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Tackling The Sports Radio Universe

Jason Barrett

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Look around the country today and you’re sure to find former football players invading your sports talk radio dial. This wasn’t always the case but over the past 10-15 years the list of former athletes doing talk radio has grown leaps and bounds and in most cases, the formula has worked very successfully.

ESPNLAI took a look around in as many markets as I could and I found all of these former professional football players doing local sports radio over the past year. Click here for the list.

I’m sure I missed some so if I didn’t list someone, don’t shoot me. What I think this list shows though is how popular this formula has become for sports talk programmers and listeners alike. It also shows that athletes are more interested in the media business as a second career than ever before.

So why is it attractive? Well as someone who has hired 3 former athletes as weekday hosts (2 of them being former football players) and had success with them, there are a few reasons why I believe it works.

dfarr1. They’re instantly identified and liked by listeners in your market – half the battle is getting people to the dial, these guys do that!

2. They’re very coachable – These guys were under the microscope every game and used to receiving coaches feedback; they carry it over to our business and can handle being challenged.

MikeMike3. They study and know how to relate – Most former athletes study to fill in the blanks where they’re weak. They also try to relate their past experiences to current subjects. It’s not about who knows the most, it’s about who can explain it well, share a well informed opinion and make it easy for the audience to understand.

boomer-carton4. They are extremely marketable and attractive to advertisers – Getting exposure and making $ is a big part of our business. If I walk into a client’s office, they’re not blown away but they may do a deal. If a host who’s won a Super Bowl or World Series ring walks into the room, client’s are instantly engaged and thinking about how they can be closer and more connected to your brand and that particular individual.

I could list many more reasons why I think they’ve connected so well but one thing that often gets lost is how hard some of these guys work. Walking off of a football field and into a radio studio can be intimidating for a lot of guys especially when they’ve only been focused on one particular sport for 10-15 years. Most of the players that I’ve worked with have understood that preparation and being receptive to criticism are an important part of this business and they put the time in to improve.

tbdintheamTo every broadcaster who’s spent time learning this craft, there are certain things that are natural and you just pick them up as you go along. That’s what football players think when they take on the best athletes in the world. But introduce a former player to the word re-set or tease or ask them to fill 45-minutes of air time with compelling storytelling, identified headlines and strong payoffs and they’re likely to look at you like you have 5 heads. It’s no different than a broadcaster walking into an NFL locker room and being given a playbook and being asked to run a play.

wsToday in sports radio, the combination of the local radio personality and the ex-athlete is growing and I believe it’s because athletes draw a large amount of revenue and attention to the show/station, while the radio pro guides the programs and presents the view of the audience. Having a view from the seats and a view from the field creates a unique blend and plenty of differing viewpoints and that leads to numerous content opportunities. The tandems that find their groove, often deliver strong results for their respective brands.

A few guys who have made the transition from professional football into the sports talk radio universe were kind enough to share some thoughts with me on a number of subjects. If you’ve ever wondered about the mindset of an athlete as it applies to working in this medium, I think you’ll enjoy this conversation.

Our 3 Featured Experts:

  • Ron Wolfley – Arizona Sports 98.7 FM – weekdays 6a-10a
  • Sean Salisbury – Yahoo Sports Radio – weekdays 4p-8p
  • Brock Huard – 710 ESPN Seattle – weekdays 7a-10a

Q: What was the hardest part of transitioning from the football field into the broadcast studio?

salisbury3Sean: The hardest thing was being precise. Hitting your points and moving on and realizing my football career was natural. The studio wasn’t. Double time is needed in preparation.

Brock: Starting over. Having to swallow hard and know that the value of my time and talents was going to start at the ground floor. Even if early media assignments paid less than the babysitter rate at home, you have to humble yourself and start anew.

Wolf: Making sure I didn’t make the game seem easy to play. There seem to be a lot of broadcasters that make player or coach failure sound like it should never happen. I had to remember how tough it was to compete at the highest level our species can generate.

Q: How intimidating or challenging has it been to get into deeper discussion on other sports you haven’t been as familiar with? What have you done to catch up and prepare yourself for those subjects?

Brock2Brock: Not that difficult, but you must be curious, willing to ask questions and admit when you do not know. Transparency and honesty pair pretty well with humility too.

Sean: It wasn’t intimidating for me. I didn’t play football until high school. I was into baseball, hoops and hockey first. They came natural to me and I prepared as if it was a weekly game plan. Make sure I know everything about a defense and what’s happening in all sports. My focus is on over preparing and then having an opinion. My biggest asset though has always been my strength in other sports. At times they’re even better than my football material.

Wolf: I was a three sport student-athlete. Although I have to work harder at baseball, basketball and hockey, the commonality of competition remains the baseline no matter what sport you’re talking about.

Q: What’s your approach when it comes to being critical of your former team, teammates and front office friends or acknowledging something you did during your career that might ruffle some feathers?

Wolf1Wolf: My approach will never change: I speak what I believe to be true – good or bad. It doesn’t make me rught or wrong it just makes it my opinion. There is a way to say a guy isn’t getting it without saying the guy “sucks.” I can have an opinion, but I make sure I don’t editorialize that opinion. And the reason why I don’t editorialize that opinion can be found in never forgetting how difficult it is to compete at the highest level.

Brock: Be willing to say anything on the air right to the face of that former colleague or friend.

Sean: My approach is always honest. Whether I compliment or criticize, players respect a real answer. I’m not worried about being liked. I’m concerned about respect. If you study and speak the truth, players may not like it but they will always respect it. I study the same that they do so they respect the truth and I always make myself available if they want to discuss. I’ve never believed in hiding behind a studio desk and I keep my comments centered around their job not their private lives. Having an opinion is what I get paid to provide. No opinion equals no respect.

Q: How comfortable are you with interviewing former friends, colleagues and/or opponents? Are they easier or tougher to interview than someone you don’t know as well? How do you prepare for those on-air conversations?

salisbury2Sean: It’s easier because they are more comfortable. Relationships get friends and those you know to open up more because they trust you. I don’t do softball interviews. If you make them laugh early in interview they will always tell you more. Comfort is information and I use the the question why often. They will talk when questions are short and precise. They like being the star.

Brock: Separation is in the preparation.  I don’t think it’s difficult at all, and from our first guest (Matt Hasselbeck) to our regular guests (Damon Huard and Drew Bledsoe), you must be able to leverage those relationships for depth, quality and sounding connected and big.

Wolf: Broadcasting starts and ends with being real. Therefore, interviewing somebody that I know has never been a problem. I typically say something early in the conversation that he will recognize and laugh at. That typically sets the table and tone for the conversation.

Q: How comfortable/uncomfortable are you with handling critical listener feedback on the phones, in-person or via social media? How do you deal with it?

Brock: I tend to block a lot of that out, maybe the positive of playing QB where you just can’t be distracted. I have come close to hitting “send” on a few tweets or emails to disgruntled listeners, but I often remind myself, “what’s the upside?” Usually very little.

Sean: Early in my career I was concerned about everyone’s opinion and critics hurt a bit. I learned though that opposition is a golds star in this business. I also learned that many fans are very smart. We never know it all and self deprecation makes fans feel like they know us. It makes them feel as if they are in the room with us. I can take hard criticisms as long as they’re respectful. If it’s presented that way, we may learn something. If the President can win an election 51-49% then far be it for me to ask for more.

Wolf: Ignore it. You can’t please everybody all of the time.

Q: What advice do you want to pass on to other athletes who are retiring and thinking about entering this line of work?

Wolf: Study the English language and, if possible, brush up on history. History can be analogues to many athletic endeavors and it also sets the context for every conversation you will ever have – no matter who you’re talking to. What has been is why things are the way they are and every story/topic has a starting point. Also, I would tell them to make sure they pull every story through the prism of their personality. Don’t be afraid to show listeners who you are. Authenticity is the great mediator of broadcast brilliance.

Brock: Humble yourself, get up earlier and work harder than you ever have before

Sean: The biggest piece of advice I can give is to call on your strength. You made it in sports because you out worked others and this business requires even more because it’s not just your own sport. Fans are privy to bullshit. They are too smart. A big piece of advice is to be careful not to alienate the listener by feeding them the “when I played” cycle. Bring them into your career but not every day. And also, tell me something I can’t read in a paper or online. Use your access and connections to get special information.

You can listen to Brock Huard weekday mornings from 7a-10a on the “Brock and Salk Show” on 710 ESPN in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here. Ron Wolfley is part of the “Doug and Wolf” show, weekdays from 6a-10a on Arizona Sports 98.7FM in Phoenix. He’s also on Twitter. Click here to follow him. Last but not least, Sean Salisbury is one half of the show “Prime Cut”, weekdays from 4p-8p on Yahoo Sports Radio. He too is on Twitter. Click here to follow him.

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Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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