We’ve reached the final stage of our three part series featuring the men and women who broadcast baseball games on the radio across the nation. If you haven’t read part 1 click here. To read part two go here.
Radio has some amazing storytellers gracing its airwaves and selling the game of baseball and all that is associated with it. During the next six months local audiences will be treated to a heavy dose of our baseball announcers, and with these radio professionals serving in critical roles to help our radio stations enjoy strong ratings and revenue success, it felt like the right time to recognize them for the countless contributions they make to our radio stations.
On that note, let me introduce you to the voices of Major League Baseball. This is the final part of our three part series.
Philadelphia Phillies – Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen – as told by Spike Eskin.
Baseball on the radio is an amazing thing. There is something about the space, the pacing, and just the sound itself that people love listening to. Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen have taken that special thing and perfected it on their Phillies broadcasts.
People love Scott and Larry because they’re real, funny, interesting, passionate, and they know what they’re talking about. Like many of the great ones, and a lot like the beloved team of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn, when you’re listening to Franzke and L.A., you’re not just hearing what’s going on during the Phillies game, but you’re hearing their own little show within the play by play broadcast itself. They’re genuinely entertaining.
Scott Franzke and Larry Andersen, along with Jim Jackson (pregame, postgame, middle three innings), help SportsRadio 94WIP capitalize on the city’s passion for baseball with a truly special broadcast.
Pittsburgh Pirates – Greg Brown, Bob Walk, Joe Block, Steve Blass, and John Wehner – as told by Colin Dunlap.
Pittsburgh is the most provincial town that I’ve ever experienced, and I’m from here. Greg Brown, especially, understands as much. Greg went through the 20 years of losing with the fanbase, and now with a resurgence taking place, does a great job of playing up the winning. He is simply a regular man who most Pittsburghers identify with, and behind Andrew McCutchen, is probably the most recognizable figure in the organization.
Block is entering his second season, and his style of blending advanced stats with an old school wit has drawn many in, including myself.
Walk presents himself the same way he did as a pitcher, no-nonsense, to the point, and unafraid of shying away from emotion.
Blass is a folk hero in Pittsburgh, and a link to glory days for the old-timers. He plays it perfectly, knowing the audience is captivated by his stories from yesteryear.
Wehner, in my opinion is very underrated. He has a great ability to boil very technical explanations of a swing, play or other portion of a game down to terms and words that everyone can understand. He also grew up about 4 miles from the stadium and played for Jim Leyland’s Pirates, thus (remember that provincialism?) it makes a Pittsburgh audience really lock into him and take to him.
Collectively, Pirates fans are treated to an excellent radio broadcast thanks to the skills and contributions from a very talented group.
San Diego Padres – Ted Leitner, Jesse Agler and Tony Gwynn Jr. – as told by Rich Herrera.
In San Diego, Padres fans are treated to an iconic personality who truly reflects the community. That would be play by play man Ted Leitner. Fans here affectionately refer to him as “Uncle Teddy” and feel a closeness to him due to his having spent 37 years behind the mic calling Padres games. Ted is as unique as the city he calls games for. San Diego loves its baseball and appreciates its players and team, and if you listen to a Padres game you’ll hear him often refer to the team as “My Padres”. In other towns that would be sacrilege, but not San Diego. Because of the laid back attitude here, no one gets too worked up. They meet up at America’s Best Ballpark, enjoy the sunshine while enjoying a cold IPA and wearing their flip flops, and rely on the sound of Uncle Teddy to capture the action. He truly reflects the feel of this community.
Jesse Agler joined the broadcast last season and makes a great partner for Leitner. Chemistry is what everyone strives for in the booth and when these two call a game they bring out the best in each other. Jesse relates to fans and captures the big moment of a game and gives you goosebumps while doing so. He is a great booth mate because he’s able to bring out great stories and the rich history of the Padres from Ted, while also interacting with fans on Twitter and Facebook Live. This helps us bring generations of fans both young and old to the broadcast.
This season, the Padres have added Tony Gwynn Jr. to the radio broadcast, and with his rich family history and connection to San Diego, it will have fans doing a double take at his laugh that sounds just like his hall of fame father.
The Padres are the 12th team to migrate to the FM dial which will expose the team to a wider group of fans, and altogether it adds up to a summer soundtrack in San Diego with Uncle Teddy, Jesse and Tony Gwynn Jr. on a station that sounds crystal clear. You can drive down the highway on your way to the beach with your sunglasses on and the top down as you relish the fact you’re in America’s Finest City. The sum of these parts adds up to a broadcast that sounds like the city it represents, which is why it has a special connection to Padres fans.
San Francisco Giants – Jon Miller and Dave Flemming – as told by Larry Krueger.
Most Bay Area baseball fans feel fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the best collection of broadcasters in the sport on a daily basis. The Giants have two former Giants, Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper on the TV side, and Dave Fleming and the Hall of Famer Jon Miller handling the radio duties on KNBR.
Miller, the longtime voice of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, has a voice that is synonymous with the sport. He has always been an easy, comfortable listen, and he works hard to be great on the air. Jon has seen decades of baseball, and thus is blessed with a wide array of anecdotes and stories. His overall wit and enthusiasm for the game are the strengths of his broadcasts.
Fleming is still a relatively young broadcaster, but he has emerged as one of the country’s best and most versatile play-by-play men. Dave is very bright with deep pipes, and his sound is so smooth. The duo have built an exceptional on air rapport.
Kruk and Kuip, as they’re affectionately known, join Miller and Fleming on the extremely popular KNBR Postgame Wrap, creating must listen conversation after each Giants game.
The main attraction of this group to fans is they are all passionate about the Giants’ winning baseball games, but they balance that passion with perspective, humor, and enthusiasm. They consistently provide Giants fans with intelligent baseball banter, and if you’re driving anywhere west of the Rocky Mountains you’ll be able to hear them on the blowtorch known as Thee Sports Leader, KNBR-680. It won’t take long for you to discover why they’re the best at what they do.
Seattle Mariners – Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith – as told by Jessamyn McIntyre.
Rick Rizzs has become the voice of baseball in Seattle. While we’ll never forget the dulcet tones of Dave Niehaus on a warm summer night, may he rest in peace, Rizzs has remained the mainstay and enters his 32nd season with the team.
Rizzs’ enthusiasm for the game can be heard throughout his entire call, but is exemplified in his homerun calls with his signature, “Goodbye baseball!” He continues to pay tribute to his long-time partner, Niehaus, on grand slam homerun calls using his famous saying, “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma! It’s Grand Salami time!” Rick’s passion for the game is only exceeded by his warmth and gracious nature as a person.
Joining Rick in the booth is Aaron Goldsmith, who is in his fifth season as part of the Mariners broadcast team. Goldsmith is only 33 years old, but don’t let his youth fool you. From the moment he first took to the air, it was apparent he had the chops to hold the mic in the booth. From the ‘golden pipes’ he’s working with to the revved up calls on exciting plays, Aaron brings experience beyond his years to the broadcast on a daily basis.
The institutional mainstay in Rizzs, and youthful energy Goldsmith brings, keep Mariners fans happy and looking forward to listening to games on 710 ESPN Seattle year after year.
St. Louis Cardinals – Mike Shannon and John Rooney – as told by Tom Ackerman.
The Cardinals and KMOX have a long history, with the station’s powerful signal responsible for helping grow the team’s fanbase when it was the only franchise west of the Mississippi River. Today, the Cardinals Radio Network boasts 155 affiliates covering ten states, making it the largest radio network in Major League Baseball. But just as its 50,000 watts put baseball on the radio for millions of people, names like France Laux, Dizzy Dean, Joe Garagiola, Harry Caray and Jack Buck brought it to life. Most importantly, they’ve educated and entertained generations of listeners.
Today, Mike Shannon carries on that tradition as a link to the Cardinals’ championship past and a storyteller of the present. Shannon is a St. Louis native with a true love for the city and its surrounding areas. Now in his 46th season behind the microphone, you could make the argument no one has sold more tickets, hotel rooms and Budweiser than Shannon, one of the all-time St. Louis ambassadors. And in a true baseball town, no one has a better feel for the game. You’ll always learn something new listening to a Shannon broadcast, with his ability to identify strategy and nuances. He can set up a big moment with the best of them and deliver an exciting play with great enthusiasm. Shannon is the person you want sitting next to you at the ballpark. Luckily for Cardinals fans, they can experience that any time they want just by turning on the radio.
In addition, his partner John Rooney is one of the finest play-by-play men in the business. Name the sport and he’s probably called it on the national stage. Entering his 12th season as a play-by-play voice of the Cardinals, Rooney has established himself as one of baseball’s best. Always prepared and technically flawless, his smooth delivery is a terrific listen. Rooney has a gift of being able to describe the action in just the right amount of words, painting a beautiful picture each and every inning. He keeps a great pace and comes through with energetic calls of classic Cardinal moments, and like Shannon, is a compelling storyteller with decades of experience.
Rick Horton joins Rooney on road broadcasts, offering the insight Cardinals fans crave from the perspective of a former pitcher. Horton has a charm about him, a friendly, likable personality and true love for the game. Having played for Whitey Herzog, Horton’s expanded knowledge of baseball comes through in his play-by-play and analysis.
Tampa Bay Rays – Andy Freed and Dave Wills – as told by John Mamola.
Since 2005, Dave Wills and Andy Freed have called every pitch of Tampa Bays baseball from the depressing 101 loss season to the thrills of the franchise’s lone World Series appearance in the 2008. In a market that historically has struggled with attendance and budding stars of the game finding bigger paychecks once leaving Tampa Bay, Dave and Andy have been the rock of consistency in a community of baseball fans that has seen many changes over many years. The duo enters their 13th season together behind the mics of the Tampa Bay Rays Radio Network, and they’ve never sounded better. A delicate balance of baseball X’s and O’s with some light entertainment, Dave & Andy’s chemistry bleeds through the radio speaker as if two friends from different backgrounds found a way to work together sharing their passion for the game of baseball with the listening audience.
The three words that best describe Dave and Andy are: Engaged (They invite conversation, incorporating social media responses into the broadcast), Jolly (Always in a good mood, positive, energetic, and up for a laugh), and Polished (They work at their craft and search for coaching techniques and new things to try. There is always something different in every game broadcast).
When I talk to WDAE listeners about Dave and Andy, the responses surround certain elements of their on air persona/character. Dave Wills is the guy who likes to talk baseball and share a cold beer with anyone who will listen. A broadcaster who is not afraid to let his feelings be known, and never holds back in how he calls a game. He’s big and bold whether the Rays have smashed a home run or been the recipient of a bad call. Andy Freed is the baseball purist, and a historian of the game literally keeping every scorecard for every game of every season. A family man who always has a story about his twins, and respected by the audience for his depth of knowledge on a minor detail that always seemingly comes up as a major story later in the game.
In a market where the population is more transient than most (if not all) other MLB markets, Dave and Andy have continued to deliver a high quality broadcast for all baseball fans in the Tampa/St. Petersburg market. The “voice” of Rays baseball continues to be a destination for many, and will be for many generations to come.
Texas Rangers – Eric Nadel, Matt Hicks, and Jared Sandler – as told by RJ Choppy.
Eric Nadel. I could end it right there. The dude is an absolute monster in the booth. He’s in Cooperstown for a reason. He’s a storyteller, and his attention to detail right down to the necklace the pitcher is wearing, paints a picture as well as anyone in the game. Baseball, more than any other of the 4 major sports, has the closest connection between Broadcaster and Fan. It should come as no surprise that his homerun calls are repeated by many in the ballpark, “That ball is history!”
What makes the Rangers broadcast unique is the way they incorporate the other 2 members of the crew, Matt Hicks and Jared Sandler. Hicks’ booming voice and smooth delivery has flown side by side Eric for the last few years. They also incorporate the up and coming, 27 year old Sandler, in a way I’ve not seen a radio team, by using a 3rd voice who chimes in with a more analytical perspective, while also serving in a play by play capacity when a day off is needed.
As a radio station, the Rangers have helped 105.3 The Fan immensely. Baseball is a game changer for a radio station, and the daily cume brought our way from back to back playoff runs by the #2 team in town behind the Dallas Cowboys can’t be overlooked. They are a terrific partner, with an exceptional broadcast, and the weekly hits we receive from Manger Jeff Bannister, GM Jon Daniels, and Sandler give the station unmatched coverage of the team.
Toronto Blue Jays – Jerry Howarth, Joe Siddall and Mike Wilner – as told by Dave Cadeau.
Toronto Blue Jays games are called by a three man booth which includes Jerry Howarth, Joe Siddall and Mike Wilner. We are unique, in that the Blue Jays property is national across Canada, rather than simply local to Toronto.
Jerry Howarth is in his 36th season as the voice of the Blue Jays. Every Blue Jays fan across Canada knows Jerry’s call, and I’m sure they all feel like they know him personally. One of his best traits is that he makes himself incredibly accessible to the audience whenever they ask for his time (which is amazing for someone who in 2017 still does not own a cell phone!).
Joe Siddall played 14 pro seasons as a catcher, including MLB gameplay with the Expos, Marlins and Tigers. He is as friendly, honest and approachable as they come. Joe has a natural ability to engage with the audience and give context to the “why” and the “how” of what is happening in the baseball game.
Mike Wilner has been a presence on the Toronto sports media scene for almost 30 years, with a focus on baseball and the Blue Jays for the last 20. Blue Jays fans have become very familiar with Mike’s deep knowledge and strong opinions as he has taken their calls from across the country on our postgame show called Blue Jays Talk.
For road games, Jerry and Joe work as two-man team, and they present a classic baseball call. Jerry paints a vivid picture of the game with his signature calls to relay the action to our audience. Joe compliments him beautifully with deeper descriptions and explanations as to why something may have happened, or perhaps why it didn’t. They switch roles for 3 innings, and Joe’s growth calling the play has grown by leaps-and-bounds over the last 2 seasons.
When the Blue Jays are at Rogers Centre, Jerry and Joe call 6 innings, while Mike and Joe call the other 3. Mike and Joe create a very different experience for our audience, and frankly I haven’t heard this style anywhere else in the game. I like to think of what they do as a “baseball conversation” that includes play-by-play. As a member of the audience, I feel like I’m sitting there in the booth with Mike and Joe and learning something about the game of baseball, or a situation in the game and I’m able to picture it all unfolding. It’s a different experience, and very entertaining. I love both styles that we present to our audience, and by all accounts, our audience agrees. This allows us to showcase all 3 of our broadcasters, and their different perspectives and personalities by putting them in different seats as the games progress.
The Blue Jays are an important property to Sportsnet 590 The FAN and The Sportsnet Radio Network, and Jerry, Joe and Mike have a significant impact as the team’s radio voices. Our trio includes a mix of different personalities with huge experience, all well-respected in and around the game, and they work together incredibly well, plus they participate regularly on our talk shows and others across North America.
Washington Nationals – Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler – as told by Grant Paulsen.
The pairing of Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler has become appointment listening for baseball fans in DC. Having called games together since 2006, the two have grown synonymous with one-another thanks to their chemistry and longevity in the booth. Two unique voices who compliment each other beautifully, Slowes is a bit more excitable and often comes up with creative catchphrases the fan base latches on to, while Jageler is ultra smooth and has mastered pacing and description.
Their conversational style leads to witty banter and plenty of in-game laughs while rarely taking away from the game. You are never at a loss for what is going on with the action because they weave seamlessly in and out of play-by-play while delivering a scoreboard update or a story from the road. Both could handle a solo game without a problem but each does a nice job when providing color as the second voice during innings when they aren’t on the call.
The quality of the broadcast — from tight production to the audio and music in and out of breaks to the pre and post-game shows — stacks up very well with the elite radio teams around the country and is far superior to the work done in many markets. It’s quite common to see folks at the game wearing headsets, or even to hear that fans have put a radio on at their house to enjoy “Charlie & Dave.” They are smooth, informative, and they let the game breathe, and pro-Nats without coming off as complete homers. They’re an asset to 106.7 The Fan and we’re lucky to have them.
Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas
“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”
Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.
The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.
It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.
For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.
Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.
But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.
I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.
Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.
Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.
Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.
Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.
You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.
Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.
Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media
“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”
Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.
As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.
As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.
I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.
But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.
Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.
I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.
Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.
These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.
If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.
I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.
Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure
“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”
If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.
When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.
Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.
It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.
In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.
I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.
We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.
Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.
This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.
Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.
Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.
I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.
For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.
That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.
But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.
Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.
How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.
The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.
Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.
Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.
You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.
I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.
Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.
One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.
Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.
It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.
Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?
I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.