The sports media is an industry full of egos. That means that a programmer, has to know how to get the most out of people that can sometimes bristle at criticism of any sort. I have been thinking about that a lot lately as I look to move into a PD role in the future. The best comparison I have been able to come up with is the player-friendly coach.
Maybe you’re the type that reveres an old school, disciplinarian approach. Perhaps you got a lot out of that kind of treatment from your high school or little league coach. That’s fine. I am not telling you there is no value there, but you were a kid. You had to listen to what the coach had to say. When you are dealing with fellow adults and are in a business out to make stars, it can be a little tougher. You have to be more Ty Lue and less Doc Rivers.
Ryan Haney is a guy in this industry that I lean on a lot for advice. He has been the program director of JOX 94.5 in Birmingham for a long time and has seen the station grow from a niche AM station to one of the market’s top billers and one of the country’s most respected voices on college football.
He told me that so much of that “player-friendly” approach is about knowing when it is time to address a problem. Not every mistake requires a dressing down or even acknowledgement.
“Everyone has an off day,” he told me. “I think we all want a little grace, so we should give a little as well. The goal is to learn from it.”
So how do you address real problems? Remember, these are the kinds of things that reflect poorly on the programmer too. How do you get across the message that there is a problem and something has to change while still being player-friendly?
“If I hear something that is very off, I try to get with the person and see what a root cause is,” Haney says. “Many times it is something going on their personal life. That being said, if you aren’t prepared, don’t have the correct attitude and don’t give maximum effort – then you are falling short. It is actually possible to do those things and have an off day.”
Raj Sharan is a relative newcomer compared to Haney. Raj has been program director of 104.3 The Fan in Denver since early 2019. The station is a ratings juggernaut. That means that if there is a problem that needs to be corrected, he is likely talking to someone that can look at him and say “the ratings don’t think there is a problem.”
It doesn’t seem like that happens often, if at all, but I did want to know how Raj approaches his staff with ideas for what needs to change.
“You have to know your team and develop different tools of communication for each one of them. The way I share feedback with Mark Schlereth is different than my dialogue with Brandon Stokley, which differs from how I talk to Tyler Polumbus, etc,” he said in an email.
He says that he has gone out of his way to learn how each member of his staff likes to communicate. For some, it is short and to the point. For others, there is some massaging that has to happen for the message to be received properly. The same is true for tone. Raj doesn’t care how he has to deliver the message so long as it is understood and put into action.
When he stepped into the PD role, Raj was aware that the station didn’t need to be torn down and rebuilt. If he didn’t touch a thing that his predecessor, Armen Williams, had put in place, the station would be just fine. But just fine wasn’t what Raj was gunning for.
He made it clear to his staff from day 1 that he had ideas. That didn’t mean they were ever going to hear him use the phrase “because I said so” to explain the changes he made.
“I was upfront with as many of our team members as possible about those areas and found the transparency was welcome, particularly when I talked about the motivating factors behind the focus. We’d discuss the things that were already working well, and how I saw an opportunity to tweak things and make The Fan brand even better. Whether it was expanding our digital footprint or adding someone to strengthen our analysis of the Nuggets and Avalanche… whatever the idea was: my approach from day one was to be transparent and explain why I believed it was worth exploring.”
For Haney, there is a needle to thread. He loves being hands on, but knows right now that the best approach might be to take his hands off of JOX from day to day.
Ryan is a big believer in the “blocking and tackling” of sports radio. He doesn’t want his staff to forget the value of even the most basic skills. As tedious as lessons in re-setting and teasing can be, those are things that matter.
“Teasing is a major focus and there is a fine between an effective tease and teasing for the sake of it. If there is no immediate payoff, then it’s a waste of the consumers time. As far as re-setting I don’t think you can do it enough in a diary market.”
Right now though, Haney is playing a wait and see game. JOX just overhauled its lineup with new shows in the morning and mid day. It’s one established show, 3 Man Front, even saw some change thanks to changes in the lineup and run time.
He wants his three shows to learn the playbook and get a few shots in before he takes a long, hard look at what needs to improve.
“With our recent changes the goal was to let it breathe for the first couple of weeks and give and receive feedback in a collaborative way,” Haney says. “So much of content feedback is subjective. Obsesessing about one segment or topic, isn’t constructive in my opinion. I am listening for trends that could form habits, both positive and negative and how to grow from that.”
A friend asked me a question not too long ago. Are the stations that we think of as truly the very best in this format full of elite talent or is it possible for a brand to make anyone a star. I thought about that a lot as I processed Aaron Rodgers’s press conference last week.
The idea that the Packers could wait their star quarterback out always seemed absurd to me. Sure, the team controls his contract, but this isn’t going to be a plug-and-play situation when it comes to finding his replacement. No matter what Jordan Love turns out to be, the Green Bay Packers hit the jackpot in back to back quarterback changes. That yellow helmet doesn’t guarantee it happens again any time soon if ever. Brands, like teams, are only as special as their most special talent in a particular moment.
That is something Raj Sharan thinks about a lot too. I asked him if it was possible for brands to make stars. He says that while hosts can benefit from the following a brand has when they arrive, it is no indication of their longterm success.
“Building a strong brand and goodwill with the audience isn’t easy, but maintaining that brand can be just as challenging. When you’ve established high standards as have on The Fan, our audience has an expectation of quality we must constantly strive to reach and exceed. When assessing anyone on our current or evaluating a prospective candidate, I’m consistently asking myself if that personality’s performance not only fits in with The Fan brand but lives up to the quality our audience has come to expect.”
There is no way to overstate the importance of having a staff that is on your side and buys into your vision. For a programmer, the best way to accomplish that may be massaging your vision and massaging the talent’s ego until each fits the other perfectly.
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.
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.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
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.
Media Noise – Episode 74
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.