,” or “this is the whitest I’ve ever felt, and I go to Kenny Chesney concerts!” to be played at a later date.
In The Loop has so many segments worthy of a podcast. I already acknowledged Figgy has a lot on his plate, and don’t mean to suggest giving him another task, but I wish they broke down some of their podcasts as individual segments, not just full hours. Entercom pushes the RADIO.COM app and suggests hitting the rewind button, but knowing a show keeps a running list of their best segments will drive me to the app more than any other selling point.
Even as a P1, it’s rare that I tune in to all four hours of a show’s podcast, but I’ll certainly click on the highlighted 10-minute clips they offer. Lopez’s best analogy, Locker’s poem, In The Loop breaking down Zack Greinke’s enigmatic postgame presser, are all headlines I’d prefer over hour one, two, three and four. Give me 10-minute clips, if it leaves me wanting more, I’ll check out the full hour.
This was the first month of sports radio listening where there was actually sports to talk about since March, but I appreciate that In The Loop didn’t need it as a crutch. There was finally sports content to discuss, but Lopez and Locker didn’t focus solely on game recaps or interviews with beat writers, they always hammered the local scene creatively.
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.