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Q&A with Chris Plank

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When it comes to sports radio, Chris Plank can do it all. Whether it’s hosting local shows, national shows or even doing play-by-play, few people in the business can match the workload that Plank has on a weekly basis.

It’s probably normal to greet someone you know with a simple ‘hi’ or ‘hello.’ However, whenever I see Plank, my normal greeting to him is a ‘hey, what are your thoughts on phone calls during the top of an hour?’ or ‘what do you think about this idea as a promo?’ Needless, to say, Plank has become someone I highly respect and really enjoy bouncing ideas off of, but maybe I should ask how his family is doing more often instead of spouting off radio questions. He believes in quality and the craft of the business and I highly respect that.

Plank started off where just about every successful host ever began – at the bottom. During his first year of radio in 1997, he produced St. Louis Cardinals games in Tulsa, OK. Soon after, he would get the opportunity to host 30-minute shows early on Saturday mornings with the same company. Fast forward to today and you can now hear him on several different platforms. Each weekday he hosts The Plank Show from 9a-11a CT on the Sports Talk Network in Norman, Okla. On Sunday nights, he’s heard on Fox Sports Radio hosting a national show with co-host Arnie Spanier. What I love about Plank, is that he was excited about this article and could talk sports radio for hours. Here’s a look into his career and the direction he thinks the business is headed.

TM: You began your career in Tulsa and developed a strong foothold, but why didn’t you ever leave for another market?

CP: I fell in love with the area and I realized Oklahoma was the home for me. Also, I got married and I started doing national shows from Tulsa. It became a place where I lived, had my home, had my kids, had my wife and I was able to do all the things I had ever wanted to do in my career from Tulsa. I didn’t have to move somewhere to make that happen.

TM: You mentioned Tulsa was the place you started doing FOX Sports national radio, how did you get into it?

CP: Back in 2007, I reached out for advice to Andrew Ashwood. Basically, I just was looking for clarity and to see if I was any good. When I did, we hit it off. He gave me a couple of opportunities to fill in and eventually I was given the opportunity to do an overnight show on the weekends, which I loved. It’s an underrated shift that gives you the opportunity to cut your chops and learn. I did that for a while and then Andrew passed away. Radio kind of went in a different direction for a while and then after a couple of years, I was given the opportunity to jump back on in a fill-in role for Fox Sports. After doing that, they teamed me up with Arnie Spanier back in 2011 and it took off from there.

TM: Being frustrated early in your career is something most sports talk show hosts go thru. What were your experiences and how did you handle them?

CP: That’s kind of hard, because I’m not happy now with how I handled adversity when I was younger. It wasn’t anything with my co-workers it was just the way I would handle things personally. You’re in a job where you’re always seeking approval. Even if you have ratings, you want your boss to tell you you’re doing a good job. If you don’t have ratings, you always think the end is coming near. For me, I didn’t really handle it well at a young age. As you get older, you start to find more things in your life that you can embrace and are more important to you.

TM: This is something I think a lot about: How do you handle phone calls and where do you think the future of radio with the using phone lines is headed?

CP: I really like them, I do, because interaction is key. But I do a two-hour show and if I came in and just took phone calls for two hours, am I really serving my listener base and my employer? If I came in every day and begged for phone calls for two hours, what good am I doing? I’ve had great bosses in my career and some think it’s the only way to go and others that think you have to be cautious and lead every call down the right direction. If I’m doing a show and we’re in the midst of a Heisman Trophy conversation and there’s a guy on hold that wants to talk about the NFL, what good is that? It comes down to good call screening and it comes down to getting the listeners to answer the questions you’re throwing out there. If you’re just coming on and saying ‘call me’ I think you’re doing a disservice to the craft. I think radio is turning into the host bringing up a really good topic, setting the points for that topic and then taking a phone call if there’s something to be added. 

TM: I like to get reactions on social media because it’s quicker and more efficient, but where’s the line on giving a bunch of your thoughts on Twitter and saving them for the show?

CP: I’m very addicted to Twitter. I like to tweet my thoughts out because I love getting instant analysis. Do I think you need to hold some things back? Sure, but your followers and your fans come to expect instant reaction. I dig the idea of giving your thoughts during games. Now, should you hold some back for the postgame show? Yes, but there’s still a need and want for instant reaction.

TM: You’ve been around a lot of successful sports talk hosts, what’s one thing you could say they all have in common?

CP: A true passion for sports. I know that sounds goofy, but I’ll give you an example: My daughter had a dance recital two weeks ago on a Sunday when the Raiders had just put forth the worst performance that mankind has ever seen, when their season depended on it. It was awful and I wanted to fire everyone. And here we are, the game is at noon and the recital is at 5:00. You would think, oh, that’s great you can watch and have balance, but no, I’m mad! I love football and I’m angry and I can’t wait to get on the air and destroy that awful coaching job on my Sunday night Fox Sports show. So, even if you have that balance in your life, to still have that passion about sports and good radio is key.

TM: What’s the difference in having a program director that knows what he’s doing and in your corner, compared to one that isn’t?

CP: I’ve had them all. I was a program director for 16 years and I would consider myself as an offensive coordinator that didn’t call his own plays. I was an OC, but I had someone in our operations department that I really respected. You know when you have somebody that’s out for your best interest. I think the guys I work with now at Fox Sports Radio such as Scott Shapiro and Don Martin, these guys provide you a platform that allow you to be as opinionated as you want and as creative as you want. They’ll give you that room.

For those that are involved, it’s really easy to take shortcuts in radio. It’s the easiest business there is to take shortcuts, because you have so much that’s done for you by the national networks. Even if you have a program director that you don’t think is in your corner, it’s amazing what communication can do. The program director’s door, that general manager’s door, should never be locked and you should never be afraid to balance an idea or a thought. That’s the idea of being the best you can be. 

TM: Who’s a host out there that’s under the radar and should be getting more attention?

CP: I have three. First, is Jonas Knox of Fox Sports Radio. He does the overnight show and it’s such a fun listen. He does such a good job of creativity. I would love to say any of the guys on The Ticket in Dallas, but all those guys are so well known I can’t pick just one. But those guys have created a certain mindset to where they’re so good at being irreverent, that you want to be that and you’re envious of it. Lastly, I would say what Jeremie Poplin in Tulsa and Toby Rowland in Norman do, it’s good to see guys that take their preparation and approach seriously, but when they get after it, aren’t so arrogant and all-consuming that they have to be right all the time and they have to be the only person talking.

BSM Writers

Dallas Cowboys: Proof That Marketing Works

“Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are.”

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Why do people still hate the Dallas Cowboys? Give me a good football reason that the Cowboys are worth your time. I get that there was an era where if the NFL was Mortal Kombat, the Cowboys were Shang Tsung, but those days ended three decades ago.

It’s 2022. There are adults in their late 20s that have never seen a Cowboys’ championship. Since 2000, the franchise has been to the playoffs fewer times than the Falcons. They have won as many playoff games in that time as the Jaguars. At this point, hating the Cowboys is about as useless as hating Luxembourg.

So why do people still have such a deep-seated disdain for the star and the players that wear it? Why was a national celebration set of on Sunday when the Cowboys lost in the stupidest way imaginable?

The answer is pretty simple really: marketing.

Good marketers can convince you their products are anything they want you to believe those products are. Great marketers can get you to behave like those products are what they say they are even when you know that isn’t true.

Jerry Jones is a great marketer.

People tune in when the Cowboys play. Maybe a good chunk of those people are hate-watching, but they’re watching. That is why the team was on in primetime six times this season. Of those other eleven games, seven of them were called by either FOX’s or CBS’s top broadcast team.

ESPN completely rebuild and rebranded First Take around the idea that Stephen A. Smith doesn’t like the Dallas Cowboys. That is it. The whole promo package for the show was just Smith wearing a cowboy hat and chomping on a cigar and laughing.

Shouldn’t we be doing this to the Patriots? Afterall, in the time since the Cowboy’s last Super Bowl appearance, New England has gone to the game an astounding ten times and won six titles.

It’s easy to read that sentence and say “Well, Tom Brady isn’t there anymore. The Patriots aren’t what they used to be. It isn’t as much fun to hate them.”

Uh, dawg, who in Dallas has been worth hating since Troy Aikman retired? You know, like 22 years ago!

Jerry Jones isn’t the man that coined the phrase “America’s Team, ” so he didn’t set its initial meaning. What it became, by virtue of him leaning into the branding is something that forces you to react. Either you buy into the blue and the silver and the star and you’re with America’s team or you recoil at the branding and the goofiness of the whole aesthetic and want to watch it burn.

Notre Dame football could be doing this too. The problem is they do not have the great markerter out front pushing that slogan over and over again.

Even “how bout them Cowboys?” is a solid positioning statement. It’s easily repeatable in good times or bad. The genius of Jerry Jones embracing that statement and that clip of Jimmy Johnson shouting those four now-iconic words is that it is a question that always has an answer.

Fans can celebrate with “how bout them cowboys” when the team wins. Haters can say it facetiously when they are on a losing streak. Either way, you are saying it and the Dallas Cowboys are occupying a part of your brain.

Positioning statements work. That is why so many stations tag their imaging with the same phrase or sentence every single time. That is why so many stations are called The Fan or The Game or The Ticket.

Admittedly, sometimes we need to rethink how our listeners are receiving the message. If we are all going for homogeny, nothing can stand out. Maybe that is a reason to rethink what I jokingly call “sports radio’s magic hat of five acceptable station names”, but the larger point is that you want every message you put out to point to the brand image you are trying to portray.

Jerry Jones’s message to the NFL and the media is no matter who they root for, fans care about my team. His positioning statements reflect that. Whether you think they are great marketing or goofy corporate branding, they work. The proof is everywhere.

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BSM Writers

Three Sports Marketing Trends You Need To Know

“Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists.”

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#1 OTT’s RAPID EXPANSION  

Pay TV lost more than 5 million customers in 2020 and that trend is going to continue and the number is going to increase. With nearly 30% more Americans cutting the cord in 2021 and almost 87% of adults 18-24 preferring the OTT option, you’d better dive in and understand just how fast video consumption is changing; especially in sports. Platforms like ESPN+, Amazon, Peacock, Paramount+ and Facebook are diving head first into the sports rights market so that they can deliver LIVE sports where Americans are consuming video.  OTT provides that sniper riffle approach advertisers are looking for as they try to increase ROI and minimize waste. 

#2 AI … DATA-DATA-DATA

Without a doubt artificial intelligence is changing the way marketers are deciding how to go to market with their messaging and their products and/or services.  More data is available now than ever before and you’d better understand how your client is using it to help them make their buying decisions.  Most large advertisers are not only using one, but multiple vendors and are trying to obtain as much data as they possibly can so they can better recognize trends and understand their consumers behaviors and buying patterns

#3 eSports is BOOMING

Video games aren’t just for fun and entertainment at home anymore.  Gamers are now creating leagues, generating 6-figure endorsements and have multiple contests where they compete for HUGE cash and prizes.  Marketers are actively looking for ways to take advantage of this meteoric rise in popularity of eSports and that includes product placement, team sponsorships, individual gamer(s) sponsorships and tournament sponsorships.  If your station isn’t trying to create a sellable feature around eSports then you’re missing out on a huge and very sellable feature.  There are over 234 million eSports enthusiasts world wide and that number is only going to continue to climb. 

OTT, AI and eSports are rapidly changing the sports marketing landscape and these are trends that will only continue and grow over the next 5 years.  Digitalization of just about everything is changing how, where, when and on what kind of devices sports fans are consuming content.  Sports marketing is evolving at an extremely rapid pace and you’d best know where your competition lies or where opportunity exists. 

Be the expert in the room when meeting with agencies and/or clients, it will set you apart from the pack.  Understanding these rapidly evolving trends will help you have better and deeper dialog with your advertisers. 

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BSM Writers

What Should Radio Be Thinking About On Martin Luther King Day?

“Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?”

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Monday, January 17 is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A lot of you will get the day off of work. Some of you will attend prayer services or civic events to honor the civil rights leader and his legacy.

Dr. King, like all humans, had his flaws but is undeniably a man worth celebrating. In a world where the divide between the powerful and the rest of us seems to be growing out of control, it is good to take a day to celebrate and think about a man that made a career out of speaking up for the little guy – whether that means black and brown people during the Civil Rights Era or it means workers in times of labor unrest.

Across the media landscape, we will see stations and networks running promos touting their “commitment to Dr. King’s dream!”. The sentiment is great, but I do wonder what it means to the people making those promos and the stations and networks airing them.

Look at the archives of this site. Think about the BSM Summits you have attended. How often have we been willing to shine a spotlight on the amount sports radio talks about embracing diversity versus actually putting plans into action? Jason has written and talked about it a lot. Every time, the message seems to circle back to him saying “I am giving you the data. You are telling me you recognize that this is a problem. Now do something about it.”

It’s something I found myself starting to think about a lot last year when Juneteenth became recognized as a federal holiday. Suddenly every brand was airing ads telling me how they have known how special this day is all along. And look, I hope that is true. It seems like if it was though, I would have been seeing those ads in plenty of Junes before 2021.

I am going to put my focus on the media because that is what we do here, but this can be said about a lot of companies. So many brands have done a great job of rolling out the yellow, black, red, and green promo package to acknowledge that it is Martin Luther King Jr Day or Black History Month or Juneteenth. I worry though that for so many, especially on the local level, that is where the acknowledgment ends.

That isn’t to say that those stations or brands actively do not want more minority representation inside their company. It just isn’t a subject for which they can say they have taken a lot of action.

Look, I am not here to debate the merits of affirmative action. I am saying in an industry like sports radio, where we thrive on fans being able to relate to the voices coming through their speakers, shouldn’t we be doing a better job of making sure minority personalities know that there is a place for them in this industry? Shouldn’t we be doing more than just waiting for resumes with “black-sounding names” on top of them to come across our desks?

WFAN went out and found Keith McPherson in the podcasting world to fill its opening at night after Steve Somers’s retirement. FOX Sports added RJ Young, who first made a name for himself on YouTube and writing books, to its college football coverage. 95.7 The Game found Daryle “Guru” Johnson in a contest. JR Jackson got on CBS Sports Radio’s radar thanks to his YouTube videos and when it came time for the network to find a late-night host, it plucked him from Atlanta’s V103, one of the best-known urban stations in America.

That’s two guys in major markets, another on national radio, and a third on national television. In all four cases, the companies that hired them didn’t just sit back and wait for a resume to come in.

Some of you will read this and dismiss me. After all, I am a fat, white Southern man. If I were a hacky comedian, I would say “the only four groups you are allowed to make fun of” and then yell “Gitterdone!”.

In reality, I point those things out because I know there is a large chunk of you that will call this whole column “white guilt” or “woke” or whatever your talking point is now.

Whether or not we are about the be a majority minority nation is up for debate, but here is a fact. America is getting darker. I look at the radio industry, one that is constantly worried about how it will be affected by new innovations in digital audio, and wonder how anyone can think doing things like we always have is going to work forever.

I’m not damning anyone or saying anybody should be losing their jobs. I don’t know most of you reading this well enough to make that judgment. What I am saying is that our industry has lived on the idea that this business is always changing and we have to be adaptable. I think it is time we do that, not just with the content we present on air, but in how we go about finding the right people to present it.

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