Recently, I was on the phone with a friend that lost his gig. I asked if he thought he might try to stay in radio.
“I don’t know if I could,” he told me.
“Why?” I asked.
His answer was unbelievable, heartbreaking, and sadly more than just a little familiar. My friend told me that he never had a PD. He was never asked to sit in for an aircheck. He never was given any direction on what he could do to make his show better.
The story frustrated me even more because this guy wasn’t a professional broadcaster. He had come from the print world.
Consider the level of arrogance or ineptitude required to think you can hire someone that isn’t a professional broadcaster and expect them to deliver a quality show everyday. I ask you to consider it and not “can you imagine,” because it is sadly a very common story in the radio world.
Let’s be honest, it’s insulting because no one would expect a radio host to sit down at a keyboard for the first time and crank out something on par with Peter Gammons or Spencer Hall. The same is true for talents already in the radio industry, but still making a big change.
I made the switch from rock radio to talk in 2012 and I might have had one meeting with a PD during my first three months on the air. Think about how crazy that is. It was an election year and we weren’t the only talk station in town. I was used to doing three four-minute breaks an hour, sandwiched between “Back in Black” and some other song you probably love but never want to hear again. My PD’s attitude was “Well, Demetri used to tell fart jokes. Surely he can handle interviewing John McCain.” For the record, John McCain didn’t seem very fond of me.
So what do you do if you find yourself in this situation? What tools can you use to improve if management isn’t investing the time and effort to help you develop?
First, be honest and aggressive with your boss. Make sure he knows that you want guidance. Be direct. “Hey boss, I want you to listen to this break and tell me what you think” or “Can you listen to this hour and give me a few notes?”.
I spoke with a PD once that didn’t do airchecks because he thought it put too much pressure on his hosts. Even if they asked for them, he wouldn’t do airchecks. You’re not going to get what you want every time, but hopefully it forces your PD to ask himself if he’s doing everything he can to be successful. It also lets the PD know that you aren’t afraid of criticism and don’t need to be handled with kid gloves.
If your PD doesn’t give you the attention you feel like you need, another option is to ask your contacts in the industry to take a listen to your material. It never hurts to send a few samples to PD’s at radio stations that you respect. You might find someone that is interested in making the move from programming to consulting and would take you on as a passion project.
Hell, you don’t have to get expert advice. Maybe you can find someone in a similar situation to yours and serve as each other’s sounding board. Thoughts and suggestions about new ways of approaching a topic can be very helpful when you feel stuck and alone.
Are you listening to other shows? You should be doing that anyway. Start with your competition. What do they do well? Are they weak in one of your strongest areas? Your show should be a reaction to theirs, but knowing what differentiates you from the competition is important.
Next, expand your horizons. Do you weave a lot of pop culture and guy talk into your show? Download Dan Le Batard’s podcast or the Toucher and Rich podcast and hear how they do it. If you’re doing a no-nonsense show driven by strong opinions, study Colin Cowherd or Matt Jones. Listen to the best shows that fit a similar mold. Don’t become a copycat, but pay attention to why those shows are good.
Finally, we are all our own toughest critics. Force yourself to listen back to the show everyday. Even if you are just starting out in radio you can hear when you’re going in circles and when you let an interview go on too long.
These listening sessions don’t have to result in hard and fast rules or a show bible. Think of it like Giancarlo Stanton watching batting practice. You need to ask yourself, “where can I make little fixes instead of trying to find one big solution to a problem?”
Unfortunately, you’re probably going to get stuck in a bad situation at some point. There is always going to be a mom and pop station that takes on sports not realizing what a costly and hands on format it is. There will always be national companies that throw one local show on a mostly forgotten AM at the end of the hall.
Those can be wonderful learning experiences. Frustrating in the moment? Of course. But remember, just because your boss isn’t as hands on as you’d like doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get help and improve as a broadcaster.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.