Jason Dixon is approaching three years at SiriusXM as the Director of Sports Programming and on Thursday in Northwest DC we sat down to discuss sports radio, working with talent, and his upcoming panel at the BSM Summit:
Matt Fishman: It has been almost three years at SiriusXM Sports for you, can you talk about your time there and the role you’ve played?
Jason Dixon: I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew the guy at the top (Steve Cohen) was a smart radio guy. I knew about what the company did. I showed up and said “how can help?” Luckily that’s exactly the freedom they’ve given me during my time there…I’ve really settled into a few roles–sort of a talent coach. We hire a lot of talent that aren’t radio people. While the PDs work with them, I’m the guy that teaches them “Radio 101.”
I’m also a mentor for some of the younger PDs, some of whom don’t know anything but SiriusXM. They haven’t seen the outside or terrestrial world. Developing training programs like I was just in New York for a guest booking workshop. We got all these producers in a room–sometimes we expect producers to learn by osmosis. We get them in a room with not only management types but our Executive Producer of MLB Network Radio and talk through scenarios. Frankly I think it’s something that should be done more.
Eric Spitz, Vice President of SiriusXM Sports and I are about to go and fly around the country to meet with a big group of our talent and talk to them about radio. I’m also working on the SiriusXM app. We launched a new app and I’m working on trying to make the experience better for our subscribers.
MF: A guy who raves about you is Chris Childers (Co-host of Full Ride on ESPNU Radio.) Describe where he was when you first started working with him and how he has developed since then.
JD: He was trying to pretend to be a radio guy when we first started. He was trying to mimic or what he heard. The way he thought things were supposed to be. Credit to Chris for soaking it in and taking it and running with it. He was a guy that was never sat down and told “Here’s how you do a radio show.” We taught him some fundamentals and some basics. We tried to take the positive energy and passion he has and channel it for good, not evil.
It’s my belief that we have some fundamentals but you gotta see what the talent brings to the table and say “hey, this is a rule we’re supposed to be teaching but it’s not going to work for this talent!”
Chris and I have an honest relationship. I can call him and tell him that something “wasn’t very good.” He busts my chops because we don’t talk as much anymore but I tell him he’s a graduate student now. Chris is the classic example of a guy who understood the work that it takes and was able to listen to the input and apply it and do a great job with it.
MF: The flipside is people coming in from outside of radio–former coaches, players, front office guys–how do you go about coaching them?
JD: A lot of people think they should sound like what they’ve heard on the radio. I always start out by letting them understand how people consume our product. For example, Greg Norman, the golfer, was as big as they come in his field. He took a one hour meeting with PGA Tour Network PD Jeremy Davis and me. We went through the basic principles and how people listen to radio. I said to him, “I want you to be Greg Norman. I don’t want you to be a radio guy. I want you to do all the things you want to do, but I want you to understand how people listen.”
MF: That ties in with your panel coming up at the BSM Summit in Los Angeles–Inside vs. Outside radio thinking.
JD: Holy smokes did I get lucky. I could just stand up on stage and introduce this group of guys–they know sports radio (Chris Kinard fro The Fan in DC, Ryan Hatch from Arizona Sports 98.7 in Phoenix, Scott Shapiro from Fox Sports Radio, and Justin Craig from ESPN Radio.) That being said–with this group of divas you would not believe their rider (laugh).
These conferences are great for networking and learning about other sides of the business, but the reality is that you want to take away one or two things. I went to the Worldwide Radio summit and saw this presentation on Inside vs. Outside thinking by Coleman Insights. I saw that and their presentation just resonated with me. We live and breathe radio. We think radio is a very important decision in people’s lives that they make on a daily basis. That’s what the inside thinker is.
The reality is that it’s a split-second decision that doesn’t have much passion behind it. The thinking is just so different. Like promos–we love making a great promo. You know what a promo is to a listener? A commercial, an interruption of the content they want.
We’re trained to do radio a certain way because it’s been effective and how we’ve been taught. Step back and let’s make sure. Take a scenario like a remote at a car dealership. I would love to see some sort of data of how many people come into the dealership during the show to buy a car? The challenge would be “what does the listener want?” I think that group of smart people that we have on this panel, it would be interesting to pick their brain on scenarios on which they’ve taken that extra step back. From content of shows to imaging to sales stuff and promotions and see how that smart group has reacted. I’m excited!
I’m just trying to make sure there’s no rumble between ESPN and Fox (laugh). And I want there to be plenty of time for questions. Not often do you get a group of programmers like that all together in one place.
MF: You talked about how people consume radio, how hard is it to get that message to programmers and hosts?
JD: I have changed the way I aircheck. I don’t listen to a full hour of shows anymore. It’s not how it’s being consumed. I’ll punch it up at a random time and listen for 15 minutes. Your report card is that swath of time that people listened that day.
It goes back to the guest booking workshop we were talking about earlier. The exclamation point at the end was that we’ve explained all the hard work that goes into guest booking and now the interview happens and you’re just going to let that audio disappear into the ether? No–find the good stuff. Find ways to integrate it into the rest of your show. You did all this work to satisfy people who were listening during one little wedge of time. Make something of it.
MF: You talked about making that tour around the country to see the talent. Can you discuss the challenge that having hosts all over the country presents?
JD: It’s a double-edged sword. One of the attractive things that we can offer is that you can do the show from your living room. That’s awesome when you’re trying to attract talent. The tough part is that the producers and the program director don’t always get that face time or one to one contact.
These “talent workshops” as we are calling them–we did the first one two years ago. The benefit was that we got to spend some time talking radio with them, but it also showed them that we cared about them and cared about their growth. It created relationships for me with hosts that I hadn’t interacted with on a regular basis. There’s probably 20 hosts that I have a relationship with now because of that. The beauty of the relationship is that I’m not the program director. I don’t hIre or fire people or decide who gets good or bad shifts. Hosts can now call or text or email me as a sounding board.
MF: Now that you have been at SiriusXM for nearly three years, can you compare working at SiriusXM with your stops in terrestrial radio.
JD: I’ve loved them all. There’s not a job that I went to that I said, “Boy I’m not sure about this!” Now they didn’t all end well but that’s the nature of our business. The terrestrial radio Program Director job is hard and getting harder by the minute. I mean I never got trained in digital content or how to read digital analytics, but that’s what radio guys are being asked to do. So it’s a difficult job. Plus having Nielsen ratings hanging over your head every week, day, month.
What I really love about working at SiriusXM is the freedom to do what we think is good radio. If we want to do a one hour special on something, we’re going to do a one hour special. SiriusXM is Netflix. We’ve got something for everybody. If you like Howard, we’ve got plenty of Howard. If you’re a hypochondriac we have a channel for you–Doctor Radio!
I tell the Program Directors–all you have to worry about is doing the best programming of your particular sport. You’re there for a reason. You make a segment of the 34 million subscribers happy. That part of retraining the brain took me awhile to get there. On a personal level, I’m energized by the young people. It’s very weird that I’m kind of the old man in the office. I definitely have the most gray hair in the office.
Some of the things that are seen as extravagances or too costly to do in terrestrial radio, SiriusXM doesn’t blink an eye. The Daytona 500, The Super Bowl–nobody does the Super Bowl better than SiriusXM. The World Series, The College Football Playoff. The listeners want to be there. We take them there. I think it sounds big coming out of the speakers.
MF: How much more room is there to grow at SiriusXM Sports?
JD: I think it’s endless. The gambling thing, VSIN is way ahead of the curve. You’ll see the in-game part of gambling soon. There will be shows breaking down games from a gambling standpoint as they happen. E-sports we were ahead of the curve on. I don’t know what the Pandora partnership is going to be, but will sports content be created and put on Pandora eventually? It wouldn’t shock me.
The other advantage we have is the availability of “Pop-up” channels which is kind of the world I live in. We did a week of Super Bowl radio and when the Olympics come along we’ll do a “pop-up” channel for that.
MF: Is there something that worries you or keeps you up at night?
JD: I’m not going to say things don’t keep me up at night, but they’re usually things I need to do the next day. I think I always worry about our industry.
I’m a radio guy. I’ve been a radio guy since I was 18 years old. I have a passion for what we do. I’m doing a different kind of radio now. I think as an industry we have to figure out a way to balance the financial part of things between the financial part of things and do what our listeners want and create good content. It’s not right right now. 18 spots an hour. I don’t begrudge them. Doing that and staying in business is better than my radio brothers and sisters being out of a job. There are a lot of people who are very passionate about radio who I feel could be doing a better job without the financial restraints.
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.