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Keys To Being a Good Interviewer

“You may not know John Sawatsky’s name or face but if you watch any of ESPN’s programming, his work is on display every single night.”

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During my 20+ years in the sports media business I’ve learned from many great leaders, personalities, friends and rivals. I subscribe to the theory that you should always keep looking for ways to challenge yourself, and one area where improvements can be made in our business is when it comes to conducting interviews.

While spending 2+ years at ESPN in Bristol, CT, I had a chance to sit opposite Dan Patrick on a daily basis. I learned what a good interview should sound like. In my humbled opinion Dan is one of the best of all time when it comes to interviewing people.

Equally as important and even more of a factor on my growth were the training sessions I had a chance to participate in with the architect of interviewing John Sawatsky. Most people won’t know John by name or face but if you watch NFL Live, Baseball Tonight, SportsCenter or any other form of ESPN programming, his work is on display every single night.

John created a workshop built around eliminating what he referred to as the “7 Deadly Sins of Interviewing” and in this blog I’m going to take you through each of those sins and explain why his methods make sense. Most of what’s laid out below is what John passed on during the training sessions but I’ve since changed some of the audio samples and a few of the teachings to make it more adaptable to my style and those I’ve worked with.

Keys To Being a Good Interviewer

Interviewing is one area of journalism that has NOT improved over time. Everything else has, but this is one skill that has gone down. The question and interview are two different things and have different designs. Questions are very powerful and fragile and are in place to generate response and receive information. The interview as a whole is supposed to contain a series of questions which will help us better understand and learn new information about the individual or subject we are speaking with.

Yet often the broadcaster sleepwalks through interviews and throws any questions out there without a specific purpose. In certain situations the interviewer aims to become the star of the conversation and create conflict and visual drama which for the entertainment portion of television or radio may be good but for the purpose of the interview doesn’t deliver what it was intended to do.

Part I: The Question

We look at a car and we don’t know how it works. We like it until it breaks down. The mechanic knows how to fix it. The mechanic is professionally trained and knows about the moving parts. You are the mechanic for your interview. You need to know the moving parts for when your interview breaks down.

Why did CBS fall flat in interviewing Phil Mickelson after the Masters?

We blame the car — it’s a lousy car. “No one can make Phil interesting.”

The answers you get are a function of the question asked.

Every question has two purposes: big and little.

Your question is the only tool. No one HAS to talk to us. We have to rely on questions. We use the question to move it along from Point A to Point B. Each question is moving it forward. That movement is the Big Purpose.

The question’s small purpose is to gather information incrementally. But the big purpose and small purpose are separate. Like the transmission and engine of car. You need both, but they are completely different.

Simply defined: A question is an inquiry into something.

If you can name something, you can deal with it. The name “West Coast Offense” communicates meaning without having to describe the whole system. So we will define terms.

Question = Topic + Query

If you understand that, you can ask questions with amazing precision. Think of a non-digital camera. The lens determines what’s in the picture. The shutter makes the camera operate. Lens is your topic – what you’re looking at. Shutter is the query – what does the work.

DEADLY SIN #1 — NO QUERY

About 20 percent of what we ask doesn’t have a catalyst, an engine.

EXAMPLE – Barbara Walters with “The Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin’s Wife

Q: “You’ve lost him and you feel that you were blessed”

A: “I feel I was so blessed”

The query could be, “How can you feel blessed by losing the one you love most” or “Why do you believe you were blessed when you’ve just lost the one who mattered most to you”?

Both examples put the guest in a position to describe and explain rather than confirm or ignore. The content is a result of the process. Rapport is great, but it’s not necessary. A statement proclaims something. A question creates a demand. We have to make our questions do the work to get people to talk to us.

EXAMPLE – Texas Rangers OF Josh Hamilton on ESPN

Q: “When you were in the worst of the worst it just took over”

A: Consumed me. I was basically killing myself inside.

How could the question have been asked to get Hamilton to elaborate further?

EX: “What led to this disease getting the better of you?” “Why was this disease able to take control of you?” “How did this become as bad as it did?”

Once again, if the question asked is delivered with the intention of getting the subject to describe, explain and inform, we’ll learn more new information and deliver better results.

The query is akin to blocking and tackling. It’s basic to making everything work.

DEADLY SIN #2 — DOUBLE-BARRELED QUESTIONS

This is even more popular as a sin than the first deadly sin. This is when the interviewer elects to present the guest with two questions at once. Almost every time the guest is going to select the less challenging portion of the discussion.

EXAMPLE – Katie Couric with Barack Obama

Q: If you believe Afghanistan is the central front in the war on terror, why was this your first trip there and why didn’t you hold a single hearing as chairman of a sub-committe that oversees the fighting force there?

A: Actually the sub committee that I chair is the European sub-committee, and any issues related to Afghanistan were always dealt with in the full committee. Precisely because it’s so important. That’s not a matter that you would deal with in a sub-committee setting.

Obama goes to the one he prefers. People default to the safest, most favorable, least dangerous question.

EXAMPLE – Keith Olbermann with Hillary Clinton.

Q: What do you think of the draft Gore stories and do you think even after all this time that you’ll wind up facing him still in the primaries?

A: I’m hoping he wins and I’m waiting to hear the announcement from the Nobel committee and I hope that we give that well deserved honor to VP Gore.

We typically do this because we are in rush, want to narrow or broaden focus, want to get the story in, for dramatic effect (especially on TV). A single barrel question hanging out there doesn’t seem like that much. Often it’s because we are trying to overcome our own internal doubt about our first question. Sometimes it’s because we want to hear our own voice. And sometimes we just don’t know what the question is.

Those are only some of the reasons. Sometime you just build up too much momentum. You have to slow down before a stop sign. When we finish the question, our voice drops. Sometimes the second question is just to get the voice from 50 mph to 0. But the damage is done. The double barreled question gives the subject a ramp off the highway. You do not want to do that.

DEADLY SIN #3 — OVERLOADING

A question can’t support a topic that is too broad, or multiple topics. “What do you think about sports?” is just too broad. In the case of overloading, this is when the interviewer tries to jam 3-4 and sometimes even 5-6 questions into one exchange. Once again you’ll find the guest picks and chooses what part they wish to respond to.

EXAMPLE – Bill O’Reilly Interview of Howard Stern

Q:  So 80-100 million a year go into your corporation. You go on Sirius the satellite radio channel. How are they going to make a profit? How many people are going to go over and what are they like, $50 bucks for a subscription?

A: Is it my problem if they make a profit? Is that my worry? They paid me to go there and entertain the people and that’s what I’ll do

Howard gets defensive and answers the first part and never addresses the challenges of expecting consumers to pay for the product or touching on what he believes the future growth of the company will be due to his arrival.

EXAMPLE – Steve Kroft’s interview with Bill Clinton after the Jennifer Flowers rumors surface

Q: You said that your marriage has had problems. What do you mean by that? Does that mean you were separated? You had communication problems? You contemplated divorce? Adultery?

A: I think the American people, at least those who have been married know exactly what that means.

Clinton is bombarded with too many things at once to address anything specifically so once again the guest gravitates to the area that’s easiest to deal with.

Overloading is a cousin to the double barrel. Using the pizza principle: Usually the more toppings the better, for more flavor. With questions, less is more.

DEADLY SIN #4 — REMARKS

This is the most common violation of interviewing. Any time you put remarks OF ANY KIND in a question then you are offering another off ramp to the highway you’re trying to stay on. YOU DON”T NEED REMARKS. If you feel like you need to make a remark, then the question is flawed. You need to break up the question into several questions.

Newton’s Law: every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. There are no neutral remarks. Everything makes an impact.

Think of a fax machine. It has two functions: send and receive. Don’t go into send mode — giving information — when you want to receive information.

EXAMPLE: Mike Francesa with Joe Girardi

Q: Everyone talks about a fast start. It’s been so hard for the Yankees to get off to a fast start in the last 4-5 years. It’s part of being a veteran team. I don’t think it’s that I think it’s just probably being lucky health-wise and also getting your pitching ready to be ready on opening day. When you think about getting off to a fast start which I know you’d like to do I think it’s about getting your pitching ready.

A: I wholeheartedly agree. We have to get our pitching ready and we need to make sure all of our starters are ready to go and our bullpen is healthy and pitching is going to keep us in games.

Francesa simply dominates the discussion with his opinion and doesn’t ask Girardi to enlighten him at all about the club’s lack of getting off to a fast start. Instead he’s looking for validation to his opinion from Girardi which he receives but the end result is :30 seconds of chatter with nothing new learned from the guest.

EX: “Why has this team had such a difficult time getting off to a fast start?” “What adjustments have you made to make sure this team doesn’t come out of the gate slow this season?”

EXAMPLE: Sean Hannity interview with Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska

Q: I am mad at the Republican party. As a matter of fact I am re-registering in NY as a conservative. I consider myself as a Reagan conservative. I predicted year out that they would lose power in 2006 because I believe they’ve abandoned their principles on spending. They haven’t given a solution to our energy dependence. They haven’t controlled our nation’s borders. The earmarks they’ve got worse than the democrats. If republicans continue down this path they deserve to lose don’t they.

A: Well sure because the power is in the hands of the party that controls the congress in the white house.

The final part of the question gives them an out. The power comes from focusing a topic and subjecting it to them. When people want to escape questions, they will resort to a volume answer — they will take on a different premise. In this question, all Hannity did was get Hagel to agree with his opinion. Not once did he ask Hagel to provide insight or opinion on how he viewed the republican’s efforts. He didn’t ask him how he felt they were matching up to the democrats in the eyes of the public. Instead he just sought validation to his opinion. The result = no insight learned from the guest.

DEADLY SIN #5 — TRIGGER WORDS

Often when we interview a guest there are certain stories that emerge that we have to ask about. If we don’t we compromise our credibility. When difficult areas of a conversation arise it’s extremely important to stay neutral. By leading your question in a specific direction you place yourself in a position to have the interview go south!

EXAMPLE: John Stossel interviews pro wrestler Dr. D David Schultz.

Q: I’ll ask you the standard question. I think it’s fake.

A:: [Smacks him hard, Stossel falls down] – You think it’s fake huh?

Who attacked whom? This was a physical attack from the wrestler. But Stossel instigated, and those can be lasting and deep.

EXAMPLE: Andrew Dice Clay on CNN (there is foul language in this clip)

Q: You were a headline guy and now you’re coming back

A: I’m still a headline guy

Q: For a while you popped out but now you’re coming back

A: Coming back? It’s what I do.

Q: You were running a gym for a while. Tell us about that?

A: Running a gym? You’re supposed to be a news guy, where are you getting your information from? This is ridiculous, I come on CNN and the guy doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.

Every question is made up of words that each have independent meanings. Sometimes people will react to the meaning of a word. The trigger word eats the question. It sets someone off. You put a trigger word in your question, and you can just forget that the subject will answer.

DEADLY SIN #6 — HYPERBOLE

What is hyperbole? This is what comedians do. It’s great at driving home a point.

Leno: It was so cold that the accuser at Duke changed her story, she now said it was the ice hockey team.

When you’re hungry, you’re starved. When you’re bored, you’re bored to tears. Really? No one takes it literally. We use hyperbole all the time. It can be useful as long as it does not mislead. Was the shot really heard round the world? No, but this makes our copy colorful and gets the point across, so there’s a role for hyperbole — and that hyperbole is when we are in “send mode. ”

Think about a voice over. It’s job is to paint a picture and excite you BUT Hyperbole is bad if you are in receive mode. If you put hyperbole in a question, you are done. The focus becomes the excess in your question. And that excess is the exit ramp. We are communicators. We receive and send. That’s all we do. The problem is that each are governed by opposite principles. What makes you good in one makes you bad in another.

TV –the journalists who are the most colorful are usually the worst interviewers. They can send but can’t receive. The great exporters are lousy importers.

EXAMPLE: Ed Bradley with Michael Jordan

Q: There were times when you’d elevate to take your shot and it was like you had another gear up there. Like you were flying.

A: Well we all fly. Some just fly higher than others.

What is Jordan supposed to do with that question? It’s small talk with no purpose.

EXAMPLE: Barbara Walters interviewing Jon Benet Ramsey’s parents

Q: They call Jon Benet a six year old Lolita, a pint sized sex kitten.

A: That didn’t come from Jon Benet.

What do you expect a mother and father to say when asked a question like that? If the question was “How does it make you feel when you hear people say that your daughter was a 6 year old pint-sized sex kitten”? This now makes it about their feelings towards the question instead of disagreeing with the characterization of their daughter and based on the question, you’re likely to get a strong response.

If you put hyperbole in your question, you will get understatement in your answers.

DEADLY SIN #7 — CLOSED QUERIES

This is the worst one and as John Sawatsky would say “it has a special place in hell.” We ask twice as many closed queries than open ones. A closed query is a yes/no question. A closed query only works with an absolute topic — a topic that, like a coin, can only be one or the other. Heads or tails. No in between.

EXAMPLE: Larry King Interviews Paris Hilton

Q: Purpose of jail is to teach a lesson. Did it work with you?

A: It was a very traumatic experience but I feel like God makes everything happen for a reason

Q: Think it changed you?

A: Yeah definitely

Q: Read a lot?

A: A lot. I received fan mail from all around the world. So many letters.

Q: Nicole Ritchie. How’s she doing?

A: She’s doing great

This interview with Paris was a classic case of having a flawed plan from the start. The easy response is to suggest that Paris isn’t a good interview but listen closely to the questions and you’ll find that she’s led to pointless places and never put in a position to have to provide detail. Of all the interviews I’ve listened to in my life this one ranks right up there among the worst of all-time!

When interviewers land big opportunities and fail to take advantage of them, it can lead to national criticism from other media outlets. The last thing you want is to be professionally embarrassed for doing a poor job. Take a listen to the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News the following night and how they reacted to King’s interview.

Great interviews are ones that bring surprises, something we didn’t already know or didn’t expect. What is the problem with using a closed query for a topic that is not absolute? First, let’s look at the moving parts inside a query that work together for an effective question. (Don’t think about this in terms of content — that’s the paint on the car. We’re talking about the engine).

Review:
Topic + Query = Question

If a topic is not absolute, it must be relative. Almost all of our topics are relative. What we are trying to find out in most interviews is beyond absolute information. We want people to describe change that is incremental. A relative topic would be the position of a door. It could be open at different stages — half open, barely ajar. If you simply want to know if the door is locked or unlocked, then go ahead and use a closed query. Topics such as fairness, power, freedom, justice are matters of degree. Great reporters listen to what the person values and get them to go further than they have ever gone.

What poor interviewers do: when they don’t get answers, they blame the subject. But it’s the interviewer’s fault. Why not go for the confession? Isn’t that the best story to be gotten?

Here’s the danger of using closed queries with relative topics: The tougher the topic, the more your subject feels backed into a corner. You have given them only one extreme or the other. Morality is really good or really bad? No, there are many shades in between.

If you are trying to understand someone, especially on a sensitive subject, you must use an open query to create a safe zone for your subject to explain their side. With a closed query, a subject often answers a closed query with one of the two extremes offered. But once they have chosen their extreme — the yes or no — they can’t move. They’ll lose face. They are going to deny to protect themselves. They are not going to feel safe to explain themselves. This can even damage gathering information on a fluffy subject.

Conclusion

Have a game plan and ask open ended questions and put your guests in positions that require them to share their insights with you. The goal is to create an atmosphere which is neutral and invites the guest to speak about themselves and what they know while steering them in the direction you wish to take them in. Remember, you can still be tough with your questioning while being fair and you will always get a better response when asking questions that request an answer.

This is a game of percentages and while nothing is guaranteed, you will win more times than not by following these methods. Nobody bats .1000 but if a hitter could bat .400 instead of .300 they’d use the advantages every time up to the plate, interviewing is no different.

Here are two interviews that contain great questions and a smart strategy. You’ll find the momentum continues moving forward with each question, the guest is put in position to describe and explain and each interviewer keeps a neutral position which leads to gaining the information they seek.

Suzy Kolber of ESPN with former Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver Chad Johnson

John Sawatsky’s classic Beaver Interview example from Canada

Keys to being a better interviewer

The Primary Impulses
Safe
Favorable
Easy

The Intruders
Social
Professional
Personal

Communication/Journalism
Inputter                                     Outputter

Interviewer
Micro    Macro

Question = Topic + Query

Deadly Sin #1 = No Query
Deadly Sin #2 = Double Barreled Question
Deadly Sin # 3 = Overloading
Deadly Sin # 4 = Remarks
Deadly Sin # 5 = Trigger Words
Deadly Sin # 6 = Hyperbole
Deadly Sin # 7 = Closed Question

Verb Non-Starters = Do, Does, Did, Have, Has, Had, Is, Are, Was, Were, Will, Would, Can, Could, Should

  • Chart a Path
  • Set a Goal – Choose a direction
  • Locate the starting point – Before change/conflict/contrast
  • Connect the dots – struggle/reason
  • Select a route – When/What
  • Do It – Forward/Backward, On/Off, Enhance/Advance
  • Mop Up – U-Turns, Tangents, Less Important Stuff, Hunches, The Left Overs

Goal = To discover and scrutinize the change

Top 10 Questions 
10. What’s an example?
9. How did you deal with that?
8. What were the options?
7. What was the turning point?
6. In what way?
5. How would you characterize that?
4. Why is that?
3. What is it like?
2. What do you mean?
1. What happened?

Honorable Mentions
What is the effect?
What are the implications?
What do you make of it?
How does it manifest itself?
How did you feel?
What went thru your mind?
What was your reaction?
How did you arrive at that?
How does that work?

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John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

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Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.

But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.

When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.

If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.

During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.

Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.

After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.

John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.

We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.

I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski

“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”

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The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.

I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.

Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.

Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.

Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.

By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.

A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!

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Traug Keller Named 2022 Recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award

“Former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award.”

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Photo Credit: ESPN Images

Sometimes decisions are difficult. Other times they’re not. This was one of the easiest ones I’ve made since launching the BSM Summit in 2018.

If you haven’t attended the Summit before, one of the cool parts of the conference each year is that we take time to honor people who have left a permanent mark on the industry we love. Awards ceremonies are held both days to recognize difference makers who have made positive contributions to the sports radio business. At our 2022 BSM Summit, I am pleased to share that a great man will be celebrated for his life’s work.

It is my honor to announce that former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award. Keller becomes the third industry executive to earn the honor. Kraig Kitchin and Dan Mason were the first two to be recognized at the 2019 and 2020 BSM Summit’s.

Upon learning that Traug had been selected as the next Jeff Smulyan Award winner, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan said, “Traug Keller has left an indelible imprint on not only sports radio, but on all of broadcasting through his remarkable career. I’m proud to call him my friend, but I’m just one of the legions of people who have loved every minute of their time with him. He’s a broadcaster’s broadcaster, but more than that he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“I am humbled for sure but thrilled to be receiving an award with the name of my good friend on it, Jeff Smulyan,” added Traug Keller, now the EVP and COO of American Media. “Jeff did what all too few leaders in business do, he took risk and action against all kinds of headwinds and the rest of us in the great business of Sports Audio were the beneficiaries of it. Thanks to BSM for this great honor and I look forward to seeing a bunch of old friends in March!”

Anyone who has crossed paths with Traug over the past three decades knows how important he was to the success of ESPN Radio. He’s been a friend to many, a great partner to hundreds of radio affiliates, and a champion for talent. His support for BSM has also meant a lot.

Perhaps even more impressive was Traug’s ability to connect with his affiliates, clients and colleagues, offering steady leadership and on-air stability for ESPN Radio. No executive leaves with a perfect record, but Keller had a knack for landing on the right side of many decisions. None as impressive though as retiring from sports radio in February 2020, one month before the sports world came to a screeching halt and a global pandemic rocked the entire advertising industry. Talk about timing Traug, haha.

In all seriousness, having Traug and Jeff together on the same stage in front of the industry to give folks an opportunity to show their appreciation for their accomplishments is a real treat. So many enjoy professional success today due to bold and smart decisions made by each of these men, and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with both in New York City this March.

For tickets, hotel and additional details regarding the 2022 BSM Summit visit BSMSummit.com.

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