There’s not a moment in history that’s more associated with the state of California than the Gold Rush of 1849. It’s such a well-known moment, that local sports teams within the state have adopted names that honor the event, such as the Golden State Warriors and San Franciso 49’ers.
But what you didn’t know is there was recently a second gold rush in California. No, this one had nothing to do with a pick-axe or mining pans, instead, it was all about the Warriors going to five-straight NBA Finals and re-inventing the game of basketball, the 49ers playing in two Super Bowls and the Giants winning three World Series in a five-year span. All of it created a sports radio gold rush the Bay Area had never seen before.
At the center of all of it, has been Damon Bruce of 95.7 The Game, who just celebrated his 15-year anniversary of being host in The Bay. Even though he grew up in upstate New York and spent his college years in the Midwest, he’s engrained himself into the San Francisco community and has become one of the best sports talk hosts the market has ever seen.
“Being here for 15 years has been an absolute honor,” said Bruce. “I don’t work for a living, which makes me one of the wealthiest men in the world. I want to continue to avoid ever having to go to work.”
Bruce’s legacy in The Bay all begins with a man named Lee Hammer, who was the first program director to bring him to the West Coast. At the time, Hammer was the PD at KNBR and saw something in a young Bruce that he thought would translate well in the market.
“The one thing I remember about Damon was his passion and his desire to succeed,” said Hammer. “There was no doubt in my mind about his work ethic and his commitment to being a great sports talk show host. I had the opening at 1050 and he was the right guy at the right time. And looking back, I think things have worked out pretty well.”
Bruce is eternally grateful for Hammer bringing him to a place he’s called home for the past 15 years. In that time frame, he worked at KNBR for nine and one-half years, before moving to 95.7 The Game for the next six years. It was Jason Barrett that eventually convinced him to move across the street to The Game and host afternoon drive, where Bruce is still hosting today. Barrett truly changed the arc of Bruce’s career and brought him into a situation where he flourished.
“Damon used to say ‘I do the show, you guys do the business’, said Barrett. “I liked that because it told me he knew what he was good at and where he needed help. I also saw how he had improved as a professional. More importantly, he was an excellent talk show host with something to prove, and he offered a strong contrast to what was available in the market in afternoon drive. I thought he fit the identity of what The Game was striving to be, and the station had a platform and economic package that he valued too. That made it the right fit at the right time for both sides.”
15 years in the same market is truly an incredible accomplishment. Especially in a top market, where you’ve been one of the best local hosts for the entirety of that span. More than anything, what appeals to Bruce is the realization he’s what so many people listen to on their commute home. For him it’s flattering that so many people have made him a part of their daily lives.
“I’ve developed a wonderful relationship with an audience that’s really invested back in me,” said Bruce. “That means so much, for people to think I’m a big part of their sports life. Things like getting an email from a guy that listened to me in high school, and he says he’s now out of college by 10 years, married with kids, and he’s still listening to me on the radio, it’s just amazing to be a part of these lives. I guess I’ll call it ‘market equity’. I have a lot of market equity here and for many reasons; I’m not going anywhere. I love it here. I’m the Golden Gate Bridge, I’m not leaving.”
At just 45 years old, Bruce still has a lot of takes left on the air at 95.7 The Game. In fact, his best work as a host may still be ahead of him. One, because his fastball is still very much there. Two, because he has great talent surrounding him like Ray Ratto and Matt Kolsky. Bruce can hoist up strong takes like Steph Curry shoots 3’s, but he also has a Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to help carry the daily load.
A 15-year celebration is humbling, but in a lot of ways, this is only the start to a career that will span many more years in The Bay.
“The reason Damon has lasted for 15 years in the San Francisco market is because he lives and breathes being a talk show host and his style stands out,” said Barrett. “His voice and command are instantly noticeable, he’s unwavering with his opinions, and he’s always prepared. Whether you like him or not, he makes you think.
“Behind the scenes, he was also appreciative of his supporting staff. One of the first people who’d bust my chops for a producer or board op to earn a raise or praise was Damon. I remember when I added Gianna Franco as the afternoon update anchor and an on-air contributor, each of them were initially concerned. Would Damon be easy to work with, did he value a female point of view, would the move be seen as a station PR stunt, etc.? It was the first time I had a chance to evaluate if Damon would be open minded and trust me to help him make the show better. I told both of them I thought they’d hit it off and be great together and I believed that but where they took that relationship was far beyond even what I had envisioned. Damon would call Gianna his work wife, Gianna was a huge advocate of Damon’s too, and I saw a similar connection form between Damon and his producers Kyle Englehart, and Jon Goulet. To sum it up, Damon’s lasted because he’s fully invested in sports radio, he’s made adjustments, and he’s very good at his craft.”
As great as Bruce has been, a host is sometimes only as good as the PD he works with. For Bruce, the most envious part of his carrer is the programmers he’s had above him. From Hammer, to Barrett to Matt Nahigian, currently the PD at 95.7 The Game, he’s had the opportunity to be coached by the best.
“Matt Nahigian is the best program director I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, in terms of building a brand, setting a time for the station, I think he’s done a remarkable job establishing 95.7 The Game,” said Damon. “Jason Barrett gave birth to this station, but Matt raised it and put it into college. Barrett and Nahigian are the two-best program directors of my career,”
“His credibility and success in the marketplace have been incredible,” said Nahigian. “You have to have anchors of radio stations. You have to have signature names that people talk about in the market to be successful. That’s what Damon is. When you talk to people about 95.7 The Game, they talk about the local teams, but they also talk about Damon Bruce.”
Hopefully, Bruce has taken a moment to sit back and reflect on the great career he’s put together. He’s at least earned that. His sports radio experiences the past 15 years are more than most hosts could hope to have in five life times.
“The high point has been getting a ringside seat to one of the greatest NBA thoughts ever expressed,” Bruce. “Watching the Golden State Warriors go from not mattering to mattering more than everything assembled in this league, was just an amazing experience. I’ve been out here for the Bay Area gold rush. I’ve been to a whole bunch of NFC title games, A couple of Super Bowls, the Stanley Cup Finals, five straight NBA Finals, three World Series by the Giants, a whole bunch of come up short playoff games by the A’s. It’s just been great. I’ve been out here for a sports gold rush. I really can’t think of one moment that just stands out and I think I’m happy to say that.”
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.