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How Do You Handle The City’s Savior Suddenly Being Done?

“The show on Monday after Lamelo’s injury was announced was a somber one.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Gut wrenching is a phrase we use around injuries in sports. It is an apt description for the broken bones suffered by Paul George in 2014 at Team USA trials and Louisville’s Kevin Ware a year earlier during the NCAA Tournament. Those kind of injuries are gut wrenching for obvious reasons. Thinking about them or looking at them is physically hard.

Kevin Ware's Awful Break: How Could It Happen? | TIME.com

Then there are the injuries that are gut wrenching because of the implications for you as a host. Two markets have experienced a very particular subset of these injuries within the last 12 months.

It is the injury to a rookie player deemed the future of the franchise, the savior for fans of the home team. During football season, Cincinnati lost Joe Burrow and just recently, Charlotte has lost LaMelo Ball. Their careers aren’t over, but promising rookie seasons are and that can be painful for hosts in a market.

Mo Egger hosts the afternoon drive show on ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati. He says that to understand the disappointment around Burrow’s rookie season being cut short, you first have to understand what having the first pick in the draft, with the opportunity to select a local kid with that kind of resume did for Bengals fans.

“The Bengals were not only getting the best player in college football, but the most famous, and after years of wrestling with whether or not Andy Dalton could ever take his game to another level, fans got a chance to imagine limitless possibilities for their quarterback,” Egger says. “It also helped immensely that Burrow is a guy who drips confidence, something that isn’t insignificant for beaten-down Bengals fans used to expecting the worst.”

He says that the national narrative about Burrow being compared to the national narrative about the Bengals helped rally fans too. Before national writers started writing about how unfortunate it was that Burrow would have to play for the sad sack Cincinnati franchise, Egger says he had forgotten what passion for the team looked like.

“Given that it was obvious since before the 2019 season ended that the Bengals were taking Burrow with the top pick in the draft, I wasn’t entirely sure what topics were going to present themselves, but it was refreshing to hear fans come to the defense of the Bengals and aim their ire at commentators who, in their eyes, seemed to almost be rooting for Burrow to end up somewhere else.”

LaMelo Ball was received a little differently by fans of the Charlotte Hornets. Chris McClain hosts the morning show at WFNZ in the city. He says that the idea of Mello as a franchise savior didn’t click right away with fans. That’s fine by him though, because it meant more callers to his show.

What makes The Mac Attack unique in Charlotte morning radio? | Charlotte  Observer

“The early season buzz on LaMelo was good for talk radio because he was so polarizing.  Many fans thought it was a great pick but tons were real skeptical because of his dad and his brothers and because of the talk about his struggles as a shooter.  But it didnt take LaMelo long to win the whole city of Charlotte over.”

Sure, it didn’t take long. Handling and distributing the ball at age 19 like a perennial all-star has a way of getting people on your side. Averaging nearly 16 and 6 per night while watching your minutes per game slowly tick up has a way of turning doubters into fans.

Charlotte basketball fans have suffered. Throughout history, there have been a number of times commentators and analysts have pointed to the Hornets as “a team with a lot of promise”. Very rarely were they a real contender though. Melo changed that attitude. McClain says that he had people believing that the franchise had stumbled upon its first true superstar since the days of Grandmama. That is why the Monday morning after Ball and the Hornets announced his rookie season was over felt like a funeral.

“The show on Monday after Lamelo’s injury was announced was a somber one,” McClain said. “He has filled Queen City sports fans with so much hope that it really stunk to feel some of that hope, at least for this year, leaving the fanbase.  Plus, many fans have purchased tickets to games later this year and were excited to see him play and now realize they wont get that chance until next season.  Real bummer.”

For Charlotte fans, it was a fractured wrist that stole their superstar. In the other Queen City, when Joe Burrow was carted off the field with a torn ACL in Week 11, despair was mixed with anger. Egger says fans were pretty clear that this was their primary concern when the team drafted Burrow without upgrading the offensive line.

“They blamed the Bengals for cycling through offensive line coaches, for giving a pay raise to a shoddy right tackle, and for whiffing on some many draft picks on the offensive line. These were all reasonable criticisms, but when you add to it the seemingly cursed history of not only the Bengals, but of pretty much every Cincinnati sports entity, there was anger meshed with a ‘here we go again’ sense that Burrow’s injury was proof that we simply cannot and will not ever have nice things. When an unfortunate moment in the present ignites a flood of very bad memories, the reaction is not good, and it sure wasn’t that day.”

That can be the danger in losing a rookie season to injury. Fans can have newfound vigor squelched. Conversations hosts haven’t been able to have in years can so quickly turn into the familiar drumbeat of the universe being lined up against your team.

If you’re in a place like Cincinnati, dealing with a fan base like the Bengals’, Egger says it can be easy to wonder if that passion will ever bounce back to where it was the moment before it became clear that Joe Burrow wasn’t getting up.

“With Bengals fans, there’s always trepidation,” he says. “The franchise’s history is not a winning one, there have no playoff wins since January of 1991, and while I think the team’s ownership does at times take some unfair shots from people who are a little too quick to blame the family that runs the team for every single thing that goes wrong, there is a massive amount of mistrust when it comes to how fans view the way the team is run.”

He says that there is something different about Joe Burrow though. Fans seem a little more willing to believe that this is the only guy that can change a pattern that has become far too familiar in the fall. That is probably good for Mo’s ratings and the team’s ticket sales, but he says it comes with a sense of dread.

“Burrow’s arrival has created a ‘if not now, then when’ vibe among most fans I hear from. If they can’t win with a really promising quarterback working under a rookie contract, then when will this franchise every breakthrough and win something meaningful? Add to all of that the fact that the team’s lease in its current stadium is up in 2026, and there is a very real sense that Burrow is quite literally here to save the Cincinnati Bengals, but along with that comes uncomfortable speculation about what will happen to the franchise if Burrow is either incapable of rescuing the team from the depths of the NFL, or more likely, never fully equipped to do so by the people running the franchise he was brought here to save.”

That can be an interesting topic that keeps people tuned in for sure, but can Mo Egger really find a way to keep people interested in a conversation so filled with doom and gloom for what? Five years? Especially if listeners are dealing with anger for letting another talented prospect flop?

McClain has a different outlook. He wants his listeners to know that even without LaMelo Ball, there are reasons to pay attention to and talk about the Hornets.

“I do worry a bit that the Hornets excitement wont be the same this year without LaMelo, but they did win their first game without him and that seemed to remind us that this team is more than just one uber talented 19 year old,” he told me. “If they find a way to make a playoff push without him, I do think fans will stay engaged.  And, I know this, the long term hope in this fanbase is the most substantial I have seen in this town and I have been here since the Bobcats arrived in 2004.  LaMelo and the personnel moves of Mitch Kupchak have us believing.”

Obviously, it sucks to see a guy’s first professional season come to such an unceremonious end. When you’re on air, there is a fine line to walk. How do you reflect the fans’ frustrations while also convincing them that there are still reasons to pay attention and keep tuning into your show?

Selling optimism can get you part of the way there. Mac is right. If the Hornets do make the playoffs this year, that is reason for Charlotte fans to say that things are improving and being interested to hear what WFNZ has to say about the team.

Do The Charlotte Hornets Have A Surprisingly Bright Future?

You also need to be real and vulnerable and let the fans know you feel the same way they do. You also wonder what the hell this means for the next how ever many years. Remember, misery loves company. But also remember that company can get bored quick if misery is all you have to offer.

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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