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Sports Radio’s Fundamentals Need Some Fine Tuning

“After sampling 13 shows in 2 weeks, Jason Barrett says sports radio programs need to fine tune their fundamentals.”

Jason Barrett

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The fundamentals to doing a sports radio show are known by most who program or occupy the airwaves. The execution though isn’t always reflected in what comes thru the speakers. Since returning to my normal routine following the BSM Summit, I’ve had my ear on a number of shows and stations across the county. Some were local, some national, some highly rated, some not.

What I discovered was an inconsistency to executing the basics. I sampled 13 different shows over the past 2 weeks, and caught many missing the mark on the simplest of details which are necessary for having on-air success.

If you’re waiting for me to praise your brand and trash your competitor, don’t get your hopes up. I’m not going to specifically call anyone out. The intent of this column is to emphasize the importance of blocking and tackling on sports radio and point out why it matters to what you do.

If you’re new to the industry or if some of these things aren’t as clear, let me explain what I’m referring to. Radio show fundamentals include many factors. Among them are diving into the content at the start of a segment, resetting a guest or show/topic, identifying yourself and the brand, teasing the next segment and paying off what you said you’d discuss, and informing the audience of who’s speaking on soundbytes you’re airing.

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Sometimes these issues occur because hosts and producers become too dependent on their show sheets. They’re so focused on what’s next or how the current topic or guest is fitting the schedule that they don’t listen close enough to what’s actually happening in the moment. They also fail to remind each other of the simple things that need to be executed throughout a show.

For example, think back to a guest you had on your show who you knew sucked in the first :45-:60 seconds yet you kept them on for 5 more minutes. Why did you do it? Likely because your producer invested time to book him/her or because you thought as the host that if you invested more time in the conversation it would ultimately get better. You also saw that they were scheduled from :30 to :42 so you figured “I’ve got to stretch this and get as close to the end of the segment as possible.”

But it didn’t go well did it? Rather than taking into account the audience’s time, and trusting your gut and ears to move on from poor content, you let the schedule, an individual’s effort, and your own ego stop you from maximizing the minutes you had to work with.

Now you might say “it’s only 5 minutes, big deal.” Well, 5 minutes of listening is what you need to gain to secure a quarter hour of ratings credit. Most listeners don’t give you 3-hours of their time. In fact, if you can grab 2-3 quarter hours a day on your station between 6a-7p ET that’s often a success.

Think about that for a second. A station’s normal broadcast day (weekday prime M-F 6a-7p) is 13 hours in length or 780 minutes. We’re considering 30-45 minutes of listening per day a successful one. The audience could choose not to listen for 735-750 minutes of the broadcast day and we’d still consider that a victory.

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There’s also the reality that your audience doesn’t listen every day. I know if you’re a host or producer you’re convinced that 50,000 people arrive each day and hang on your every word, but that’s not how it works. You’re going to have a lot of listeners who check out your show only 2-3x per week and for short periods of time. If during one of those occasions, they listen 4 minutes or less, it’s as if they never stopped by.

When they do tune in, it’s your responsibility to make it easy to play along. You may think it doesn’t matter but something as simple as saying your name, the guests name, the caller’s name, who the person speaking in an audio clip is, the station and/or the name of the show plants seeds in the audience’s mind. Never should your audience exit your station and wonder who or what they were listening to.

This is especially critical if you’re a part time talent. There’s absolutely no reason you should be hosting a weekend show or filling in during the weekday and having an audience go 15 minutes without knowing who you are. What good is exceptional content if nobody can remember who created it?

You may think your tracks were covered when the station ran a liner promoting your name at the start of the segment 20 minutes ago, but what about the people who stopped by 5 minutes into the segment and left 10 minutes later? If they haven’t heard you say your name or the name of the show that would mean it’s been 15 minutes since the liner played and that’s too long to go without announcing your name and the brand/show.

Another one I’ve heard a lot lately that drives listeners crazy is guests going for extended periods of time without being identified. There’s no set rule for when to ID a guest but my preference was every 3rd question if the answers are short or every 2nd question if a guest rambles for minutes at a time. If it’s easier to just say “every 4 minutes, every 5 minutes, every 2nd or 3rd question” that’s fine. Everyone has a different plan of attack. The bottom line, don’t leave the audience wondering for 10-15 minutes who you’re talking to.

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A couple of other examples that I want to focus on are not identifying audio clips, teasing segments and providing payoffs, diving into content, and forgetting to reset prior conversations.

Starting with teasing, I want you to answer one simple question: What gives you a better chance of keeping your audience listening to the next segment, telling them you’ve got bills to pay and you’ll come back after commercials or leaving them curious by promoting something interesting? I find that people usually respond better when they have something to look forward to.

This doesn’t mean you have to frame everything in a way that makes it seem like you’ve located the cure for cancer. If you’re doing a 16 segment 4-hour show, I don’t think you’ll be believable if you tell the audience every time you go to break that you have something that’s going to change their life. It doesn’t need to be oversold.

For example if you said “LeBron James’ future in Los Angeles is in question and in 4 minutes we’ll reveal a clue that makes it clear his time in the city of Angels is coming to an end” it might get your audience to come back, but you’re also going to look silly if that situation doesn’t happen. You may have a good clue, but unless you’re Magic Johnson, Jeanie Buss, Rob Pelinka, and LeBron James, and you’ve made a collective decision about what the next step of the relationship is going to be, you don’t know exactly what will happen.

Instead keep it simple: “We’ve discovered a clue that may lend insight into the future of the Lakers relationship with LeBron James….we’ll share it with you next.”

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Just as important, if you told the audience that’s going to be discussed next, make sure it is. Nothing pisses people off more then when they look forward to something, and the host develops amnesia during the commercial break and decides to spend the next 10 minutes talking about everything but what they said they would. The bottom line, give the audience something to look forward to and deliver on your promises.

The other part of this that I hear a lot of hosts make mistakes with, tell me what you’re doing NEXT. Tease one simple thing, that’s it. If a listener is engaged with your show and you’re heading to a break, you might get them to the next segment if you make it sound worthwhile. If you think they’re setting calendar appointments of when to tune in later in the show, be prepared to be disappointed.

When you tell the audience everything you have planned for the next 4 hours while heading to break or hit them with the 5 topics you’re hot on today it’s just noise. There’s no call to action. So too is the common throwaway of “we’ve got some Lakers, some Patriots, the Odell trade, we’ll do a little bit of Westbrook + Bryce Harper’s in the news.”

Why not just tell them “we’ve got a whole lot of sports to talk about” while you’re at it. That’s a classic case of “I have nothing planned for the next segment, but here’s a bunch of stuff.” As I’ve told hosts in the past who’ve worked for me, I put stuff in a suitcase. I need to know why I should spend my next 5 minutes listening to you. To use some baseball advice, throw your best pitch and hit your spot. Don’t get cute trying to show off all of your pitches at once.

Next, let’s talk about diving into content. Simply put, when the music bed plays and you utter your first sentence, are you wasting words or making them count? Nobody cares about your studio view of the city or who beat you to the soda machine during the commercial break. If you sound unfocused and waste people’s time with minutia, they’ll get tired of it and change the dial.

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A host who does a great job of diving right into content is Colin Cowherd. When his segments start, he’s usually right into the the topic off of his first word. You may love or hate his personality and style or the topic he’s chosen but when it comes to not wasting time getting into a discussion he’s exceptional at it. Case in point, here’s a sample from yesterday’s show. You’ll hear the music playing under him as he wastes no time getting right into conversation.

A good exercise to help yourself as a host or producer is to take a drive in your car and just listen to 15-20 minutes of radio. 93.7 The Fan PD Jim Graci said at the BSM Summit that he has his talent listen back to an hour of their show each day. When the 5 minute commercial break hits it’ll feel like an eternity, especially if a station is running :15 and :30 second spots. If they do, you might hear anywhere from 6-15 different advertising messages.

You’ll find that the commercial breaks for many brands often include station promos, sports updates, service elements (traffic, news, weather, stock), station liners to send you back into the show, a music bed that starts the segment and plays for :05-:10 seconds, and in some instances, :10-:20 seconds of a soundbyte airing over the bed to send the host into the topic. That means your listener can be separated from your last sentence for 8-9 minutes.

The average commute time in the United States is 25.4 minutes. In most major market cities during drive times, that length may be double. Add it up and it means that the commuter is with you for 2-4 segments during their drive. If you have an 8-9 minute stoppage every 15-20 minutes, and fail to focus your content, dive in, and give the audience nothing to look forward to, you may turn out alright, but your odds of earning additional listening are going to be greatly enhance by teasing, paying things off, and diving in.

Moving to soundbytes, you can attach the best :10-:15 seconds of audio to a produced return or play it over a music bed, and then dive into your content, but is it too much to ask to tell the audience who was speaking on the clip when you begin building your stance off of it? Do you think your entire audience knows the voice of every single football, baseball, and basketball player and coach?

If you’re pitching to a cut inside of the segment, that too requires identification. Doing something vague like “The Raiders have opened up the checkbook but not everyone is convinced they’re spending their money wisely” and not referencing who shared the opinion that differs from yours is foolish. You’re making the audience work harder than they need to.

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Make it easy for people to play along. Giving the name of the person speaking adds credibility to the discussion, and it’ll likely make your audience want to join the conversation. They may even tweet at the person who made the comment, offering their own opinions on what they said, or let them know that you disagreed with their point of view which opens the door to a rebuttal and additional content.

The last item I want to draw attention to is not resetting prior on-air conversations. What you’re talking about now is what matters most to your audience. Too often hosts forget that. When you say things like “We discussed this at length on Tuesday so we’re not going to beat a dead horse” or “People took issue with our position yesterday on LeBron James and I don’t get it” and don’t follow up by explaining what those points were and where you stand, you’re leaving them out in the cold.

As great as it would be, the audience is not going to dive into your podcast archives and re-listen to everything you said just so they can follow along easier. Furthermore, if you’re going to discuss something that’s clearly triggered an emotion in you, take the time to expand on it. Otherwise what was the point in bringing it up in the first place?

Remember that you have listeners who like your show, but aren’t addicted to it. They may form a deeper connection with you in the future, but if their schedule only allows for them to hear you 2-3 days per week for 15 minutes at a time, don’t give them reasons to tune out from the current occasion or future ones by not making it easy to consume the content.

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In sports, so much of success depends on preparation. A player like Tim Duncan was known for his ability to block shots, grab rebounds, score points, and make his teammates better, but he earned the nickname “The Big Fundamental” because of his knowledge, ability, and commitment to improving his footwork, taking high percentage shots, establishing good rebounding position, passing the ball to the open man, and executing consistently. All of those things helped him earn the respect and admiration from fans, teammates, and competitors, and a number of NBA titles.

For sports radio professionals, it’s no different. You’ve got to have talent or you wouldn’t be on the air. But others are on the airwaves and capable of entertaining audiences too.

You have a short window of time to lure people in before they find other options. There are over 700,000 podcasts available, 20-75 local radio stations (depending on your market) supplying content, social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, plus apps, videos, satellite radio, and friends or family texting or calling. Each wants the listener’s attention and is competing against you to earn it.

To succeed you’ve got to be able to entertain, inform, and provide unique opinions and angles that make the audience think and feel. Guests, soundbytes, and callers are the props which enhance your presentation, and the last step for hosts is to navigate the show smoothly by executing effective blocking and tackling principles.

Look at it like this, if your topics, opinions, and personalities are the equivalent of a main course meal, then it’s the fundamentals that are your sides and appetizers. Depending on who’s at the table or in this case listening in the car, on the phone, or thru a smart speaker, those extras can be the difference between the audience feeling full or still hungry.

Barrett Blogs

Julie Talbott to Receive The Jeff Smulyan Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“The best leaders are the ones who empower their people, work with their talent, and study situations to determine where room for growth exists.”

Jason Barrett

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Each year at the BSM Summit, we take time to recognize some of the true difference makers in the sports media industry. It’s become a special part of the event, and it reminds everyone in the room of what’s possible if you do your job well and create impact.

Four awards in total are presented over the two-day event thanks to our friends at Premiere Networks. Each award has a different focus.

The Jeff Smulyan Award is presented to a radio industry executive who has led by example, taken risks, produced results, and made a significant difference for the sports radio business. The Mark Chernoff Award is given to sports radio’s top programmer. The Mike and the Mad Dog Award is presented to the top local sports radio show in America. And The Champions Award along with a financial contribution from BSM is given to an industry member who has used their platform to make a difference for others.

Since we began taking the Summit live in 2019, Mitch Rosen and Rick Radzik have been recognized as winners of the Mark Chernoff Award. Adam Schefter and the team of Keith Murphy and Andy Fales have been recipients of the Champions Award. And the top rated combination of Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti received the first ever Mike and the Mad Dog Award at the 2022 BSM Summit in NYC.

Which brings us to the Jeff Smulyan Award.

A number of top notch executives have joined us to accept this honor over the years. It started in Los Angeles with Kraig Kitchin, continued in New York City with Dan Mason, and then Traug Keller took home the honor during our last show, which also took place in the big apple.

As we looked to 2023, the goal was to identify someone who’s been active in growing their company’s footprint across the sports radio industry. Equally important was someone who has the full confidence and trust of their people, a track record of delivering results, and has uncovered new business opportunities to lead their company forward.

After a brief conversation, Jeff and I knew exactly who the right person was.

It is my honor to announce and congratulate Julie Talbott, President of Premiere Networks on being named our recipient of the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. Julie will be present in Los Angeles at the Founders Club at the Galen Center at USC to accept the honor at the 2023 BSM Summit on March 21-22, 2023.

“I’m humbled and honored to receive this award – especially with Jeff Smulyan’s name associated with it. I’ve been a fan of his throughout the years” shared Julie Talbott. “Premiere Networks and FOX Sports Radio are dedicated to delivering the best multiplatform sports audio content the industry has to offer, and this award truly recognizes the amazing efforts of our entire team, who I couldn’t be more proud of.  Thanks to Jason Barrett and BSM for this incredible honor.” 

“I have known Julie for many, many years and our industry doesn’t have a better ambassador than her” added Jeff Smulyan. “She has worked tirelessly to build Premiere into a remarkable enterprise and she has made legions of friends and admirers along the way. She is so deserving of this award and I couldn’t be happier that my friend, Julie Talbott is the winner of the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. Nothing makes me happier than to present it to her this March at USC!” 

“FOX Sports Radio’s growth under Julie’s watchful eye has been impressive, but when combined with Premiere’s performance and reach, and seizing opportunities in the digital space by launching strong brands such as The Volume, in partnership with Colin Cowherd, you start to see how she’s put her magical touch on the industry,” explained BSM President Jason Barrett. “The best leaders are the ones who empower their people, work with their talent, and study situations to determine where room for growth exists, and few have the respect, trust, and confidence of their people better than Julie Talbott.”

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Omaha Productions, The Volume, Dirty Mo Media and Silver Tribe Media to Appear at the 2023 BSM Summit

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is five months away but the process to build sports media’s annual industry event continues. We’ve already announced 11 participants for our next show including Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome and Joy Taylor, but by the time this show takes place, attendees can expect to hear from 50-60 people as the agenda becomes action packed.

I do want to share one thing for those inquiring about speaking. Though I appreciate the interest, I’m selective in who we feature on stage because it’s important to keep the show fresh and full of actionable content. There are tons of smart people in this industry but I can’t accommodate everyone. I try to create sessions that benefit radio, digital and television executives, programmers, general managers, talent, agents, salespeople, production staff, etc. and to do that, we’ve got to cover a lot of different subjects over a two-day span. My goal is to send folks home with ideas and information to improve their brands, while providing a space for groups and individuals to meet since it opens the door to additional business. We’ve been fortunate to have good support and participation over our past four events, and I’m expecting this one to be even bigger and better.

Before I announce the latest additions to our speaker lineup, I want to thank Premiere Networks for their continued support of the Summit. They’ve been wonderful partners for years, and I appreciate them joining us to create the annual Awards ceremony. It is always a hit with attendees. More to come soon on this year’s honorees.

I’d also like to thank Harker Research for returning as a partner of the event, and MRN Radio for signing on as a new partner. Harker has sponsored all of our live events, and MRN has been in attendance for those shows. Having their support makes a difference. They join Premiere Networks, Stone Voiceovers and Core Image Studio as Summit partners. If you haven’t secured a sponsorship but would like to be, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com. She can update you on what we still have available.

As far as the content is concerned, I’m excited to announce a very cool session we’re adding which will include involvement from Omaha Productions, The Volume, Dirty Mo Media, and Silver Tribe Media.

Everywhere you look these days, athletes are taking more control of their own messaging. They’re also more interested in content creation and are investing in people to help build today and tomorrow’s sports media empires. Whether it’s been Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or broadcasters such as Colin Cowherd, Bill Simmons, Dave Portnoy and Pat McAfee, the era of personality-led audio networks has arrived. This session will examine where we are, where we’re going, what’s been learned, and how it will affect change across traditional media moving forward.

Jack Rose of Silver Tribe Media will moderate the session. Joining him on stage will be Logan Swaim, Head of Content at The Volume. Richelle Markazene, Head of Audio for Omaha Productions, and Mike Davis, President and Executive Producer of Dirty Mo Media. Each of these folks have great insight and experience with leading personality-built brands, and Jack’s understanding of the media landscape through his work with Michael Klein’s company make him an ideal fit to guide the conversation. This is a session that traditional media folks are going to want to be present for.

If you haven’t purchased a ticket or booked your hotel room, don’t wait until the last minute. Everything you need to be in attendance for the Summit is available at BSMSummit.com. We are excited to host the show at The Founders Club at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California. This is a great location and the biggest room we’ve run our conference in yet. I’m hoping to see you there.

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Jeff Smulyan, Mark Chernoff, Scott Shapiro, Scott Sutherland and Evan Cohen To Participate at 2023 BSM Summit

“The 2023 BSM Summit is a two-day media industry conference designed to help broadcasting professionals.”

Jason Barrett

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Building an annual sports media conference is no day at the beach. It takes months to assemble and involves a lot of different steps. We analyze what matters to those attending, brainstorm ideas, create a sketch of the show to make sure there’s enough variety to satisfy different segments of the industry, pursue tons of speakers who have experience and an ability to add something unique or valuable on stage, and create sales decks and talk to existing and potential clients about supporting the show. If all of it doesn’t flow seamlessly, we run the risk of not delivering the type of event I expect us to.

Fortunately, over the years we’ve put together a pretty good conference. I’m proud of how it’s grown and that’s only possible because we’ve had great support across the industry. If you work in sports media and value learning, relationship building, and connecting with teammates, peers and competitors, this is an event you need to be at. It’s one that companies looking to reach sports broadcasting professionals should be involved in from an advertising standpoint too. Though there’s a lot of work still to be done, when we arrive in Los Angeles for the 2023 BSM Summit at USC’s Founders Club at the Galen Center on March 21-22, 2023, I’m expecting our team will deliver another top-notch performance.

To help us make that happen, I’m thrilled to share that we’ll have participation from some of the industry’s most accomplished broadcasting professionals. Joining us on site for our awards ceremonies will be the man who started the sports talk format, Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan. Also making the trip to the west coast will be former WFAN program director and CBS Radio/Entercom/Audacy sports format captain Mark Chernoff. Both men are honored annually with awards in their names. We’ll reveal the winners of both of those awards in the weeks and months ahead.

Additionally, I’m pleased to welcome back Scott Sutherland. Scott serves as the Executive Vice President of Regional Media Operations for Bonneville International Corporation, and is responsible for the strategic development and business growth of the company’s market leading sports brands in Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Sacramento. Also returning to the Summit is FOX Sports Radio’s Vice President of Programming Scott Shapiro. Scott is charged with guiding FOX Sports Radio’s daily content strategy, and always enjoys lending his perspective on key issues facing talent, brands, and content leaders.

I realize many of you reading this who work in the industry are last minute planners. That’s ok, but I’d encourage you to reserve your hotel room in advance if you wish to stay close to the Galen Center. Our hotel partner is the USC Hotel, and you can learn more about the discounted rate we’ve established for attendees by clicking here.

The 2023 BSM Summit is a two-day media industry conference designed to help broadcasting professionals. The sports media industry is rapidly changing and the more we can learn from one another and take advantage of information and relationships, the better it’ll serve us moving forward. To attend this show, you must be involved in the media business whether it’s on-air, digital, behind the scenes, in management, sales, ad buying, talent representation or something else. We will also allow college students to attend the show in person if they are pursuing a future in sports broadcasting. Details on student tickets will be made available closer to the holidays.

In the meantime, if you want to make sure you have a seat in the room to enjoy the sessions and network with industry professionals, purchase your ticket(s) by visiting BSMSummit.com. I look forward to seeing you there.

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