You have seen the stories popping up online. Every week some fast food franchisee posts a sign on their door or on their drive through speaker with a message to the effect that the establishment is short staffed because no one wants to work anymore. It’s hard to find people to squirt sour cream out of a caulk gun onto your Doritos Locos Taco for $8 per hour when they’re getting a sweet $300 per week from the government! Weird how all of these signs, which pop up at different businesses in different parts of the country, all have the exact same message written in the exact same font…but I digress.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the narrative being pushed is that it has to be the fault of lazy workers and not the fault of shitty employers that don’t offer higher wages or meaningful benefits. The fact is that people want to work, they just don’t see the point in working multiple minimum wage jobs just to get their nose above the poverty line. That’s a failure of the system, not individuals that are fed up.
When I was just starting in the business, I was told that you really had to love radio. This business would never make you rich. As I got older, I heard that was Clear Channel’s fault. Then I worked with people that had come from Clear Channel and I was told that it was fine there. Really it was Cumulus’s fault. Then I got to know folks at the Cumulus building across the street and heard from them that Entercom was the real problem in the industry. You get it. The road keeps winding just like this.
The reality is that regardless of company, the radio industry has the exact same problem as any other business struggling to find good people. From the outside looking in, the problem is obvious. When you’re in the forest though, it can be tough to see that the individual trees say things like “low pay” and “shitty benefits”.
About two weeks ago, Rob Taylor wrote about the overwhelming desire of young people to work in the sports media and the absolute lack of interest in radio from those exact same young people. If we want to understand why new talents aren’t interested in our business and why established talents keep leaving for different fields and platforms, we have to first acknowledge there is a problem and make an effort to understand what it is.
People of all ages don’t look at sports radio as a realistic career path in the media. Why? Because while there are plenty of people in the industry that are doing just fine, the majority of people working in radio will tell you that it offers no realistic path to a comfortable living. So, let’s see what we can do better.
First, let’s acknowledge the paycheck. Way too many positions in radio pay way too little. That is true in major markets. It is true in unrated markets. It is true of full-time positions. It is true of the positions that used to be full-time and are now filled by two part-timers.
How many producers have you worked with that are getting paid somewhere in there area of $10 per hour? How many of those producers have a strict cap of 29 hours per week? Where is the motivation to get better with those restrictions? There is absolutely no message from corporate that starting at the bottom is a path to eventually being at the top.
Clinging to the idea that this business will never make anyone rich is not working for us. I am not advocating that every single producer position start with a $60,000 per year base. What I am suggesting is that exploring an opportunity that clearly will require a candidate to have a roommate or live with their parents and maybe take on a second job just to scrape by isn’t really a recipe for finding diamonds. There may be a few, but really, you’re just gonna be stuck with a lot of rocks.
Producers aren’t the only ones that suffer from this. Do you know how many hosts I have talked to that have turned down jobs in bigger markets because they weren’t even being offered the same money they are currently making?
There are some companies in this business that do pay their people well for their work, and those companies can be hard to move on from, but that isn’t the norm. What is way more common is that corporate or management has determined that their afternoon drive opening is a $40,000 per year position and they have no money for moving expenses. The offers are presented as “take it or leave it”.
Is no one at the top stopping to think how much this severely limits the pond where they can fish for talent? Is no one thinking about the message this sends about the company to the rest of the industry and the way your next help wanted ad will be received? Let me answer that. The message is you don’t care about quality and no matter how good of a job an employee does, it isn’t valued.
That brings us to the next thing we need to acknowledge. It can be hard to feel valued in this business.
How many of us started out as part-timers? How many of us got to the point where we demonstrated some level of competency and were told that we were so important to the station that the company was going to use us as often as possible, but that we would have to be cool with not being paid for our efforts?
Program directors, I need you to be honest with yourself here. How often have you told a part-time producer that you need him or her to work 40 hours this week but only write down that he/she worked 29? “I’ll hook you up with some gift cards” is usually how it is sold. KNOCK THAT OFF! JESUS CHRIST! You’re telling people that they need to be cool with a barter system, when employment law clearly states that isn’t how this thing works.
Stations all over America run syndicated programming except for in a single weekday day part. That’s not uncommon. It also isn’t uncommon for a station to have the host of that day part be the one and only full-time employee on the payroll.
No full-time producer. No program director. These stations just rely on a host with no real, reliable support staff and no one to tell them what is and isn’t working. How do we expect talented people to want to take on a job like that? How do we expect people that have talent and just need room to grow to see a future in a job like that?
Also, and I have written about this before, talent and programmers are not given the chance to work with people that are actually qualified. Someone who’s lone qualification is that they press buttons on the board during a minor league baseball game is turned into the morning show’s executive producer not because they showed any other competency. It is because we keep taking full-time jobs and turning them into part-time positions.
It’s not just producers. It is hosts too, and I am talking about hosts in weekday prime slots. It takes a lot to create a unique two, three, or four hour show and as an industry, we are telling the people we are trusting to do that that any effort they put into their show beyond the time they are in the studio is not valuable to us.
Finally, we need to acknowledge where we can do better and ask ourselves if we are giving every employee an opportunity to grow? Are we investing in our own success by investing in theirs?
How do you respond when an employee wants to talk about their career? Does the idea of them valuing their career over the company’s needs make you uncomfortable? Does it feel like that is something that is even okay to talk about?
Very few people get into sports talk radio because they want to be a producer forever. In fact, most only think about the possibility of becoming a producer when they realize that is the first step to becoming a host.
It can be scary to ask your boss what you need to do to get to the next level. Meeting that vulnerability with “You’re a producer. I need you to focus on that right now,” is a surefire way to kill any drive to get better and to do it in a way that could benefit the station.
What about working with hosts? Do programmers and GMs evaluate what they are hearing from a quality standpoint or does the evaluation stop with “is this making money”? A show that isn’t challenged to do more doesn’t help a station and it can lead to complacency. It can also lead to hosts wondering how much the people up top even care about or know what is going on on his or her show.
Employee growth also means helping to grow their own wealth. As a programmer, are you taking the time to get to know your people on a personal level so that you can go into sales meetings and say that you know your morning co-host loves his dog or cat. Let’s go get him an endorsement from a local animal hospital? Are you encouraging your talent to attend and advocate for themselves? As a sales manager, have you done the work to learn what all of the benchmarks on your station are so that you can help your staff explain to clients why each one is worth sponsoring?
Nothing in this article is meant to dump on radio. I love this business. Everything I wrote about here is fixable. We don’t have to watch quality people turn to digital media or leave the business to sell real estate or open a bar and say “well, I guess nobody believes in radio anymore.”
Saying “no one wants to work anymore” is lazy and you know it is untrue. Asking “why does no one want to work for me?” or “why does no one have faith in this business?” forces you to come up with answers and take action. If you have a problem, that is how it gets solved.
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.