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Randy Karraker Wants To Win The Hallway

“I think the thing we forget in the media, and this is even true with teams, they have a tendency to forget, for example here in St. Louis, 50 percent that walk through the gate at Cardinals games are female. Same thing with the Blues games.”

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101 ESPN/YouTube

An alarm clock rings every weekday morning at 5:30 inside Randy Karraker’s home. The first ring signifies exactly 90 minutes until he goes on the air at 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He gets up, gets out the door and into the nearby studio by 6:00. The 58-year-old has been working since he was 15, but his recent move to morning drive resulted in the first time he’s ever had to use an alarm clock to wake up for work. 

My first night in the business – 101 ESPN
Courtesy: 101 ESPN

Karraker has always worked in the afternoon or evenings. This includes the entirety of his long sports media stint in St. Louis, where he’s one of the most recognizable and respected voices in the city. But things are different now hosting Karraker and Smallmon from 7 to 10 a.m. 

“I live really close to the studio,” Karraker said. “I get up at 5:30 and I’m into the studio by 6:00 and we go on the air at 7:00. We do most of our show prep, almost all of it, before then anyway, so it’s worked out surprisingly well. I didn’t think I would have as easy of a time as I have in getting up in the morning and being able to actually perform during the morning show, but it’s been alright.”

Karraker made his name in St.Louis during afternoon drive hosting The Fast Lane. But he’s carrying the same mentality he’s always had with 101 ESPN into his new morning drive shift. His motto is very simple.

Win the hallway. 

Competition doesn’t always come from another sports radio station across town. Sometimes it can come from a great local podcast, or in Karraker’s case, great music stations that are in the exact same hallway as him. Seeing as 101 ESPN doesn’t have a serious sports radio competitor in the market, Karraker’s biggest competition are the same faces he sees every morning. 

The Rizzuto Show on 105.7 The Point is dominant and the show right next door to us, KSHE 95, they’re both dominant groups. But there’s no sports competition, which makes things interesting. When I took the job, my goal was to always win my own hallway.”

Karraker has done a terrific job of transitioning into morning drive. A new time slot with a new co-host isn’t the easiest task to give a talent, especially when the show sounds much different than the one he was on before.

“It’s changed in that, when I was with The Fast Lane in afternoon drive, it was much more of a locker room setting, because I was working with former pro athletes,” Karraker said. “Michelle is exceptionally knowledgeable and she’s a fan like I am. We don’t have the locker room credibility that Brad Thompson or others have, so that part is different, but other than playing point guard, I give my opinion a lot more and Michelle gives her opinion a lot more. From a content standpoint it’s different as well, because we’re reacting to what happened the night before, as opposed to what happened from 8 am to 2 pm. We’re reacting to overnight games, which is much better because it’s much more fresh. We’re the first people of the day to talk about last night’s Cardinals or Blues game.”

St. Louis is a fascinating sports radio market. Maybe one of the more interesting in the country. Whereas the NFL dominates in just about every major market, it’s shunned by many people in the city after the Rams moved back to Los Angeles. It’s one of the few cities where the MLB and NHL fare much better on the air than the biggest storyline happening in football. At its core, St. Louis is a true baseball town with an appetite for the game that takes a backseat to nobody. But if there’s a major city that cares the least about the NFL, it may be St. Louis. From an outsider’s perspective it’s almost as if they want the whole country to know how little they care about it. 

Kansas City Chiefs aren't ready to court St. Louis fans
Courtesy: Getty Images

“The Cardinals are far and away No. 1,” Karraker said. “Since the Blues won the Stanley Cup they’re a true No. 2. But then No. 3 is overall Major League Baseball coverage. And then at No. 4 you still have the NFL, despite the disdain so many locals have for that league. During the season there is a whole lot of talk about the National Football League. Now, are we talking a whole lot about Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers rumors on a daily basis like the mothership is doing? No, we’re not doing that. I don’t believe that level of interest exists here. And then there’s Missouri with the SEC and closing in on a decade being in this league. That’s a big taking point during their season. We’re not talking about Mizzou football in the middle of May, but we get through most of our days with Cardinals, Blues and then the big stories of the day in sports.”

Luckily for Karraker and the entire 101 ESPN team, the Cardinals are in the hunt just about every single year. But even when the team finally experiences a down year, don’t think baseball talk will slow down on the airwaves. 

Especially with Karraker and Smallmon, who seemingly echo the voice of the fan, which has resonated extremely well with the listeners. The audience has also responded very well with a female voice next to Karraker. Some might be surprised,but Karraker sees attendance at games as proof there’s many female listeners in his market. 

“Our show is doing really well, obviously our demographic is men 25-54 but we’ve moved up to fifth in persons 18-plus, which we’re very happy with,” Karraker said. “I think the thing we forget in the media, and this is even true with teams, they have a tendency to forget, for example here in St. Louis, 50 percent that walk through the gate at Cardinals games are female. Same thing with the Blues games.”

Karraker’s ability to adapt has been the biggest reason why he’s been such a fixture in St. Louis. He’s showing that every day in his new time slot with his new co-host. The cool thing is how excited and optimistic he is for the future of his new show, while also being proud of his old show, The Fast Lane. 

“It’s fantastic,” Karraker said. “It’s a younger vibe and they all know a ton about sports. It’s a fun listen. If you want a show where you want to be informed but also laugh a lot, this is a great show to go to. I’m really proud of those guys. The show is really good.” 

101 ESPN - Sports Talk for St. Louis
Courtesy: 101 ESPN

Karraker and Smallmon just want to win their own hallway. If that can happen, 101 ESPN could be in position to see its best days as a station.

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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