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James Rapien is Headed to Cleveland

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It was supposed to be just another ordinary day at the station for James Rapien, show prepping and scheduling guests. He refused to let his mind wander from anything else outside the walls of ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati. But suddenly, his concentration was broken when his cell phone started to ring. It was a number that he instantly recognized.  

Applying and interviewing for other jobs is the nature of the business in sports radio. Like anything else, there’s a right and wrong way to handle such things, but bettering yourself and exploring new opportunities is common amongst hosts, producers and reporters. 

When Rapien picked up his phone to answer the incoming call that could change his career, he made sure he was respectful, by stepping aside his current duties to take the call. On the other end of the line was Andy Roth, program director at 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland. After going through several phone interviews, sending numerous sound clips and even making a trip to Cleveland to visit Roth, the hosts, producers and everyone else at the station, the phone call he’d been anxiously awaiting had arrived. 

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When you’re in the middle of the job interview process, it’s extremely tough not to let your mind wander and think about the possibility of landing the job. It’s even harder, when you’ve made it onto the final list of candidates. Though Rapien admitted it wasn’t easy to shut down those thoughts, he said, “even when you’re interviewing, work at your current employer doesn’t stop.” 

That’s a great piece of advice to anyone going through the interview process. Though it’s an exciting time, what good are you to your current position if you constantly get distracted by the thoughts of working for another station?  I give a lot of credit to the way Rapien handled himself as a professional throughout this process. Even though he was going through a potential career-changing moment, he worked just has hard as he did before. 

Rapien wasn’t just looking for any reason or excuse to get away from ESPN 1530 or the city of Cincinnati. He loves working there. He loves his co-workers. The city is where he and his fiancé have made a home. So when it came down to Roth calling Rapien the first time, the interview process was going both ways. 

“When interviewing with a station, you’re also interviewing them to make sure it’s a good fit for you.” That was another fantastic bit of advice that came from Rapien. When he initially saw the opening at 92.3 The Fan on social media and Barrett Sports Media, he was interested, but he wasn’t sure if the logistics, such as moving with his fiancé to Cleveland, would work out. He wasn’t about to just jump at the first opportunity that came about, he really wanted to make sure this was the right move for both personal and professional reasons. 

Soon after, Rapien came to the conclusion this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. So when Roth finally called after a long interview process to offer the reporter position, Rapien was sure this was the right fit for him. 

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TM: Was there a question during the interview process that surprised you?

JR: Sure, I think there’s always questions like that during the interview process. I’m not sure if one sticks out specifically, I would say, and I think this is the key to any interview, I’ve always treated them as it’s not about really going out of your way to impress the employer, it’s seeing if it’s a good fit for you.

I go into them interviewing the company, too. Am I interested in them? When someone asks me a question that throws me off, it truly doesn’t throw me off too much, because I’m going to answer honestly and the best way that I can.

If it’s a good fit, it ends up being a good fit. I think a lot of people, in any industry, put a lot of pressure on themselves during the interview process and do a lot of prep. I didn’t really do any practice questions, or anything like that. I wanted to be genuine. If they were interested in me, great. Obviously, it worked out well.

TM: How did you find out about the opening?

JR: I saw it on Twitter, I saw that the reporter was leaving. But also, I love barrettsportsmedia.com and I also saw it there.

TM: What did you do to reach out? 

JR: I sent a resume and that’s it. You would love to have contacts and things like that, I knew one of the producers there and I just eventually applied there. Apparently, they must have liked me at least a little bit.  

TM: In terms of clips that you initially sent over, did you send a couple of segments? A full hour? How did you approach it?

JR: I sent clips of different things, me with someone else, me interviewing a couple of different people, intro to hours, but this is a reporter position, so writing came into it, as well. Things I’ve done on blogs, websites, and stuff like that I sent over. They’ve heard me, but they also needed to read me. But I also recorded some updates so they could hear my abilities in that area. 

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TM: Was there a moment throughout the interview process where you realized to yourself that you had a legit shot at getting the job?

JR: Yeah, I think after you get a call and then you eventually get a couple more, you let your minde wander a little bit. But to be honest, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I knew it would be a big move from Cincinnati. It’s my hometown and I think I’ve established a pretty decent role here with the station.

It was just kind of a feeling out process that we continued to have. It was exciting, sure, just the thought you could potentially be wanted for another position, but I don’t think there was ever a moment where I let myself get super excited. Of course I thought about, naturally you’re going to do that, but I didn’t want to get too excited, because you do so many interviews in this industry the last thing you want to do is get ahead of yourself and think you’ve locked up the position. I tried to stay as even-keel as I could. 

TM: Is it easier going through the interview process when you already have a job, versus being out of one and just praying you find work again?

JR: I think so. I wasn’t desperate or coming from a desperate place. I was coming from a place where I really like where I’m at, what I’m doing and the people I’m working with. But, naturally in this industry, you have to be open to listening and feeling things out. You have to be open to looking for other opportunities and exploring them when they present a great opportunity.

This felt like that. But absolutely, it’s much different and harder if I was coming from a more desperate place. I’ve been in that situation and it’s tough. The hard part is maintaining and not looking that way. It’s still realizing, oh, I’m not going to take this just because it’s offered, I’m going to take it because I think it’s a good opportunity for me. You just have to keep in mind that you’re gathering information on you, just like you’re gathering information on them. 

TM: It’s the nature of the business, guys leave and find new opportunities. But what’s the conversation like when you approach your current employer and tell them you’re accepting a position at another station? 

JR: My current employer, iHeart Media in Cincinnati, was just awesome throughout the process. From everyone I talked to about it, they totally understood and were excited for me. It wasn’t a, “Oh my goodness I can’t believe you’re leaving and taking that!” it was, “Wow. That’s awesome and a really good opportunity for you.”

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I’m grateful for that. I feel like that’s probably rare in this type of industry. This is where I was groomed and grew up in sports radio. They’ve seen me grow and were excited for me. I wasn’t nervous about telling them and I think that speaks to their character and how they view me and how I view them. 

TM: Did you list any references on your resume that worked at your employer?

JR: I didn’t include a natural reference area. Clearly, they saw I do a show with Mo Egger and that helped, but during the interview process I made it clear I do have them. My resume is a lot of little thing I’ve done, from play-by-play to writing for different websites, things like that. I’ve chosen, over time, to pick up little jobs like that to turn into resume builders. Naturally, everything is online these days and that’s how you apply. But no, references from the station weren’t on my initial list. 

BSM Writers

OutKick 360 Isn’t Just Talking To The South Anymore

“We came in with an understanding of Nashville, North Alabama, Southern Kentucky, East Tennessee, West Tennessee and then they email us saying, ‘let’s go for everywhere and see how this thing can grow’.”

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When Jonathan Hutton, Paul Kuharsky and Chad Withrow announced they were leaving 104.5 The Zone in January of last year, no one doubted where they would end up. The show, formerly known as The Midday 180, was clearly bound for OutKick. After all, the three hosts had been friends with Clay Travis for years.

The only real question was how would it be delivered to the audience? OutKick wouldn’t be the first company to re-launch what was once a radio show on a digital platform. That wasn’t enough for the trio though.

At The Zone, Hutton, Kuharsky, and Withrow had built a loyal following. It showed in the podcast and streaming numbers, something they didn’t think was valued properly, and it showed in the ratings. This show had a future on terrestrial radio. It was just a matter of introducing it to other stations in the geographic footprint that made the most sense.

“The root of the tree for us is Nashville, Tennessee, the southeast, and it kind of spreads from there,” Kuharsky says. “Based on where we did the show for 10 years, where our initial expertise is, where we have the deepest roots and all of that, it just makes sense.”

OutKick isn’t a little mom-and-pop business. Even before FOX bought the site, it had significant backing behind it. It’s not like the crew, now re-branded as OutKick 360, was flying completely solo.

When you are trying to syndicate a sports radio show though, you may as well be on your own if you do not have the backing of ESPN, FOX Sports, or CBS Sports Radio. Hutton said he was going to rely on that regional expertise as the sales pitch. These are guys that know what sports fans in the Southeast want. He was going to make sure Southern programmers knew that.

“On a Monday morning in April, if you wake up, chances are, if you’re listening to the coast to coast radio, they’re leading off with something New York Knicks or Lakers or they’re going to talk Yankees or they’re going to be discussing the New York Giants or whatever it might be,” Hutton pointed out. “But you can talk now, SEC football, coast to coast and people will tune in as well. NFL sells. Ratings prove that. And that’s what we were going to bring. We’re going to play the hits and speak to an audience in the heartland of America that wants to talk football 365!”

Hutton, Kuharsky, and Withrow have adopted a tag line for their show that makes their priority clear: “bringing sports back to sports talk.” Sure, there may be distractions. FOX Sports suits really got a kick out of Kuharsky talking about how much he spends on Christmas decorations for instance. At their hearts though, these three are sports fans.

That is assumed of all sports radio hosts. When you put the OutKick brand on a show though, people make other kinds of assumptions. After all, the site’s founder Clay Travis has made a hard swerve into the political realm and has made it clear that when he sold the site to FOX, his vision was that it could be “a bridge between FOX Sports and FOX News.”

Hutton says he has a simple message for people that approach the show with preconceived notions: just listen first.

“I would hope they would listen to the show and judge us based on the product. We are the sports branch wherever we have been or will go. And, you know, being agenda-free can be what our show is about when it comes to sports. I don’t care what channel you turn on, there is an agenda there. So our goal is to be agenda-free, and to be authentic in what we’re doing instead of laying down a preconceived line of thinking one way or the other.”

OutKick 360 Reveals New Logo, The First of the OutKick OTT Expansion –  OutKick

It doesn’t mean that the show is nothing but Xs and Os. Withrow admits that sometimes, the conversation may make you uncomfortable, but just because it might go that direction doesn’t mean it is a political statement.

“If we were to come on and say, you know, ‘this race-baiting episode by ESPN is pathetic,’ well, 95% of sports fans feel that way, but 95% of sports media won’t say it. So when we say it, someone’s going to say, ‘Oh, well, they’re just being political, they’re falling in line’ and I don’t see it that way. I see it as no, this is how sports fans who want sports think.”

Withrow continued, “They think it in black and white, not race. They think in wins and losses, and who’s the better quarterback? So stop infesting everything with some political leaning or just whichever way the wind is blowing. To me, that’s what OutKick was founded on, being fearless and saying what you think, regardless, if it’s going to be popular or not. Certainly what Clay has done has gone into the world of politics, but what we’re doing, if you listen to our show, we really don’t get into politics at all.”

When FOX completed its purchase of OutKick, plenty in the industry wondered what it meant for Hutton, Kuharsky and Withrow. Would FOX want to be in the broadcast radio network business?

Not only was the answer yes, but Withrow says one of the first notes the company had for the OutKick 360 hosts was “think bigger”.

“As Hutton said, we started with a very localized plan with radio stations and we told FOX that’s what we’re going to do. They looked at us like, ‘why the hell not Ohio? Why not Joplin, Missouri? Why not everywhere? You guys are thinking too small’. We came in with an understanding of Nashville, North Alabama, Southern Kentucky, East Tennessee, West Tennessee and they’d email us saying, ‘let’s go for everywhere and see how this thing can grow’.”

So there was the growth plan. OutKick 360 was going to live and die with football, the country’s most popular sport, it was going to be agenda-free in how it talked about the storylines on and off the field, and the hosts were going to be authentic in how they presented themselves to the audience.

There was actually one more ingredient that Hutton wanted to stress. The show was going to sound good.

Back when Covid began and radio shows everywhere had to learn to broadcast from home, it stood out to Hutton just how bad everything on his station sounded. The three asked around and got recommendations for what the right microphone to have was. A friend told them it was the Blue Yeti microphone, so they each went out and got one.

Now, OutKick 360 is broadcast from a state of the art studio and the equipment is upgraded from a $75 podcast microphone. In fact, BSM President Jason Barrett paid a visit to the trio’s 6th & Peabody location during a November business trip, and raved about the setup. He said it was private enough to allow the crew to focus on what was needed for the airwaves, yet also accessible for the hosts to interact with fans and host client events on-site. 

Withrow says the location has been a hit and the upgraded technology is important, but in a time when even the biggest shows and networks are getting away with terrible audio quality, the real asset is the people dedicated to upholding a particular standard.

Playoff Styles Clash, NFL Coaching Search Update, Primary Complaint + OK's  Don't @Me's Dan Dakich - YouTube

“The advantage that we have is David Reed, our producer, who’s great with audio quality and is a stickler for it. Hutton and David Reed came up in the same school with Titans Radio on audio and quality of the broadcast being paramount to everything. He really carries that with this show.”

OutKick 360 is distributed by Skyview Networks. Just because FOX owns their platform doesn’t mean the show can only do business with FOX Sports Radio affiliates. In fact, Hutton says Skyview has helped “take the show to a completely different level and scope.”

“They provide the horsepower for the OutKick 360 engine, and that allows us to bring advertisers and listeners together with our sports brand. We had several partners and stations already on board, and they were thrilled to learn Skyview was handling the daily distribution for us.”

The trio may have a little more muscle behind them now and the bosses may want them thinking bigger, but Kuharsky says they still have the same attitude when it comes to growing their network.

“It’s certainly open to whatever may come our way or wherever we can get our foot in the door.”

Radio stations interested in adding OutKick 360 can learn more by reaching out to Skyview Networks by clicking here.

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BSM Writers

Is There A Right Answer To The Olympic PR Problem At NBC?

“NBC is in a no win situation right now.”

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Some businesses allow you to operate with a moral compass. You can look at people, companies, or situations and do some quick math on what the blowback would be if you are associated with them and steer clear. Sports media, particularly when it comes to live game rights, isn’t one of those businesses.

NBC is in a no win situation right now. They have to get as many eyeballs as possible on the Beijing Olympics. The network is asking advertisers to spend upwards of $600,000 on a thirty second ad and have made promises about the size of the audience that will see those advertisers’ messages.

At the same time, the network is the focus of public scrutiny for even being in China to begin with. That criticism will be amplified if there is no mention of the many human rights violations the Chinese government has been accused of for decades.

What do you do? You don’t want to give people a reason not to watch. At the same time, you don’t want to give critics ammunition to discredit you as a news organization.

This isn’t just an NBC problem by the way. FOX faced similar scrutiny when it carried the 2018 World Cup, which was played in Russia. It will likely face a lot of the same scrutiny this fall when it carries the 2022 World Cup, which is being played in Qatar. That event in particular has been the subject of some truly horrific stories about the way the people building the new stadiums have been treated.

So what is the path forward? Fans always do some moral calculus when it comes to the ugly side of sports. How much are we willing to tolerate the exploitation of unpaid college athletes? At what point can we no longer tolerate the NFL looking the other way on head injuries?

International sports is a conundrum all its own because you are dealing with laws and customs that may not jive with our culture. Add truly deplorable organizations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to the mix and NBC, FOX, and other networks don’t have time for moral calculus. They are checking any concept of right and wrong at the door.

NBC dropped $7.75 billion in 2014 on broadcast rights to every Olympics, both summer and winter, until 2032. The financial terms between FOX and FIFA remain a mystery, but the network will carry both the men’s and women’s World Cup through 2026. The price tag may be very similar to what NBC paid the IOC.

Organizations like FIFA and the IOC want that big pay day. That is why long-term deals are negotiated. Between contractual obligations and the need to turn a profit on a huge investment, networks’ hands are tied.

Given all of the backlash, whether it is because the games are in China, skepticism over how necessary it is we do this in a pandemic (remember, NBC isn’t even sending live broadcast teams to the games), or just a general sense of fatigue given this once-every-two-years event just happened eight months go, NBC might like the option to tag out of the 2022 games. And honestly, who could blame the network for feeling that way?

But NBC and the IOC have a deal. FIFA and FOX have a deal. These American networks are pinned in a corner by having to lock in a significant financial commitment to an organization that has no qualms about doing business with international bad actors.

Truthfully, I don’t know what the right answer is for these networks. It is easy to say “Well, China is bad and Russia is bad and Qatar is bad, so don’t do business with FIFA or the IOC as long as they keep going to those places.”

Reality dictates that isn’t going to be the path NBC, FOX, or any other network takes going forward. These multi-week sporting events provide a lot of inventory and bring with them the chance to rack up huge ad buys.

Events like the World Cup and the Olympics also are more than just sporting events to these networks. They are a chance to generate content for news divisions and a free commercial for their upcoming slate of shows. There is a reason networks see the billions of dollars of value in them that they do.

No one wants to take a PR black eye. Right now, for the most part, at least as far as the American public is concerned, those have been reserved for the governing bodies.

How long does that remain true?

NBC is a major partner of the Olympics that brings a lot of attention and revenue to the table. Forget objectionable host countries. What happens in 2028 when the Games are in LA and then suddenly NBC is the face of silencing Americans raising legitimate concerns about what hosting the Olympics can do to a city?

At some point, every company and private citizen has to do moral calculus. The scariest part for these networks is dealing with broadcast partners like the IOC and FIFA requires having to give an answer before all variables can be revealed to you.

Not every big score requires that kind of risk, but not many events offer what the Olympics and World Cup do. Any network that wants to do business with the IOC and FIFA has to decide if it is willing to swim in the swamp with gators. That usually comes with a few bites.

The moral calculus is pretty simple. How many bites can you take from a gator before the ad buys start to take a hit?

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BSM Writers

Don’t Let Good Content Disappear, Never To Be Heard Again

There were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air.

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Good content comes out of the speaker daily from the many talented hosts that work in our industry. Unfortunately, the life span of this content is far too short. It happens and then disappears into the ether. 

When something good happens on a show, you need to do more than turn it into a promo. You need to repurpose it. 

If you work on the content side of the building, here are some key things I feel you should keep in mind to help give your material more staying power.

SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS EVERY DAY, TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT

When I was working as a content director, there were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air, never to be heard or referenced ever again. 

When a host or guest says something that stands out, blast it to EVERY social media channel that you’re on. Do this consistently, not just on the days following a big story. Get everyone in the habit of believing and understanding that good content is put out there EVERY show and they need to keep their ears open for it. 

Don’t use audio clips; remember that social media is a VISUAL experience. If you’re videocasting your shows (and you should), put the video up online. If you’re not, create a cool-looking graphic with the quote (or quotes) of what was said. Create a template for every show, so it’s “plug and play” for producers to upload before they leave for the day. 

You’ll be surprised how often you can go viral.

MAKE YOUR CONTENT SNACKABLE

People consume content in small portions. No one has the time or the attention span to listen to an entire show or even an entire segment. Yet we deliver content to them in a primarily longform way. 

The solution? Make your content snackable.

Take a page out of what every professional sports league does. They realize that few people actually sit and watch an entire game. So they make a point to run well-produced highlight compilations and even condensed games, and upload them to all of their digital platforms. 

Radio stations should do the same. 

For on-demand consumption, don’t just load your show audio hour-by-hour. Make sure you’re uploading what you felt were the best parts of the program. 

Take it a step further and do the same for ALL of your shows. Create a daily “greatest hits” compilation that consists of the best moments from each show, every day. This can not only be loaded onto apps and digital channels, but can also reside comfortably in the smart speaker space. Imagine a consumer coming home from work after a long day and simply saying “Alexa, play today’s greatest hits from 101 The Fan!” They’d get a highlight real of all the good things that they missed. 

Naturally, these can be sponsored, which is certainly another plus and always justifies the extra work that goes into making this happen.

OFFER IT AS MATERIAL FOR OTHER SHOWS

I’ve said this before, some of the best content that I’ve heard was hosts talking about what other hosts said on their shows. 

It doesn’t happen often enough, and the biggest reason continues to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for virtually every industry: lack of communication. 

Every show should have a written recap of what was discussed and when it was discussed, and that should be sent out to everyone who has a hand in content. (Hosts, producers, board ops, production staff, marketing, etc.)

Go the extra mile and have the actual audio of the good content sent out to the other shows so they don’t have to hunt for it on their own. This was something, even during my days managing stations, I would do on the regular. If I heard something great on the morning show, I would find the audio and send a clip of it to the midday and afternoon shows. Even if they didn’t use it, it would get hosts and producers in the habit of paying attention to what was said on our other programs.

If you have a sister spoken-word station in your cluster, get in the habit of sharing material with them when and where it fits.

Sometimes, the back-and-forth that can go on between shows ends up being legendary. It’s an opportunity you don’t want to waste.

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