Audacy’s Sarah Frazier didn’t originally want to be here. Yes, she always wanted to work in the media in some aspect, but in college at the University of Kansas, Frazier thought she would be a broadcaster. Then, a very blunt professor named Tom Hedrick came into her life.
She was in a sports broadcasting class and Hedrick told her in no uncertain terms that she did not belong on a microphone. He thought Frazier should try sales if she wanted to work in the media business.
“It’s the best thing anybody ever did for me because I wasn’t good,” she told me. “And while I do love the reporting side and I do still love to fancy myself as a journalist, the truth is I’m much better on the business side. So he did me a favor.“
Fast forward to today and Sarah Frazier is entering her tenth year as market manager of Audacy’s Houston cluster. The city has a crowded sports radio landscape and she credits not only her sales team, but the energy that PD Armen Williams brings to the job for helping Sports Radio 610 stand out above the competition in town.
In this week’s Meet The Market Managers conversation, Sarah and I discuss a leader’s role in a crisis, what she would have done differently during the deepfreeze of two months ago, her relationship with the Houston Texans, and why seeing her PD dressed as Richard Simmons reaffirmed her faith in him.
Demetri Ravanos: Entercom recently rebranded to Audacy, and on our side of the business, it was done very well. Everybody knew what was coming and there were no hiccups. Just one day the brand new logo was revealed. But on the ground, what was that process like? Were there any challenges on the local level in terms of getting clients to understand these are the same people you’ve been dealing with all along?
Sarah Frazier: Well, first of all, our team did an amazing job. I think everybody who had worked behind the scenes for so long, I think that it was just so well put together on the back end. Then from the consumer customer facing side, I think everybody expected this. I mean, this is the natural evolution of it. We were so much more than radio.com.
When you look into the future and at all of the podcasts and everything that we’re doing, there’s just so much content. Radio.com just didn’t make sense. I think everybody immediately got it. The coolest thing for me was my 15 year old daughter, when the logo changed, she was like, “oh, hey mom, that’s really cool”. And all of a sudden what I did wasn’t outdated to her. It was now. And that, I think, is the epitome of everything that we’re trying to do.
DR: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the digital side and the idea of radio.com not fitting the future make up of the company. It can be perceived, certainly by people in the industry that I’ve talked to, that Entercom/Audacy is very much planting its flag in the sand that the emphasis moving forward is now on digital, and it’s moving away from broadcast radio. Does it feel that way to you or is there more to it?
SF: Well see, here’s the thing. I don’t think those two things are necessarily intertwined, I think we can play with the distribution for what we deem important. What I mean by that, it doesn’t matter how people are getting their content. It doesn’t matter to us. We’re going to be on those platforms.
What we do realize is that to make sure we’re everywhere, we have to be in the digital space, but that doesn’t make our over-the-air signals any less important. At least that’s what I believe. When you think about everybody that listens to us in Houston every day, most people are listening over the air. I really don’t think that’s ever going to go away. I’m passionate about free local press and I believe that is something that may even become more important as all of this diversification happens. You know you can trust us, and that’s what we’re finding. We’re seeing it in the research that people really trust local media and that’s becoming more and more important as we go.
DR: So as you look back on your whole time leading not just an entire building, but a sales staff as well, you’ve obviously seen digital products grow and grow in terms of their importance within the sales mix. I wonder, have you seen or are we past the point of those challenges impacting sellers? By that I mean, they understand better that they need to be skilled now at selling multimedia platforms not just radio?
SF: To your point, when we started, I was selling spots and maybe sometimes the live broadcast, right? And now, I couldn’t even tell you, Demetri, how many actual things we have to sell. I don’t think the question is, “do they understand they need to sell digital?”. I think the question is “how can we keep them up to speed on all of the different products, the specific uses of each one, and how to package that for their clients?”. When I sit down and try to think about a marketing campaign, which I still do, because I do love to make sure I’m doing the same thing as our sales people are doing so that I understand the challenges of it. But when I put together a campaign and I’m creating and thinking about what different tools I want to use in that media mix for the client, there’s so many that we have that it gets confusing for even me to remember all the things we have and what products do what. There’s just so many. I think that’s the biggest challenge.
I mean, there’s nothing that we can’t do. The level of data that we can get on on a target consumer is creepy. I mean, I could tell you right now who went for a run in my neighborhood and put a mobile message in front of them. Now, that is really trippy when you think about it.
DR: Right. That is a level of data mining that almost seems like it wasn’t meant for radio and television. Who could have foreseen that coming as part of our business?
SF: Yeah. It’s almost to the point where everybody can sell everything. I like that because what that means is the best sellers will win. The best marketers will win. The people that work hardest will win, and put me in that game any day.
DR: So it’s interesting you say that everyone can sell everything because that goes right to a note that I wrote down for one of these interviews a while back, but I’ve just never used. So I’ll ask you, because there is more and more every day that we can sell, do you see a place where your cluster or the industry as a whole can create new revenue? Are there potential products that we just haven’t tapped into yet?
SF: Well sure, I mean, we get something new all the time. The new stuff that we’re doing in the Amazon marketplace and how we can put clients products in that space, I don’t even quite understand that yet. One thing that I’m starting to do because we have so many products is ask myself some questions. What are the right ones that work for clients the best? What are the ones where we can really be competitive? Because I’m not going to use my credibility and sell a client something if that’s not the best thing that we do or that’s not the best fit for them. There’s enough for us to sell and find our way with among the things that we do best. That’s almost always rooted in the core of radio advertising. I mean, that’s our giant megaphone.
But yeah, is something coming down the pike? I’m sure. It’ll probably be here tomorrow.
DR: I often wonder if it’s going to be something that feels like, “Well, Jesus, we thought of that like forever ago.” Like if it becomes something such as putting stickers on local garbage cans. At this point it feels like we’re so far advanced in terms of what we can sell that the next big thing is something we are going to feel so dumb for not having thought of was still an option.
SF: Well, we do forget stuff like that. One thing that’s that’s funny and I’ve been thinking a lot about is that we for so long would just give away tickets over the air, and how we got to thinking that was kind of trite and old. We wondered, ‘how could we reinvent that’? And then here we are getting ready to launch into a bacchanalia of events and people going out, and the one thing they’re going to want more than anything are tickets to events. So yeah, what goes around comes around.
DR: Let’s talk about that for a minute. Texas and Florida have been operating differently, maybe a little more loosely during the pandemic than other states. Now we’re at this point though where nationwide everyone is opening up more and more a little each week. Is there a threshold you are waiting for before you guys are back at the point where live events come back into the sales mix?
SF: I am working through this as we speak. We have been working with Karbach, it’s a brewery here in town. They have this great outdoor space and one of their cornerstones is live music. That’s true for one of our country stations too, 100.3 The Bull. So we’ve been working together on how we can safely get people back out. And we’re going to start in May. We’re going to go on the air a week from yesterday with giveaways for a pod of either four or six tickets. We’re still looking at how they can safely do it the best, but under a pod for you and your friends. And then it’s going to start. We’re going to have a spring concert series. And I think the passion surrounding that is going to be off the charts.
DR: So from the sales standpoint, let’s move giving tickets away to listeners to its own category. You’ve got this opportunity, that is coming really soon, to hand out tickets to a game or to a concert to your most loyal clients again. What do you think that’s going to bring back that you’ve been missing for the past year?
SF: Our cornerstone is definitely the Texans, and I think for our clients, I foresee this Texans season as being a reunion of sorts. There are clients that we have gone through this together with. It’s almost like going to war with somebody. How is your business doing? What can we do to help? How is ours doing?
It just went crazy this time last year, and so our relationships are a lot deeper with those people. I can’t wait to see so many of those people. Our Texans games have always been the time where I get to see our key clients on a bi-weekly basis in the fall. I think that’s going to take on a whole new meaning this year, as I haven’t seen many of them in a long time instead of over Zoom. I just think the relationships that we’ve forged through this period, it’s different than anything I’ve ever experience before. I know these people. I know their families. I know if they had Covid. I know if their kid had to move their wedding three times. I mean, I know so much more about our clients, and I thought I knew him well before.
DR: Speaking of bringing everyone together to rally for the best interest of everyone. Texas just went through a major winter storm. We aren’t used to seeing a deep freeze like that in your state. What were the directives like from you to your programmers at that time in finding the balance of keeping your own people safe, but at the same time, fulfilling your obligation as local broadcasters to keep the community informed during important moments?
SF: Yeah, this one was really tough for me. I’m going to Monday morning quarterback myself in a not so pleasant light. I think that this one just, it completely blew our mind. I’m prepared for a hurricane. I’m prepared for tropical storms. I’m prepared for a zombie apocalypse. I was not prepared for a freeze in Houston, Texas. I have my family here. My parents moved down a few years ago to live two streets away from me, so I have elderly parents. Then we have all of these people and I go immediately into taking care of the human mode.
It was hard to communicate. Our phones were down. I was completely out of communication for a full day, which I have never been before. During Harvey, I got to the studios and I lived there. That’s eventually what happened in this situation, but I was a day late because I couldn’t go anywhere and I was trying to take care of family and and my parents.
The radio became really important because it was like what you talked about before, we pulled out our hurricane radios and cranked them up. People all over the city were in their cars charging phones. We have all of this crazy Texans news going on. So, on the FMs we are talking about the deep freeze, but what we also were hearing from the listeners during this point was. ” just keep the music coming, because it’s all we’ve got.” It was a real struggle. What content do you put on? Do you go into all news and weather or do you keep trying to entertain? What I decided in that minute was that the best thing for us was to keep doing what we’re doing. We kept trying to entertain on the FMs and talk sports on the AM, and still mention it occasionally so listeners know we’re aware of what’s going on. But it wasn’t something that was our focus.
I think in retrospect, I would have taken one of our sticks and went to news and traffic and weather consistently, maybe even just simulcasting our TV partner, just so people had somewhere on the dial to turn for it. A lot of people felt out of the loop and were desperately wanting that information. I wish I would have put one channel dedicated to it. I think I made a mistake there and I won’t make that mistake again.
It’s really hard to know sometimes. I can tell you that I hope we don’t have another ice storm. Then I won’t have to worry about that. But I’m sure there’s going to be a hurricane this year because, I mean, why wouldn’t there be? So we’ll be ready for that.
DR: Let’s go back to the Texans. You mentioned they’re your major play-by-play partner. Obviously, you want to do all you can to keep a good relationship with the team. If they win, more people listen, more clients buy ad time, everyone wins. But things change frequently in sports, and your audience is smart. With all of the news going on around the GM search and Deshaun Watson situation, I would guess there are some negative feelings among even the most diehard fans right now. How do you and Armen Williams discuss where the line is in terms of allowing talent and the audience to be realistic, frustrated, and critical versus worrying about might create friction with your partner?
SF: I think this is probably one of the most underestimated or underrated parts of the job for me, managing that play-by-play relationship and how delicate it is. When I got here in 2009, the team absolutely hated us. They wanted out. They weren’t going to sign the contract. They told us that. And it has been a work in progress ever since.
It’s really hard in my chair because I sit between the listeners who think that we’re being homers and our on air team who wants to go full bore toward whatever and be authentic. And they should be. I want them to be! But they get mad because, the perception is that they’re sometimes being homers when the perception from the team side is that we’re way too hard on them. It is a real balance between those two things.
I think it just comes down to the relationship with the team. I was really thankful that I built a strong relationship with the president of the team, Jamey Rootes, and I was very thankful that they named Greg Grissom his successor. Those were relationships that I had worked on for a long time and there’s a lot of trust there. We can call each other and immediately say, “hey, today is going to be a tough day”. We’ve found a really good balance, which is an understanding that it’s not always going to be great, but it can’t be personal. There’s a big line between “this is terrible” or “he’s an idiot”. That’s a pretty clear line and that’s what we try to walk. Let’s talk about things and be objective and fair, but let’s not get personal.
DR: That relationship being one where you feel comfortable enough to pick up a phone and call the office and say, “hey, it’s going to be a tough day”, I would guess eliminates the opposite direction of them calling you at the end of the day and saying, “what the hell was that?”.
SF: Oh, don’t get it twisted, it happens. It is inevitably on a day that I’m not listening. So we have five seasons. There’s five days in a week. I try to listen to a different station every day, which means that four days out of the week, I’m not listening to sports. If I see that call come up, it’s “Oh, God. What is it?” because I don’t know. I’m not prepared.
Armen has been really great. He will text me and say, “The twenty second person just accused DeShaun. Heads up. This just happened”. And so that’s been helpful in making sure I know what’s going on and there’s no blindsides coming.
DR: Houston as a sports radio market I’ve always found interesting because if you count your CBS sports affiliated station, and David Gow’s SportsMap brand, we’re talking about five stations in the format in your market. That means all of those stations are offering sports content and battling for a share of the ratings which isn’t as large as some other places. So for you, what does major success look like for 610? Whether you’re talking about it right now under Armen or previously under Ryan McCredden, what is something that you believe someone coming in to lead the station has to understand in order to compete in Houston?
SF: That’s a really tough question. I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the sports landscape. I spend a lot of time thinking about the Houston landscape, because to me, our competitors are The Buzz (iHeart’s Alternative station in the market), and The Eagle (Cox’s Classic rock station in the market). I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about KBME, because their position is so different from us. They’re very focused on the Astros and Rockets, and quite frankly, I think our guys just put on better programing. Of course I do, right? I’m a tad biased.
When I think about the program director, I think it’s about telling a great story. I mean understanding how to keep the listener interested, telling them what they need to know, having a little bit of fun with it. Any station, whether it’s FM or AM, tends to take on a little of the personality of the program director. Armen’s got a terrific personality. He’s fun to be around. He’s energizing. He’s innovative. He comes up with great ideas. He’s passionate. He pushes me and that’s what I like. I like a partner who’s going to be like “this has to happen if we’re going to win” and he is constantly fighting and thinking.
That’s what I think I look for. I want somebody who’s going to want to compete and want to win, and that’s going to push me to do that and not do things the same way. I think that’s what comes across on the air. I think that’s why we’ve grown so much under Armen’s leadership because he’s relentless. He’s got a ton of energy. Holy God!
DR: Have you ever seen the photo of him from college painted head to toe in red and black?
SF: Oh, you bet I have. Well, you know, it’s that passion. Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. That! !t’s a lot of fun. I think he’s won our Halloween costume contest twice. He is super competitive. I need to get you a picture of him as Richard Simmons.
DR: Please do send me the picture just so I can text it to him in the middle of the night to let him know that I do have it and it could go up on the site at any moment.
SF: You got it!
DR: So in recent years, Audacy and Entercom have made a real commitment to put women in market leadership positions, even in some of the biggest markets that they own. And it’s really interesting when this happens in a cluster that oversees a sports station, because Jason and I talk all the time about the lack of females in programming roles. If you look across the country, there are a few women in programming positions at national networks, but on the local level I can only think of Amanda Brown in Los Angeles who has that position. In your opinion, is there anything a company whether it’s Audacy or someone else, can do to change that, or is it a matter of starting even lower than that and developing the interest in being in this field and building those women up?
SF: We have a problem with female program directors, period. That’s on the music side and sports side. It’s going to take people developing that talent. I’m going through it right now. I would love to hire a woman, but there’s not one that is available for another position that I have that is ready and I don’t have a bench spot. And that is the problem. We’re so thin on the programing side, that there’s not much room for a bench. I think we’re trying to find those spots.
We’ve got a great APD on Mega in Liz, who is learning the ropes right now, and we’ve just promoted Mo to APD for 100.3 The Bull so that she can learn those ropes. I don’t know what’s being done everywhere else. Personally, I’m really trying to find those spaces. In sports, I think it’s really hard. We haven’t even had anyone on the air that would go into that role. So I think we’re going to have to really work toward it. But it’s tough.
To your question, there’s women overseeing clusters in a lot of our markets, and hats off to David Field, Susan Larkin, and Weezie Kramer, because they made a focused effort on making sure that the market manager position was much more equitable. I spent my first year at CBS being one of three female market managers. It was too few. It wasn’t right. Putting women in leadership positions like this, we will figure out how to fix that problem. But you’re right, it’s a problem and it does need to be fixed.
DR: I know there is no right answer to this question. I’m just genuinely curious how you approach it. I want to talk about the part of your job that involves managing up. What is your process or approach when you have to discuss bad news or maybe ask for a budget increase? In those conversations, is there a consistent thing you find yourself feeling you need to do or know before you’re ready to have that talk?
SF: I would say I’m like a lot of women in the fact that I really lean on evidence based data. I look at the numbers consistently and I know my numbers and I understand what’s causing things and I get data to support me because numbers don’t lie.
I guess the question really is, “when am I not managing up?”, because my job is to manage up and to manage down. It’s that critical link between corporate and the market. Without somebody constantly following information both ways, I think it’s really easy for a market to feel isolated, and for corporate to not know what’s going on in that market.
My relationship with Brian Purdy, it’s very unusual. I’ve been working with him for 19 years. There isn’t anything I can say that I think would change his opinion on who I am as a human being. He knows who I am. So I can be angry. I can be frustrated. I can be supremely candid. And it’s OK. I’m real lucky to have that relationship with him, and I understand that. It does give me the opportunity to say some things that some of my colleagues can’t. So often things will come through me up through Brian, that maybe it’s not safe for that message to be sent somewhere else.
Brian probably hates that. I love it because people can reach out to me and say, hey, will you send this message. You bet I will.
Then I have to sell my people up too, because everybody here does a terrific job and it’s really important for corporate to know who is doing what. I’ve been here long enough that I don’t need that credit. The credit can all go to them and I think it’s great to be able to shine a light on a great director of sales in Elena or a great programmer in Armen. I could talk about them all day. It’s the best. It’s the best group of people, and I’m just so lucky to work with them.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Mike Silver Has An NFL Backstage Pass
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships.”
It was the 2010 NFL Draft and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant was eligible to be selected by a professional football team. As a journalist, Mike Silver has always looked to enterprise stories and wanted to be with Bryant when the moment he had been waiting for finally arrived.
Through a preexisting relationship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, he got in touch with Bryant and received permission to attend his draft celebration. Before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant revealed to him that then-Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had asked him during the pre-draft process if his mother was a prostitute.
Once that information was published in Silver’s column, Ireland had to publicly apologize and was subsequently put under investigation by the team’s majority owner Stephen Ross.
“People were like, ‘How did you get that?,’ but I was very proud because really the way I got it was because Deion Sanders respected me enough based on things that had happened decades earlier and the way that I conducted myself that I was able to ultimately get to Dez,” Silver expressed. “That to me is a validation. I’ve nurtured relationships for years and years that have led to zero reporting and thought, ‘It’s okay; it’s just part of the process. It is what it is.’”
From the start, Silver was a believer in journalism and the power the profession had in divulging stories in pursuit of the truth. Born in San Francisco, Calif. and raised in Los Angeles, he would read The Los Angeles Times sports section for a half hour per day, observing the proclivities and vernacular of other writers. As a high school student, he co-authored a sports column in the Palisades Charter High School Tideline with current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, gaining practical experience in journalism and cultivating professional relationships.
“I was the only Warriors fan in our school because I was born in San Francisco so he used to clown me for being a Warriors and 49ers fan like everyone else in our school – so I ended up having the last laugh,” Silver said. “By old standards, you’d say, ‘You can’t cover Steve Kerr. That’s your friend.’ I think in 2022 if I have to cover Steve Kerr, I’ll just be like, ‘You know what? Everyone knows we’re friends. I’m just going to be up front about it.’”
Silver attended the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication and media studies. The school was not known for profound levels of success within its football and basketball programs, according to Silver; however, the student newspaper was a place to gain repetitions in covering sports and having finished work published, printed and distributed.
Towards the end of his time in college, Silver wrote stories that were published in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he grew up reading and from which he drew inspiration to become a journalist.
“We would tell the players we covered, ‘Hey, we’re trying to go to the pros too, and we’re not going to get jobs in this industry if we don’t write the truth,’” Silver said. “We were trying to break in as legitimate journalists and we definitely ruffled some feathers along the way.”
Once he graduated from school, Silver began his professional career writing for The Sacramento Union where he covered the San Francisco 49ers. Silver grew up as a football fan and was familiar with the team but always tried to find original, untold angles to differentiate his stories from others. Shortly thereafter, he transitioned to join The Santa Clara Press Democrat as a beat writer and used the time to further develop his writing and reporting skills. Five years later, he was in talks to land his dream job as a writer in Sports Illustrated, a prolific sports magazine focused on producing original content.
Sports Illustrated was released on Wednesdays and operated under the belief of trying to omit any stories that may have been reported in the days prior. The goal was to tell stories that were under the radar and would be impactful and memorable for its readers.
During a typical week, Silver would visit both the home and road teams in their own cities with the hopes of connecting with players and team personnel. After a game, he would go to the locker room, yet he would try to avoid doing one-on-one interviews since the content would likely be published elsewhere before the magazine was released.
Then, his writing process commenced and often went through the night, as Sports Illustrated had a 9 a.m. EST deadline the following morning. By taking the approach of enterprising stories, Silver quickly became one of the most venerated and trusted sportswriters in the country, composing over 70 cover stories for the publication.
With the advent of the internet though, journalism and communication was forever changed allowing for the free flow of information and ideas in a timely manner.
“Now I can arrogantly write to whatever length I want and every precious word of mine could be broadcast to the masses, but [back then] you better have it the exact length because it’s going on a page,” Silver said. “You’re maybe reading over a story 15 times or more to get it just right before the seven layers of editing kick in. You’re also leaving theoretically half of your great stuff on the cutting room table never to surface again or seldom.”
Nurturing a relationship built on trust and professionalism is hardly facile in nature, and it required enduring persistence and resolute determination to achieve for Silver. Through these relationships, he has been able to create both distinctive and original types of content. As innovations in technology engendered shifts in consumption patterns though, he decided to do what he originally perceived as being unthinkable and left Sports Illustrated after nearly 13 years.
“When I went there, I felt like we had 30 of the 35 best sportswriters in America and it was murderer’s row,” Silver said of Sports Illustrated. “I had a great, great experience there the whole time so I never thought I’d leave.”
After meeting with Yahoo Sports Executive Editor Dave Morgan and being given an offer with flexibility in the job and a promise of a lucrative salary, Silver knew it was simply too good to pass up. He opted to still write a column on Sundays to counterprogram Peter King at Sports Illustrated, who authored his own weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.
Additionally, Silver agreed to write two additional branded columns per week in a quest to adapt to the digital age of media.
“I was trying to stay current and connect to an internet generation and keep up with the way that people were consuming their content at that time,” Silver said. “….We just had a spirit at Yahoo that we weren’t owned by anyone, we didn’t have a deal with the league and we were going to report the news in a very unfiltered way.”
An advent of the digital age in media has been the practice of writers appearing on television to present their information en masse, requiring changes in their delivery. Unlike in a written piece, reporting on television requires efficiently making key points and speaking in shorter phrases to allow the viewer to easily follow the discussion. Moreover, writers are sometimes presented with questions that may provoke deeper thought or analysis, and occasionally challenge their lines of reporting.
Silver never thought he would work in television, but as a part of his contract with NFL Media, he was writing columns and serving as an analyst on select NFL Network programming. In working on television on a league-owned entity, it forced him to step out of his comfort zone and pursue mastery of a new skill set.
“I never wanted to do TV voice and be cheesy and look like someone who was trained for the medium so my strategy was more to try to be myself on camera and see how that translated,” Silver articulated. “It seemed to work to some degree – and then obviously I picked up a lot of tricks of the trade and techniques and got better reps. Essentially, I think reporting is reporting [and] information is information.”
Moving into television, a medium with sports coverage that is, at its core, nonlinear due to the potential for breaking news and unexpected occurrences, changed the manner in which the information was presented and/or prioritized on the air. In a column, Silver’s goal was to find original angles and obtain anecdotes and quotes to implement into the storytelling. Now on television, sources were still used largely on the condition of deep background, meaning no individual or group could be attributed to the information in any way.
“With TV, there was an element of, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to sound smart when I talk about you guys,’ which is code for, ‘I don’t have to use your name when I say this stuff, but when I’m weighing on why you just traded for Trent Richardson, help me understand what’s really going on with the Indianapolis Colts at this moment,’” Silver explained. “That’s just a random example. I liked [television] more than I thought I would.”
Silver’s contract was not renewed at NFL Network in 2021, providing a stark change in his lifestyle and leaving him looking for a job in the midst of trying economic times. Through a relationship he had with sports radio host Colin Cowherd, he was given the opportunity to join his upstart podcast platform The Volume as a host. Cowherd eagerly recruited Silver to the platform following a lunch in which the topic came up naturally in conversation about future endeavors.
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships and I have a lot of them from players, coaches, owners and GMs to media people and friends in other industries, etc.,” he explained. “Colin Cowherd is someone I’ll never, ever, ever forget or stop being grateful to…. We were kind of talking some stuff out and he was like, ‘Why don’t we do a show on my network?,’ and we started talking about what that would be. We left lunch… and about 10 minutes later he called me and said, ‘Okay, here’s what I think,’ and kind of continued it.”
Today, Silver is hosting an interview-based program called Open Mike featuring guests from the world of professional football. Recent guests on the program have included Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones. Prior to joining The Volume, Silver had hosted a podcast with his daughter called Pass It Down, which ultimately ran for over 50 episodes and gave him experience working within the medium.
“I’m sitting there spending an hour with [Las Vegas] Raiders GM Dave Ziegler or [Buffalo Bills] linebacker Von Miller or whoever we have on,” Silver said. “You’re not only getting to know that person; you’re watching the way I connect with that person and usually have a body of work with that person, and there’s a comfort level there too.”
John Marvel was Silver’s direct boss at NFL Media and a friend he kept in touch with for many years. Through various correspondences and the dynamic media landscape, they decided to start their own media venture called Backstage Media. The company has a first-look deal with Meadowlark Media – a company co-founded by John Skipper, who also serves as its chief executive officer. Skipper was formerly the president of ESPN and someone Silver wished he had worked for earlier in his career.
“I did not know John Skipper before I left NFL Network,” he said. “I didn’t particularly have a dream to [ever] work at ESPN. We’ve had conversations over the years – ESPN and I – and it never seemed like the perfect fit for me. Now that I know John Skipper, it’s like ‘I would have worked for that guy any time.’ He’s fantastic, [and] I’m just so pumped to be in business with him.”
The company, which focuses on producing documentaries and other unscripted programming through the intersection of sports, music and entertainment, has various projects in development. The idea was derived out of both of their penchants for storytelling and an attempt to utilize new platforms built for engagement within the modern-day media marketplace.
“We’re hoping that documentaries, docuseries [and] episodic podcasts – mostly unscripted – …will be kind of our wheelhouse,” Silver said. “….There’s about four big things that are [hopefully] close to being announced. One’s football; one’s boxing; one is basketball; and one is kind of a blend of some things. I feel like we have a pretty diverse set of interests.”
Joining The San Francisco Chronicle as a football reporter has been indicative of a full-circle moment for Silver, as he is once again around the San Francisco 49ers and writing columns about the team and other sports around the Bay Area at large. Today, he is working with Scott Ostler and Ann Kllion, and directly with Eric Branch on the outlet’s 49ers coverage. Through it all, he seeks to continue gaining access to places that the ordinary person would only be able to dream about in order to tell compelling and informative stories, no matter how they may be delivered or on what platform(s) to which it may be distributed.
“I’m old school in a lot of my mentality in terms of journalism and storytelling and all of that,” Silver said. “I think those things don’t go away. I think it’s journalism first; relationship first; access first; storytelling first; and you figure out the rest.”
As for the future of the profession which has ostensibly become less defined because of the evolution of social media and communication, relationships and storytelling have truly become the differentiators. Silver aims to continue practicing what has allowed him to gain exclusive scoops in the industry and tell stories that would otherwise, perhaps, fly under the radar, but do so in a way that does not jeopardize his sources.
“I’m going to try to develop relationships and cultivate relationships where people trust me and give me a sense of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m going to try to get into places that you, as the consumer, couldn’t otherwise go and take you there, and I’m going to err on the side of the relationship as opposed to finding out one thing that could cause a splash that day on Twitter.”
Some athletes are hosting podcasts or writing columns to directly communicate with their fans, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green on The Volume, intensifying the quest for engagement and attraction. Yet Silver advises journalists looking to break into the industry not to get distracted in meeting certain metrics, instead adhering to best practices and reporting truthful information without ambiguity.
“Just don’t get undone by the noise,” Silver said. “Put your head down; hyperfocus; grind; tell good stories; do journalism and hopefully over the course of time, that will stand out. I’d still like to believe that.”
Covering professional sports, specifically football, generates a large amount of potential storylines on which journalists can report – and today, digital platforms give them the ability to cover them in different ways. While some scoops may requit a large article, others may be able to be told in 280 characters or less, such as a trade rumor or injury. The amount of information Silver and his colleagues uncovered working for a print publication and then had to omit because of space limitations underscores a key journalistic principle of efficient and truthful storytelling. In today’s media landscape, he hopes to be able to do that regardless of its means of dissemination.
“If you went back and just looked at our normal… feature or story off a game [and] the level we reported on a Wednesday and translated that to a Twitter generation, people would lose their minds about how much we found out and how much we reported with on-the-record quotes usually, and they’d be like, ‘He said what!?,” Silver said. “That’s all we knew and that’s [how] we did it…. I don’t think people understand how much the threshold has changed. It’s all good. The most important things hopefully haven’t changed.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Video Simulcasts Are Now A Must Have For Sports Radio
All of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
Video simulcasts of sports talk radio and podcasts have gone up extraordinarily in quality as of late. The craft started as a novelty that very few participated in. ESPN and YES Network dominated the genre with their simulcasts of Mike and Mike in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog respectively. Slowly but surely other sports networks and RSN’s picked up the genre over time and it has now become a major component within sports coverage in the streaming world.
The most popular and prominent shows in the medium right now include The Dan Patrick Show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, The Pat McAfee Show, and The Rich Eisen Show. These four shows in particular have done an excellent job of independently producing and building out their video content to look visually appealing while also engage with the audience through graphics, pictures, stats on screen. In McAfee’s case, his company even entered into a rights agreement with the NFL for highlights.
Finding their shows can be difficult at times. Eisen’s show has moved from television to Peacock and to Roku Channel all within the span of a couple years. When LeBatard’s shipping container first began their live video voyage they didn’t have a consistent schedule. Patrick’s show has also leapt between RSNs, national networks, YouTube and its current home on Peacock. But all of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
The video simulcasts have become so lucrative for these shows that they’ve found sponsors to advertise against what they’re offering and they ensure that they pay attention to the look of the show. Commercials that feel like television play during Patrick and Eisen’s shows. Logos are displayed during LeBatard’s broadcast and NFL Films vignettes that you would find on NFL Network air in the middle of McAfee’s broadcast.
McAfee’s show recently moved into a new studio in Indianapolis specifically built for them by FanDuel and just yesterday LeBatard announced they would be moving into their own state of the art studio in Miami that will help expand their creativity. Patrick’s show doesn’t even have guests call into their show anymore – most join via Zoom. Eisen’s guests are more often than not in studio. All of these shows also upload highlights relatively quickly to YouTube. They’re still audio-first but video is no longer secondary. It is 1A in terms of importance.
As much as these simulcasts feel close to real TV, there are still some hijinks that fans have to get used to that aren’t the same as a regular TV broadcast. During LeBatard’s broadcast, a rolling loop of their own self produced album plays during breaks. While the songs are hilarious in nature, if you’re a weekly viewer of their simulcast it might get tiresome to hear every time there is a break.
A loop of some of the show’s greatest moments and some of the side projects Meadowlark Media produces might be more engaging and help reduce drop off rate. McAfee’s show also struggles with white balancing their cameras almost every telecast. At times in the middle of a conversation during the show, discoloration occurs before changing back to normal skin tones.
Patrick’s show has used the same set of graphics since it began simulcasting on NBC’s linear sports network years ago which could be a turnoff for younger viewers of the internet era who always want change in order to grab their attention. Eisen’s show has awkward interruptions happen in the middle of conversations because commercial breaks are different in length on terrestrial radio vs. streaming.
At the end of the day though, these shows are the epitome of what it means to have grit and guts to achieve your American dream. Although their productions are subsidized and/or licensed by big media platforms and sports books, their social media presence and the actual production of these shows was built on their own. During the first couple of weeks after LeBatard’s show left ESPN, the former columnist could often be heard teasing listeners that they were working on building a video enterprise and how difficult it was.
It’s hard to stand on your own in sports talk media without the backing of superpowers like ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and Turner who have been producing live broadcasts for decades. But these shows have found a way to do so in a new world that is tailored towards doing everything on your own.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Ideas For December Sales Success
How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea?
Now is the time to put your foot on the gas for a great start to 2023-not waiting til January. With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day all falling on weekends, you can’t count on who will be at work the Friday or Monday around those holidays in December.
So, looking forward from here, you only have 15 or so days that you can count on your clients and prospects to be at work before the end of 2022. And, if they are at work, consider their motivation or lack of it before approaching them. But here are five ways to attack December.
Cutting a year-end deal
Make sure you go back from the potential start date of the schedule and allow for production, proposal, and acceptance. That usually means you need a week from when you present a year-end idea to when the schedule starts. So, aim to have all appointments booked by 12/9, so you can sell 2-week packages that begin Monday, 12/19. That will give you a sense of urgency and gives you five solid business days to sell your ass off starting Monday.
Make all your pricing and payment terms expire by Friday, 12/9. You can always extend if need be once they give a partial commitment. You want anybody involved in the decision to sign off and let you cut this deal! The idea here is to create urgency and work ahead.
Beat the bushes
Do you want to wake up on 1/2/23 with an empty pipeline? How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea? Don’t try to qualify these prospects over the phone. Do it in January when both of you are fresh but get that commitment NOW. Look for your new client avatar.
From now til the end of the year is also an excellent time to meet with your sales assistant, traffic manager, production person, or anybody who helps you at the station. Sit down with them face to face and see what you can do better to make their job easier. Give them some ideas on how they can help you as well. Mend some fences or make new friends; the reason tis the season. Surprise them with a Cheetos popcorn tin for less than $10. Please do it. You will be surprised by what you hear because this is a popular time of year for layoffs, transfers, and people taking new jobs.
Practice a new pitch
December is also a great time to record yourself doing a webinar and start planning to let your content do the talking. Wouldn’t it be nice if your 10-minute talk on how to make live reads work, how to buy radio, or why your audience buys the most widgets produced some warm leads? Practice and get going!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.