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Burnout Is Real And Radio Is Not Immune

“As much as I prefer the main hosts be here throughout football and basketball season, I have never denied a PTO request.”

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Jamie Ducharme wrote a very interesting piece for Time. It’s about the American workforce and just how fragile it has been revealed to be. You have seen all of the stories and heard all of the complaints about people not wanting to work anymore. Now Ducharme paints a more realistic picture of what is happening. It is something that Texas A&M business administration professor Anthony Klotz calls “The Great Resignation.”

'I Quit' spelled out in sticky notes, with a shadow of someone walking away giving peace hand sign
Courtesy: Kevin Rathge/University Communications

In short, Americans walked away from their long-held jobs in record numbers in 2019 and in 2021, we are on pace to shatter the record again. The reason has been the same both years: burnout. People feel like they have had all they can take of the work-life they have known for so long.

Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. You can’t even call it a once-in-a-lifetime event. Plenty of lifetimes went by without existence as we know it transforming forever. Something like that is bound to make people take stock of what matters most to them and whether or not they are happy.

It has affected every industry and radio is no exception. You can burnout in any job, even one that doesn’t really feel like work a lot of days. To make sense of it and to discuss how managers can best combat it, I turned to two leaders in two very different situations.

Mary Menna is the Vice President and Market Manager of Beasley’s cluster in Boston, which includes 98.5 The Sports Hub. She and her staff put an emphasis on safety as soon as it became clear Covid-19 was something to be taken seriously. The protocols they developed and actions they employed made it possible for the Beasley staff to return to their Boston building in some capacity by Summer of 2020. Mary says that gave her staff options and that helped tremendously.

“We worked hard to make the office a safe place. That ability to be in person really kept us connected and the ability to also work remotely kept the burnout level to a minimum,” she told me. “I think working 100% at home could be very isolating and stressful. The hybrid balance really worked for us and got us through the darkest of times.”

Justin Acri is in the almost polar opposite situation from Mary. He is in a smaller market at a locally owned station. He is the GM of Signal Media’s 103.7 The Buzz in Little Rock. On top of being the GM, he is also the PD and he hosts a mid day show. Forget his staff for a moment. I wanted to know how Justin managed to avoid burnout of his own!

“As the sports talk great Jim Rome says, I take a lot of vacation because I get a lot of vacation. I encourage my staff to do the same,” he said in an email. “I know the value of getting out of town, not keeping up with everything going on in sports and pop culture for a few days, sticking your toes in the sand and letting your brain relax. I am 100% convinced it makes me better when I come back.”

It is great to hear that Acri is willing to lead by example when it comes to prioritizing the ability to disconnect when you need to. I did wonder though how he could get to the point where he is wearing three very demanding hats.

Justin Acri: Stay humble, won't stumble
Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

“That was not always my policy, but it has made me a much better broadcaster and manager.”

He extends the same policy to his hosts. College football and basketball season matter a lot in Arkansas. The state will likely never have a major league professional team in any sport. That means the Hogs are the lifeblood of sports talk in the state. Acri wants his hosts to know that they are needed during those times of year, but if they have their own needs, that is okay.

“As much as I prefer the main hosts be here throughout football and basketball season, I have never denied a PTO request. I want my guys to take days when they think they need to take a break.”

I asked Menna what a leader’s responsibilities are to his or her staff. Is it best to be as involved in their day-to-day work life as possible so that the leader is more likely to spot problems in the early stages or is it better to let an employee come and ask for help or relief?

Menna, like that little girl in the Old El Paso taco shell commercial, answered “why not both?”.

“As managers, we have a responsibility to be in touch with our people and help them to be their most productive selves, make sure they have the tools to perform their jobs, and give them the encouragement and guidance necessary to help them manage through difficult work situations,” she said. “We cannot be expected to be mind readers and interfere with the personal lives of employees if they do not want us to interfere. We certainly want all our employees to be honest with us and let us know how they are feeling, but that just isn’t reality. We may have that relationship with many of our employees, but we will never have that with 100% of them. Many people prefer to be more private, and we need to respect that too.  Help where we can and be there for all of our employees.”

Menna said that one thing that has always been radio’s saving grace from employee burnout is that for so many that work in the industry, this is their dream job. Getting to where they are was either their ultimate goal, or it is a piece of the puzzle. Dreamers don’t want to risk derailing the dream, and that has helped some evaluate if their burnout really is about needing a career change or can be solved with a few days or a week off.

Meet The Market Managers: Mary Menna, Beasley Boston - Barrett Media

What about bringing new people in? Ducharme’s story says that one of the motivators for people leaving long-term employment is shifting priorities and goals during the pandemic. In some cases, people have taken a “life’s too short” approach to work life. They are leaving careers that no longer (or in some cases never did) excite them for dream jobs or jobs in fields they truly love. Has Beasley Broadcasting and 98.5 The Sports Hub benefitted from people looking for that kind of change?

“We have not had an increase in the number of inquiries we have gotten to work at 98.5 The Sports Hub,” Menna says noting that she sees that as a very good thing. “We have so few openings because our staff does not leave, and that consistency is a great thing for our listeners!  Sports is always going to be a recruitment magnet.”

There is a flip side though that has hit Beasley in Boston just like everyone else looking to fill low-wage jobs. As live events came back, Mary Menna found her staff needed to fill street team positions. Being a road to a dream job in a cool environment wasn’t the lure that it used to be.

“In this recruitment climate, it was harder to hire a temporary student workforce at minimum wage, so we increased those hourly rates a bit to become more competitive and attractive.”

Overall, Menna has a lot to be happy about. Burnout is real and it is not like Beasley’s Boston building went untouched. She notes that she lost about 3% of her staff. For some people, the allure of working from home or a new professional challenge is just what they need in their lives and that is something you can’t really do anything about. You wish those people well and focus on meeting the needs of the employees you still have.

Sports radio, any talk radio really, is about storytelling. It isn’t your typical 9 to 5 where you know what will happen during 99% of 99% of your days. Acri thinks that sets the bar a lot higher for burnout in our industry.

“One of the things that help us avoid that is even though we are structured and there is a rhyme and reason to how we do the shows, there are always new and interesting things happening that serve as a challenge on how to approach these topics on the air which keeps it fresh, fun and exciting.”

We have cool jobs. I think most of us that work in sports radio genuinely love sports and entertaining people. The duties of the job are never the things we will complain about. Radio has largely been lucky, but American work culture was long overdue for an overhaul. Even those of us that cannot imagine doing anything else have moments that we feel taken advantage of or simply disrespected by our employers. Workers on whole are waking up to the fact that their jobs may need them more than they need any one particular job.

A Worrisome Sign on Hiring - WSJ
Courtesy: Wall Street Journa;

I have written before about employers needing to wake up to the fact that the pandemic changed the way people thought about compensation. Our industry is just like any other industry. Right now, it is part of that “Great Resignation.” The leaders that are best positioned to retain their people are the ones the spot signs of burnout, ask questions and listen to what their employees tell them they need out of their worklife.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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grant cohn

Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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