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Kirk Herbstreit Followed His Heart And Took A Radio Gig

“In 2021, Kirk Herbstreit accepts that he will never please everyone. His opinions are divisive just by virtue of him being one of the faces of the sport. He can deal with that.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

Kirk Herbstreit is a man that needs no introduction amongst college football fans. We watch him for hours every Saturday morning in the lead up to games finally kicking off at noon. We’ve been watching him for hours for nearly 25 years now!

I spoke with Kirk on Tuesday afternoon. He is currently making the rounds promoting the new book he co-wrote with College GameDay colleague Gene Wojciechowski. It’s titled Out of the Pocket and it serves as Kirk’s autobiography.

Gene Wojciechowski (@GenoEspn) | Twitter

While the book contains plenty of stories of his time with ESPN, Kirk also gets very personal. He covers a relationship with his father that was always cordial but never ideal, the constant worry of being “good enough” in the eyes of his sons, and the confusion of coming out of college not knowing what he wanted his next step to be.

Herbstreit graduated from Ohio State with a degree in business. He was the starting quarterback for a single season and didn’t have any NFL options when that season ended. If his future was going to be in football, Kirk would have bet it would have been as a coach.

That’s not to say he was pursuing coaching opportunities. Kirk didn’t really know what he wanted to do. He applied for several suit-and-tie kind of jobs and had options in the business world. But he had also sent some letters to local AM radio stations in Columbus asking if they might be interested in a former Buckeye quarterback joining their sports department.

After waiting for a couple of months, Kirk heard back from one of those stations. It was about to flip to sports and there was a spot for Kirk Herbstreit in afternoon drive. It came with a fat $12,000 per year paycheck, a far cry from the financial stability promised to business majors in the 1990s.

“I just thought it sounded like a fun job, talking about sports on the radio,” Kirk told me. “And so I ended up following my heart and took the radio gig and passed on the business opportunities. And that’s kind of how I got my foot in the door back in August of 1993.”

It didn’t take long for Herbstreit to rise in the industry. 1993 was only three years before he would end up at ESPN. You can imagine what a shock to the system it can be going from AM radio in a mid market to ESPN. Just think about the vast difference in resources he was exposed to!

Kirk told me that he was used to working with headphones that shorted out in the middle of segments on local radio. He constantly had to look at his producer for assurance that he was still on the air. He made calls to book guests. He plotted out segments himself. He did everything you do in radio. Imagine what a breeze TV must have felt like when he got to Bristol and saw all of the support at his disposal.

“It’s like ‘this A2 is helping me with my IFB’ or ‘why is this person helping me put my mic on?’ you know? I was just so used to doing everything myself. So it was a great training ground. When I look back at it, (radio) did eventually prove to help me so much in my job a came day and eventually calling games on ESPN and ABC.”

Since joining ESPN, Herbstreit notes that it has been his privilege to call Lee Corso his friend. The former coach and quarterback have shared the set the entire time Herbstreit has been at ESPN. He says Corso has become a second father to him.

“I’ve talked to him about stuff I haven’t talked to very many other people about. And when you when you open up like that consistently and a guy takes interest in you, you know, you tend to just get closer.”

Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit - College Gameday - ESPN
Courtesy: Alan Kee/ESPN

Corso will be back on the road after spending all of the 2020 season at home. Herbstreit says that his friend is fully vaccinated and ready to be back at the dais with the people he knows and loves.

I asked Kirk what comes along with their relationship. Corso suffered a stroke 12 years ago and it is clear that he is a step slower now. Herbstreit says that cognitively, Corso is still as quick as ever. He just needs a little more help than he used to.

So what does that “special bond” he says he has with Lee Corso mean? I asked Kirk if he felt like his obligations to his friend have changed in recent years. Does he need to be close both on camera and off?

“I would never look at that as an obligation,” he says. “That wasn’t something I had to do. It’s something I get to do. I take a lot of pride in trying to be a good friend, that’s all. More than anything, I just want to be a good friend to him and help him when he needs me there. And I try not to do it too much, but I want to be there when when I can.”

Our conversation lasted a good 25 minutes. You can hear it in its entirety on this week’s Media Noise podcast. We spent a good deal of that time talking about Kirk’s relationship with social media and how it has evolved.

In 2021, Kirk Herbstreit accepts that he will never please everyone. His opinions are divisive just by virtue of him being one of the faces of the sport. He can deal with that.

Back in 2011 though, social media was relatively new. Fans of all sorts could come at Kirk from every angle. It wasn’t something he was used to. It wasn’t something anyone was used to.

In Columbus, where Kirk had put on the scarlet and gray, a vocal minority were making things uncomfortable. They couldn’t accept that being part of ESPN meant that Kirk had to be honest. He couldn’t blow smoke up the butts of a football team that had just had to fire a national championship winning coach and was staring down the barrel of probation.

He left Columbus, resettling in Nashville with his wife and four sons.

“I had a young family. I just didn’t feel like it was a great environment for them to be around. Yeah. Now, after after ten years of kind of like this has become the norm, you know, hearing from the cynical people, you know, you’re almost kind of callous to it. So if I were going through that today, I don’t know if it would really bother me in the same way it did when it first started to happen.”

Kirk Herbstreit Has Heartfelt Message For Ohio State Fans
Courtesy: ESPN

There is plenty more to this conversation. Kirk Herbstreit shares stories about texts he exchanges with Charles Barkley, the College GameDay segment that brought him to tears and how he and his parents all ended up under the same roof years after they divorced. Be sure and catch the new episode of Media Noise when it goes up this Friday.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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