A good sports talk show host, a good talk show host of any kind really, has to have some ego. He or she has to believe they are good at the job. Confidence is part of what makes a host an entertainer and not just some person talking into a microphone.
Being a great host means you know how to command an audience. It means you know how to lead a conversation and be interesting. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have a grasp on what it is the audience wants to talk about today. You would be surprised how many hosts, in high profile positions, when left to their own devices, will not include major headline stories in their rundown.
You may be objecting and saying that a good entertainer can get his audience to follow them anywhere. That might be true, but is it the best way to build loyalty? Also, it’s exhausting to think that way every single day.
The best communicators in this business start by figuring out where their listeners’ brains are and then going there. It is why, in the middle of a very compelling NBA Finals, a host in Oklahoma City will lead his show with talk about a Sooners team that is still more than a month and a half from starting its season. That is what most sports fans in that city are thinking about right now.
Ego is a necessity to succeed in the media world, but strategically deployed humbleness can take the confidence generated by ego even further.
That means that a program director has to pay attention to show rundowns. If a host is making all of those decisions and those decisions don’t make sense to the PD, then the PD has to step in. That can mean empowering a producer to step in and steer the rundown. That can mean implementing a content clock that dictates something like 50% of every hour will be dedicated to a particular home team. A programmer has a lot of options getting the right conversations on air.
Sports radio is filled with former players. Plenty of hosts in large markets are also personalities on league networks or are part of certain teams’ broadcasts. It’s natural that those guys feel comfortable talking about their particular area of expertise, but if that is all they feel like they can do, you have to step in.
Guys like that have plenty of contacts across their sport of choice. A former player is a great avenue for scoring interviews with current players and coaches. There has to be a governor on the rolodex though. Some guys just like to show off their access. If the Colts aren’t playing the Raiders on Sunday, what value is there in having Jon Gruden on an Indianapolis radio station that week? No matter how big the star, if there is not obvious, immediate local relevance, it is worth asking what is in this interview for the listeners.
Having a good compass for content isn’t just about what you are talking about. It is also about how you are treating the topic. If you are on in Seattle and you hit the expansion draft once on Thursday morning’s show, did you properly serve your audience? The Kraken will finally have a roster. That will be a major conversation for local sports fans.
Picking good content is about picking out the angles to pursue. On the day of a major event like the expansion draft, you need to look at your rundown and ask if you are doing enough. Hitting on a few major, available names and then moving on to other topics just isn’t going to cut it.
This is why I advocated last week for radio guys to be at the forefront of the application stack when it comes to producers. If a host is the type that likes to fit as many topics into a show as he can, the host needs a creative partner that can get him excited about talking about a single subject in a variety of ways.
Content selection really can make or break a show. I have spoken to local hosts that in the past were looking for someone to tell them that their show would be better if they talked about the biggest national stories instead of having to talk about a local college team or a local pro team that is in the middle of another unremarkable season.
I always answer the same way. Can you do a better job with the national story than ESPN or FOX? Can you book a better guest? Can you and your one producer put together a more compelling segment with stats, opinions, and audio than a network show and its three, four, or five producers can? Maybe, but it isn’t likely. So if the other sports station in town is airing syndicated programming, isn’t the winning play to go local? Even if the national show touches on a topic in your town, they shouldn’t be able to create better content with the story than you can.
You may not like to describe yourself this way, but hosts, producers, and programmers in any radio format are artists. There is no formula for guaranteed success in what we do. All you can do is make judgement calls and hope they are right.
The difference between radio and visual art forms is there is still a game to win in our case. We all want to win, so if you are questioning your host’s judgement in terms of content, why not make it easier for them to make the right calls?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.