I am writing this column on Friday, September 15th. As I type, the Foo Fighters new album Concrete and Gold, which dropped earlier today, is blaring from my computer’s speakers. The Foo Fighters are my favorite band and have been for a long time. My friends and former partners Mike Maniscalco and Lauren Brownlow will attest that if I were still on air in Raleigh, new tracks from this album would have bumped us into and out of every break today.
It’s not just because they’re my favorite band, it’s because it would create content for the show. As hosts we can be so focused on refining our takes that we forget about the executive producer’s ability to contribute meaningful content to the program. As EPs we can get caught up in making sure every guest is booked and confirmed that we overlook how important something as seemingly inconsequential as music can be to the show.
No one in sports radio has done a better job of making their bump music a living and breathing part of their show than Bomani Jones and his EP Shannon Penn. I find myself wondering why they choose the songs they do each day and look forward to what Bo has chosen for the Old Soul Song of the Day and the story he will tell about it. I highly recommend you look up the day that Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” had the honor.
Before he made the move into the sports world, Bomani wrote about music. He’s very open with his tastes on Twitter. His love for music and what he plays on the air are key aspects of my relationship with him as a listener and fan.
There are three reasons that the music you select for your show matters.
1. It tells the audience who you are
It is human nature to assume that if a song is bumping the show with your name on it back in from a break you must like that song. It’s something that I found to be true during my time in rock radio.
You are smart enough to know that we didn’t select our own songs to play, but listeners don’t always realize that. I HAAAAAAATE Aerosmith, but when working on a classic rock station, you play one of their songs seemingly every hour, so naturally, my listeners assumed I knew the ins and outs of Steven Tyler’s career and life.
In sports radio you can choose the music. So, if you’re the host and you’re turning music selection over to the EP, ask him on air when you hear something new. Find out what he likes about the song or artist or even just what the name of the album is that the song comes from.
It creates a 90 second bit of content that causes an emotional reaction from your listener, because people connect to music the same way they connect to politics, sports or religion. Also, you have given the listeners a chance to make a personal connection with one of the show’s cast members. You don’t have to do it every break, but once a show or once every other show will establish that music is an important element in the formula that creates the on air product.
2. It is great social media content
There are so many ways to use your show’s soundtrack on social media. Chris Kroeger from WFNZ in Charlotte shares his show’s playlist on Twitter everyday. I only know Chris casually, so I can’t tell you how passionate he is about each song on the list, but I do look at it everyday with a keen eye.
I once had an idea to give my show’s playlist a theme everyday. I’d post the full playlist on Twitter and take listener guesses as to what the theme was. It lasted about two weeks and then we could no longer find a sponsor to provide a prize for the winner. It’s too bad too, because here was a piece of social content that kept the audience engaged and interacting after the on air product had come to an end for the day.
Finally, use Spotify! There is no easier way to make your music choices social than uploading the songs to Spotify and sharing the playlist. Do it everyday and you will find yourself in the enviable position of being a destination for listeners’ music discoveries as well as their sports opinions. Those playlists can be shared across every platform, so if a listener hears something they like but aren’t familiar with it, they can find it easily.
3. It sets the tone for the show
When John Cassio joined SiriusXM as program director of what is now ESPNU Radio, he told his hosts and producers that their bump music choices had to change. “Do you guys like anything made before 1988?” one of his hosts said Cassio asked him.
Cassio was making a very valid point. If you are bumping back with Lynyrd Skynyrd in 2017, it tells the listener that you are old and out of touch. Even if that isn’t truly the case, that is the message it sends, either consciously or subconsciously to the audience.
As someone that has worked in the industry for a long time, I hear a show bump back with “Highway to Hell” and I know that that show isn’t putting effort into every second it is on air. That doesn’t sound like a host or producer that likes AC/DC to me. That sounds like a producer is blindly firing whatever bump music is in the system. That doesn’t get me very excited for your show coming back from break.
Maybe you’ve just rolled your eyes at this dissertation on the importance of music. That’s fine. It does read as a tad pretentious. I promise you, though, that letting bump music just fall by the wayside as “unimportant’ is at best a wasted opportunity and at worst careless.
You have worked so hard to get where you are. There are so few of these jobs. Why would you want to be in this position and be thought of as careless or wasting the opportunity you have? Every second of your show offers you a chance to make an impact on the listener. Do not let one slip by.
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.