In sports radio, December thru February often represents a slower time of the year. The NFL remains a top priority due to the start of the playoffs and the Super Bowl, but the holiday ratings book matters less, key personnel take vacation breaks, and the intensity of competition subsides until the NCAA Tournament, MLB’s Opening Day, the NFL Draft, and the NBA & NHL Playoffs begin.
For BSM, the opposite is true. This 90-day stretch is when we begin making final preparations for the BSM Summit, recording and editing the next season of the BSM Podcast, and finalizing the process for the BSM Top 20 series. Each of those items are added to our plate while still trying to listen to clients, handle normal business, adding new contributors, and creating content for the website.
The BSM Top 20 series can feel thankless at times. I spend my entire Christmas/New Year’s week vacation gathering the final ballots, adding up the results, creating images for each category, show, brand and individual, writing press releases, and preparing columns for the website. I don’t sell sponsors into it (although I will in the future), and I purposely refrain from voting because of my personal and professional relationships.
No matter what the results are, there will always be a few personalities who take issue with the results. I don’t have a problem with that. It means a host has confidence in what they do. I’ve had some promote their appearance on the list, and then once their names don’t show up, they’re either firing jabs or asking not to receive future BSM updates. It’s cool. They’ll eventually get over it.
Others like to call on their army of trolls to be a nuisance on Twitter (thank you Jack for the Mute and Block buttons) and email. It’s usually the same crew who doesn’t understand how they stack up against others in the format. They just think that because they exist and operate a product that it entitles them to special treatment.
But the hardest part is not being a voter, and tackling the process independently. I love gathering the panel each year, adding up their choices, and seeing where things land. If a client wins or loses, it’s a reflection of how the industry views their product and people. I may agree or disagree with the result, but I didn’t create the BSM Top 20 series to showcase friends or paying clients. I did it to recognize who industry leaders view as sports radio’s best. My friend Don Martin tells me ‘stay real’ and that’s exactly what I try to do.
For sports radio folks who are grinding away inside the studio, I hope this project matters to you. Nowhere else does the format have representatives from thirteen companies and thirty US cities participating to present a collective snapshot of what executives think of the format’s best. Over the span of six days we highlight the sports radio industry, giving brands ammunition to forge deeper connections with listeners, employees, and existing and potential clients.
Since starting the BSM Top 20, I’ve seen the results appear on national television shows, local sports radio programs, in major newspapers, and on Twitter and Facebook timelines of some high profile people. To those who have promoted our work I greatly appreciate it. It tells me they value the input of industry executives, and respect the BSM brand. That alone is what provides the satisfaction and motivation to do it year after year.
As far as the 2018 results are concerned, I do have some thoughts to share now that the process is complete. I’ve laid them out in bullet point form so they’re easier to consume.
- Winners: Industry voters placed 98.5 The Sports Hub and 101 ESPN on a higher level than most. Across the board those two brands were well received across all categories. Their consistent success is a big reason why both were nominated for Marconi Awards the past two years.
- Top Companies: In the Major Markets, Beasley won three (3) awards, ESPN claimed two (2), and iHeart/Premiere secured the top National spot. In Mid Markets, Hubbard led the way with two (2) awards, and Emmis, Cumulus, and Entercom all gained one (1).
- Top Story: Michael Kay’s win in PM drive was the biggest headline this year. Voters cared more about the quality and chemistry of Kay’s show than who won the local ratings. They also seemed fatigued by Mike Francesa winning the award the last 3 years. Francesa earned just one (1) 1st place vote, far different than recent years. Were voters turned off by his retirement, quick return, and the in-fighting with other WFAN shows? It appears that way.
- The Left Out: I feel for the folks creating great radio in Miami, San Diego, Tampa, Houston, and Atlanta. Voters don’t seem to place shows in those cities on the same level with programs in NY, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco or Dallas. We’ve seen shows in Denver, Phoenix and Minneapolis cut thru so it’s not like you can’t get noticed if you’re not in the northeast, but you’ll need to create and share a great story consistently to change minds if you work in one of those cities.
- PD’s: Mike Thomas and Mark Chernoff have taken turns owning the top spot for the past 4 years. Those in spots 3-20 really have their work cut out for them if they want to ascend to the top position. It was great to see Ryan Haney of WJOX earn the respect of his peers for the great work he’s done in Birmingham. There are some damn good PD’s working in Mid Markets who I’m sure will earn future looks from Major Market cities.
- Mornings: Craig Carton‘s controversial exit hurt WFAN in the voting last year, but the addition of Gregg Giannotti alongside Boomer Esiason has been a hit with industry voters….the loss of Kirk Minihane in Boston resulted in a dip for WEEI. They won the category last year….the move from Brian Hanley to David Haugh resulted in the loss of a spot for 670 The Score but if their ratings remain as strong as they were in the fall that should change next year.
- National: Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick, Dan Le Batard, and Jim Rome have owned the top of the national rankings for the past few years. They deserve to. But two things surprised me: ESPN Radio‘s shows don’t own the top spots like they used to. Some of that’s due to lineup tweaks in recent years. Some is due to FSR improving their product. Two other noticeable items, CBSSR’s D.A. Show has strong support from industry execs. More so than a number of national drive time shows. That’s also true of Mad Dog Sports Radio’s Nick Wright. The FS1 ‘First Things First’ personality cracked the top 14 despite not entering the national sports radio picture until September.
- Noteworthy: Dallas had 3 local midday shows appear in the top 6 which was extremely impressive. San Francisco had 3 midday shows crack the top 20 too, another quality feat. Perhaps more surprising given how the market gets overlooked, Houston had three morning shows register in the Top 20. Not bad.
- Original Sports Podcasts: I had no issue with the Top 5. All of them are well supported by fans and media professionals. What I did think about though is ‘which podcast in local sports radio is going to cut thru and make an impact equal to one of these five shows?’ That should be a focus and challenge for every sports station across the country.
- Where the Voters Got It Wrong: Grant & Danny have been crushing it in Washington DC for the past few years and deserved to be higher in middays than 18th. The same is true of their boss Chris Kinard who led The Fan to a tremendous 2018…WIP’s Jon Marks & Ike Reese also deserved better. They’re in a tight race with Mike Missanelli who was voted 8th. Are Marks and Reese 13 spots worse? That’s debatable…I was surprised to see 1620 The Zone get less support this year. Their challenge is to make sure folks remain aware of their success because they’re still having it. Sharp and Benning in particular had a strong enough year to be included in the Mid Market morning category..I’ll say the same about 1280/97.5 The Zone in Salt Lake City, another great station with consistent ratings success that deserved better in the Mid Market Sports Station of the Year voting.
I want to thank all who contributed to this year’s voting, as well as each person who visited the website to see the results. A special thanks to All Access, Inside Radio, Radio Ink, Talkers, the NY Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and every sports radio and television station and on-air personality, producer, and programmer who promoted the BSM Top 20. There are many talented people creating great sports radio programming across this country, and we’re honored to shine a light on the work they do.
We’ll now close the book on 2018’s Top 20, evaluate what worked and needs improvement for next year, and turn our attention to the upcoming 2019 BSM Summit. This is a great time to remind you that if you work in the sports media industry, our event in Los Angeles is one you should be at. It takes place on February 21-22, 2019 and tickets will be on-sale thru February 15th. Click here if you wish to attend.
In the meantime, BSM extends its congratulations to all who were recognized as part of the Top 20 of 2018. We wish you the best of luck for 2019, and may the meters be on your side!
Where Are The Sports Radio Programmers of Tomorrow?
“As someone who’s helped many aspiring programmers over the years, I’ve seen less new people seeking out advice the past few years than they did from 2011-2019.”
I don’t get the opportunity to write as often as I’d like to. Consulting projects make that harder these days but I do miss it. Fortunately I’ve been able to assemble a quality team to deliver news and industry opinions to your inbox and social media platforms each day. If you receive our emails, then you should notice one of those improvements today with our BSM 8@8 Newsletter. If you aren’t receiving our emails and would like to, click here to sign up.
The reason I chose to write today is because there’s one specific area of our industry that I’m concerned about and need to draw attention to. That’s the emergence of tomorrow’s sports radio program directors.
If you work in or follow this business, can you recall a year during the past decade where we saw more programming changes in sports radio than this one? I can’t. WFAN in New York, WEEI in Boston, KNBR in San Francisco, WIP in Philadelphia, Arizona Sports 98.7 in Phoenix, ESPN 97.5 in Houston, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, 750 The Game in Portland, ESPN 94.5 in Milwaukee, The Fan in Indianapolis, 107.5 The Game in Columbia, ESPN Las Vegas, 1620 The Zone in Omaha, and 98.1 The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City have or are soon to undergo PD changes. This follows a year where 101 ESPN in St. Louis, 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, WFNZ in Charlotte, and 680 The Fan and 92.9 The Game in Atlanta changed programming leaders. 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, ESPN 1000 in Chicago, 710 ESPN in Seattle, and ESPN LA 710 went thru changes too in the fall of 2019.
Twenty three brands undergoing change at the top of a station’s programming department in that short period of a time is an eye opener. But what really stands out are the lack of new faces to arrive on the PD scene let alone even come up during the interviewing process.
For every Rick Radzik, Amanda Brown, Kyle Brown and Qiant Myers who were elevated to PD positions over the past two years, there are proven leaders like Kevin Graham, Jeff Rickard, Tommy Mattern, and Terry Foxx who’ve landed in new situations. Those folks absolutely deserve those positions, so let me be clear, proven PD’s should always be valued. As I’ve told many decision makers before, a great PD is a difference maker. The film industry pays big money for Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese and Quintin Tarrantino because their track record highlights their abilities to deliver box office hits. Proven PD’s who can do the same for a radio station deserve similar respect.
But if you’re a younger person looking to advance your career into a programming role today, how do you take that next step let alone earn the nod when more experienced people want the same gig? Who’s advocating on your behalf? How would a corporate executive or market manager know that a producer, board op, promotions director or part-time host is capable of becoming the next great programmer?
Better yet, how does any corporate executive or market manager running a local brand know anything about your management style, vision, multi-platform skills, ability to lead people and work with multiple departments, and create exciting content, events and promotions if you’re working for another company in a different city? Here’s the answer, most times, they don’t. You apply for the job, your resume and email arrives in their inbox, which leads to them asking others about you. If someone you’ve crossed paths with says something good about you, you might get a call. If not, your materials go on file should the station have future needs.
Having led PD searches for a number of brands the past few years, I think the first step is finding out who’s interested in growing. Does anyone know of your desire to one day lead a brand besides the host you work with and the programmer you work for? Who have you sought out to gain knowledge and mentorship from outside of your building? Are you counting on an internal promotion to become a leader or assuming your PD will hype you up to potential employers? What are you doing to make sure the right people know you’re hungry to take the next step and you’re ready to go wherever an opportunity exists?
As someone who’s helped many aspiring programmers over the years, I’ve seen less new people seeking out advice the past few years than they did from 2011-2019. Maybe folks don’t think to come my way as much. Maybe they assume the company they’re working for will take care of them when the time comes. Maybe they don’t have the motivation to relocate or upset their current situation. Maybe the pandemic forced folks to press pause on pursuing advancement. Or maybe the role of a program director isn’t as appealing as it was to leaders from my era.
Some assume that because they’ve been successful at producing, and have done it for a long enough time, it means they’re ready for the next step. But programming is much more than managing a show. Not everyone is built to handle a verbal lashing from a market manager, balance a budget, negotiate deals, coach high profile talent, understand and examine PPM ratings, and unify departments. Let’s not forget interactions with corporate, being multi-platform skilled, knowing how to study and attack the competition, dealing with negative PR, and being the brand leader who keeps play by play partnerships in a healthy state.
If you’re behind the scenes in the sports radio industry, your path will most likely lead to becoming either a host, PD, moving into sales/marketing/imaging/digital/corporate or leaving the business. Top 10 markets and national networks are an exception as there are some very talented producers who’ve continued to work with top shows/stations for a long time. Both invest more in off-air positions. In many other cases, the financial upside for behind the scenes help is limited so eventually you reach a fork in the road when you have to decide the best path forward to make a decent living.
But those looking to take the next step don’t often think about positioning themselves to land the next big opportunity. They don’t take time to build relationships with key executives who they’ll one day interview with for a top job. Instead they think about that day’s show and the immediate tasks at hand. You can be the most creative, multiplatform savvy, best guest booker and strongest talent coach in America as a producer but if nobody else knows it outside your building, it’s going to be hard to take the next step. Which is why you have to make time to help yourself. You can start by emailing me. That can’t hurt.
Program directors have a responsibility here too. They should be making time to teach and push their behind the scenes people to want to advance their careers. They should also be telling anyone who will listen why one of their own is ready for the next step. Not enough do that. I can count on one hand the number of PD’s who’ve come to me championing one of their own for a top programming job over the past six years since I began helping stations find PD’s. Just going thru the interview process can be huge for an off-air professional who dreams one day of leading a brand. It helps them learn what to expect, how to present themselves, which areas they need to improve on in order to make the jump and most importantly, it shows them you care about them and their professional development.
I know that the job is busier today than ever for a PD and finding time is a pain in the ass. But coaching people is one of your biggest strengths. It’s why why you’ve been trusted to lead your brand. When twenty three positions open up and more than half require hiring elsewhere in the country and turning to folks inside different companies, that should raise eyebrows. Have you told others to consider someone on your staff? Did you push for them to be interviewed, even if they weren’t the right fit because you knew it’d serve them well later? Did you invest time in them to to make sure they were ready for the next step? And that doesn’t mean just giving them the crap you hate like filling out affidavits, building clocks, and corresponding with the traffic department.
Have you conducted 1 on 1’s with all of your off-air crew and learned who aspires to one day do what you do? Have you taught them how to analyze ratings and content? Sit in on show meetings? Critique talent? Recruit future staff? Participate in creative brainstorms or sales meetings? Have you told your GM or other high ranking executives or PD’s in your company about their passion to lead?
It should go without saying that if you’re in a position to lead and develop people, that it applies to more than just on-air talent. It should include grooming future programmers too. Any executive with oversight of your brand should be asking “who on your staff is ready to take a step?” If the answer is no one, they should be asking what your plan is to change that so the answer is different the next time they ask. If you’re skilled enough to lead a brand for years or even decades, those above you should want to protect the future by having you develop the next crop of programmers too. Your report card as a PD isn’t complete if all you can point to are good quarterly ratings. There are plenty of brands who’ve won in spite of their PD and others who have lost despite having an elite program director.
By the way, shouldn’t a PD want to see people inside their operations get called upon to take the next step? As hard as I pushed my crew to perform in St. Louis and San Francisco, when one got an opportunity to become a PD, APD or EP I was proud as hell. There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing someone you have mentored, challenged and cared about take their career to a higher level. If you spend years in the position and have producers and assistant programmers not landing opportunities, let alone receiving calls to be interviewed for openings, you should be asking yourself ‘what haven’t I done to get them to that next level’ and ‘do I have the right people here who want to grow?’.
Lastly, I recognize everyone is under pressure to add good help. A station operating without a leader in the programming department creates a lot of problems, especially when it lingers for months. But you also need to find the right people or you end up with bigger problems later, most notably, others questioning your ability to hire the right people. If there’s one thing I’ve learned going thru these processes with different companies is that often times, decision makers want to move fast and find people who are referred by others they know and respect. If they hear a few good things said in conversation by a candidate that match what they value, they’re ready to move forward. Some get caught up in resumes or similar experiences/interests but not all ask the right questions and research people well. It’s amazing what you’ll learn if you investigate properly and ask questions that make folks uncomfortable. If you’re going to trust someone to lead your brand and staff, and set the tone for your operation, spending the extra time to be sure about those you hire is absolutely necessary.
Taking a chance on the APD or smaller market PD isn’t as safe as hiring a veteran leader. If you have a proven winner interested in your opening and feel confident that they fit your needs, I’m all for them being hired. But don’t make the mistake of assuming someone with less experience can’t make a greater difference. Imagine if we were back in 2004 and you passed on Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg in favor of a proven Newspaper editor to lead your brand’s digital strategy. How would you look today? That could be your radio station in five years if you overlook those with an ability to see the future better than the present when future openings arise.
To grow this format we need a mixture of new blood, new ideas, people who view the audio business differently from those in the present or past, and proven performers who’ve helped turn this format into a very successful one. We have to ask the right questions, fully research candidates, challenge our executives and programmers to take a greater interest in developing the next crop of sports radio executives, and consider new roads rather than the ones we’re most familiar with. We also need to hear from people who haven’t told us of their interest in taking the next step. We need to encourage them to want to grow and show them the path to do so. If we each do those things better, our format is going to spend a lot more time thriving and less time surviving in the years ahead.
John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit
“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.
Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.
But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.
When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.
If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.
During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.
Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.
After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.
What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.
John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.
We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.
I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski
“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”
The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.
I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.
Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.
Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.
Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.
By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.
A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!
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