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Key Takeaways From Talkers 2018

Jason Barrett

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The Talkers 2018 conference in New York City is over but a few things remain in my mind after attending the event. Michael Harrison and his team put together an excellent full day schedule which was well attended and supported by industry leaders. Altogether 71 people from a variety of backgrounds in the media business spoke, and finding an open seat in the Helen Mills Theater was not easy.

Having spent countless hours at conferences during my career, and especially over the past three years since launching BSM, I’ve viewed each of these events as a chance to expand my knowledge and grow my network. I realize some things we hear are repeated year after year but there’s also new information and opinions shared which can go a long way in helping you grow as an industry professional. I also think there are many similarities between sports and news/talk so if I can pick up a few tips to benefit my clients, I’m glad to make the trip to attend.

Before I dive into some of my takeaways, I want to address one item which came up last week. I learned that there were a number of people upset that Alex Jones was listed on the conference schedule. As it turns out, his appearance was cancelled. I’m not here to tell you that you should or shouldn’t attend an event based on your feelings towards someone who’s views you strongly reject, but I refuse to let my personal beliefs get in the way of an opportunity to learn and strengthen professional relationships. I’d rather walk out of the room, make a phone call or grab a bite to eat during a session which I’m opposed to, instead of punishing 70 other talented speakers. But hey, that’s just me.

As far as the sessions were concerned, there were 15 jammed into the 8-hour day. Some flowed smoothly and delivered tremendous information. Some were tougher due to an overcrowding of guest speakers and a short period of time to explore subjects. Overall though it was a productive and beneficial experience.

For starters, I thought Karen Hunter of SiriusXM did a nice job when accepting the Freedom of Speech Award. She reminded the audience that the microphone has an ability to destroy people if you’re not responsible with it. Her points on aiming to bring people together to create a coalition, and discuss issues and ideas in an honest manner was refreshing. I also loved her commentary on challenging hosts to find a way to add to people’s peaks rather than their pain.

Michael Harrison also provided a few gems, starting with a reminder that the only thing holding back the radio industry is the radio industry itself. He mentioned that we’ve got to be open and willing to share our experiences with others because it allows us to learn and build a better industry. This is something I’ve challenged sports radio people time and time again to do a better job of. If you don’t tell your brand’s story, you can’t bitch when it’s told poorly by someone else.

In his fireside chat with FOX News television and radio personality Brian Kilmeade, Harrison asked about the challenge of conducting real interviews with high profile people without kissing their ass. In Kilmeade’s case, he’s had a rapport with Donald Trump prior to his becoming President, so now when conversations take place, there’s an even bigger focus placed on whether the FOX News host is being fair or lobbing softballs.

Kilmeade said his approach to those situations is to lead with a fact, ask a question and avoid sensationalizing. He said President Trump isn’t unwilling to hear criticism but he expects to be treated fairly.

One great example shared by Kilmeade was when he interviewed WWE Chairman Vince McMahon during his steroids trial. Brian began by trying to boost him up before the discussion by pointing out how he enjoyed the product to which McMahon replied “I don’t need a fan. Just ask the questions. I have the answers.” It showed Kilmeade that if a person has the truth on their side, they’re less worried about facing the music.

After Kilmeade’s appearace, Beasley Radio CEO Caroline Beasley spoke with Harrison and shared how much she believes in the sports talk space, proclaiming 98.5 The Sports Hub to be the best sports radio brand in the nation. Beasley then offered some thoughts on the digital space, and pointed out that the company launched 63 of their stations on Alexa, and now receives 12% of their listening on the platform. Among her biggest concerns was the lack of real numbers due to on-air and online listening not receiving true measurement.

Following Beasley was Salem Media Group’s SVP of the Spoken Word format Phil Boyce. The former WABC programmer presented some outstanding data to show what NewsTalk listeners want most, and explained how that data should be applied when hosting shows. The reason why Sean Hannity mentions the words “Breaking News” within the first 30 seconds of his show is because data shows it to be the number one thing people take an interest in. He said it’s the understanding of an audience which has allowed FOX News to continue winning despite losing 3/4 of their stars.

Boyce labeled Donald Trump “the gift that keeps on giving” and talked about how his ascension to the highest office has been the biggest boom for NewsTalk since Monica Lewinsky’s infamous encounter with Bill Clinton. Boyce read a great quote from the Washington Examiner which said “The President is one of the wildest, most exciting things to ever happen to this industry, and if you think there’s a chance that the national media will dial back their 24-hour Trump coverage in 2020, willingly passing up the financial benefits that come with covering this circus, then you don’t know media.”

Insights were then shared by Boyce from Salem’s research which highlighted what people value most and least on talk radio. He pointed out how some hosts and stations have spent time talking about nonsense and how it’s come back to bite them in the ass. If time allows, I encourage you to log on to Talkers.com and watch the video presentation. It’s on the top right of the page and about an hour and fifteen minutes in. It’s well worth your time it if you’re a fan of research and how it shapes a programming strategy.

A Talkers conference wouldn’t be complete without a visit from WFAN afternoon host Mike Francesa. The New York sports radio icon mentioned that we are on a collision course between content and platforms. He offered a few thoughts on the demand for live play by play and why he expects sports to deliver more suitors and dollars in the future. One note which Francesa shared which won’t make programmers happy is when he pointed out that he does a self-sufficient show and receives minimal involvement from his PD. Given his length of time and success in the business, Mike doesn’t believe he needs to be regularly coached. He closed up by challenging on-air talent to take a stronger interest in learning the business, especially the ratings and revenue portion of their jobs, adding how Don Imus and Brent Musburger were influential on his development as an industry professional.

After hearing about the values of sports and news/talk radio, the conversation shifted to the podcasting space. Podcast One Chairman and CEO Norm Pattiz took the stage and touted the various ways brands can use metrics to satisfy advertisers. Pattiz pointed out how uniques are similar to cume and don’t often tell the whole story of a program/brand’s success. Among the biggest issues Pattiz notices is how podcasting has been sold as value added rather than programming with unique value. He believes the most important sale is a host read commercial, and it has increased value in podcasting due to limited commercial availability.

In closing, the Podcast One CEO cautioned that we haven’t reached the golden age of podcasting yet. In fact he feels we’re not even close to it yet. When exploring talent to add to his platform he said if someone can generate an audience, then they’re attractive, because anyone with an audience, has an ability to sell something to them. He shared that someone with 50K in social media followers won’t have the door shut on them but if they walk in with a few million that’s going to immediately get the company’s attention because podcasting recognizes and builds influencers.

One of my favorite sessions of the day was hearing Steven Goldstein of Amplifi Media present his findings on the growth of smart speakers. Goldestein, who is in business with Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media, noted that smart speakers are growing faster than smart phones did. He said we’re moving to a post-text world where voice becomes the number one way to communicate, and shared that by the year 2020 it’s expected that 50% of all searches will be done thru voice. Goldstein presented some great numbers to further illustrate the importance of the smart speaker space, mentioning that 20% of Americans now one one, Google AdWords revenue has soared to $95 billion, and Amazon has built a 5000 person staff to work on Alexa.

How that applies to radio is pretty simple according to Goldstein. He said smart speakers have put radio back in the home, but it’s critical for stations to develop skills so they can be easily found. He cautioned that the first time a listener searches for the brand and can’t find it, is the last time they search for it. Another valuable reminder was that when it involves the voice space, there is no AM/FM button. Currently there is an abundance of choice including 5 streaming services, one hundred thousand radio stations and five hundred fifty thousand podcasts. If ever there was a time to analyze your brand, people, and programming and consider the ways they can be received on smart speaker devices, this is the time.

The final session which I found interesting was The Big Picture discussion which featured Mike McVay of Cumulus Media, Justin Chase of Beasley, Chris Berry of iHeartMedia, Julie Talbott of Premiere Radio Networks, and EVP of the Weiss Agency, Heather Cohen. Over the course of thirty minutes the panel answered questions from ABC News Radio VP/GM Steve Jones on the present state of the business and expected changes. Chase specifically raised some valuable points on radio’s relationship with the auto industry and how it’s in a good place and important to the future of our business. McVay announced that Cumulus has begun reworking incentives for their people, taking into account digital impact, not just ratings. The sense among all involved was that podcasting is certainly important, and a big part of each group’s future plans, but the optimism for radio has not wavered.

Other notable speakers included Westwood One President Suzanne Grimes, AM 970 The Answer host and known comedian Joe Piscopo, WABC morning host Sid Rosenberg, and program directors Craig Schwalb, Scott Masteller, Grace Blazer and Mike Bendixen. Bendixen in particular won the day for most swear words used during a session. Before you judge him, let me point out that it was entertaining. It not only showcased Mike’s true passion for the business, but the reality is that many of us talk this way on a regular basis, so I appreciated the authenticity.

If there was one thing to point out that I found concerning it’s that these conferences continue to be supported and attended by an aging demographic. This isn’t just a Talkers issue, it’s an industry issue. To make it even more depressing, rarely do you find personalities in the room looking to learn.

That leaves me to wonder, are industry members in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s interested where we are and where we’re headed? With the world changing as rapidly as it is, and companies investing time and resources every day to get an edge, do we honestly believe the answers to progress are going to come by just doing the job in front of us inside our own hallways? I continue to see an issue with reaching younger professionals, and I question what these conferences will look like in 10-15 years. If we don’t take advantage of the opportunities to learn while they exist, we may not have that option in the future. I don’t think that helps any of us.

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BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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