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Tips From Fox Sports Radio’s Don Martin & Scott Shapiro

“In order to come up with unique talking points, you have to generally be curious in the topics and read as much as you can get your hands on and seek viewpoints from as many people as you can in order to craft your own unique argument.”

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Fox Sports Radio

Many people believe that FOX Sports Radio has the best lineup in sports talk today. Don Martin and Scott Shapiro are two of these people. Both men have played key roles in positioning FSR to have major success. The network reaches 11 million monthly listeners on more than 400 radio stations. That doesn’t happen with weak leadership. It takes strong management and a vision to achieve this level of success.

I sat down with Don and Scott a few years ago for lunch. They offered to provide their feedback, coaching, and support. They’ve always followed through by taking the time to share their knowledge. The funny thing is that I was literally eating salmon during that lunch. Don coincidentally mentions why broadcasters need to act like salmon in this industry. It’s a tremendous comparison that appears below.

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The two kingpins continued the trend of offering their time — this recent occasion was to take part in a roundtable discussion. Both men have assessed a lot of talent over the years. They discuss the qualities of show hosts that they value most. It’s also fascinating to hear about the doubts they had early in their distinguished careers — something that many people can relate to. There are some great stories and tremendous viewpoints in this piece. I hope you enjoy it.

Noe: What initially got you interested in the radio business?

Don: I went to college originally to be a computer programmer because that’s what everybody was doing back in the days in which a computer was the size of a building. I was an athlete all my life. I blew my knee out, so I knew I couldn’t play. I said to my mother, “I need to get in the sports business.” I got into the game in Denver as an intern on the TV side. Then I was dubbing Christmas music from album to cart.

While I was doing that for a two-week period, the sports guy on that morning show got sick. Jerry Castro asked me if I would do the sports. I was still in school. I said absolutely. He then hired me two weeks later after I did the sports for a couple of weeks in morning drive. I was doing sports there. I was interning on television. I was doing metro traffic.

Then Irv Brown started one of the first sports stations in the country KMVP 1600. He put a midday show together with me, Dave Logan, Rich Goins, and a guy named John Marvel. Later on in life I worked with Billy Van Heusen, a former Bronco, from 9 to noon. A consultant took us off the air after two years saying we were too much like the afternoon show. I thought my career was over.

I became Irv and Joe’s producer. I found out that, “Wow, I liked that role,” and I did it well. While I was doing that, I was the TV play-by-play voice of the then Colorado Athletic Conference. Then a guy named Sam Pagano — a legendary high school coach in Denver out of Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado — we bought our own time and we were doing high school games on television on Prime Ticket.

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We did anywhere from three to four games a week between football and basketball while I was doing the college stuff on the CAC and doing the talk with Irv. I had to balance a lot at one time. Sam Pagano’s boys you know — Chuck Pagano was the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts. John was the other son and he was my analyst. It just kept growing and growing and growing. Then one day I got a call from KOA and I became the sports guy on KOA as far as producing everything — Rockies, Broncos, Buffs. Then they asked me to program the station. That’s how I came off of the air and got into management.

Noe: What about radio initially appealed to you, Scott?

Scott: There’s something about radio that’s truly special and unique. Hosts on the radio build such an intimate relationship with the audience. Ultimately, it’s that storytelling ability where in other platforms you really don’t get that luxury to expand, to show personality, and to truly tell stories. That’s a lot of the connective fiber that drives a very unique connection with hosts and their audience because it’s long form. It’s your true personality coming out over the radio. You can’t fake it. You have to be your genuine self and the audience usually are tough critics.

This day and age, so much of the audience has ADD. They only want to listen to somebody who’s very compelling and that has something special to offer. In radio, like I said you can’t fake it. It’s your true self and people are deciding whether to spend their very valuable time with you. It’s an investment that the audience makes. When they do make that investment, it’s an emotional connection that’s made. 

There’s really something special on the radio where the goal is to make people think. You want to make people react. It brings out a lot of emotions in people and when you’re doing it right you really build that relationship with your audience. Yeah, at times it can be a one-way relationship, but it’s truly a special relationship. I feel like I know the folks that I listen to on the radio. I feel like I know them well. Really it’s just me typically listening to their product. It’s such a special medium where you have the ability to truly connect with your audience and be genuine at the same time.

Noe: What would you say was your first major breakthrough in radio?

Don: Irv Brown putting me in middays on one of the first all sports stations in the country. I was able to work with — then brand new into the game — Dave Logan who is now the voice of the Broncos for three Super Bowl championships. A guy named Rich Goins who’s got a huge name in Denver as the guy that sat on the billboard for all those days and Bob Costas kept using him. Rich has got a big name in Denver. And John Marvel, when we were doing that midday show, it launched all of this. The key was I was doing TV and radio and everything all at the same time, so when you say what launched it, being platform-agnostic and trying to do everything. I was young and hungry so I tried doing everything. Then it kind of just settled into its own space.

Noe: When you were dubbing Christmas music did you have a favorite and a least favorite song?

Don: (laughs) I’ll tell you what. It was one of the most boring, mundane things I’d ever done in my life. I said, “Did you make the right decision saying you’re going to go from computer programming to do this because that was boring?”

I mean I’m dubbing down Nat King Cole. It was the oldies too because it was an oldies station. I was a young guy. I was going, “What the heck am I doing?”

By the grace of God, the sports guy got sick and then he quit. It was awesome. You never know when and where you’re going to get your break. That’s what I always tell young people — I say be a salmon. Just get in the stream. Be where it’s going to take you. I still believe a lot of this business is 90 percent what beats in your chest and 10 percent what’s in your head. You’ve got to have passion, man.

Noe: What has your career path been like, Scott, that’s led to you being the Vice President of FOX Sports Radio?

Scott: My first job in radio was producing morning radio in Atlanta. At the time it was a FOX Sports Radio affiliate. That’s where I really learned radio. I was a 23-year-old kid with zero radio experience and I was producing three guys who all had 15 years more experience than me and they were all 15 years older. I had no idea what I was doing. There were many times where I wondered, “My goodness, is this for me? Am I going to be able to add value to the show and to these personalities who are all pros?”

I busted my butt. I basically dove head first into the product really to try to prove myself more than anything else. Let’s try to make the show better. I’m competitive and I put my heart into everything I do. It was really just producing content and trying to produce the best possible show in the country. I did that in Atlanta for two and a half years.

Then I was hired to produce Mike & Mike up in Bristol in 2006. With that it was the same mentality — come in and just make that show the best show in the country. We had a great team in place, obviously very talented people on and off the air. We set all sorts of records on Mike & Mike on multiple platforms. I produced that show for three years and then moved up into the managerial ranks at ESPN Radio where I was up until four years ago when I came here.

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Noe: What are a couple of the qualities that show hosts possess that either cause you to tune in or tune out?

Scott: Hosts that are compelling — that’s the difference. You have to be such a great storyteller and you have to be compelling. Like I said earlier people have so many options for their entertainment value. Hell, in a car they can make phone calls to their family and friends. That’s competition. We are trying to garner people’s attention. Ultimately you have to be so interesting on the radio to keep people’s attention. That’s a very hard thing to do.

It’s rare when someone devotes more than five or 10 minutes to listening to one or two people speak uninterrupted. Somebody who is able to capture people’s attention, keep them interested, it’s a very difficult skill. You have to be thought-provoking on the air. You need to be well-researched, but obviously present in a style that’s entertaining, and you need to keep people’s attention while making them think and making them react.

The things that I think are tune outs are somebody who is dry, somebody who lacks credibility on a topic, and somebody who’s not presenting a unique perspective on a topic. Another thing is talking about something that I’m not interested in. That’s why playing the hits is very important to appeal to the broadest set of the audience possible. You need to bring a unique presentation to the table that’s different from what everyone else is offering. There is a wilderness of people out there offering opinions whether it’s live shows or podcasts. What we look for are hosts who present something entirely different and can do so in an entertaining fashion.

Noe: What qualities of a sports radio host appeal to you the most?

Don: When you do this long enough there’s an “it” factor that you can’t coach. There is an “it” factor that you can’t teach. You either have it or you don’t. Everybody gets into this game because they want to be on the air. I know you’ve got the anomaly that says, “No, I’ve always wanted to be behind the scenes.” God bless you, I love those people too. But everybody gets in because they want to do this because this is fun. There’s a special few that can. But when they can, they are dynamite.

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It’s an ingredient only given by God. It’s a wiring. You have to have a certain somethin’ somethin’ to get it done. As a host — I don’t care if you’re talking sports or if you’re talking news — you work your tail off to get to the top.

You’re hustling 4-5 jobs. Then when you make it, all you can do is fail. On the way up that ladder, you’ve got to be a little arrogant, you’ve got to be a little cocky and have a little somethin’ somethin’ in you because it’s what drives you to be that performer every day.

Then when you get there all you can do is fall so you become insecure. Those aren’t traits that live naturally together — cocky, arrogant, insecure, what? So we had to give them a name — we called them talent. It’s a special somebody though. There are a lot of people that try to do this and they work their tail off for a long time and they’re good, but they’re never great. You know great from the beginning. You don’t teach great. You don’t grow into great. You know it from the beginning.

Noe: Can you put your finger on what “it” is — what separates good from great?

Don: Yeah, what “it” is — it’s a magic that draws people to you. You’re a magnet for people. You give them an escape from reality. People work hard. People are beat up over politics. They’re beat up over their bills. They’re beat up over traffic and oh my God the stresses of raising your kids and your boss yelling at you. Our guys give them and escape.

Great for us is no different than — I just watched Bohemian Rhapsody — the lead guy in a band. You’ve got that magnetic thing that draws people to you so that when you’re performing whether you’re singing, you’re talking, you’re giving your opinion, they need to listen because you’re entertaining them. You’re teaching them, but you’re giving them some sort of solace and some sort of entertainment along the way that allows them to escape reality.

Noe: When you think about sports radio in general what could the industry use more of?

Scott: I would say the biggest thing in the industry is just creating great content no matter where it airs. Whether it’s live on the radio, whether it’s streaming, whether it’s podcasts, we’re in the content business and all we’re trying to do is create wonderful content.

I think people overthink it at times in terms of whether this is going to play to certain people, whether it’s going to play on certain platforms or not. Really it just gets in the way of creating great content.

I believe if you’re creating great content it really doesn’t matter what type of platform it’s on. It’s going to be unique. It’s going to be thought-provoking. It’s going to be fascinating for an audience.

Audio consumption is growing like crazy. There’s never been a time where audio consumption is really being utilized like the current day. Whether it’s live, terrestrial, streaming, or on-demand, there are more people creating audio than ever before. The ones that create excellent content are going to be the ones that are going to win and survive. I think at times people need to stop overthinking whether, “Oh boy, terrestrial radio is not going to work,” because every bit of evidence is showing that it is. Audio consumption as a whole no matter where you’re doing it is growing rapidly.

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Noe: The BSM Summit is right around the corner February 21-22. What does the industry gain from having an annual event that focuses on issues related to the actual job?

Scott: I think when you put all of these brilliant minds together, not only are there new ideas created, but I think everyone at a summit like this really should lean on each other to help grow the platform.

It’s not just competing in a local market station X versus station Y. When you put all of these minds together you’re going to learn key things that are going to help your individual station or network. But I really think when we’re able to think bigger picture about growing the industry and growing what sports talk radio is and figure out ways to really capitalize on that no matter what market you’re in, I think that’s the biggest thing.

Everyone’s in their silos working on their own objectives in each of their local markets, but when you put all of these brains together I think there’s so much to gain for the industry as a whole to really become that much more of an urgent product for the audience all over the country.

Noe: Why do you think it’s important for programmers to get outside of their radio stations and attend events like the BSM Summit?

Don: I think the biggest part about it is just camaraderie. If we’re going to win as a platform, we’ve got to quit taking shots at each other. We’ve got to go and get our audience from our sister stations, the news talk stations, the music stations. We’ve got to aim our guns out there and bring in a new cume that allows all of our sports radio boats to float higher.

It’s more of a camaraderie thing for me. We all talk anyway. There’s not a new thing that all of a sudden pops up that teaches you to do this with talent, or that with a podcast. We’re all talking all the time anyway within our companies. Everybody has their secret sauce. Summits like this are more for camaraderie. The Super Bowl is what we’ve been using lately. You go to the Super Bowl and everybody gets to see everybody for the one time all year — whether it’s talent or other programmers.

I think it’s a come together, join arms as a platform, and raise the sports platform together. That’s the most important part of this. And then you know what, if you can gain a nugget here or there because of podcasting being able to drive this, or streaming being able to drive that, or helping change what Nielsen is doing on the ratings, God bless us all. But the main thing is so that we all join hands together, no different than an NFL or an NBA, and say, “Okay, how do we keep growing this platform?”

Noe: Speaking of camaraderie, who are some of the people in the business that have helped you the most during your career?

Don: Irv Brown basically gave me my start in this business. He just died by the way last week at 86 years old. He’s legendary in Denver. Greg Ashlock and Julie Talbott have been incredibly important in my career. Bob Martin got me in to cut my first tape. Bob Martin was the voice of the Broncos back then. I’ll never forget it. I said, “Bob, how can I repay you?” He said, “The only thing I want from you, Don, when you make it, the first young guy that comes to you and asks you for help, you help them.” I’ve done that my entire career because of what Bob did for me. 

There’s one other person I need to bring up, Lee Larson in Denver at KOA. I’ll never forget it. The greatest thing anybody has ever done for me in this business or said for me outside of Irv Brown getting me started — Lee Larson calls me into his office and says, “I want to mentor you.” I was the PD of the station at the time. I said, “Wow.” That was one of the coolest things anybody had ever said to me. It just blew my mind.

I never forgot that because I was a 38-year-old guy at the time. When we went looking for somebody to help me on the network side, I always kept that in mind. I said I need a young 30 something that’s going to keep me cool. The greatest thing that ever happened to me was when Scott Shapiro walked in the door. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing today. All I’m trying to show you is everything that we do and our lives, is because of something somebody did for you in a nice way in yours back in your day.

Noe: When you’re the one doing the mentoring and showing hosts a formula for success, what are the key things that you point toward?

Scott: I would say for any host — they have to be incredibly passionate about the subject matter on the air. If somebody’s not a big sports fan, there’s no way they’re going to be able to fake it. You need to be so deeply and inherently interested in the topics you’re talking about. You need to be so curious about it that you’re reading stories that come up during the day. It’s not something where you can just come in before a show, cram, and be able to deliver it right.

You need to have so many different areas of knowledge that’s based off of the curiosity. When you’re curious, you follow people on social media who provide depth to these stories. You read articles to be able to provide different insights. In order to come up with unique talking points, you have to generally be curious in the topics and read as much as you can get your hands on and seek viewpoints from as many people as you can in order to craft your own unique argument. To me it’s that curiosity.

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The prep work shouldn’t be considered prep work. It should be what you’re already doing because you’re so engulfed and impassioned in the subject matter of what you’re discussing. To me that’s a very important thing.

Another thing too, clearly without question anybody who does this well, they need a lot of reps. It’s very difficult to be able to talk on the radio for that long. Even somebody, if you go to a bar, somebody talking to you for seven minutes. It’s a very difficult thing for them to be interesting and compelling for that long. Then you throw in that you need to be interesting to thousands of people and you’re measured by ratings.

You have to be well researched and well prepped. You have to nail the PPM formatics and make sure there’s a takeaway for everything you’re doing. You’re never wasting time on the air. It’s basically valuing the audience’s time. I think that’s a very important thing.

The delivery is very important as well. You can’t be somebody who is monotone and sleepwalking through a segment. You’ve got to deliver a sense of urgency on the air. You need to have a certain energy level and strong pacing to take all of your great insight and make it presentable to the audience where they think they’re listening along to a buddy or eavesdropping on a conversation and not being lectured to the whole time.

Noe: I think that’s really interesting when you say have a takeaway for everything. There’s so much digressing that goes on in sports radio these days. Some discussions outside of sports are valuable, others not so much.

How do you gauge what is wasting time and what is valuable if the conversation goes beyond sports?

Scott: Listen there’s always room, but I think the biggest thing is when you do veer off you know how to get back. You’re not going too far down a path where you’ve taken so many left turns and then the audience is lost as well. You have to know what your mission is each segment. Yes, clearly you’re allowed to veer off. This is radio and we want people to be free without handcuffs because sometimes the best stuff is created that way.

I think also you are guiding the ship when you’re hosting a show. Sometimes that off-sports humor or story, there can be takeaways in that. But you’ve got to know if you’ve delivered on that, won people’s attention, and created something memorable, you do need to know how to steer the ship back and then get back to the meat and potatoes as well.

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Noe: What’s your best advice for broadcasters that want to improve?

Don: What you do is you pick 20 minutes of a show. That’s all. What I suggest you do for yourself once a week — and you’ve got to be honest with yourself — sit down with your producer and you’ve got to take an arbitrary 20 minutes and just listen to it. When you listen to it, be honest. There are five questions you’re asking yourself.

Do they know my name because I said it?

Do they know the call letters of the station that I’m on?

In that 20 minutes now, did the topic — if I were a listener — grab me and hold me?

Did I promote something forward coming up?

Did I reset if I had a guest?

Those are the only five things you need to know. If there’s any given 20 minutes within your show and you can’t answer those five, it lets you know what you need to work on.

Our average listener comes in for 10 minutes. That’s where you can help yourself too. You’re in a popularity game because of Nielsen. They can always go across the street. Don’t get confused — I can’t tell you how many times someone says to me, “Yeah, I listen to Petros [Papadakis] on ESPN.” What? Petros has never been on ESPN. Make damn sure they know where they get you.

BSM Writers

Meet The Market Managers: Ryan Hatch, Bonneville International Phoenix

“Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it.”

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For as long as I have known Ryan Hatch, he has been a good friend, encouraging me to take advantage of each opportunity put in front of me. When someone treats you that way, you cannot be anything but thrilled when you see them do the same thing.

Late last year, Ryan was elevated from a programming executive role with Bonneville to become Market Manager of the company’s Phoenix cluster. He is now overseeing every aspect of a building that he has worked in for a long time.

I thought it would be fun to visit with him to see what has changed. The last time I profiled him, he was serving as PD of Arizona Sports 98.7. The last time we profiled Bonneville Phoenix for this series, it was Scott Sutherland in the Market Manager’s chair. So, what has changed?

In this conversation, presented by Point to Point Marketing, Ryan and I discuss the changing nature of our business, retaining great talent, and supporting the person who’s tasked with filling your former position and leading the programming team forward. When a company is ahead of the curve with its digital strategy and generating strong ratings and revenue, what’s next?


Demetri Ravanos: So how has the transition gone moving from programming into the market manager’s seat? We’re a little over six months into the change. How steep has the learning curve been?

Ryan Hatch: You know what? It’s been fantastic. And I have to give so much credit to Scott Sutherland, who was in the chair before me, and others within the company for really preparing me for this moment. But it’s not just a transition from programming. I would think even if I came up through the sales, marketing or finance side there would be a curve.              

I’m learning new things every single day and loving it. So whether it’s six months or six years in this chair or more, I hope that I can always say that.                    

I love the job. I love the market. Obviously, you know, I’ve been here for such a long time and it’s the best chair to be in. I’m thrilled. 

DR: You mentioned Scott and I started thinking about this after you and I set a time to talk. There’s this advantageous environment of education there, right? Because Scott is still in the area. He held your job before. You’re obviously in the building and that’s got to be advantageous for Sean Thompson. How much do those conversations take place day-to-day? There seems to be an opportunity for everybody to learn and build on the person that came before them because they can just walk down the hall and ask. 

RH: Absolutely it can be advantageous because you’ve got institutional knowledge. Every person that’s been in your chair before can certainly provide important information to help expedite the onboarding process.              

The other side of it is making sure that there are clear boundaries. I can speak with Sean Thompson coming in on the programming side. My goal is to empower him and embolden Sean to take this brand to a different level with new ideas and thoughts.           

I’d been in that chair for so long, we were certainly ready for somebody new to come in with a new perspective and new experiences, and Sean’s done a wonderful job doing that. I think if you talk to Scott, he would probably say something similar. So when you ask the question, “is it advantageous?”, the answer is unquestionable. Yes, it is. At the same time, you have to really be clear on where those boundaries are, how much you want to give and share, and how much you want to let that person learn and experience it on their own as they’re creating their new environment, if that makes sense. 

DR: So with those boundaries, are there things you see Sean putting into place that make you think, “Oh man, that’s really cool. I kind of miss programing at this moment”? 

RH: Well, the irony is in asking that question, I think today is actually his 90th day on the job. So we’re still in the basic stages of him taking that chair.                   

He’s full of ideas, full of energy. I can’t wait to see so much of it come to fruition. But again, when you’re only three months in, you’re doing a lot of listening and a lot of learning before you dig in to start making change. I expect that to come, but he walked into a position with a great on-air staff, fantastic talent, an unbelievable digital team, with a great marketing and promotional support team behind him as well.                       

I’ll tell you what I’m most excited about is what’s going to happen this fall. After the listening and the learning is done, we’ll be starting to really build some exciting plans into the NFL season around the Cardinals and the NFL. We’re also hosting the Super Bowl in February of ’23 as well. So we’ve got a great big build coming here in Arizona. 

DR: So let’s talk a little bit about the future and where things can go, not just for Phoenix, but for Bonneville overall. I told you this a million times. What has always impressed me about the company, even before you and I got to know each other, was that you guys were so ahead of the curve on recognizing the value of digital content. Arizona Sports is not a radio station, it is a brand.             

I wonder now that you are in the market manager’s chair, how you look at all of the money from these different companies being put into podcasts. I mean, the deals being made to turn podcasts into TV shows or movies, do you ever think about what is possible or maybe what the next evolution for the digital side of Bonneville could or should be? 

RH: Well, I think as a company, and not to speak for Tanya Vea, who’s in a new EVP position helping oversee a lot of our content initiatives, we’re opening up a mechanism for local ideas to be funneled up to a team led by our VP of Podcasting, Sheryl Worsley. The idea is to be able to support a local that might scale on a national level and help it achieve that potential. I think that we’re very aggressive. I think that we’re also very strategic in the podcasting world.              

There’s a blessing and a curse there. The blessing is that that audience is expanding rapidly and the revenue’s been following, you know, slowly, but still following in that direction. The downside is how much time and energy and creativity a lot of our best talent have.                 

Do we want to put our talk show hosts, who are spending 4 hours a day creating live broadcast content, at the forefront of that effort? How many more hours a day of creative juice do they have left for a podcast or a passion project? It could be something that might not be entirely complimentary to the brand.                          

I think you have to be smart and strategic and understand how big of a bed it is you want to make. I think we’re being strategic about it and making the best decision for each individual circumstance. 

DR: So what about from a broadcast angle? As podcasting continues to grow and becomes the kind of thing that sellers see as easier to get clients involved with, what are the things that terrestrial radio is going to have to do to secure its own future? 

RH: Well, speaking on behalf of our properties here, where we’re all local news and all local sports. Really, that’s our business. I don’t think that there’s anything that can replicate the power of live, in the moment, information-based content. And that is the value proposition that broadcast has.                

Now, will that traditional radio audience continue to decline and find other venues? Potentially. I mean, that’s just natural, and I think that we’ve seen that accelerate through the pandemic. That doesn’t take away from the importance though.                         

If you look at Bonneville Phoenix, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR, our streaming numbers are way, way up. Our monthly app users are way, way up. Our smart speaker usage is way, way up. And I think too many times we categorize one as digital and one as radio. I look at it more through the lens of what is a live broadcast and what is driven by more destination-based, story-based, topic-based choices. That’s a different experience and you can serve both. 

DR: What is your view of having that live content accessed by both radios and streaming devices? When you’re a programmer, I think it is it is easier to say, “Look, people are coming to this content. This is good content. That is what matters.” But now that you’re the market manager, I know you are a real advocate for total line reporting, but now the ratings take on this whole different meaning to you than they did before. What is your view of the right path forward to paint that picture easily and accurately for advertisers about just how powerful these brands are, whether it’s Arizona Sports or KTAR? 

RH: Thank goodness we have fantastic sales management and account executives on the streets telling that story and big brands to back them up with that unique content that our stations are delivering. And as I’ve told you in different settings over the years Demetri, Nielsen is one of many tools that tell that story. When we’re on the streets talking to a potential advertiser, and understand that our game is not as national or our market is not as regional, we are hyper-locally focused. In Phoenix, Arizona, that’s a lot of small to medium-sized businesses. So when we can walk in and share a total audience report that gives a glimpse of Nielsen, which we know is antiquated and really, really needs to be reformed and updated. You’ve got to bring your Google Analytics and your Triton numbers. You have so many other tools to use to evaluate how our content is being delivered and consumed. You’ve got to paint that entire total audience story, and I will tell you that it’s a story that is very well received in Phoenix with our products. 

DR: Maybe this is more of a question for your sales staff, but is it a matter of walking potential advertisers and current advertisers through each individual number, or do you find a way to synthesize it down into a simple illustration of how many people are listening to your content every day? 

RH: It’s not a numbers game. It’s not getting into detail about how many tens of thousands of listeners we have on one platform and how many on another and how many views or clicks on websites. Our pitch is that these brands have a connection to the market. That works for us, and that works because it’s emotional. It works because it’s local. It works because of the creative messaging behind it. When you have something that works for your advertisers, they’re not going to be coming in and scrutinizing the numbers left and right.                      

Now, you have to deliver to the audience, and we have significant audiences. In fact, I’ll tell you right now, combining everything together. And it’s not apples to apples, because these are all different channels. But our audience is here in Phoenix between our websites, our apps, and our radio distribution. Our audiences have never been better. I mean, that’s a wonderful and easy story to tell. 

DR: Play-by-play is obviously a big part of what you do on Arizona Sports. You and I have talked before about the landscape of Phoenix sports, and I think you’ve described it as, because Phoenix is a transplant market, you find yourself talking about everyone’s second favorite team.            

So how does that play with advertisers? Do they buy into the idea that this is a unifying thing or is there some concern that it is too much of a transplant market for the value returned by play-by-play doesn’t match the cost to advertise in that space? 

RH: Our original franchise, the Phoenix Suns, while, they had a disappointing end of the season, it couldn’t have been more galvanizing. That is the one team that has been here for 50-plus years. That orange blood does run deep. The Cardinals have had their moments. The Diamondbacks have the only championship in the major sports here, but that was back in 2001.             

I’ll answer that question in a couple of ways. Number one, we are catering to the fans and to the super fans, but we try to create content that is going to be accessible and interesting for those that would claim that any of the franchises are their second favorite team in a given league. When you move into a market and you head to the office or nowadays maybe it’s a Zoom call, you still want to be able to have a conversation about something that’s relevant. You want a shared experience with your coworker or a neighbor, somebody at school when you’re hanging out waiting to up the kids. So often that conversation is sports.                        

We have a fantastic sports market. Now, where’s the passion level? Is it as high as a Boston or Philadelphia? Of course not and we’re not going to act like it is. But at the end of the day, what does an advertiser look for? They’re looking for an audience and they’re looking for something exclusive to put their message on. That’s what we’re able to offer with our play-by-play. On top of that, what’s become more and more important to us in our model, especially on the digital side over the years, is the access to those decision-makers, to the coaches, the exclusive access to the general managers with weekly calls, and things like player shows.                 

There’s so much more that you can offer beyond just the game itself that makes these partnerships great for our business and the advertising community. 

DR: So coming out of what is being called The Great Resignation, what are you experiencing as a market manager and what are your other hiring managers experiencing? What are the new challenges of recruiting, whether it is sales or programing, any kind of talent in an environment like this? 

RH: Well, let’s add to that and talk about inflationary pressures as well. I mean, there are so many factors at play right now, and I think it’s as tough as I can ever remember it.                 

What we’re doing here at Bonneville Phoenix is really leaning into our culture and making sure that we’re an employer of choice because we have a culture that people want to be a part of. It’s a good team environment full of hungry people that want to succeed not just for themselves. So the more hungry, humble, and smart people we find, the better off we’re going to be.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t lost. There’s been a dramatic shuffle. Right now, I can say that we’re close to a full boat, but that wasn’t the case a month ago. There are so many different forces at play right now. It is a difficult environment. Our news side alone faces unique challenges. News itself has been under attack for multiple years. Don’t you think that burns people out?           

Absolutely I have concerns, but what can we control? Well, we can focus on executing the vision that Bonneville has provided. It’s built on passionate people and innovation. It is about creating a culture people want to be a part of. 

DR: We’ve heard a lot about burnout when people talk about why they leave a job in any industry. We hear about work-life balance. You’re responsible for the entire building, so what are you telling your managers on the sales and programming side about creating an environment for employees that respects that those are real and valid concerns while still maintaining the level of expectation of quality for Arizona Sports and KTAR. 

RH:  We’re still committed to the highest standards, and we always will be. And we found that certain parts of the business can work pretty effectively from home, while other parts of the business really can’t. I will tell you, on the content side working from home, we did it when we had to. We did it, I would say fairly effectively for a few extended periods. But overall, in a local news and local sports environment that really is driven by the breaking news, the need to work together in a space is real. You just can’t do things as quickly or as effectively or as creatively if you’re separated. You just can’t.                  

Now, on the sales side, we want them on the streets. We want them out of the office, but there is a balance. So what are we asking our great sales managers to do? We’re asking them just to make sure that they are up to speed on where the activity is and that we’re doing all the jobs that need to be done. Do I ever see us going back to five days a week in the office? I don’t. I think that ship has sailed and I think that’s just fine. I think there’s some real benefit to that.  

The way to make this all work is to empower our department heads to come up with a plan that’s going to work best for them, for their people, and deliver on what our expectations are for the business. And then as leaders, we have to understand that the plan is going to be evolving. It really is. This is not going to be decided on a new policy set. I think that we’re in a new world, probably for the rest of our lives. 

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BSM Writers

Broadcasting Fills The Baseball Void For Keith Moreland

“When I got through… I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

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Austin American-Statesman

Sports color analysts are more often than not former players. This has been a consistent norm across sports broadcasting at all levels. The analyst is there to add “color” to the play-by-play broadcaster’s metaphorical and verbal “drawing” of the game. For former MLB slugger and catcher, Keith Moreland, this was the surprise post-playing retirement career that has boosted him to a key figure in Austin media and national media alike.

Moreland played football and baseball at the University of Texas before making his way to the MLB for 12 years with key contributions to the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs in the 1980s.

Moreland reminisced on his decision to play baseball full time: “I thought I was going to be in the NFL, but Earl Campbell changed that. I had just played summer ball. We had won a championship and I missed the first few days of two-a-days. I hadn’t even had a physical yet and I’m in a scrimmage. I stepped up to this freshman running back and as he ducked his shoulder, one of his feet hit my chest and the other hit my face mask and he kept on truckin’. I got up and I thought ‘I could be a pretty good baseball player.’

So I told Coach Royal after practice I was going to focus on baseball and he asked ‘what took you so long? We were surprised you came back because we think you have a really good shot at playing professional baseball.'”

It was a good choice for Moreland. He was part of the 1973 College World Series winning Texas Longhorns baseball team. While at Texas Moreland hit .388 and became the all-time leader in hits for the College World Series. After being drafted by the Phillies in the 7th round of the 1975 draft, Moreland would go-on to play in the majors from 1978 to 1989.

“You go your whole life trying to get to play professionally. When I got through my opportunity to play in the big leagues, I wanted to do something with my life and I get that same feeling with broadcasting.”

Broadcasting was not the original retirement plan for Moreland. He first tried his luck at coaching with his first stop being his alma mater as an assistant for the Longhorns. At the time, Bill Schoening (a Philadelphia native and Phillies fan), was the radio play-by-play broadcaster. Schoening made Moreland a go-to for a pre-game interview and convinced him to come on talk shows. Schoening even convinced Moreland to practice live broadcasting skills by taking a recorder to games and listening back to them to learn.

“Bill was the guy who brought me onboard and I still have those tapes and I really learned from them, but I don’t want anyone else to ever hear them!” Moreland adds with a chuckle on how far he has come in over 25 years of broadcasting.

Moreland has been a key part of University of Texas radio broadcasts for baseball since the 1990s and has catapulted that broadcast experience to Texas high school football, Longhorn football radio and television broadcasts, ESPN, the Little League World Series, the Chicago Cubs and more since hanging up his cleats and picking up a microphone.

While his playing days are well behind him, Moreland still takes the spirit of his professional athlete background to his broadcasting:

“If you don’t bring energy to your broadcast, somebody’s gonna turn the game on and wonder ‘what’s wrong? Are they losing the game?’”, Moreland remarks, “So you have to come prepared and with energy for the broadcasts.”

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BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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