Last Thursday I joined many in this space in celebrating National Radio Day. I looked back at all the incredible people I have had the opportunity to learn from and work with throughout my 15+ years in this business. Liam Chapman, Amanda Gifford, Jeremiah Crowe, Justin Craig, Matt Casey, and the list goes on. No doubt about it, I was lucky enough to learn from the best. One of my weaknesses, however, is that I sometimes rely on their lessons too much.
In my new role with SB Nation, I’m in charge of assembling the Niners Nation podcast lineup. Throughout my search, I find myself gravitating towards people whose style matches the model that I was taught. A fine model, yes, but it’s not the only successful model out there. Far from it, in fact. How do I, and program directors across the country, separate the things that I don’t like from the things that can be successful? How do I recognize them, and most importantly, how do I learn from them?
Before I started listening to The Dan Le Batard Show, I thought I knew exactly how to identify a good radio show from a bad one. I thought all you had to do was look at segment structure, delivery, teases, and other formulaic criteria and you could eventually tally everything up and know which shows were going to be successful. Then I heard Dan do an entire segment with an animal expert. Or intentionally ask Greg Cote a question two seconds before a hard out. Or let fans ask Tim Kurkjian for life advice. No matter what “rule” the show broke, I constantly found myself wanting to hear more. My entire idea of how to evaluate a show was ruined the way celery ruins a potato salad.
I then began to think about all the potential avenues shows could go down that didn’t confirm to my rigid set of rules. It was like I finally knew how much I didn’t know. But if I could learn so much from a unique show that I liked, could I also take something from places I disliked but were wildly successful?
To be clear, there are many successful things that I just don’t like: Bruce Springsteen, the entirety of Barstool Sports other than Dan Katz, and of course celery. Just because I don’t like them, however, obviously doesn’t diminish from their incredible success (okay, I wouldn’t exactly call celery a success. I just hate it so much that it will appear on any list of things I dislike from now until the sun explodes and engulfs the Earth in fiery death).
Both Barstool and the Boss are successful because they speak to something deeply embedded in their audience. People identify with them because they see their own experience reflected back at them. The key for decision-makers is recognizing when that experience is representative of a large enough audience to earn that person or group airtime.
There are too many executives with too much power who never have that eye-opening experience. It’s easy to assume that all the decisions you make are the right ones simply because you have the power to make them. After all, how could you have risen to the position you’re currently in without possessing a keen sense of what to do, and when to do it?
In reality, no matter what company you’re talking about, the job of a manager is always to cultivate and recognize a good idea when you hear it, and put it into action. Something God clearly did not do when he allowed stringy, watery sticks to grow out of the ground.
But how do we go about changing our own minds when it comes to content decisions? One way that applies to my own career is to listen to someone significantly younger than I am. While I was at NBC, I was told we were going to add someone new to the show staff, “who has a little bit of a younger perspective.” It was, for sure, the first time in my life that I had ever been called old, and I was stunned for the rest of the day. Turns out, that was 100% the right decision. I can’t tell you how many good ideas came from that person that I never would dreamt of in a thousand years. Somewhere between two kids and mowing the lawn, I completely lost track of what is cool. When your livelihood depends on covering sports played mostly by people in their twenties, you can’t lose touch with that.
The other piece of advice I would offer to anyone who wears a suit to work, is to listen to the people in the trenches. The people on the ground with their noses in the content day after day have so much to offer, yet are often the first ones overlooked. Hearing these people out and explaining decisions to them not only makes them feel appreciated, but also could help keep talented people in your organization in the years to come, people who could possibly develop into assets for your company down the road, even in another role.
For example, a producer working on an evening show with rotating hosts could develop a talent for scouting potential future stars. If this person is trusted and appreciated, they may grow into a vital role in the talent relations department instead of leaving to become an agent.
I wish I had more answers for you than that. I don’t. I’m still figuring it all out – I just got this gig two weeks ago! The best thing I thought I could do with my last column as a Barrett Sports Media staff member is to get the idea in front of so many of the smart people in positions of power who read this website. If you’ve got any suggestions, I’m all ears.
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.