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Q & A with Taylor Zarzour

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Overt the course of the last decade I have watched Taylor Zarzour grow from someone who was trying to get back on the air to one of the most in demand names in our industry. We first met when he became the sports director at the Curtis Media Group in Raleigh, and as a result he became the third mic on my show on 96 Rock.

During that time, we discovered that we grew up just nine miles away from one another in Mobile, Alabama. Small world, right?

Today, Taylor has become one of the most valuable sports voices at SiriusXM. He and Greg McElroy co-host The First Team on ESPNU Radio. He also contributes to the network’s PGA Tour Radio, anchoring the coverage of major tournaments and hosts a show called The Starter.

On television you’ll find Taylor on the SEC Network handling play-by-play for both football and baseball. He previously hosted Dale Earnhardt Jr’s official weekly podcast, but with all that he has going on, something had to give, right?

Taylor’s modesty is the kind of thing that might make you want to punch someone. I mean, nobody that has accomplished what he has can really be that modest and “aw shucks” about it, can they? But having spent every morning with Taylor for the better part of four years, I can tell you that it’s genuine. I’ve never thought of him as arrogant, just supremely confident. What may seem like Taylor being unfriendly is his hyper-focus.

Our conversation for this column centers on his career history, his motivation for doing what he does and how he does it, and the message he hopes colleagues and fans will take away from his work.

Q: When someone tells you they think you’re a good broadcaster, do you think it’s because you get to cover the sports you love (college football, golf, NASCAR) or is it because you’ve built a great career by being a good broadcaster?

TZ: It’s probably a little bit of both, but I’d like to think that, hopefully in a non-arrogant way, that being hard-working, passionate, and knowledgeable about the things I’ve always loved have served me well and led me to this place. I count my blessings everyday because not everybody gets to do something as professionally fulfilling as what I’m doing. Hopefully I’m giving off that kind of vibe whether it’s on radio or television. Some of the responses I’ve received from people that I work for have been exactly that and that’s what I think my biggest strength is. It’s the passion and enjoyment in my work, and I don’t ever want to lose sight of that. There are countless things I need to improve on. I’ll always be my toughest critic, but I think the thing that has served me best is how much I love what I do.

Q: I’m often asked, “how has Taylor Zarzour created these opportunities for himself?”. When we started working together, your previous position didn’t exist until you became available. The podcast with Dale Jr. didn’t exist until you were on it. How do you manage to get yourself on the radar of people? Is it simply reputation or are you active in promoting yourself?

TZ: I don’t know, Demetri. I’ve never tried to lobby for anything. David Stuckey (Senior Vice President of Curtis Media Group) approached me. Mike Davis with Dale Jr. approached me, and I’m grateful and honored that both of them did. When Mark Packer left to join SiriusXM, DJ Stout in Charlotte asked if I’d be interested in taking that job and joining WFNZ. Steve Cohen reached out through a mutual friend and asked if I’d be interested in working for SiriusXM. All of these relationships began when those guys contacted me. Without them reaching out, I don’t have these opportunities. Maybe I’m just incredibly fortunate, but I’d like to think that through hard work and hopefully what they would consider good performance, that I earned the benefit of their phone calls.

Q: What lessons did you learn from working on a rock show and news show that you carry with you to your current show with Greg McElroy?

TZ: I learned not to be too close-minded and only service the most diehard fans that are going to be interested and watching you no matter what. David Glenn, for example, had a huge impact on me, because David at some point in every broadcast will refer to Coach K as “Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski” or “North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams.” By doing that he brings every person that’s listening into the broadcast no matter how much or little they know. So that’s an example of something that had a huge impact on me, but those experiences made me more open-minded to who is listening and how much knowledge they have. I try to be really careful when talking about an offensive line’s ability to block or certain schemes and the zone read compared to a triple option, because the over-whelming majority of our audience only casually follows a sport. They have so many other responsibilities that they aren’t going to be able to be locked in all the time.

Q: So what about the time that you spent out of broadcasting entirely? What did you learn from it that sticks with you now?

TZ: That this is where I belong. I was working in real estate and realized my passion was broadcasting. I put pressure on myself to be something else because we had just had a family. I wanted to make a certain income and I thought it was a good opportunity, and I’ll never forget my wife saying “(Broadcasting) is what you’ve always wanted to do. You’ve always believed in yourself. Why would you stop now?”. I made the decision that I was going to go back into the broadcasting business, but I don’t know what I would have done to pursue it if David Stuckey hadn’t called.

Q: How old are your daughters now?

TZ: 11 and 12.

Q: I ask because this is a time period where they are involved in so much more. I know your goal is to provide them and Betsy (Taylor’s wife who likes me even though she shouldn’t because I cussed too much in front of their children) with the best life possible, but is there a point where you’d pass something up and say “I’m doing too much and I’m missing too much?”

TZ: I think about that everyday. I’ve seen some of the personal sacrifices that so many of my contemporaries have made and some of the regrets that they’ve had through the years. By taking more professional assignments, they’ve made sacrifices in terms of how much time they spend with their families. I would have so much regret about that if I put myself in that position, so I’ll probably continue to feel that way. There’s nothing I cherish more than my wife and two daughters, and there are other things that I’ve been considered for and turned down because of that.

Q: What are the benefits and struggles of doing a show, particularly a morning show, out of your home?

TZ: There are a lot of benefits to being home. We can live anywhere we want. I can broadcast from almost anywhere because of my job with SiriusXM, so there are few restrictions which is a huge benefit. The downside to it is cabin fever. I have a room in my house that is my work room. When I’m in there it’s like I’m at work. When I get done, I am literally leaving the office and trying to mentally power down which is a huge challenge compared to getting in your car, driving home, and having enough time to mentally escape to a different place.

Q: There has been a lot of talk lately about the way people consume media. Whether it’s cord cutting or the ESPN cutbacks, there are many in our industry who are skeptical. One area which is included in that conversation is the future of satellite radio. How much do you concern yourself with these topics?

TZ: I actually worry less about that kind of stuff today than I used to. I used to worry a lot about the terrestrial radio ratings game and competing against other radio stations and how much money the station could make off of my show. SiriusXM is in a tremendous place and growing day by day. I am ecstatic. I don’t have any concerns about the company’s future. As far as ESPN goes, there will always be tremendous demand for live play-by-play programming. I can’t envision a day where that goes away. To be connected to ESPN and the SEC calling games every weekend is something that is the chance of a lifetime, and the only concern I have is my performance.

Q: You grew up playing golf, so certainly you’re a fan of the sport. When it comes to NASCAR, if there was one thing I learned about you from working with you, it’s that you were a fan of Dale Jr. But you’re also an SEC guy through and through. So when you cover these sports, how do you balance your fandom with remaining professional? Particularly when you’re hosting a show with Greg McElroy who won an national championship at Alabama, a school you grew up rooting for. It’d be very easy for someone with less skill and experience to turn that program into a daily Crimson Tide report.

TZ: I’ve never thought it was any different than any other business where someone is considering what is best for their family and financial future. If they went to a certain school and are a banker, they aren’t going to take their business from only UNC fans or the side of the community that they can most relate to. That would be foolish.

Q: Right, but none of us got into this field without being a passionate sports fan. When you’re younger and developing your interests as a fan, it’s hard to love the sport as much as you love the team you’ve invested most of your time and energy into. That has a lasting impact on a lot of people.

TZ: I’m sure that’s the case for some, and maybe it is for you, but honestly, that’s never been the case for me. I’ve always cared much more about the sport than I ever did a particular team. My objectivity and professionalism is far more important to me than any team I’ve ever cheered for or who wins or loses a game. I didn’t go to Alabama, and while I do have four siblings that went to school there, I also had a brother that went to Georgia. I have a father that went to Florida. I have all kinds of relatives that went to Auburn and that’s always kept me much more open-minded to those schools and how great they are. Getting into this business and developing relationships at all of those places, has made me pull more for people. Roy Williams told me years ago that the longer you’re in this business, you will start to pull for people over teams because of the relationships you build, and that’s where I am now. The only exception to that is when I lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. I was a Carolina Hurricanes fan because I wanted the team and the city to be successful. That didn’t in any way shape or form mean I was an NHL fan which is probably the way most people look at their teams. But I love college football. I love college basketball. I love the sport far more than any one team and I try to be as objective as I can because this is a lifelong passion for me.

Q: Who have you looked at in the broadcasting industry and said, “If I can be a tenth of the broadcaster that guy is, I’ll be okay”?

TZ: Vin Scully had the biggest impact on me. I used to watch the Saturday NBC baseball game of the week and Vin’s ability to paint a picture and provide perspective on what I was watching – I still think he is the best that has ever lived. Even until the end of last season when he called his final game, I just marveled at his preparation, his passion and his perspective for what he was seeing in front of him. In my opinion, he is above all the others. I can never sound like Vin Scully, and I’ll never have his vocal chords, but I can try to emulate his ability to be prepared and be passionate about what I am talking about.

Q: Your tag line at the end of every show is “Whether you agree or disagree it’s all for him,” right?

TZ: Correct.

Q: How much when people talk to you about your show does that come up? Do they notice or appreciate the message?

TZ: It happens from time to time. I decided to say that back when I first had a sports radio show in Mobile (on WNSP-FM). My point in saying it was no matter how animated we get when we discuss certain topics, let’s try to keep things in perspective of what really matters. “Him” to me is God. “Him” to someone else listening may be someone else or something else, but I think that keeping things in proper perspective whether we’re calling for guys to be fired or sharing our predictions for who will win a game, let’s realize this is for fun. We’re supposed to be enjoying what we’re discussing. I always appreciate it when someone notices or has something to say about that.

Taylor Zarzour hosts The First Team with Greg McElroy, weekday mornings from 7a-10a ET on SiriusXM. He also calls college football and college baseball games for ESPN’s SEC Network, and hosts golf coverage for SiriusXM’s PGA Tour Radio. He can be found on Twitter @TaylorZarzour.

BSM Writers

Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call

“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”

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I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.

The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.

OKC Radio Host Sam Mayes Fired After Racist Audio is Leaked

Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.

Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.

We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.

I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.

You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.

People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.

How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.

All About the Lucky Star Casino in El Reno, Concho
Courtesy: TripAdvisor/Adam Knapp

Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.

If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.

In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.

Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.

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What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.

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BSM Writers

Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!

“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”

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Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?

Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.

To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:

#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?

#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?

#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?

If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!

Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.

Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:

#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.

#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.

#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.

#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.

#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.

Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!

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BSM Writers

Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas

“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”

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Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?

Chevy Chase, aka Clark Griswold, to light up stage in Berks | Berks  Regional News | wfmz.com
Courtesy: Warner Bros./National Lampoon

Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!

One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.

Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.

There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.

Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.

I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.

Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.

It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?

25 Best Christmas Inflatables - Top Inflatable Christmas Decorations

Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.

If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.

Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.

A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.

“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.

We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.

Kevin Anderson on Twitter: "Just noticed that I've been blocked by the  international civil aviation authority @icao Have others working on  aviation emissions also been blocked? Appears to be that their commitment

As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.

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