As a high school junior, Keith McPherson announced Pop Warner football games in New Jersey, and was approached by a spectator who told him that he had a good voice and should consider studying communications in college. Initially, McPherson was confused, as he was unaware that communications was a college major, nor did he know what exactly it encompassed.
As time went on though, he realized that it was the career path he desired, and worked hard to find the avenues to create content and leverage his sports knowledge and digital expertise, learning on the fly and discovering unique opportunities to differentiate himself from others.
Throughout high school, McPherson was not only an avid fan of the New York Yankees and then-New Jersey Nets, but also an athlete himself, playing football at Ocean Township High School. During his college search, he was recruited to play football at Rutgers University, but ultimately departed his home state to attend James Madison University as an undeclared major. For two years, he played Division I college football as a quarterback, and after not taking the field as a sophomore, came to the realization that brought him back home to Monmouth County.
“Something clicked where I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to the NFL, and I need to focus on a career; I need to choose a career path. I’m a wild sports fan obsessed with all sports, and talking all sports radio and television, maybe I can do that,’” McPherson recalls thinking. “When I transferred, I literally transferred without football in mind.”
McPherson spent the next four years at Monmouth University as a member of WMCX radio and HawkTV, and graduated at the age of 23 eager to apply to his first job in media. The only problem was that each job he was looking for required three to five years of professional experience.
Unsure of where to turn next, McPherson began making income as a DJ at local clubs and bars, something that he started doing in high school, and eventually began working at his local Guitar Center store selling audio equipment to customers. Looking for an opportunity to work in media, everything changed when he saw a casting application for the MLB Fan Cave in New York City.
“That was the turning point,” said McPherson. “That was when I kind of knew, ‘Okay, everyone wants 3-5 years of experience. This is going to be the first thing I can put on my résumé.”
For the duration of the 2014 Major League Baseball season, McPherson, along with several other “cave dwellers” from around the United States watched all 2,430 regular season games at 692 Broadway for 14 hours a day, while creating digital content in the process. He affirms that while the days were exhausting, the experience taught him about the ways in which other people follow baseball – a lesson in cultural diffusion occurring within the “melting pot” of New York City.
After the baseball season ended, McPherson spent the next five-and-a-half months applying for media jobs, but heard nothing back. Preparing to take a job at The Home Depot, he then received his only call back for an interview from MTV, largely because the network had filmed its show Off the Bat from the MLB Fan Cave every Tuesday during the regular season. After two rounds of interviews, McPherson was hired, and for the next two-and-a-half years, he worked on the company’s social media team. Once he reached the three years of experience necessary to pursue most other media jobs, he took a risk and left his job to look elsewhere.
“I could look for a job and match my passion with my profession,” said McPherson, “and I quit MTV, [and] applied to jobs [while driving for] Lyft and Uber for a month.”
McPherson joined a startup company, for the first time, when he was hired in August 2017 as fuboTV’s first-ever social media manager, helping construct a strategy to help expand the streaming service’s reach and growth potential. Ten months later, he took a role as a digital marketing and strategy manager at Roc Nation, collaborating with athletes to help proliferate the company’s reach. Three months into this role though, McPherson made a broad observation that changed the course of his career.
“I was just noticing people rise in the podcast world and in the social media world, and that’s when people started using the term ‘influencer,’” said McPherson. “I’m looking at people that are using Twitter and Instagram, podcasting and YouTube to build their own brand; build their own name; talk about what they like and what they want to be about.”
One purchase of a new Mac computer and a video camera later, McPherson was liberated from any corporate ties. He began recording sports content that he distributed over multiple platforms in an effort to find his voice among others in the media.
“I was unemployed and I kept building my online brand, but you need to survive, and I wasn’t making money off my online brand,” said McPherson. “I was getting followers and views, so I was driving [for] Lyft and Uber [and] I was working at a restaurant for a little bit. I couldn’t work anywhere full-time because it would have taken time away from me editing or me creating.”
Throughout his journey working as a cave dweller and then in various roles pertaining to social media, McPherson always remained an active member of Twitter, specifically among the cohort of Yankees fans. One of the connections he made on the platform happened to be with Jimmy O’Brien, who was in the process of building a startup multimedia company called “Jomboy Media.” After nearly a year working independently, McPherson catalyzed an opportunity to join the growing company as an intern. It is safe to say he wasted no time making it known that he would be more than just a short-term addition.
“I understood what Jomboy was building, and I crushed it right away,” said McPherson. “Through crushing it right away, one of the more senior advisers was like, ‘Hey, if we want to keep this guy, we’ve got to pay him full-time because he’s already had full-time social media jobs and he’s out in front of the camera now building his own personal brand.’”
Two months after starting as an intern, McPherson became a salaried employee, and worked with those at the company to prepare for the start of baseball season. Then everything stopped as the COVID-19 pandemic became an immediate matter of public concern across the United States, forcing McPherson and those at Jomboy Media to work remotely.
“We had just launched the Bronx office down the street from Yankee Stadium,” said McPherson. “We were all excited about working in the Bronx together and going to the games at night…We were so excited for that season and then the pandemic hit and stopped everything.”
Despite the disappointment that arose from being unable to work in person, McPherson was used to doing things remotely from his time operating independently. Each day while fully remote, he focused on building both Pinstripe Strong and Talkin’ Nets, his Yankees and Nets podcasts, respectively, to the point where they gained massive followings on social media, rising levels of listenership and high-profile guests.
Come 2021, McPherson and New York sports fans were finally able to attend games in-person again, albeit with health and safety protocols in place. While the atmosphere was different, McPherson was finally able to record new content on-site, and distinguish himself from others in sports media by being among the fans.
“I’m the fan in the stadium,” said McPherson. “…I’m the guy that’s turning the camera on when we hit a home run. I’m the guy that’s turning the camera on when [Kevin Durant] shoots a three and the crowd goes wild.”
One day, McPherson noticed that new WFAN Program Director Spike Eskin had begun following both of his podcasts on Twitter, and soon after, members of Jomboy Media filled-in to host a midday show at WFAN. Aside from being verified on Twitter, McPherson had no idea who Eskin was, that he had replaced one of the format’s pioneers in Mark Chernoff, nor that Eskin was considering trying to add him at WFAN. Then about one week later, the new P.D. messaged McPherson to go to lunch for an interview about joining the team at WFAN.
“I literally had a WFAN keychain on my keys since I met Marc Malusis in 2014 at the MLB Fan Cave,” said McPherson. “I feel like I manifested it.”
Less than two weeks later, McPherson was on the air for a tryout, and eagerly planned how his radio show would go. Yet when then-New York Mets manager Luis Rojas made a questionable decision removing starting pitcher Taijuan Walker from the game, McPherson had to be quick on his feet and adapt his plans to fit what his audience wanted to talk about.
“I had this whole plan for what I was going to do, and that went out of the window,” said McPherson. “….[After the show,] I found out from Tom Izzo, the head of digital, that [they] definitely noticed a huge bump in interactions the night [I] was on.”
Encouraged by his first-show on-air, McPherson sought to get back behind the microphone as soon as possible talking sports with New York fans on a nightly basis. From the time he auditioned though, he had heard nothing from WFAN, and he tried to figure out what was going on by checking in with Eskin.
“He really couldn’t tell me much,” said McPherson. “I was kind of like, ‘Damn, I just want another spot. I want another night. I’ll do 2-5; it doesn’t have to be 11-2…,’ but little did I know they were working on stuff.”
When the news came out this past October that longtime WFAN nighttime host Steve Somers was set to retire, sports radio fans across the New York-Metropolitan area pondered who would supply the talk and entertainment they had grown accustomed to for over three decades. For Eskin, replacing Somers represented one of the first major decisions he had to make on the job, and it was essential that the station chose a voice that embodied the passion and fervor that exists among New York sports fans – a voice like Keith McPherson’s.
By the time the calendar turned to October, McPherson learned that he would be replacing Steve Somers in the 7 p.m. to 12 a.m. nighttime slot on WFAN, an outcome he was surprised to learn, but a challenge he was elated to face.
“I was like, ‘Woah, slow down. I’ve never done this before. I only have radio experience from college. I don’t want to be the guy that’s tagged as Steve Somers’ replacement. The Shmooze is iconic; he’s huge; he’s a one-of-a-kind voice and presence on the radio,’” said McPherson. “I didn’t know what to do, but I wasn’t going to turn it down.”
The news was formally announced in November on Carton and Roberts while McPherson and his wife were on their honeymoon in Puerto Rico, leading to him receiving congratulatory texts and messages on social media. Later that month, McPherson made his WFAN debut, becoming the first Black host to be a part of the weekday lineup since Tony Paige left the station in 2019.
“I just wanted people to give me a shot,” said McPherson. “I wanted the chance to learn on the fly. I wanted the chance to fail – and put my energy into WFAN and not be anyone else… I wanted to be Keith McPherson, but through this platform; through this historic radio station.”
Six months working in his new role, McPherson has been able to foster a connection with his audience and is creating engaging multiplatform content that appeals to New York sports fans. His philosophy on how to do that is simple, but seldom found and sometimes frowned upon in the industry.
“My style is just to let people talk,” explained McPherson. “You’re calling into my show; you’re calling into WFAN. If you have a take or a thought that some of you want to get off on air, go for it – we can have a conversation. It doesn’t have to be ‘Alright, I’m going to be short with you – hang up the phone on you.’ I’m no better than you. I’m a fan just like you are. I just happen to be on this side of the mic; this side of the phone. Call me up, and we can talk about any sports topic; any conversation.”
While his hosting style is his own, he has had the opportunity to speak with his predecessor Somers, and gain valuable advice as how to host an entertaining and informative radio program in the number one media market in the world. Before they spoke about the art of taking calls, being able to approach shows differently on slower versus faster sports nights and being able to discuss larger issues outside of sports, McPherson was excited just to meet Somers to gauge how he felt about the transition.
“I didn’t know how he would feel because if you read Facebook or Twitter, which I don’t do as much anymore, people were acting like I pushed him out, and WFAN forced him to leave for me,” McPherson stated. “I was like, ‘Damn, that’s not the case at all.’”
Throughout his time on the air, McPherson has enjoyed connecting with callers from younger demographics in an effort to broaden his listening audience and help grow the games he is talking about. It is one of the reasons why he was recently brought on as a co-host of Off Base, a studio television show on MLB Network geared towards millennials and looking at “America’s Pastime” through a different lens. Yet as radio and other platforms continue to move towards becoming more digital, being available and willing to interact with sports fans outside of the time on-air is essential to cultivating an engaged audience.
“When I’m on air, I tell people, ‘Hey, tweet at me,’” said McPherson. “Not everybody is bold enough to call in, but they’ll send a tweet… I feel like if you’re a radio host in sports, you need to have Twitter open while you’re on air; you need to be paying attention to what’s trending on Twitter – you’re live on air – that can help your show; that can help your broadcast.”
As radio continues moving into the 21st-century, finding the next generation of talent can seem like a daunting task – that is, if program directors fail to adapt their selection processes. McPherson’s being a sports radio host in a major media market with his only radio experience prior to it being in college is something that deviates from the norm in the industry; however, his hiring and early success may be indicative of a change in the way radio finds its talent. After all, stations are always looking to continue to find ways to improve their ratings and earn more revenue in today’s congested media landscape.
“The next great radio host and the next great people to invest in or to put on a mic – they’re already there,” said McPherson. “The biggest thing I tell people is that there’s no gatekeepers. If you’re dope, people will find you. Make videos; make content; write your thoughts out and put them on Twitter. Radio’s got to learn that it’s not always the people who have worked 10 years inside your station [that] become your next guys.”
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.