It was one year ago when I wrote a lengthy piece on the challenges associated with broadcasting live on radio row during the week of the Super Bowl. I tapped into a few program directors and top salespeople to gain their perspectives on why the week on the road for their brands does/doesn’t matter.
As insightful as last year’s column was, I realized that one key part was missing from the conversation. The viewpoint of the people who it matters most to – the on-air talent.
It’s easy to sit in a conference room and debate the merits of sending your shows on the road or crunch numbers in an office during budgeting sessions and eliminate travel and remote broadcast expenses because it’ll make your bottom line look better but there are certain things in business that you do because it’s important to your people, your brand image and your audience.
For example, how would your perception of a NewsTalk brand change if their key programs weren’t live at the Republican and Democrat national conventions? To make those events work, extra dollars must be spent and sometimes sponsors don’t want to get involved because they don’t want to be branded as supporting one side over the other. If the NewsTalk outlet you receive your information and opinion from though wasn’t there, your perception of the brand and its shows would be altered.
Imagine if a massive rock concert like Lollapalooza was recreated and your favorite rock station wasn’t involved in it. Or if a rap festival was produced and your hometown hip hop station didn’t have a connection to it. You’d wonder why those brands were detached from something significant to the audience and their image would take a hit as a result of it.
Well, the same applies in sports talk radio.
There is no greater event from an audience attention standpoint than the Super Bowl. The NFL is king and responsible for stealing the majority of our free time during the fall. The final game represents the last chapter of the season, and the week leading up to it is when fans become consumed by the storylines surrounding the NFL’s season finale.
From a talk show host’s perspective, this is the nail in the coffin on a year’s worth of conversations. Hours upon hours are dedicated to analyzing, debating and reporting on the NFL each season, and the most hosts view the week of the Super Bowl as one of the most important to their annual schedule. It’s an opportunity to get access to high profile people, uncover interesting stories, receive exclusive access to events they’d otherwise not experience, and it affords them the chance to spend time on the road with their peers and colleagues. That alone leads to strengthening bonds, increasing contacts, gathering information, and enjoying time away from the normal grind. The audience is invited to live vicariously thru the eyes and ears of the talent during the NFL’s biggest week, and in doing so, a deeper bond is developed between the brand and each listener.
What makes topics like this fun to discuss is that there really is no right answer. If your business is hemorrhaging money and lacks interest from sponsors, it’s understandable why you’d pass on sending your hosts and shows on the road. But if every decision you make is tied to whether or not you generate an immediate return on investment, be prepared to be disappointed.
It’s ironic that the radio industry depends on selling advertising to clients, stressing to them the importance of branding. We encourage sponsors to implement a long term strategy and remind them of the need to spend money to make money. We preach how vital it is to stand out from a crowded field and why presenting a powerful image and influencing perception are key in reaching people when it’s time to make a purchase.
What we don’t do is walk in the door with pixie dust promising to sprinkle it on their ads and double their business. That’d be ridiculous. Effective marketing requires consistency and building a strong brand image. If done properly, brands will absolutely benefit from it.
Yet when the shoe is on the other foot, do we follow our own advice? To borrow Hertz’s slogan, not exactly!
There are a myriad of factors that need to be considered when deciding whether or not to send your radio station and staff on the road to the Super Bowl. From the ratings impact, to the perception of the brand, to the economic affect on your company’s balance sheet, everything must be examined. However, just don’t lose sight during that process of how those decisions register with two of the most important components of your business – your staff – and your audience.
To provide a little more perspective I called upon six talented hosts from different parts of the country who have experienced the good and bad of radio row. Making the conversation even more interesting is the fact that they collectively represent five different companies.
For those of you who are scheduled to broadcast next week on radio row in Minneapolis, I recommend checking out this list of restaurant/bar suggestions from 1500 ESPN Twin Cities midday host Phil Mackey. You can thank him in person next week for steering you to the right locations.
Why is broadcasting live from radio row during the week of the Super Bowl important to you?
McKee: I have been to 14 Super Bowls. So, I’ve had plenty of radio row experience. In the mid 90’s it seemed like a pretty exciting deal. We would get a cool collection of guests that we wouldn’t get any other way. However, as the years move along, the quality of guests seems to have leveled off. Also, getting interesting guests is complicated because there is such a strict schedule. Then of course there is the question of whether listeners even care about hearing from any of these people. In addition, we haven’t seen a specific spike in ratings during that week. BUT – if you are a sports station in America and you aren’t there how serious are you? The trick is to use radio row as a home base and actually go out and do the work which means getting off your ass and going to the pressers and the other available sessions. The access to players, coaches and other folks in the sports world is off the charts. If you stay anchored on radio row, you better hope you have a world class producer who can do some pretty extraordinary things or you’re going to be talking to Bill Romanowski about his neuro lean 1 pills. So broadcasting from radio row means almost nothing to me, but being at the Super Bowl feels like it’s very important!
Kaplan: This is my 22nd radio row which is crazy! I look forward to the week of the Super Bowl because I like to be in the middle of the action. If I didn’t go, I would be watching on TV wishing I was there. It’s the sports radio convention, like the Senior Bowl of sports radio. It’s something I feel is important to be in the middle of.
Dawson: It’s important primarily because we are the home of the Cowboys. The NFL is the most significant sports entity in our market and not being there would feel off brand in a big way. Our competition will be there and to my knowledge, I’m not aware of a regular weekday 6a-7p show in my market that hasn’t gone.
Innes: It’s not. I thought it was important to broadcast from radio row when it was in Houston. I host a morning show, so I won’t be getting a ton of guests, and the building will be largely empty. I don’t believe it adds a ton to my actual show. Hosts love to say that they can get more out of guests and that it’s all about the questions. Trust me, when Adam Sandler is on station #20 and has been up for 25 hours, he’s not gonna be excited.
Dougherty: Broadcasting live from radio row is important to me because we want to provide Zone listeners with the best content possible, every day. Radio row at the Super Bowl allows us to do that by gaining access to compelling guests who we normally wouldn’t have an opportunity to connect with. Being there helps us deliver a stream of interesting content all week.
Tierney: Very early in my career, it was probably good for the ego, a self-validation of my place in the business. However, as my platforms have grown, it’s become much more of a bridge…a tool…a continuation of the coverage and insight we’ve provided throughout the season. Although I don’t believe in being guest-heavy day to day, we take great pride in being able to secure “A” list guests throughout the season. This is not only a continuation of that, but in essence, a culmination of a season/sport that we dedicate a lot of time, energy and resources to. I want to be there, I expect to be there.
If you didn’t do shows on radio row during SB week, how would it impact your show?
McKee: If I wasn’t there we would still have a table and a set up to put a guest on headphones but that’s pretty weak. I suppose I’d feel left out. It’s an interesting question though and I’m not sure I have the answer because this will be my 9th straight radio row. I have 6 others sprinkled in over the years. What makes this year particularly interesting is that I pushed hard for our station to go to the Senior Bowl. We have great ownership and management and they made an extremely quick pivot so we could be in Mobile, Alabama this week! The reasoning was simple. The Broncos need a QB, and Mayfield, Allen, Falk and Rudolph will all be there along with the Broncos coaching staff which includes a bunch of new guys who are coaching the north team. The STORY for us is clearly in Mobile not Minneapolis. That always should come first. So I’m proud of my station that we’re doing what’s best for our listeners. We were ready to give up going to the Super Bowl but because Minnesota is such an awful place to go to in February, the hotel costs have plummeted! At the end of the day, we can do both and stay under budget. So, I’m going to both! Guys often bitch about having to spend the time and effort away from home but that couldn’t possibly match how much they’d complain about NOT going! We are a messed up crew of individuals.
Kaplan: I’m not sure broadcasting from the Super Bowl is a ratings winner per se, but from a perception standpoint, listeners believe their favorite show is big time by being on radio row. They enjoy hearing the show talk to people that they wouldn’t normally have face to face access to. It leads to good content and it’s where new relationships are formed!
Dawson: I’m not sure what the impact would be since we do make the trip each year. Listeners would question though why we weren’t there.
Innes: We may miss out on the opportunity to do a few memorable bits, but all in all I don’t think the show would suffer greatly. The idea of going to radio row is so much greater than actually going to radio row. I mean, how many times can I interview a member of the 70’s Steelers?
Dougherty: If we didn’t do live shows from radio row, we would do our normal daily show. The difference would be that we’d have less coverage dedicated to the Super Bowl.
Tierney: No interesting/successful show should lean solely on the backdrop of the SB to create a compelling show. That’s lazy, especially when each interview is going to contain a minute or so of the guest pushing product that quite frankly, our audience doesn’t care much about. It’s still about strong content, diverse and interesting topics and having fun and I have confidence that we would deliver that from our studio. However, there’s an energy that is tough to replicate that comes with being in the middle of the mayhem for a week. The ambiance creates a different urgency and makes it feel bigger, because it is. Also, personally, the week is a great avenue to collect off-the-record information from friends and colleagues around the league. I always look forward to that aspect.
How important do you think the week of shows on radio row are to your audience?
McKee: We’ve been lucky because the Broncos have actually played in a couple of recent Super Bowls and won one of them. Our ratings during that time period went through the roof. However, when the Broncos lost in dramatic fashion to the Ravens a few years ago and we still went to New Orleans AND then the Ravens WON the Super Bowl, we had our lowest ratings dip in years! Our listeners just didn’t want to hear anything because the loss stung so much. We probably would’ve been better off not going that year! I think the audience wants to live vicariously through you but they don’t want you to rub it in their face. It’s a weird balance. At this point, our audience just expects us to be there so being there isn’t really a big deal but not being there would raise questions. It’s a bit of a no win situation. That being said, your team going to and winning the super bowl is ratings gold for a long long time! You better be there because those stories and that experience lasts forever.
Kaplan: When I listen, I love the background noise, the buzz, it sounds so alive! As a listener, I want to be there! If you track engagement on social platforms, we provide so much more content and create so much more activity by being live on radio row. That’s how I measure it.
Dawson: I don’t think it’s important to them in a conscious way. I think we benefit from a credibility standpoint of the audience knowing that we’re on top of things and committing resources to make sure they’re informed and entertained. I think what they value most are the words being said by particular people when they tune in. Our being there doesn’t provide much of an advantage in creating compelling content. Factor in the disruption to the clock, unpredictably mediocre guests, and general chaos, and there are pros and cons to the conversation.
Innes: My audience only cares about being entertained. I can do a good show whether I’m on radio row or Mars.
Dougherty: We get tremendous feedback from our listeners through social media channels when we broadcast from special event settings like radio row at the Super Bowl. We see the same engagement when USAA brings us on the road to broadcast prior to the Army-Navy game.
Tierney: I’m sure on some level we tend to overrate that aspect of it, but it is a core belief of mine that if you have a successful show, the expectation from listeners is that during the biggest week of the year, you will be right in the middle of it.
What do you do to make sure your program stays consistent and doesn’t get overtaken by guests/advertiser pitches?
McKee: There is almost no escape from that! You do your best but it’s almost unavoidable. One thing you can do is record segments ahead of time. Other than that, you are a bit screwed. It’s a good rule of thumb to do every show on the road the same way you would do it in the studio but that’s easier said than done. Try and treat the day on the road schedule wise same as at home.
Kaplan: We don’t obsess over the guests any longer. I used to consider the best guests the metric for success. Now I think more about all forms of media at my disposal. So it’s not just what A-list guests I can get on the air but rather how can I engage my audience on and off the air?
Dawson: We do our best to keep a similar show going but here’s the funny thing. In order to get an A-list guest you have to take others from their stable quite often. We have 3 segments an hour and scheduling into that without disruption is not possible.
Innes: It’s difficult because you are at the mercy of the celebrities. They may show up a minute before break time. What do you do? In that case, you blow up the clock. Then you end up with 5 minutes of Franco Harris peddling an insurance company with his handler starting a countdown 2 minutes in.
Dougherty: We make it a point to re-set our show at the top of the hour with the day’s top headlines and keep a watchful eye on what is happening in our local market. As much fun as the week on radio row is, local comes first.
Tierney: We don’t allow that to happen. It’s our show and Tiki and I both recognize that while good guests can enhance our show, we will not change the DNA of what we do. You still need time to let things breathe, to react to stories outside of the NFL, to react to interviews we just conducted, and to deliver built-in sponsored segments just as we would if we were back in studio. We also have great synergy with our producer, so we’re all on the same page. As far as advertiser pitches are concerned, you have to maintain control of the car. I’m driving the show, not the guest. If you’re not alert, it’s very easy for a 7-8 minute spot to be overtaken by product push, which equates to a painfully boring interview. Trust your internal clock, like a QB. If you’re getting bored, the audience has either left or is on the brink of leaving. If you allow that to happen, as a host, that’s on you. Be better at your job.
What’s one thing that you do during the week that’s unique from the other 50-100 stations on radio row?
McKee: I participate in the actual press opportunities! I always try and get a question in to the commissioner. I ask questions of the coaches. I go to stuff and ask questions. Mostly that’s the realm of the print media. I have been amazed over the years of the laziness of most talk show hosts. Get out there. Participate. It’s great to say on the air, “ I asked Goodell this question”. “ I asked Bill Belichick this” stuff like that. I promise you I’ve done more stuff like that than ANY talk show host in America over the years. It has been a huge separator and gives us unique content.
Kaplan: My approach is to deliver a show which matters to my market. I look for local ties. For example, we have enlisted a player from the Patriots and the Eagles, both from San Diego, to be our weekly reporters. The goal is to talk to our home market, from an international event. That helps us form a stronger local connection.
Dawson: One fun thing that we do is create a compliment contest throughout the week that our guests are not aware of. It’s awesome because it butters them up and gets the positive energy flowing. It may even deliver a few horizontal tune ins. We produce an audio compli-montage at the end of the week along with a King of Compliments for the year and this adds to the fun.
Innes: We have a wireless mic and roam around. We had my producer dressed as Mike Ditka and he would sit down with random radio shows, while they were on air. He would then talk back to me via wireless. One guy wanted to fight him. My producer wore an “Assweiler” garbage can around the Houston radio row. That made national news. I think the wireless mic adds a lot. It allows for constant content during slow times.
Dougherty: Our focus is on doing the best job we can to put our audience in the room. We do that on air and through the use of our social media platforms. It isn’t about being unique as much as it is delivering quality content that satisfies our listeners.
Tierney: The most obvious difference is that we deliver a TV presence with a national simulcast. We bring you a visual. You get to see what we see. There’s great value in that.
If you owned your radio station or a local business and a team from your city was not playing in the game, would you spend the $ to be part of this week of shows?
McKee: My advice would be to send as many people as makes sense for your budget. Don’t stretch but don’t be cheap. Keep in mind that the more people you send from the station the more crazy stories that can come from it. Hopefully you have a good crew that likes hanging out. Bonding wise it’s fantastic. Great memories for years and years. Monday night is now media night. Tuesday is the media party. We have established Wednesday as our staff dinner. It’s been my favorite tradition year after year. Whatever you do if you send a group don’t skimp on the staff dinner. It’s what connects you with one another. Thursday night, all of our ex NFL guys have Super Bowl rings. Mark Schlereth, Brandon Stokely and Alfred Williams, which means they wear their suits and rings and go to parties that the rest of us nerds can’t get into! Friday night we basically leave open. If you do Super Bowl week the right way it will translate to the audience. But know this, if you don’t make an effort at all, you aren’t a real sports talk station.
Kaplan: Well, we are no longer an NFL market in San Diego, but our signal reaches LA and many LA sports fans have found us over the course of the three year relocation drama. I think radio row can be a very sell-able product to sponsors if packaged creatively.
Dawson: Absolutely. I believe there’s great value in it.
Innes: Well, there are some factors at play. Is my competition going? What market am I in? Does my audience back home really care? I’ve seen plenty of data to show that my competition doesn’t see any tangible bump from being there. Basically, it’s a way to get a sponsor to pump a few bucks into the station. If a sponsor wants to add to the bottom line, that’s hard to say no to. I’d refrain from sending morning shows. Middays and afternoons have the best chance of excelling. I do think there is an opportunity to create web content that can be sold. Gavin Spittle did and has done a great job of monetizing the digital aspect of the week.
Dougherty: We’re fortunate to have a great sales staff which sells sponsorship’s to off-set the costs of taking two shows on the road to the Super Bowl city. That provides us with a great opportunity to deliver good content for our audience and attach our clients to the station’s Super Bowl coverage. There’s a lot of value in being associated with the week.
Tierney: In all likelihood, yes, but it would hinge somewhat on the financial climate of the industry and our own ability to monetize the week. If we were able to offset some of the costs, perceptually, I believe it is worth it. It also tends to galvanize talent and is a nice way to put the finishing touch on a 5 month grind. I find that it boosts morale, and it’s fun! Who the hell doesn’t like to have fun? If it’s done right, it can be GREAT.
BSM Summit Adds Borrell, Crain, Cutler, Goldstein, Scott, Shapiro & Thomas
“The Summit is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited.”
The 2022 BSM Summit continues to add firepower to the sports media industry’s premier conference. After previously announcing the first twenty one participants to take part in March’s event in New York City, another seven talented media professionals have been added to the speaker schedule.
Making his BSM Summit debut in 2022 will be the media industry’s leading business analyst Gordon Borrell. The well respected and accomplished CEO of Borrell Associates is featured frequently in the trades and mainstream publications for his insights on advertising trends and forecasts in local media. Borrell will join Amplifi Media CEO Steven Goldstein on stage at the Summit for an in-depth discussion on the advertising climate in 2022. The two men will offer insights and opinions on what advertisers value most, where they’re expected to invest future dollars, which categories will continue to rise and decline, and what brands can do to position themselves better to increase revenue. Additionally, Borrell will be hosting his local advertising conference in Miami a few days after the Summit. Those interested in heading to South Beach and learning more about the marketing world can learn more by clicking here.
Switching to the content end, the Summit is thrilled to welcome The Volume’s Jake Crain to New York City. The host of The JBoy Show will also be making his debut at the conference. Crain will be part of a talent panel along with John Jastremski and Kazeem Famuyide.
Also making his debut at the Summit will be Carl Scott. Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio will join our podcasting panel featuring Blue Wire CEO Kevin Jones and The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim. Hubbard Radio’s Digital Content Director Phil Mackey will guide the conversation.
Not everyone participating at the Summit will be new to the audience though. Returning to the stage as part of our GM’s discussion will be newly appointed Audacy Boston Market Manager Mike Thomas. Thomas recently led ESPN 1000 in Chicago as the station’s GM after working with Mark Hannon to turn 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston into one of sports radio’s top performing stations. It should be noted that each time Thomas appears at the Summit it follows a recent promotion. We figure by 2023 or 2024 he’ll be running the entire industry.
A Summit isn’t complete without attention given to programming matters. To help us address some of those key issues, we’re excited to welcome back the Vice President of FOX Sports Radio & Podcasts Scott Shapiro. The passionate network executive who oversees many of the nation’s top national programs is always a great listen for folks interested in learning how programmer’s view and tackle the industry’s most important affairs.
Last but certainly not least, voice talent extraordinaire Jim Cutler will return to the stage to lead a session on storytelling. One of the industry’s prominent station voices and creative minds has a penchant for putting on entertaining and informative sessions. If you’ve attended the conference before, you’re already aware. To those planning to catch this one, you’re in for a treat.
Keep an eye out over the next two weeks. We’ll be making additional announcements involving a few high profile talents we’ve lined up for the 2022 BSM Summit. A reminder, the event is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited. I realize some folks may prefer to wait until the last minute to make sure the world is safe. If you’re not comfortable flying to NY for the show, we do have an option in place to enjoy the conference virtually thanks to NuVoodoo Media. For more information on tickets, click here.
That said, the in-person environment is excellent. If you haven’t attended the Summit before I think you’ll find the two days in New York City to be time well spent. This conference is not open to the general public. You must either presently work in an area of the media industry or be pursuing a degree in the broadcasting field.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we still have some sponsorship opportunities available for the show. We’re thrilled to have the support of great partners, ESPN Radio, Premiere Networks, FOX Sports Radio, Stone Voiceovers, Compass Media Networks, Point to Point Marketing, and Core Image Studio. If you’d like to be part of the event too, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com for additional details.
One final note, airfare is low right now. There are roundtrip flights to and from New York from many major cities for less than $200.00. We’ve also secured a low hotel rate of $109.00 per night at Hotel Edison in NYC to help companies and individuals keep costs down. The sports media industry has endured two years of difficulty due to the pandemic, preventing many from networking, learning, celebrating, and growing. The two days we spend together in the big apple won’t solve every issue facing our business, but I promise you’ll leave the show more informed, more connected, and better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.
Hope to see you in New York on March 2nd and 3rd.
Where Are The Sports Radio Programmers of Tomorrow?
“As someone who’s helped many aspiring programmers over the years, I’ve seen less new people seeking out advice the past few years than they did from 2011-2019.”
I don’t get the opportunity to write as often as I’d like to. Consulting projects make that harder these days but I do miss it. Fortunately I’ve been able to assemble a quality team to deliver news and industry opinions to your inbox and social media platforms each day. If you receive our emails, then you should notice one of those improvements today with our BSM 8@8 Newsletter. If you aren’t receiving our emails and would like to, click here to sign up.
The reason I chose to write today is because there’s one specific area of our industry that I’m concerned about and need to draw attention to. That’s the emergence of tomorrow’s sports radio program directors.
If you work in or follow this business, can you recall a year during the past decade where we saw more programming changes in sports radio than this one? I can’t. WFAN in New York, WEEI in Boston, KNBR in San Francisco, WIP in Philadelphia, Arizona Sports 98.7 in Phoenix, ESPN 97.5 in Houston, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, 750 The Game in Portland, ESPN 94.5 in Milwaukee, The Fan in Indianapolis, 107.5 The Game in Columbia, ESPN Las Vegas, 1620 The Zone in Omaha, and 98.1 The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City have or are soon to undergo PD changes. This follows a year where 101 ESPN in St. Louis, 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, WFNZ in Charlotte, and 680 The Fan and 92.9 The Game in Atlanta changed programming leaders. 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, ESPN 1000 in Chicago, 710 ESPN in Seattle, and ESPN LA 710 went thru changes too in the fall of 2019.
Twenty three brands undergoing change at the top of a station’s programming department in that short period of a time is an eye opener. But what really stands out are the lack of new faces to arrive on the PD scene let alone even come up during the interviewing process.
For every Rick Radzik, Amanda Brown, Kyle Brown and Qiant Myers who were elevated to PD positions over the past two years, there are proven leaders like Kevin Graham, Jeff Rickard, Tommy Mattern, and Terry Foxx who’ve landed in new situations. Those folks absolutely deserve those positions, so let me be clear, proven PD’s should always be valued. As I’ve told many decision makers before, a great PD is a difference maker. The film industry pays big money for Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese and Quintin Tarrantino because their track record highlights their abilities to deliver box office hits. Proven PD’s who can do the same for a radio station deserve similar respect.
But if you’re a younger person looking to advance your career into a programming role today, how do you take that next step let alone earn the nod when more experienced people want the same gig? Who’s advocating on your behalf? How would a corporate executive or market manager know that a producer, board op, promotions director or part-time host is capable of becoming the next great programmer?
Better yet, how does any corporate executive or market manager running a local brand know anything about your management style, vision, multi-platform skills, ability to lead people and work with multiple departments, and create exciting content, events and promotions if you’re working for another company in a different city? Here’s the answer, most times, they don’t. You apply for the job, your resume and email arrives in their inbox, which leads to them asking others about you. If someone you’ve crossed paths with says something good about you, you might get a call. If not, your materials go on file should the station have future needs.
Having led PD searches for a number of brands the past few years, I think the first step is finding out who’s interested in growing. Does anyone know of your desire to one day lead a brand besides the host you work with and the programmer you work for? Who have you sought out to gain knowledge and mentorship from outside of your building? Are you counting on an internal promotion to become a leader or assuming your PD will hype you up to potential employers? What are you doing to make sure the right people know you’re hungry to take the next step and you’re ready to go wherever an opportunity exists?
As someone who’s helped many aspiring programmers over the years, I’ve seen less new people seeking out advice the past few years than they did from 2011-2019. Maybe folks don’t think to come my way as much. Maybe they assume the company they’re working for will take care of them when the time comes. Maybe they don’t have the motivation to relocate or upset their current situation. Maybe the pandemic forced folks to press pause on pursuing advancement. Or maybe the role of a program director isn’t as appealing as it was to leaders from my era.
Some assume that because they’ve been successful at producing, and have done it for a long enough time, it means they’re ready for the next step. But programming is much more than managing a show. Not everyone is built to handle a verbal lashing from a market manager, balance a budget, negotiate deals, coach high profile talent, understand and examine PPM ratings, and unify departments. Let’s not forget interactions with corporate, being multi-platform skilled, knowing how to study and attack the competition, dealing with negative PR, and being the brand leader who keeps play by play partnerships in a healthy state.
If you’re behind the scenes in the sports radio industry, your path will most likely lead to becoming either a host, PD, moving into sales/marketing/imaging/digital/corporate or leaving the business. Top 10 markets and national networks are an exception as there are some very talented producers who’ve continued to work with top shows/stations for a long time. Both invest more in off-air positions. In many other cases, the financial upside for behind the scenes help is limited so eventually you reach a fork in the road when you have to decide the best path forward to make a decent living.
But those looking to take the next step don’t often think about positioning themselves to land the next big opportunity. They don’t take time to build relationships with key executives who they’ll one day interview with for a top job. Instead they think about that day’s show and the immediate tasks at hand. You can be the most creative, multiplatform savvy, best guest booker and strongest talent coach in America as a producer but if nobody else knows it outside your building, it’s going to be hard to take the next step. Which is why you have to make time to help yourself. You can start by emailing me. That can’t hurt.
Program directors have a responsibility here too. They should be making time to teach and push their behind the scenes people to want to advance their careers. They should also be telling anyone who will listen why one of their own is ready for the next step. Not enough do that. I can count on one hand the number of PD’s who’ve come to me championing one of their own for a top programming job over the past six years since I began helping stations find PD’s. Just going thru the interview process can be huge for an off-air professional who dreams one day of leading a brand. It helps them learn what to expect, how to present themselves, which areas they need to improve on in order to make the jump and most importantly, it shows them you care about them and their professional development.
I know that the job is busier today than ever for a PD and finding time is a pain in the ass. But coaching people is one of your biggest strengths. It’s why why you’ve been trusted to lead your brand. When twenty three positions open up and more than half require hiring elsewhere in the country and turning to folks inside different companies, that should raise eyebrows. Have you told others to consider someone on your staff? Did you push for them to be interviewed, even if they weren’t the right fit because you knew it’d serve them well later? Did you invest time in them to to make sure they were ready for the next step? And that doesn’t mean just giving them the crap you hate like filling out affidavits, building clocks, and corresponding with the traffic department.
Have you conducted 1 on 1’s with all of your off-air crew and learned who aspires to one day do what you do? Have you taught them how to analyze ratings and content? Sit in on show meetings? Critique talent? Recruit future staff? Participate in creative brainstorms or sales meetings? Have you told your GM or other high ranking executives or PD’s in your company about their passion to lead?
It should go without saying that if you’re in a position to lead and develop people, that it applies to more than just on-air talent. It should include grooming future programmers too. Any executive with oversight of your brand should be asking “who on your staff is ready to take a step?” If the answer is no one, they should be asking what your plan is to change that so the answer is different the next time they ask. If you’re skilled enough to lead a brand for years or even decades, those above you should want to protect the future by having you develop the next crop of programmers too. Your report card as a PD isn’t complete if all you can point to are good quarterly ratings. There are plenty of brands who’ve won in spite of their PD and others who have lost despite having an elite program director.
By the way, shouldn’t a PD want to see people inside their operations get called upon to take the next step? As hard as I pushed my crew to perform in St. Louis and San Francisco, when one got an opportunity to become a PD, APD or EP I was proud as hell. There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing someone you have mentored, challenged and cared about take their career to a higher level. If you spend years in the position and have producers and assistant programmers not landing opportunities, let alone receiving calls to be interviewed for openings, you should be asking yourself ‘what haven’t I done to get them to that next level’ and ‘do I have the right people here who want to grow?’.
Lastly, I recognize everyone is under pressure to add good help. A station operating without a leader in the programming department creates a lot of problems, especially when it lingers for months. But you also need to find the right people or you end up with bigger problems later, most notably, others questioning your ability to hire the right people. If there’s one thing I’ve learned going thru these processes with different companies is that often times, decision makers want to move fast and find people who are referred by others they know and respect. If they hear a few good things said in conversation by a candidate that match what they value, they’re ready to move forward. Some get caught up in resumes or similar experiences/interests but not all ask the right questions and research people well. It’s amazing what you’ll learn if you investigate properly and ask questions that make folks uncomfortable. If you’re going to trust someone to lead your brand and staff, and set the tone for your operation, spending the extra time to be sure about those you hire is absolutely necessary.
Taking a chance on the APD or smaller market PD isn’t as safe as hiring a veteran leader. If you have a proven winner interested in your opening and feel confident that they fit your needs, I’m all for them being hired. But don’t make the mistake of assuming someone with less experience can’t make a greater difference. Imagine if we were back in 2004 and you passed on Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg in favor of a proven Newspaper editor to lead your brand’s digital strategy. How would you look today? That could be your radio station in five years if you overlook those with an ability to see the future better than the present when future openings arise.
To grow this format we need a mixture of new blood, new ideas, people who view the audio business differently from those in the present or past, and proven performers who’ve helped turn this format into a very successful one. We have to ask the right questions, fully research candidates, challenge our executives and programmers to take a greater interest in developing the next crop of sports radio executives, and consider new roads rather than the ones we’re most familiar with. We also need to hear from people who haven’t told us of their interest in taking the next step. We need to encourage them to want to grow and show them the path to do so. If we each do those things better, our format is going to spend a lot more time thriving and less time surviving in the years ahead.
John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit
“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.
Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.
But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.
When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.
If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.
During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.
Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.
After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.
What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.
John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.
We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.
I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
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