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The Talent Vote: Sports Radio Stations

Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to a few talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?

Demetri Ravanos

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The BSM Top 20s are generators. They generate clicks, comments, and conversation in our industry. Every year, JB reaches out to dozens of PDs and executives to generate those lists.

I thought it might be fun this year to add a new twist and let talent get in on the conversation. Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to a few talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?

Boston and Pittsburgh are the big winners this year. Congratulations to the Sports Hub and 93.7 The Fan! PDs and executives voted them the top stations in major and mid markets respectively. Let’s see what the talent had to say though. What stations do the people that make stations special think are the most special?


TIM MONTEMAYOR – FORMERLY 1320 KFAN (SALT LAKE CITY), KNBR (SAN FRANCISCO), KTRS (ST. LOUIS), KHTK (SACRAMENTO)

There are a lot of great sports talk radio stations in this country, and I listen to many of them on a daily basis, but the job of naming the best one is difficult at best. For me it is about understanding who you are, where you are, who listens to you, and how they listen to you. 

Major markets are stocked with great sports talk stations, but there is nothing like two titans throwing haymakers at each other all day long. Chicago has ESPN 1000 pushing The Score, in New York, Craig Carton on FAN and Michael Kay on ESPN NY are going head to head, and in Boston 98.5 The Sports Hub recently pulled an 11 share, leaving long time GIANT WEEI in their wake …again. 

But when you want a local radio battle, that involves the single best sports talk radio station in the country, you go to San Francisco! The Bay Area had long been dominated by KNBR 680 – THE Sports Leader. Then came 95.7 The Game, and the new guy on the block stole the Warriors and built a strong local lineup, including a guy I think is the best PD in the business, Matt Nahigian. 

So KNBR gave up right? Just turned off the transmitter and went home? Nope, KNBR is the best sports talk radio station in the country for one reason, they are Bay Area Sports. Murph and Mac are must listen in the morning, especially when big things are happening. Tom Tolbert is Bay Area sports, and Larry Krueger is one of the most underappreciated hosts in the country. 

However, KNBR is the best sports talk station in the country because they know who they are, THE Sports Leader. When a story breaks, they are on it. They know where they are, so they deliver personality driven, local radio, that listeners can count on. Giants, Niners, NFL …it’s KNBR. Steph Curry and the Warriors? How about Tom Tolbert on KNBR. You want it on your phone? KNBR. Online? KNBR.com is easy to navigate and optimized for smartphones. Anywhere you want to get KNBR, it’s there.  

KNBR is the best on air, online, and on mobile …because they are live, local, and listeners know exactly what they are going to get when they turn it on! KNBR uses all of that to leverage their heritage, partnerships, and listeners to drive ratings and revenue, and a lot of both!

KNBR finished #5 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Stations

SCOTT KAPLAN – ESPN 710 LA (LOS ANGELES), THE MIGHTIER 1090 (SAN DIEGO)

For me, the best sports station is ESPN 710 LA. Yes I am a homer, but I have loved this station for as long as I can remember. 

Here’s why I think it is a great station. 710 is owned and operated by ESPN, it has rights deals with the biggest brands in LA sports – the Lakers, Rams and LAFC. It has a heritage show in Mason and Ireland, with reputable, local and credible talent in Jorge Sedano and LZ Granderson.

Obviously with National ESPN programming, you have to figure a way to be local, PD Amanda Brown has found a nice balance with local coverage during the Keyshawn morning show, and the imaging of Chris Morales makes 710 sound totally unique all day.

ESPN LA 710 finished #5 in the BSM Top 20 of Major Market Sports Stations

ZACH MCRITE – FORMERLY 101 ESPN (ST. LOUIS), 107.7 THE FRANCHISE (OKLAHOMA CITY), KENTUCKY SPORTS RADIO

When this pandemic began and it dawned on many of us drivetime commutes would be, well, mostly commuted. Many thought that the mid-market radio industry–especially sports radio–would take one of the more severe hits. And, while that was true in some cases, the status quo also prevailed in some markets. 

But there were a select few that gained in a pandemic year. Kudos to all of them, but the one that kept getting my attention and gets my number one vote in this category for 2020 is 97.1 The Fan Columbus.

Never mind the surefire gains that the station will receive thanks to the college football Buckeyes’ CFB Playoff title game run, but right in the middle of the 2020 economic nightmare, when others were subtracting, The Fan added a local morning show once ESPN’s national morning show, Golic & Wingo, called it quits. That takes some major cojones.

Even so, and maybe even more impressively, The Fan beat out all other formats and led the way in the entire market in M25-54 during the “dog days of COVID-19,” with massive double-digit shares in their afternoon slots. That’s a pretty rare story in 2020 and worthy of major consideration at the top of the mid-market list.

97.1 The Fan finished #6 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Stations

BRADY FARKAS – WDEV (VERMONT)

WGR in Buffalo does a great job at being engaging and active on social media and I think that’s hugely important to the current audience and current marketplace. The Twitter account alone is a great news source for Bills and Sabres content. I think the One Bills Drive from 12-3 is a great show that captures the Bills love of the city and continues to tie the station in with the Bills brand. And in 2020, I think the station did a great job in a unique situation regarding the Toronto Blue Jays. The hosts discussed the Blue Jays move to Buffalo for the season, had game stories online, had video of the first pitch at the stadium that Canadian outlets picked up and I think they made the most of the unique opportunity in a unique year.

I also think that WGR personalities do a good job of making themselves accessible on other stations. I know Sal Capaccio does weekly hits on other radio stations and I think that kind of brand recognition and brand awareness is great for the station, both in the area, and outside the area. Eric Wood, who also does color for the games, is a great analyst who appeared on “The Herd” and I think that altogether, this kind of exposure, and the recognition of how valuable that exposure is, is a big deal.

WGR 550 finished #5 in the BSM Top 20 of Mid Market Sports Stations

We’re almost done, but I have been promising you all along that we will dive into every single list that JB puts out. There’s one left and it is original sports podcasts.

By the way, just because I didn’t reach out to you to contribute doesn’t mean you can’t have a say. Who do you think the best sports talk station in the country is? Feel free to add your comment below.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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