As many of you know, I’ve had (and continue to have) a romance with the radio industry. We’ve been together for nearly three decades now. Not every moment has been great, but I wouldn’t trade it for all the bitcoin in cyberspace.
However, the industry continues to have a litany of different issues.
Both myself and my colleagues at Barrett Media have done a detailed job going over the challenges that our industry continues to face. There is one major issue that I have yet to see touched.
In my opinion, it’s the biggest one and cuts to the very root of the matter.
Radio has, over the years, enabled some very toxic work environments. These ugly tropes are not uncommon in many corners of corporate America.
Execs on power trips.
Lack of accountability.
I’ve either experienced or witnessed all the above at one point of another in my career. If you’re reading this, you likely have as well.
While radio, like many industries, has worked to greatly improve the overall atmosphere of their workplaces, many of the toxic aspects remain.
It all boils down to one thing: far too many companies have failed to adopt a “no a-hole policy”.
I’ve resisted talking about my current gig with Good Karma Brands as Executive Producer of the ESPN 1000 Chicago White Sox Network for a myriad of reasons. Namely, the obvious potential implication of bias and conflict of interest. But, since I’ve never considered myself a journalist, what the hell?
I can honestly say unequivocally that my current job is the healthiest environment that I’ve ever worked in.
The biggest reason? There is a strict “no a-hole policy”.
This prevailing credo is pushed down by the leaders in the company and (unlike many other places I’ve worked) is not mere lip service.
You must have a certain attitude to work here, no matter HOW talented you might be. If you can’t be a good teammate, you won’t be let in the door.
This was apparent to me VERY early on.
I remember when I got the job. I was both excited and nervous at the same time. On one hand, it felt great to be EMPLOYED again, and working in sports. On the other…well…I was going into what I thought could be a potential hornet’s nest of egos.
Why wouldn’t it be? Three decades of working in radio had CONDITIONED me to think that way.
ESPN 1000, the flagship station, is full of veteran Chicago Market talent. David Kaplan, Jonathan Hood, Carmen DeFalco, Jon Jurkovic, Marc Silverman, and Tom Waddle were (to me) larger than life personalities. Hell, I grew up listening to them. What kind of a challenge would it be to navigate these egos? What “special rules” would I have to follow? My questions were answered within an hour of getting the job.
Once the company-wide e-mail went out announcing my hiring, I got a message from David Kaplan. He wanted to talk. This was unusual as I wouldn’t be directly working with Kap (the station’s morning show host), and he and I had only met at a BSM Conference once before. What was he scheming at? My mind wandered in all different directions.
All my pre-conceived notions evaporated once my phone rang. Kap simply wanted to welcome me to the team. We spent the next hour on the phone getting to know each other. I mentioned all the old shows I used to listen to when he was on WGN, the mutual connections we had in the business, and (most importantly) the best steakhouses in the Windy City.
Once I got to walk into the office at State and Lake in the Central Loop, it got even better.
I quickly found that there wasn’t one person in that building, (talent, sales, or marketing) that I don’t enjoy working with. There wasn’t one person that I would make a point to avoid. To this day, even through several challenges, that has remained true.
That is a career first for me. While I’ve enjoyed many of the people that I’ve worked with, there were always a handful that would fill me with dread if I had to even interact with them.
The people I work with are so enjoyable to be around…you WANT to help them win.
What’s more, my teammates have shown me that you can be talented without being insufferable. A great example of that is someone I work with on a nightly basis.
Len Kasper had just been named the White Sox Radio play-by-play voice a few weeks prior to me getting the job I now have. It was quite the coup for the Sox, as Len had spent the previous 16 seasons on the North side of town calling games for the Cubs and was widely regarded as one of the best announcers in MLB.
Shortly after I got the job, I got Len’s cell phone number and shot him a text. I briefly introduced myself and invited him to contact me at his convenience. I was excited to talk to talk to him, but I also didn’t want to bother him.
Within an hour, my phone rang.
We chatted for quite some time, and I was struck how down-to-earth, yet passionate Len was about his craft. In no time, we dove right in and talked about how we wanted the broadcast to sound. We covered everything: imaging, sellable features, engineering, etc.
Even throughout the grind of the season, Len still has that “whatever you need from me” attitude. There are no “special rules” and no matter what challenges we face; we know we’ll get through it. The same attitudes are shared by Darrin Jackson (our color analyst) and Connor McKnight (our pre- and post-game show host). Both are very talented at what they do, and don’t come with any headaches.
This gig has been refreshing and has made me a happier, more productive individual. Yes, the days and nights get long during the baseball season. I work 10-12 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are no such things as nights, weekends, or holidays off. My spouse lives 90 miles away and I only get to see him 1-2 times a month. Despite all of that, it’s the workplace environment and my teammates that keep me going. I wish everyone could have the same work experience that I’ve been having.
All it took was a “no a-holes” policy.
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.