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What Is Stage 4?

Demetri Ravanos

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About twelve years ago, I was introduced to one of the most influential people in my radio career. If you don’t know who Steve Reynolds is, you should fire up Google. Steve is one of the most respected morning show coaches in our industry and for about two and a half years I got to work with him. My old partner, Salt MacMillan, is still working with Steve at WBMX in Boston.

In our first meeting, Steve told us about the four stages of a morning show. We obviously were at stage 1 – unfamiliar personalities in a familiar situation. The listeners were used to coming to our station in the mornings, but they had no idea who we were. The next three stages are as follows.

2. Unfamiliar personalities in an unfamiliar situation – The listeners still don’t know much about you and probably haven’t made a meaningful connection with you yet, but they are starting to accept that something different is happening in your time slot.

3. Familiar personalities in a familiar situation – This is when a show has hit it’s stride. The listeners are loyal. They know what to expect each morning. Everyone is comfortable with each other.

4. Familiar personalities in an unfamiliar situation – This, according to Steve, is the place he wants every show to get to. The listeners know you. They care about you. They will always choose your show given the opportunity. But the most important aspect of their relationship is they never know what to expect from your show day in and day out.

I couldn’t help but think of these steps Saturday morning as I watched College Gameday on ESPN on Saturday morning. It is undeniably the best pregame show for any sport on any network. Yes, the show can, at times, fall into the trap of poorly written comedy followed by over-eager fake laughter that plagues all pregame shows, but Gameday has consistently mixed expert analysis with good interviews and truly compelling human interest stories.

I’m a college football fanatic, so I never miss an episode. I may not stick with all 3 hours, because that’s too much for any show, but Gameday will always be on TV in our house every Saturday morning.

This past Saturday ESPN took the show to Times Square in New York City. As soon as the event was announced, the Twitter trolls were out in full force. Their criticism is based on the outdated idea that New Yorkers don’t care about college football. Look, that may be largely true of native New Yorkers, but you know what? This isn’t the 19th century. People move out of their hometowns with regularity now. There are 16 million people in the New York metro area and it is a good bet a lot of them went to college and a lot of those people went to schools that play division 1 college football.

For sports television, Gameday in NYC would be the ultimate test of familiar personalities in an unfamiliar situation. The show was structured in a way that everyone in radio – regardless of format should have been paying attention to.

There were plenty of segments focused on New York’s college football culture. Tom Rinaldi toured college football fan clubs in the Manhattan bars they called home. Gene Wojciechowski brought us the story of a man that left a career on Wall Street to play one season of football at Michigan.

The brilliance of the way the show was presented was in the balance. Yes, there was a lot about this particular episode of Gameday that was different and unexpected, but so much of it was familiar. We still got plenty of fans with great Gameday signs, including my favorite – “SUNY Maritime wants Bama.” We got a headgear segment that would only make sense in New York.

I want to give some props to my friends Adam Gold and Joe Ovies at 99.9 the Fan in Raleigh, because I think they do a great job of mixing the familiar with “I really don’t know what they’re going to do next. Also, because every week Joe texts me and asks why I didn’t mention him in my latest piece on BSM.

When I turn on Adam and Joe in the afternoons, I know I am going to get opinions and interviews. I know I am going to get their signature benchmarks like Top 4 at 4 and High 5. But where they shine is the way they execute big, interesting ideas, like taking an electronic football game to the Super Bowl and making everyone that joined them on radio row break down the action or breaking the entire FBS into two super-conferences using the rules of the board games risk. Those are the kinds of things that take planning and creativity and no one was anticipating them doing something like that until it was revealed on air.

The Dan LeBatard Show is another one that is hard to pin down. It almost feels like there is no playbook at times, and that works for them. Sure I know they are going to talk to Ron McGill from Zoo Miami every Tuesday and I know that they are going to draw from the Bucket of Death every Thursday, but as Dan has made clear on air many times, he is comfortable with the chaos.

What ESPN Radio has in Dan cannot accurately be described simply as “sports radio.” That is a show that can go from talking about Colin Kaepernick in a measured, intelligent way in one segment, to interviewing a man that drank his own urine while stranded in the desert in the next segment and then wrapping up the hour by giving a listener the chance to get advice from Tim Kurkjian on how to propose to his girlfriend. It may be the closest to actually living in stage 4 of a radio show as you will ever see.

It is not easy to get to stage 4 of a radio show. It requires a PD to have tremendous faith in his talent. It requires a host to have a lot of faith in the audience. There are plenty of well-respected hosts and shows that never get to stage 4 but challenging yourself is the only true way to grow.

I encourage you to, at least once a month, take stock of everything you do on the show. Figure out what isn’t working. Figure out what benchmarks you know so well that you can do them in your sleep. Maybe it’s time for a segment like that to go. Instead of prioritizing what is easiest, prioritize what excites you. Trust me, if you are bored with a regular segment or guest, then your audience is too.

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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