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The Four-Letter Word That’s Killing Great Content

Demetri Ravanos

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One of the other steady writing gigs I have is reviewing movies for the local NBC affiliate in Raleigh, NC. I mention this because this week’s major release is the remake of the horror movie “It”, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I was too scared to go see the movie myself, so I sent my wife.

That made me think of a subject that I feel isn’t covered enough with leaders in the media: fear. I’m not talking about not having conversations about things that go bump in the night. I’m referring to why program directors and hosts too often operate from a place of fear and why it’s considered acceptable.

I’m going to tell a story that on it’s face may sound like it’s designed to make me look like Billy Badass. The truth is it is just a story of a time that I was so taken aback by a leader that I was afraid of what might happen because he was unwilling to see what could actually happen.

I was interviewing for a job, and it doesn’t matter where it was. All you need to know is that it wasn’t Boston or Florida. That’s important because this took place on the morning that Aaron Hernandez’s dead body was found hanging in his jail cell.

I was brought to town for a second interview. The meeting was a simple lunch with the PD, his boss and myself. We talked about sports, debated if the AM SportsCenter or the recently launched 6 PM edition with Jemele Hill and Michael Smith was better, and talked about an upcoming trip my family was planning to Banff National Park in Canada.

Then I was asked what I thought about Aaron Hernandez’s death. I said I didn’t really think anything about it. The big boss asked if I would cover it if I were running that day’s afternoon’s show, and I told him I would because even though the market had no local ties to the story, it was the only thing on SportsCenter that morning.

So next he asked “what specifically would you do so that people have a reason to listen to Demetri talk about this story?”.

“I was thinking about this on the drive down. I would use the music from Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’ and write a parody song called ‘Goodbye New England’s Rose,” I said.

The PD laughed. His boss did not.

“Let me tell you why that it is a bad idea,” said the boss. “When I hear you tell me that is what you would do, I think about the guy that is going to pick up his phone and call me to complain.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because suicide is a serious thing, and I think about that one guy that is going to call because in his mind you went a step too far. To me that guy makes a bit like that, no matter how funny, not worth it.”

Now, dear reader, this is where I tell you that I was holding back my anger. I’ll explain why in a minute.

“Oh,” I said. “See, I never think about that guy. He’s not who my show is for.”

Everyone was really friendly and it was a perfectly pleasant lunch, but I knew right then that the job was gone and in hindsight, maybe that was a good thing.

I tell you this story not to advocate for the sports format becoming a realm for shock jocks trying to “out controversy” each other. I was in my car driving home after the meeting and realized that was probably how the guy heard my defense. “I never think about that guy. He’s not who my show is for” sounds like a nice way of saying “I’m not here for the PC police, maaaaaaaaaan!”

I know. It makes me want to vomit too.

My point in saying that and writing this column is to remind you that programming and creating content from a place of fear is counterproductive. Do I know that my “Goodbye New England’s Rose” bit would have been a hit? Of course not. Do I know that I would be the only one doing that? You’re damn right I do.

Fear leads us all to the same place. A radio landscape ruled by fear has led to a lot of local shows sounding the exact same. They have their Mt. Rushmore debates. They bring on a gambling expert. It’s like a fill-in-the-blank workbook. All you have to do is plug in the right team and player names and the same show works everywhere, right?

Strive to be truly different. Quit demurring from the chance to stand out in the minds of thousands because you’re afraid of the phone calls you may get from a handful. Don’t resist the urge to push a coach for better answers or to show more personality and create a memorable interview because he may be annoyed for a day.

None of us were drawn to radio or TV because we just wanted to be a part of the crowd. We’re the ones who wanted to stand out. Fear serves no one. Programming a station when you’re afraid to lose a tenth of a ratings point can cost you the opportunity to grow your ratings in a truly significant way.

If you believe that popular opinion is wrong, be the one voice willing to take the unpopular stand. Do it with passion and creativity and even the people that disagree with you will want to hear what you have to say. With so many different options for consuming sports opinions in 2017, it is only the truly fearless that stand out.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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