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All Press is Not Good Press

Jason Barrett

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XmasChaos

The Christmas season is supposed to be a joyous one for many. But in 2018, Santa Claus and a 70 year old Christmas song are connected to controversies that have left some feeling less merry.

The most recent stir was created by a company named GraphicSprings, who conducted a survey to explore ways to modernize Santa Claus. The results of that survey found that 27% of participants felt Santa should be either female or gender neutral.

If you’re like me, you were probably wondering “Who took this survey?” and “When did the public call for a Santa makeover?”

Prior to the Santa chaos, radio was under a heat lamp after a Cleveland music station Star 102.1 removed “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, a 70+ year old Christmas song from its playlist. The controversy started with a complaint from one listener according to reports.

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Sensing an opportunity to generate publicity, KOIT in San Francisco did the same thing. That decision was short-lived though after local listeners told the station to stop screwing with its Christmas music and put the song back into rotation.

Christmas controversies aside, you may have also seen bizarre segments on FOX News television appear in your social media timeline after Tucker Carlson used air time to discuss gender neutrality for babies and removing the word ‘man’ with Cathy Areu.

Just mentioning those items gives me a headache but it leads to an overall point. 

You’ve probably heard the phrase “any press is good press” or “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” The idea behind each is that as long as the brand or its people are being talked about, that’s a good thing.

I strongly disagree with that assessment.

I don’t think the Kansas City Chiefs appreciated the publicity that Kareem Hunt helped the team generate a few weeks ago. Nor were the San Francisco 49ers excited about Reuben Foster staining their image over domestic violence allegations in late November.

Were both brands talked about? Of course. But did that sell more tickets or merchandise, generate more sponsor dollars, or raise the confidence and excitement of the team’s fans? I don’t think so.

In sports radio, a host is often on the air for 15-20 hours a week. There are going to be times when the topics they explore and the opinions they offer create media buzz. As long as it’s not something impossible to defend, you’ve got to let passionate opinionated people do what they do, even if certain members of the audience don’t agree with it.

That happened recently in Jacksonville when 1010XL and NFL reporter Jason La Canfora had an on-air spat. La Canfora wound up hanging up on the station’s midday show, and people were divided on Twitter over who was right and wrong in their handling of the situation.

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A few months earlier, we saw a controversy brew between WFAN’s Mike Francesa and Gregg Giannotti. The two drive time personalities spent time on their programs offering a scathing assessment of each other’s talent.

In both instances, the noise was the result of passionate people having differing opinions. Both conversations began organically.  To coin a phrase from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, “nobody died.” 

When I reflect on the ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ issue it reminds me of a decision made last year by CBS Radio Las Vegas management. After not landing the rights to the Vegas Golden Knights, management decided to institute a ban which would prohibit the team from being discussed on any of the cluster’s radio stations.

As soon as I heard about it, I thought ‘that’s a really bad idea’. Never mind the fact that it was the first time the city was treated to professional sports, a season in which the Knights shocked the world and went to the Stanley Cup, but that decision put every male and female personality in an impossible spot with the audience. They were forced to carry out a mandate, even if they disagreed, because an executive decided to send a message to the Knights about their position in the market.

When you program a radio station, you’re going to constantly be met with negative feedback. The audience gets mad. Teams get upset. Sponsors complain. Rarely do people rush to send you emails and tweets to let you know how much they appreciate your content and decision making. 

Leadership requires an ability to evaluate each situation, and think about the masses not just the vocal minority. It’s easy to say yes and give in to pressure. Saying no and standing by your people and content is harder. If you pull the plug on a song that’s aired for 70+ years, people are going to want to know why. They’re going to ask “Why was the song OK last year? What about those of us who still want to hear it? Will the station remove other songs it airs with questionable lyrics or meanings?”

Before you do something drastic that creates national headlines, you’ve got to examine the issue from all angles. If a few days after you make a bold decision you’re reversing it because the audience is pissed and your brand is under an avalanche of negative attention, it tells me you either A) didn’t research the issue well enough or B) used the moment for a cheap pop.

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If it’s the latter, that’s weak. It doesn’t require much skill to create chatter. I can walk into a radio station today, grab the mic, tell the audience soccer will have 10X the amount of fan interest as the NFL in 3 years, and instantly the phone lines will ring, tweets and texts will pour in, and I may even end up being written about. 

Did I generate buzz? Sure. But is saying and doing things for affect the best idea if you want to build long term trust with the audience? I don’t think so.

An alternative rock programmer can walk into their office today and make national headlines by pulling Nirvana’s ‘Rape Me’, Prodigy’s ‘Smack My Bitch Up’ and Nine Inch Nails’ ‘Closer’. A Hip-Hop station PD could do the same by removing Jay-Z’s ’99 Problems’ and Eminem’s ‘Stan’. If the Classic Rock PD wants in, they can eliminate Aerosmith’s ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’, Dire Straits’ ‘Money For Nothing’ and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’.

But for a sports radio programmer, the material isn’t previously written and recorded. It’s created live thru the vocal chords of an individual. It’s more common to react afterwards, than in advance.

But imagine where this could go if we started acting like it was our responsibility to make decisions in advance and alter content based on the feelings of a few. 

How different would sports radio be if the on-air talent were banned from talking about any athlete who was involved in an arrest? Lawrence Taylor, OJ Simpson, Aaron Hernandez, Ezekiel Elliot, Aroldis Chapman, Mike Tyson, and Kobe Bryant wouldn’t exist let alone hundreds more.

What about if a local station landed the play by play rights to a team such as the Indians, Braves, or Redskins, and then decided to not refer to them by their name in all station imaging and online mentions because they disagreed with the franchise’s name and wanted to generate mainstream attention? It’d be an expensive decision, one which would likely cost them the team’s rights, but would it make a lot of noise? Very likely.

Let’s flip it now to professional sports. What if each league started taking players out of their Hall of Fames based on facts we learned later about them. Would that suffice? What about if they started reviewing infamous moments in sports history, and changing the results because of new found evidence. Would that sit well with you?

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To limit artistic expression is extremely dangerous. Not only does the best content come from it, but it opens our minds to see things from a different point of view. That’s very much needed in this divided world.

I do understand that times change and certain messages don’t register as positively as they once did, but your interpretation of something doesn’t make it fact. It just means you have an opinion on it. When we begin installing bans, trying to rewrite history, and slanting content towards our personal beliefs with minimal amounts of evidence to support it, it’s almost always met with backlash.

There’s a frightening shift that’s been growing the past few yeas where people want to silence voices that offer positions they don’t agree with. It’s happening in radio, television and print. Changing the channel or having a spirited debate no longer seems to be enough. 

How this will affect future conversations on sports radio is going to be very interesting. I for one hope we’re not a format embracing restricted points of expression because that won’t expand our audience or get the best out of our talent. It’ll just limit our potential. 

It’s imperative that brands are led by people who understand the tight rope talent walk on and don’t get shaken by the first piece of negative feedback. You’ve got to do your homework and make choices that serve the best interests of the entire audience, even if it means a select few are unhappy. Once you recognize and embrace the fact that you’ll never satisfy the entire crowd, the better off you’ll be.

What you don’t want to do is rush to judgment and become the story, because it can alter the perception of your brand, especially if you have limited information to justify a controversial decision. You may think the press you’re gaining to please the noisemakers makes it worth it, but if the reputation of your brand gets damaged, and your staff loses confidence in you, I’m not so sure you’ll still see it that way. 

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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Barrett News Media To Gather The Industry in Nashville in September 2023

“I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.”

Jason Barrett

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One of the best parts about working in the media business is that you’re afforded an opportunity to use your creativity, take risks, and learn if an audience or advertisers will support your ideas. Sometimes you hit a homerun, other times you strike out, but regardless of the outcome, you keep on swinging.

I’ve tried to do that since launching a digital publishing and radio consulting company in 2015. Fortunately, we’ve delivered more hits than misses.

When I added news media industry coverage to our brand in September 2020, I knew it’d be a huge undertaking. The news/talk format is two and a half times larger than sports, many of its brands are powered by national shows, and the content itself is more personal and divisive. I wanted our focus and attention on news media stories, not politics and news, and though there have been times when the lines got blurred, we’ve tried to be consistent in serving industry professionals relevant content .

What made the move into news media more challenging was that I’d spent less time in it. That meant it’d take longer to find the right writers, and it required putting more time into building relationships, trust, respect, and support. Though we still have more ground to cover, we’ve made nice strides. That was reflected by the participation we received when we rolled out the BNM Top 20 of 2022 the past two weeks. Hopefully you checked out the lists. Demetri Ravanos and I will be hosting a video chat today at 1pm ET on BNM’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and through Barrett Media’s YouTube page discussing the series, as well as this article.

It’s because of that growing support, trust, and confidence in what we’re doing that I’m taking a risk yet again. I’ve been lucky enough to play a key role in bringing the sports media industry together on an annual basis, and in 2023 we’re going to attempt to do the same for news/talk media professionals.

I am excited to share the news that Barrett News Media will host its first ever BNM Summit on Thursday September 14, 2023 in Nashville, TN. Our one-day conference will take place at Vanderbilt University’s Student Life Center Ballroom. The venue we’ve selected is tremendous and I’m eager to spend a day with news/talk professionals to examine ways to further grow the format and industry.

If you’re wondering why we chose Nashville, here’s why.

First, the city itself is awesome. The access to great restaurants, bars, entertainment, hotels, and famous landmarks is unlimited, and when you’re traveling to a city for a business conference, those things matter. Being in a city that’s easy for folks across the country to get to also doesn’t hurt.

Secondly, a conference is harder to pull off if you can’t involve successful on-air people in it. If you look at Nashville’s growth in the talk media space over the past decade, it’s remarkable. Many notable talents now live and broadcast locally, major brands have created a local footprint in the area, and that opens the door to future possibilities. I have no idea who we’ll include in the show, and I haven’t sent out one request yet because I wanted to keep this quiet until we were sure it made sense. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of interest in participating and I can’t promise we’ll be able to accommodate all requests but if you have interest in being involved, send an email to Jason@BarrettNewsMedia.com.

Third, finding the right venue is always difficult. We looked at a bunch of great venues in Nashville during our vacation this past summer, and when we stepped on to the campus at Vanderbilt University and walked through the SLC Ballroom, we knew it was the right fit. It had the space we needed, the right tech support, access to private parking, a green room for guests, and it was within walking distance of a few hotels, restaurants, and the Parthenon.

As I went through the process of deciding if this event was right for BNM, a few folks I trust mentioned that by creating a Summit for news/media folks, it could create a competitive situation. I don’t see it that way. I view it as a responsibility. I think we need more people coming together to grow the industry rather than trying to tear each other down. I hear this far too often in radio. We worry about what one station is doing rather than strengthening our own brand and preparing to compete with all audio options.

For years I’ve attended conferences hosted by Radio Ink, NAB, Talkers, and Conclave. I’ve even spoken at a few and welcomed folks who operate in the consulting space to speak at my shows. I’ll continue to support those events, read various trade sites, and invite speakers who work in a similar field because they’re good people who care about helping the industry. I believe BNM and BSM add value to the media business through its websites and conferences, and though there may be a detractor or two, I’ll focus on why we’re doing this and who it’s for, and let the chips fall where they may.

I know juggling two conferences in one year is likely going to make me crazy at times, but I welcome the challenge. In the months ahead I’ll start lining up speakers, sponsors, building the conference website, and analyzing every detail to make sure we hold up our end of the bargain and deliver an informative and professionally beneficial event. The news/talk media industry is massive and making sure it stays healthy is critically important. I think we can play a small role in helping the business grow, and I look forward to finding out on September 14th in Nashville at Vanderbilt University.

Hope to see you there!

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