Let me tell you about how I was introduced to Brad Carson. I hope it helps you understand why I wanted to speak with him and get inside his head a bit.
Last summer, Brad posted an opening for an executive producer position for one of his shows at ESPN 92.9 in Memphis. I put together a package for him and sent it off. In the cover letter, I mentioned a specific date that I would be following up. On that date, I sent him a silly video about my love of BBQ.
My phone rang right away. It was Brad. He started by telling me that I was not in his plans for the job, but he wanted me to know how impressed he was with my presentation and he gave me a few pointers on how to better position what I do. He told me I was talented and wished me well in my job search. We said our goodbyes and then he hung up.
I mean, who does that? We have all been in the position of sending out resumes and demos and never hearing back. I told Brad when we sat down for this interview that during what was a very lonely time, it felt like someone saying “I see you. You’re a human being.”
Brad and I share a background that includes long stints in music radio and he still has a passion for those formats. While he has turned Entercom’s ESPN 92.9 into one of the highest rated sports stations in the country, he has also looked for shifts he could voice for Entercom music stations around the country.
Just how high are ESPN 92.9’s ratings? Well, here are some numbers for you. In the fourth quarter of 2017, four of the station’s five weekday shows were in the top 3 with Men 25-54. Gary Parrish pulled a 12 share in afternoons. The other two sports stations in Memphis (one of which is also owned by Entercom and programmed by Brad) didn’t pull a 1 share with the same audience.
Our conversation touched on Gary Parrish’s assent to superstardom, how radio shows are similar to sandwiches, and the rivalry between Memphis and Nashville. Enjoy!
DR: What were you able to bring to a sports station because of your experience working in different formats?
BC: We tend to compartmentalize radio a lot. Like you have said “I came from rock radio.” I literally started part-time reading farm reports and obituaries. And you can laugh about that, but people listened like crazy. They were sponsored by local funeral homes. I would do county fairs or go out to the sticks to call a Macoupin County basketball tournament. I think that really helps, but in today’s world so much of these guys’ development is linear. Our new talk hosts and producers were either journalists here or they started here and worked their way up and now they get to stay in Memphis. That used to be really rare.
I’m not saying one or the other is better, but guys like you and I are in a good position. We can do a lot of things. It’s like being left-or-right-brained. Music radio is so much about researching the music, getting the imaging on, doing your best with the talent and if you find someone revolutionary, you can take good to great. Great talk or sports stations have to have people that are good right-brain and left-brain all the time.
When they hired me, I was excited because I didn’t need to hire an imaging director. I could produce opens. I could coach talent. I knew the sound I wanted the station to have. I guess I could have hosted a show if I needed to, but didn’t really want to. All of that prior experience was very helpful.
DR: Correct me if I am wrong, wasn’t Gary Parrish part of CBS’s tournament selection show last year?
BC: Yeah. He was on with Barkley last year.
DR: So he was the first talent you hired and now he’s one of the faces of your station. Have you thought about the contingency plan for when he takes over the world?
BC: I mean it is not something I like to think about, but you always have to have a contingency plan as a program director for all situations or you aren’t thinking the situation through enough. Having said that, Gary has been my consultant since he came on board. There isn’t a thing I do, across the board, that I don’t run by Gary. I think he is remarkable.
I have a lot of respect for him and I think that runs both ways. I have learned a lot from him and Geoff Calkins too. We moved Geoff to a 9-11 show and that helped things a lot with Gary’s travel. It added a new dimension to the radio station and paved the way for us to expand where we have 4 local shows now and we’re the flagship for the Memphis Grizzlies. So, we have that contingency plan but we’re in a good place.
DR: Like the athletic director that keeps the list of five names in his desk in case he unexpectedly loses his football coach.
BC: That’s very true. I’m a Mississippi State fan. They just hired Joe Moorehead, the offensive coordinator at Penn State. I thought it was awesome, because it wasn’t reflexive or “Holy crap, what are we gonna do?” Mullen was leaving. They vetted everyone, hired Moorehead, Moorehead did the press conference and then hit the ground running hiring staff. That is awesome to me. That is impressive management.
DR: You have a lot of Memphis lifers. Is that the number one thing you look for in making a hire? Someone that not only understands the Memphis sports scene, but the town in general?
BC: I think it is really important. I don’t need a lifer per se, but just last year we hired John Martin. He was 24 when we hired him. He had only been doing radio for 2 years, but he was a journalism major at the University of Memphis. He understood Memphis sports. I think that is very important. Now, that’s not everyone. Eric Hasseltine is from California. He does a two hour show for us. He’s the play-by-play guy for the Grizzlies. He adds a different perspective.
The local connection though is so important, and I really got that when we started with just Geoff and Gary. It was the end of Calipari, going into the Pastner era. The Grizzlies hadn’t gone on that 7 year playoff run yet. Those guys would do two straight hours on Tigers basketball and I just would think “this is really good.” It wasn’t what they were talking about. It was how they were talking about it. They had all these stories about the hobos, heroes and street corner clowns, you know? Crazy recruiting stories about runners and agents. Gary would interview Cal while Cal was in the shower.
I would find myself drawn in. People would ask “you’re still a Cardinals fan, right?” and I would have to explain “yeah, but basketball is everything here” and those guys really encapsulated that. Basketball comes first here and football is second and everyone on the air here understands that.
The other thing I like is we have journalists. We have great thinkers on the staff and they are entertaining. That has helped us.
DR: So do the Grizzlies smother everything about sports talk in Memphis?
BC: I think Grizzlies and NBA you can certainly talk about year round because the league has made itself into a year round enterprise. But we’re fortunate that college basketball is also important in Memphis. Right now the Tigers have just gone through another coaching change hiring Tubby Smith. We have so many storylines to work with. They are 1a and 1b frankly.
DR: What is the breakdown between the Memphis Tigers, the Tennessee Volunteers and the Ole Miss Rebels? Not just the way they are covered, but the way they are supported in town?
BC: Memphis is the big cat. When Justin Fuente came in and turned around Tiger football, it changed everything. What we used to have were people that were Tennessee football fans or Ole Miss fans that then LOVED the Tiger basketball program and their attitude was “Oh yeah, I guess they have a football program too,” but then it became “Oh wow! Did you see what Memphis football did?”
DR: The timing of that turn around was weird too, because it wasn’t so long before that Tommy West got fired and was ranting that Memphis as a town would never support football and the administration at the school didn’t understand how to win. It reminds me of Duke when David Cutcliff was hired in the middle of the school going to court to prove they are the worst college football program in the country.
BC: That is a great analogy, but it is so weird here, Demetri, because those fans were so passive. As a city we kind of had a chip on our shoulder, which makes sports talk here fun because it kinda gives things a little more zip. There are passive markets when it comes to sports, right? Like Las Vegas. Very passive sports market. I mean they have the Golden Knights now, and yay. Whatever.
They aren’t breaking down trades or talking about the intricacies of the expansion draft. The conversation here was “How bad was Larry Porter?” and “Tommy West is right” then all of the sudden it was “Wow, we’re in the top 25!” It was a literal 360. But of course, we have a chip on our shoulder, so the topic was also “Oh crap! Fuente is going to leave us,” but then we got another awesome coach and another awesome quarterback. All of that stuff is as fun to talk about as the SEC stuff is.
DR: But not as fun for listeners as talking about basketball.
BC: Well, we have competition here and I tell our guys we have to own every story we cover. To be a success in sports radio, you have to be a whore basically, so Tennessee coaching search, Tubby Smith recruiting, the Grizzlies tanking, we have to own it. So it may be a light day with only two big stories and I will tell my guys “hit those two big things a lot!”.
DR: I’m glad you include the Tennessee coaching search in there. As someone that was in school at Bama when we couldn’t buy a win against Tennessee, that story brought me so much joy.
BC: Oh, it was tremendous radio, and let me be clear. I said Tigers and Grizzlies were 1a and 1b. When you have a coaching search that goes like that, it rockets right to the top of the A list, because it is the state’s team and we’re just the forgotten little city in the corner of the state, but right now we’re the forgotten little city with the great football team. It was like a gift from Heaven. That was a lot of fun. We can do a lot of great radio when we have months like that.
DR: Same with the Ole Miss story and Hugh Freeze I would imagine, given your proximity to the school.
BC: Again, gifts from Heaven. That is a good example of why it helps to have so many local guys. There are all these side stories they know. Hugh Freeze was a coach at a private Christian School here. He was the coach in The Blind Side story, so there was chatter about “What was going on at Briarcrest?” and then the fun of Ole Miss beating Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
All of this is compelling stuff. You can hear it in our conversation and this is what I talk about with other folks at Entercom. In Boston you can talk about the Red Sox or what is going on with the Patriots. Those are big conversations about big franchises, but here, if you know Memphis, you’re really digging into the subculture here. It’s the SEC guts and glory.
DR: So given how focused you are on being a Memphis station, how much air time is devoted to the Titans making the playoffs or the Predators making a run to the Stanley Cup? Are those teams perceived as strictly Nashville teams or is there enough bleed over?
BC: I think there’s some bleed over, but it is like C-level. It is the lettuce in the sandwich.
DR: I guess too, there is a major difference between the NFL and the Titans and the NHL and the Predators.
BC: Certainly. On top of that, there is a major difference between Nashville and Memphis. There’s a rivalry there. Maybe a little more on the Memphis side than the Nashville side.
Memphis is the chip on your shoulder, Memphis vs. everybody mentality. Whereas Nashville is the Los Angeles of the South. It’s “We have the NFL and we have the Predators. Look at all these cranes in the air! We’re building another condo!”. Let me be clear. I think Nashville is a great city, but I think many of our listeners perceive it differently than I do.
Gary Parish and I talk about this a lot. Gary is much more of an open thinker because he has to travel all over the place. People here, they support the basketball teams because they live on the streets of Memphis and they play hoops. Our listeners are invested in this story about Penny Hardaway coaching a high school team in East Memphis. That is a big, local, guts of the city story.
When the Predators are in the Stanley Cup Finals, yeah that’s our state. We do want to bring attention to that. The Titans make the playoffs? Of course we will talk about that. We carry their games. The Titans and the Vols, we carry them. They are worthy play-by-play, but Nashville teams will always be the lettuce in the sandwich.
DR: Can Memphis grow as a sports city? Is there room for a second major, professional league to move in?
BC: As a fan, I’d love for my answer to be yes. I’m just going to be honest as a business person. No, there isn’t room. There isn’t an economic base here to support doing so. Having one professional team here and the Tigers is perfect.
We’re lucky, actually Louisville is lucky Rick Pitino didn’t want the Grizzlies, because they still got the pro arena. Geoff Calkins was such a big part of trying to bring the Grizzlies here using the paper and writing columns about what it would mean. It rallied support for FedEx Arena. People really wanted to get that arena built and they did it and I think it is wonderful.
I think sports-wise the city is exactly where it needs to be. We’re fortunate to have been such a big part of the Grizzlies franchise. Now, let me be clear. We do have other sports things in town. We have a great Triple-A baseball team. We may not talk about them because they don’t have the mass appeal, but they’re there and doing just fine. You asked a good question, but my business opinion though is we don’t need too much more.
DR: Speaking of business answers, tell me as a programmer your thoughts on the change from Mike and Mike to Golic and Wingo.
BC: We’re really excited about it. This has nothing to do with Mike Greenberg, because I think he is great and has an amazing new opportunity, but for us I think things are going to be even better. Trey (Wingo) is very likable and really plugged into football, whether it’s his ties to the NFL or his understanding of college football in the South since he went to Baylor. That can only benefit us, so you combine Trey with Golic’s familiarity and I think it’s a tremendous opportunity that can only go up.
DR: Did you find your listeners were interested in the “palace intrigue” towards the end of Mike and Mike?
BC: Not really. I try as a programmer to look at it from a listener’s perspective and I think in our business, we tend to look a little too much at the guts of this. The truth is, you have to look at it from the perspective of my friend Taylor, who lives in Germantown just outside of Memphis. He’s not in the business. Does it even occur to Taylor that there is a feud between the two morning guys at ESPN? Probably not. All he cares about is that Tim Tebow is on at 7:15 to talk about Alabama and Georgia.
I see this with coaching talent. We get too caught up in details of when we recycle things and controlling narratives. Just put the radio show on and run it.
Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call
“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”
I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.
The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.
Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.
Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.
We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.
I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.
You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.
People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.
How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.
Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.
If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.
In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.
Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.
What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.
Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!
“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”
Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?
Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.
To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:
#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?
#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?
#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?
If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!
Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.
Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:
#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.
#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.
#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.
#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.
#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.
Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!
Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas
“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”
Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?
Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!
One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.
Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.
There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.
Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.
I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.
Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.
It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?
Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.
If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.
Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.
A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.
“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.
We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.
As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.
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