Success is never an accident. It requires a ton of hard work, skill and most of all, patience. Bo Mattingly found all of this out when he started in the radio business at the young age of 19. There’s nothing glamorous about starting from the bottom when you get your first opportunity. For Mattingly, it meant waking up at 4am to call a transmitter, thus turning on an AM religious station on the air near his home in West Palm Beach, FL.
Soon after, at the age of 20, he was riding in an airplane, giving traffic updates for a number of stations in the market. He would move on to other roles such as country music DJ, providing morning sports reports, and interning at a local TV station. Mattingly was the guy that never said no to any job. And that attitude helped him eventually catch his first break.
It’s been 20 years since Mattingly arrived in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Though he’d start his journey in the Natural State on the TV side, he eventually moved into sports radio. For the past decade, SportsTalk with Bo Mattingly has been the dominant show throughout the state. His show is syndicated by 10 stations, including ESPN 99.5 FM in Northwest Arkansas, KARN 920 AM The Sports Animal in Little Rock and 105.5 FM in Nashville, just to name a few.
Not bad for a kid from Florida with big dreams, huh?
Truth be told, I could have picked anyone to do my first Q&A on. That’s one of the many reasons I love writing for BSM. Jason gives us the freedom to write about whatever and whoever we want. So, for me, the choice was easy. I’d never met Mattingly before, but I already respected him. Having no affiliation to Arkansas or the Razorbacks, I found myself listening to his show on a nightly basis, via Podomatic where a one-hour podcast is compiled with his best segments of the day. When I spoke to him for the first time I had my list of questions ready, eager to find a couple of things I could use to help my own career. Boy, did he ever deliver on that.
Have you ever heard the phrase “nice guys finish last?” Of course you have. Well, Mattingly disproves it when referencing sports radio. In his mind, it’s all about how you treat people. A big ego can cause many problems. Having too big of a chip on your shoulder can also get in the way of success. However, it’s the ones who treat people the right way and work hard, that seem to be the eventual success stories in our industry.
At 27, I’m young in the sports radio business. With that, comes occasional frustration. But when you come across people like Mattingly, who add great insight and perspective, it leaves you with a lot to look forward to.
TM: The Razorbacks are struggling and fans are unhappy. Head Coach Bret Bielema is a guy who you’ve established a relationship with. How do you separate the line between being close to the head coach and giving your honest assessments on his performance?
BM: You just have to be fair. Anyone that’s your friend and asks you to do your job a certain way is probably not the kind of friend you think you had. I don’t ask Bret Bielema to do his job a certain way and he doesn’t ask me to do mine a certain way. I don’t get on the air and try to protect or change what the story is, I just try to really understand what it is. I want to be right, but I’m more concerned with getting it right. I want as much information as I can get so that I can give you an educated opinion. The more educated I can be, then the better I’m going to be able to do my job. If you like someone, you don’t like having to say they’re not doing a good job, but you have to aim for the story that’s true. You can’t change the narrative of what’s true.
TM: From listening to your show, I love your crew. Bart (Pohlman) has a huge role, as does Sawyer (Radler) and I think Pete the Intern is hilarious. What benefits are there to having a show where everyone has a clear and defined on-air role?
BM: One thing we decided on was that we were going to spend more money on staff than most people would, especially in this market. It’s important to us to have a content driven show. Tell me something I don’t know, give me something I can use, make me laugh, make me cry, make me feel. That’s what we’re aiming for. To do that, you’re going to need great help, and Bart has been with me for almost seven years. Sawyer has been with us for six and they’ve both proven that good people are invaluable. You just can’t do it all by yourself, especially if you plan on growing.
Those guys have been huge and a big part of the show. Sawyer has done an incredible job with production, which gives our show a national feel. I think Bart is a professional. He understands journalism and is a great writer. He’s got some quirkiness to him that works and adds a different dimension. Those guys are here all day every day. They get in at 8am and don’t leave until after 6:30. They’re committed, loyal and I love them. The work they do makes me look a lot better than I really am.
TM: Some hosts refuse to take phone calls. However, you take them and they’re very entertaining. What’s your philosophy on using the phone lines?
BM: I look at phone calls as content. You just have to take the content where you want to go. If you feel like it’s getting boring then you have to move on. But if you get a crazy caller with a wild opinion or they’re half drunk and it’s entertaining, then we’ll leave them on a while longer. If not, then we’ll, politely as possible, move them along as quick as we can.
I look at the show, segment by segment, as what’s the best thing we can possibly do? If it’s a caller, great. If not, then let’s unveil this research that indicates something interesting. Mishandling a phone call or a bad phone call can kill a radio show. But I feel like people are listening, because they also want to hear what other people are saying. If you can blend that in while giving them stuff they don’t already know, then that’s the idea. I like to give a mix of interviews, callers and our own content that we create. When you get a good topic that gives you callers with different flavors, it helps you give a good show.
TM: What do you think we, as sports radio hosts, can do a better job of?
BM: For me, it’s about trying to make sure I know what I’m talking about. Granted, I don’t know what I’m always talking about but I try to. I think we can all do a better job of taking it one step further. A lot of us stop on the surface of something, instead of digging down three steps below it. For instance, we know the offensive line isn’t good, but why? Is it recruiting, the coaches they hired, where’s the why in it? If that means getting a guest that knows more about the subject, then we’ll get them on. Instead of just ranting or raving, have an opinion that comes from a point of education. I think we can do a better job of that. It also drives me nuts when people guess on the air. If you don’t know, just say you don’t and that you’ll come back to it after you find out. Instead of having three guys comment about something they don’t know, let’s look it up and find the answer.
TM: At any point in your career, did you find yourself frustrated?
BM: Yeah, all the time. One of the things that’s tough about this business, is that people are always looking for more. You want more. If you’re a self-motivated person you’re always looking for that. From a frustration standpoint, looking back at my younger years, knowing that I had some talent probably hurt me more in some ways than it helped me. When you’re young in the business, the older people are worried the younger person is coming to take their job for less money. Because you start to have a chip on your shoulder and it makes you have a bit of a cocky attitude. Looking at others in the business that remind me of myself, that can really hurt you.
TM: What do you consider more enjoyable about working in a smaller market compared to a bigger one?
BM: I think that it’s really noisy in big markets and more difficult to make your mark. There’s so many other guys, and that makes it harder to develop relationships with coaches and administrators. I’ve never really dealt with life in a big market, but it’s not all different than what we have in Arkansas. It’s a one-horse state with the Razorbacks so every media outlet of consequence is at every game, practice and press conference. It’s still competitive with a lot of people wanting to do a lot of different things. In big markets, you probably get crushed more for every mistake. And if you have a good job, everyone is out to get you.
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.