To say Chris Kinard (“CK” to most people) is a DC radio-lifer would be an understatement. He started working on “The Sports Junkies” at the age of 18, while a student at American University. Fast forward 20 years and he’s the Program Director of 106.7 The Fan, Washington, DC’s dominant sports radio station.
(For a look at the Washington, DC and other major market fall ratings click here: https://barrettsportsmedia.com/sports-radios-2018-fall-book-report/ )
Unlike many of his contemporaries who have traveled the country working their way from smaller markets to larger markets, CK has been in DC all this time. Wednesday I sat down with him in his office in Southeast DC.
Matt Fishman: Let’s start off with your fall book. You guys had a gigantic fall book despite the Nationals being out of it and the Redskins having an up and down season..
Chris Kinard: I was very happy with our performance. I think it does show we have a really strong brand–a consistent brand. That’s one of the things I preach to my guys. Our audience has an expectation that they’re going to get a certain level of programming every day. We’ve had the same lineup now for nearly five years. They want their shows–They want the Junkies in the morning, Grant and Danny in the middle of the day and Chad (Dukes) in the afternoon.
My guys come to work everyday with that commitment that they’re going to provide a very consistent product and be entertaining. This is a unique market. It’s a transient market. We do talk sports but we talk sports from a perspective of trying to be entertaining no matter what’s going on. Win or lose.
The Redskins had an up and down year. They were 6-and-3 at one point and then you saw a collapse and I think that became an interesting story that helped propel us through the December book and even the Holiday book. The Capitals have a ton of interest because they’re coming off the Cup. The Wizards–that’s gonna be a tough one down the road.
I think the Nationals fan base has changed a lot in the last four years. It has matured to a point where we can really have great baseball discussion and really engage with the audience at a level we couldn’t nine years ago when we launched or even seven years ago. I think something really changed within the last three to four years. I think we just hit a tipping point–a big enough audience that is passionate and knowledgeable enough to be able to debate what the team’s doing. What moves the Manager is making. What moves the General Manager is making, what ownership is doing. That wasn’t necessarily the case five, six, or seven years ago. That really helped propel us in September and even into October.
So it’s a good time to be in DC sports even though none of the teams are doing all that well right now, it’s still interesting.
MF: To your point, if you can do well even when the teams are up and down, you’ve done something.
CK: This is a TSL format and we’re a high TSL station. It’s all about listener passion and loyalty to our personalities. No matter what’s going good or bad, they want to hear what our guys have to say about it. That makes us a little bit stronger in bad times than we would be otherwise.
MF: Speaking of personalities, you re-signed the Sports Junkies (Morning Show) recently. What was it like getting them re-signed and what does that mean to The Fan?
CK: They are the backbone of the radio station. Entercom made a great commitment to them and to the radio station to keep them here for years to come. What makes me really proud of them and of the company is that after 23 years they are still growing. That is almost unheard of.
I think we see a lot of great shows that have incredible staying power but very few have been on the air in one market for 23 years and are still growing. Their ratings have never been higher. Their digital metrics are off the charts–a million podcast downloads a month. Now for us to be able to expand the show into other markets regionally is a really great opportunity. Our TV deal (NBC Sports Washington) has been mutually beneficial. I think it put them on another playing field.
For me, someone who started working on their show when I was 18 years old, it is incredible to see that not only are they still going strong, but the show has never been better, never been more relevant to the city. I think it has never been tighter and those guys haven’t changed. They’re still great guys who are great in the building. Great to their co-workers. It’s awesome to see this happen to great people.
MF: I love your radio story because it’s the opposite of the typical radio story. You’ve been in DC your entire life and career.
CK: It’s insane to me. I feel incredibly fortunate. I grew up listening to the station when it was a guy-talk station with Howard Stern and Don & Mike. I heard the Junkies first show because I was so obsessed with the station growing up that when they started this “Sports Weekend” thing and they had three shows, the Junkies were the third show 5-9pm Saturdays and Sundays–I was listening to it. I remember their first show and their first several shows. I was very fortunate that I got in on the ground floor when they were starting out. They were looking for help. I started “interning” no one ever asked me for any paperwork. I couldn’t have gotten college credit if they had asked me. So thank God for that or I probably wouldn’t be here at all today. I was kind of in the right place at the right time. Two and a half months or so after starting as an intern, their call-screener left and I got that awesome $7 an hour job screening calls for them and they haven’t shown me the door yet.
I think one of the things that’s special about this place is that it is kind of a family atmosphere because so many of us have grown up together. From 18 and I’ll be 40 in June I’ve seen those guys get married and have kids. I’ve had interns who have been with us for a long time. I hired an intern in 2002 who’s Chad Dukes, our afternoon host. Most of our producers if not all of them started out as interns. We’ve all grown together. One thing that’s important for our company and certainly for the station is to foster that kind of personal growth for our people. That’s really important.
MF: Over the years, what has evolved or changed about your programming philosophy or has it mostly stayed the same?
CK: I hope it has matured in terms of content. I think our world has changed, too. There are a lot of pitfalls you can fall into. For me the biggest sea change was from diary to PPM–huge. From a host’s standpoint or a programmer’s standpoint, you had to completely change your way of thinking twice. We were told all these things when PPM was starting about shorter production and programming to the meters. We made all those mistakes but then you had to get back to having a strong brand or none of that really matters. You really had to relearn it twice because of the PPM.
One of the challenges for personalities who started in diaries is to always remind them–there are certain things we can do that can impact listener behavior and there are certain things that can’t. There are certain things we have to do for our brand regardless of how we are being measured. A lot of people on the air had to re-train themselves as to “what is the show?”
People (listeners) are coming and going every second. It really has to be reinforced to talent that you have incredible competition even more so today than there has ever been in terms of other things they can do to listen, watch, or click at all times. That your show is not a movie that someone is listening to from beginning to end. The beginning of your show is whatever time that person happened to start listening.
That’s when one of the key things people have to always be thinking about when making content decisions is the reality of the environment that people are listening in. We are a component of their day and they (listeners) are living their life.
MF: Building on what you just said, you’re going to be part of a forum at the upcoming BSM Summit about Inside vs. Outside radio thinking–What goes into how you think about reaching listeners and whatever habits need to be broken?
CK: In addition to people thinking about their shows having a beginning and an end, what has stood out to me in terms of talent conversations is that when they talk to listeners they are often surprised what listeners latch onto. What we find is that listeners latch on to the personalities. It’s a great thing for our hosts to know that their power is not necessarily just their sports opinions but that their P1s especially love to hear the personal stuff and that’s what they remember about them. The little quirks, the little things that make them special. The things that make them in some ways irreplaceable–or at least very difficult to replace.
When you have a show that’s hitting it’s because of the people on it. That’s what makes the difference. Yeah we’re a sports station but there could be three or four stations in a market the things that differentiate them is the people. For the talent to understand that they have to let people in and they’ve gotta find that part about them that makes them unique and makes them special. I think that’s one of the big things.
One thing I think a lot of hosts are maybe not aware of, or take for granted, is that they think people listen everyday. Our P1s don’t even listen four days a week, maybe three and a half. For us it’s about how can I do great, compelling content and also make a connection in terms of benchmarks for people to come back to certain content every day or later in the day and how can I translate that to the next day. Building occasions throughout the day and throughout the week. That’s for us the name of the game as far as building TSL: having the realization that people are living their lives and that we’re just a part of it. Our path to success is to get people to listen just an extra time that day or to remember that on Thursdays we do a great benchmark that they won’t want to miss. If we can get that extra day out of those couple of meters again you’re building a strong brand while also programming to the meters. That’s a huge, huge focus for us!
MF: Speaking of the BSM Summit, how import is it for a PD like yourself to get out of the building to hear what else is going on out there?
CK: It’s very important for me since I’ve been in the same market for 21 years. It’s incredibly important to get different perspectives and different views on things and meet people with different ideas. I thought last year was incredible in that respect.
A lot of these great programmers have been all over the country and in all sorts of different formats and different companies. I think you can really learn a lot and pick up on a lot of things from each other. You’re going to get ideas on how to do things differently or how to look at something a little differently. Some of the things I learned last year on how our industry is handling diversity and how much of a focus that needs to be is completely valid because I think it’s a struggle for us in this format every year. I’m very much looking forward to it and looking forward to seeing it’s growth as well.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.