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The BSM 64: 16 Ways to Impact Your Airwaves

“BSM President Jason Barrett offers 16 items that anyone can implement to impact their station in a positive manner.”

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This week, Barrett Sports Media is featuring a four part mini-series of articles providing helpful tips, lessons, and observations for the sports media industry. Leading up to Thursday we will present a new article each day inspired of course by the NCAA Tournament.

On Monday, Demetri Ravanos kicked things off with his look at 16 Station Bracket Ideas. If you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend it. Your promotion next March could be sitting inside of it.

But for today, I thought that since I spend most of my time listening and studying brands on-air, online, and on social, that it’d be fun to write about 16 items that anyone can implement to impact their station in a positive manner. It’s easy to analyze what’s weak, but most of what we do is good. If it wasn’t, stations wouldn’t trust their programmers, personalities or producers to use the airwaves, and the audience wouldn’t respond.

The little details and extra effort can make a world of difference in this business so keep these in mind as you continue working on being the best you can be.

1: 4 Layered Conversation – When hosts and producers outline their show each day, they know have a pretty good idea beforehand what the lead story is going to be. The challenge is taking that lead story and finding multiple ways to talk about it for lengthy periods of time. Even more important, the host must maintain discipline and not introduce every angle and question to the story during a segment, otherwise they’ll become less passionate and interested in the subject as the show rolls on.

The goal should be to identify 4 different questions to build conversations off of and make sure they’re strong enough to last 10-15 minutes. Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between a note and a topic. A note is something you explore for a minute or two, a topic is what you invest a large chunk of time into.

If for example the story was the public reaction to LeBron James distancing himself from the Lakers huddle over the weekend, you’d be working to create lengthy discussions around his long-term fit in Los Angeles, what others in sports/media are saying about it (Clyde Frazier’s comments would come up here), what the franchise needs to do this offseason to avoid a repeat, how Luke Walton, Jeanie Buss, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka factor into the blame game, how you’d view this situation if you were in LeBron’s shoes, how the perception of the Lakers being an elite franchise has changed, etc..

I used the number 4 with the thought of a 4-hour show in mind, but if you do a 2-3 hour show, feel free to modify it. Either way, the key is making sure you don’t combine all of those topics into one conversation. If you do, it’s going to be hard to sound fresh, excited, and interested in the forthcoming hours. Space them out and you’ll find yourself mentally engaged in the topic much longer than you thought you’d be.

2: Writing Improves On-Air Performance – This notion that sports radio hosts who rely on writing are weaker than those that don’t is foolish. I’ve heard many say “It’s about being organic, I need to feel the show, I don’t like having anything written down”, and when I hear that it sounds like an excuse for being less prepared.

Now listen, maybe you have amazing recall. Maybe your producer does such an amazing job laying things out that you feel comfortable that way. I’m not saying those things don’t matter or that allowing room for things to develop organically isn’t important because they are. But, don’t tell me there’s no value in having some of your best thoughts placed on paper and available to you to go to at some point during the show.

Do you think Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarrantino tell their actors to just show up and say some stuff in front of a camera and they’ll figure out the rest? Don’t professional athletes workout, practice, watch tape, and talk to peers, coaches and executives about ways to get better or take advantage of opportunities versus an upcoming opponent?

Great talent are curious and always thinking. They take notes during games. They highlight things in articles. They leave themselves voice mails or texts to recall specific points or ideas. Don’t mistake the value of writing for weakness. There’s a fine line between chaos and organization. Those who create organized chaos though usually enjoy the best of both worlds.

3: Regulars with Different Backgrounds – So many shows feature weekly conversations with people involved in the sports world. Most are arranged by program directors, some with the involvement of talent, some without. In many cases, regular contributors are secured based on budgets, audience and staff familiarity with the individual, and the worst of them all, what’s easiest to arrange. Rarely taken into account is whether the show/station is featuring a mix of people from different walks of life, and attracting new audience.

First and foremost, if you’re paying someone to appear regularly and they show no meaningful lift to your station’s ratings or revenue performance, why would you have them back? Your host may like them personally or your PD may like that it’s affordable but you get what you paid for.

What should be taken further into consideration is how you’re reaching different parts of your audience. Younger, Older, White, Black, Hispanic, Man, Woman, etc.. One show that does this very well is The Dan Le Batard Show.

Do you have people on your airwaves who represent different backgrounds and provide a different point of view? Are you booking the same 5-6 white writers and reporters who have been around the business for 30-40 years just because it’s easy and familiar? Sports radio may be 80-85% male, and most of that listening comes from White or ‘Other’ men. But rather than looking at the lack of activity from Women and Black/Hispanic listeners, consider this an opportunity to bring more of those folks to the table.

4: Making Endorsements Entertaining – If the majority of your audience is going to tune out when you play commercials, you might as well do your best to make the client happy. By doing that in entertaining fashion, you may even steal :60 seconds of the audience’s time. I saw that in San Francisco in 2014-2015 with the way Greg Papa and John Lund invested themselves in a campaign for Pasta Pomodoro. Their spots became a hit with the audience, many using the text line and social media to voice their approval and use funny lines from the spots to engage in conversation.

Think about this for a minute, why don’t you change the channel when a movie trailer comes on your television screen? It’s a commercial right? But we watch it because it’s interesting, entertaining, and provides a call to action (we want to go see it).

On radio it’s the personalities job to speak for products they feel a connection to and give the audience a reason to check them out. If you’re going to grab the sheet of copy with its 6-10 bullet points :10 seconds before its time to deliver the spot and sleep walk thru the read, it’s going to have less impact. You’ll also likely lose that account at some point.

If you can record them, chances are they’ll be better. If LIVE is a must, then think about how you’re going to make someone care about the next 60 seconds of airtime when it’s not the content they seek. Your personal connection to the product, and the way you use humor and/or relatable issues to make the audience lean forward are critically important.

I saw Barstool launch a campaign two years ago for Burger King using the hashtag No New Year (#NoNewYear). The video spot was simple and silly and they provided a call to action which got the audience involved. Big Cat and PFT had fun with it, and it was more likely to please Burger King’s agency buyer than the standard testimonial from a radio talent telling the audience to sample their new sandwich. With social influencers putting more time, effort and creativity into making advertisers feel valued, radio hosts have to be equally up to the task to keep business strong.

5: Creating a Distinctive Sound – When you turn on WFAN it sounds unique. If you listen to ESPN Radio or FOX Sports Radio they have their own sound. Watch a few TV channels tonight and you’ll quickly see how network channels, news/talk outlets, and outlets like TBS, TNT, AMC, and FX differ from one another. Your show can do the same.

One way to do it is by installing music beds that fit the style of show and are different from the rest of your brand. I’ll never understand why stations rotate 100 beds for all 4 of their shows. If your host is an aggressive personality and you’ve got a Justin Timberlake tune or older and slower classic rock bed playing before they speak, does that match the tone of what they deliver thru the speakers? I don’t think it does.

The other way to strengthen the originality of the show is thru liners. Allow room for your creativity to shine thru and highlight what makes your talent or show style stand out. Rather than spending 5 seconds with something bland that just tells the audience the name of the station and host, take the extra 5 seconds to add some flavor to it. And don’t tell me that’s going to be what costs you a listening occasion. That’s a farce.

For example, I worked with a host years ago who was notorious for stirring things up. My former marketing director wrote a few liners and one that stood out was when he jokingly told the audience the station’s insurance premium’s had doubled due to employing him. It instantly created an image of this host being a rule breaker, and someone who took no prisoners on the air. It was consistent with his approach, and when you heard him start talking over heavier/angrier beds from bands like Korn, Rage Against The Machine, and Sevendust it fit the persona of the personality, and gave the show its own unique style. In a world full of noise, that matters.

6: Storytelling Thru Production Returns – Playing a piece of sound over music to lead into a segment is fine. Taking a few clips and connecting them to a song with a specific title that creatively leads your host into their next conversation is even better.

One thing I’ve consistently done during my career is take new music and create :15-:20 seconds of an instrumental bed, follow it with the hook or chorus, and leave trailing instrumental music afterwards for a host to talk over. Regardless of what stories pop up, I have something already on standby. Strong imaging directors like Jeff Schmidt and Justin Dove do this with their promos, but producers could easily impact their shows by doing this too.

When you watch a football game or show feature, TV producers do this with regularity. The feature or highlights package plays over a familiar musical bed and often connects to the story they’re trying to tell. Most of the time it makes the storytelling more powerful.

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, here are two pieces I’ve created in the past. The first is for a lead up to the Panthers-Eagles Thursday Night game in 2017, and the second is one of the returns we used on 95.7 The Game in SF after learning of Al Davis passing away.

Radio is all about sound, so why we wouldn’t do this more I’m not sure. It makes a show sound better. The only challenge is finding the time to do it. I’ve always felt that those who care enough to make their production matter will find the time. Others will take the easier way out. Figure out which music best fits your show, think of how to use the hook to connect to the story you’re discussing, and it’ll give your program a nice touch.

7: Turning The Mundane Into Must Listen – Every now and then you’re going to be given something you consider less than spectacular. A team may ask you to promote something that you don’t care about. The GM makes a call to help out sales which doesn’t please the PD or personality. Or you roll the dice yourself on something you think mght be good and it turns out to be bad.

First, remember that it’s one segment. If you think your show’s success or failure is going to depend on that one 10-minute piece of content, you may want to go back and re-examine everything else happening over the course of the week.

That said, look at how Dan Le Batard took a spot with Zoo Keeper Ron Magil and made it cool. He did the same thing years ago getting Florida Panthers play by play man Randy Moller to interject one liners into his goal calls. That’s an example of taking something that most shows would say ‘I’m not doing that it’s bad content’ and making it good.

Rock morning shows are usually very good at this because they take the simple and turn it into entertaining content. Case in point, I once worked on a FM music morning show where the hosts had one time sent out the stunt guy on a slow rainy day to stand on the side of the road near a giant puddle. They then asked the audience to drive by him and splash him while he was calling in. My first thought was ‘this is what we’re doing?’ but it resulted in hysterical on-air moments. They created something out of nothing.

But maybe you don’t operate like Le Batard or think the way a Rock morning show does. My suggestion then, bring the guest you’ve been saddled with into whatever your day’s top conversation is. As an example, if you’re talking to an NFL coach on the day LeBron James is being criticized for distancing himself from the Lakers huddle, that can be related to NFL issues that arise between coaches and players. Find a conversation that’s meaningful to your audience and get them on that conversation instead of spending your majority of time on something you know has limited value.

There’s always a subject out there to explore deeper, and when you know you’re up against it with someone that doesn’t feel right to the show, it’s better to try to bring them into what you’re doing rather than rely on what they’re doing. After all, that’s what had you not wanting to do the spot in the first place.

8: Well Timed Drops – Opinions and information may be what we spend most of our energy thinking about, but when a producer or board operator can think along with the host, and introduce audio drops that add to the conversation or result in hilarious moments, it’s worth its weight in gold. OMF on WEEI in Boston and The Michael Kay Show on 98.7 FM ESPN NY are two programs who do this exceptionally well.

My one rule to those behind the scenes is to be careful of not being too clever. Nobody needs to hear your entire library over the span of 3-4 hours. You also need to use good judgment when discussing specific stories. Case in point, you probably don’t want to play The Waterboy’s “That’s What It Feels Like To Open Up a Can of Whoop Ass” while your host is talking about Tyreek Hill being accused of hurting his son. That’s likely to get you suspended or fired.

If you can find things that are unique to your show and that you know connect with your host, and introduce them at the right times, the entertainment value can ascend to higher levels. That becomes a win with the audience.

9: Directing The Audience’s Reactions – This one is simple but important. A host must spend time researching stories, watching games, crafting a game plan, giving their opinions, and asking their audience how they feel about the issues they’re introducing. Equally as necessary is being committed to directing them. Don’t follow the callers, lead the callers.

An example of this would be talking about the Odell Beckham trade, and then turning to the phones and fielding a call that wants to discuss the NY Knicks. Are you a host in control of a show or are you a telephone operator who’s just there to answer as many questions as possible? You can wait to take that call. You can also choose to notify the listener that topic will be happening later, but you’re on something else right now so their time isn’t wasted. They’ll appreciate it.

The bottom line, you create the content, and guide the conversation. If all you’re going to do is look at the light on the phone and go wherever the audience takes you, be prepared for them to listen for much shorter periods of time to your presentation.

10: The Guest Element of Surprise – Booking guests is a regular part of sports radio. People love to hear people talk to other people, especially when it involves issues about other people.

But sometimes these conversations become routine and uneventful. Hosts and producers don’t often drop the guest after their 3 big items have been answered, they extend them for an extra 5 minutes because it kills time, and they think their 7th best question is important.

Rather than spending extra time on stuff that has less value, have you considered doing something to surprise your guest? That might be playing a piece of sound for them and getting them to react. For example, one time at 101 ESPN Bryan Burwell and Bob Stelton played Mark Schlereth’s analysis on the St. Louis Rams for GM Billy Devaney. Little did we know Devaney would unload on Schlereth and it would become the focus of the next few hours of the show.

Other times it may involve asking a guest about someone, and then having that other person on the line ready to react. That’s exactly what I did at the BSM Summit having 3 PD’s analyze one of Doug Gottlieb’s segments and then surprise them on stage.

Sometimes it becomes a cool moment for all involved. For example, if you’re talking to Joe Torre about managing the Yankees it’s probably going to be a fun conversation. But if Joe Girardi phoned in during that chat and you now have both men taking part in an interesting conversation, it surprises the audience, makes the moment cooler, and becomes something you’re probably discussing throughout the rest of the show.

Pulling it off requires work, but if you’re committed to creating cool moments, they’re out there to be made. You just need to think and take chances. That’s part of what makes radio fun in the first place.

11: Asking The Right Questions – For years ESPN invested in a guy named John Sawatsky who was brilliant when it came to interviewing. Producers and talent were trained on the principles of interviewing, and although you may not agree on everything John suggested, most of it was on point. To this day his interview class was the best piece of instruction I’ve ever sat thru.

What John tried to get across was the importance of asking questions that delivered the best responses. When hosts ask short focused questions that start with Who, What, Where, Why, When or How, they often generate better answers from guests.

It sounds simple but if you go back and listen to your last interview and the responses that you receive from people, you might be surprised by what you hear. Many personalities start questions with Do, Does, Can, Is, If, Will and when the replies are weak they blame it on the guest rather than taking into account their line of questioning.

Just like athletes take time to review their performance and find the areas of weakness, you have to do the same as a host. If interviewing is one of them, consider using short open ended questions and see what transpires during your next few conversations.

12: Multi-Purposed Social Content Promotion – A typical 3-4 hour show produces 12-16 segments per day. Those may each be pieces of content worth highlighting or there may be shorter snippets inside each segment that are more valuable to share with the audience. But what I don’t often see is a strategy to highlight content in various ways across social channels. That’s part of why I’m heading to San Diego this week to attend Social Media Marketing World 2019.

One thing I loved hearing at the BSM Summit in Chicago last year was how the Chicago Bulls approach social content. Their head of digital content Dan Moriarty explained how the Bulls expect content to be either Human, Iconic, Timely, Thumb Stopping, Inclusive or Differentiating, no piece of content should be published unless it checks at least three of those boxes. He also explained that the franchise looks to take one piece of content and find 10-12 ways to promote it across multiple platforms in different ways.

Does your station even create 3 ways to promote the best thing you did on the air yesterday? People have asked me before why I promote the BSM Podcast with so many different images, links, and video clips, and it’s for this very reason – you’re trying to stand out in a very crowded field.

Whether it’s a great monologue, an interview, a funny impression, or something just interesting that might generate a reaction from your audience, think about how you’re promoting that content socially. Between using different images with texts, audio links, written articles, and video highlights, there are plenty of ways to use your social channels to make your audience more aware and interested in your content.

13: Video is a Friend to Audio – One great advantage shows have now is the ability to utilize video to make their show more of a destination. If Facebook, Instagram or Twitter is where your audience starts their day, you have a chance to be in front of them before they reach their car. That’s a good thing.

But standing out from a few thousand people isn’t easy, which is why video can make a big difference. Two shows that I’ve enjoyed over time who I think do this well thru social media are The Morning Men on Mad Dog Sports Radio and The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte. There are many others I’m sure but these guys do a nice job of taking topical events and utilizing humor to make the audience want to hear more.

When you’re at home browsing thru your Twitter timeline and a video pops up of Mac being tripped by T-Bone in the studio just as Zion Williamson experienced on the court last week, it makes you stop, watch, and laugh. That then gives the audience a reason to want to spend more time with the show either on their phone via the app at home via their smart speaker, or thru the radio once they get into their car.

It starts with thinking about your audience and how they connect to your show. Reach them thru social channels by providing a visual peak behind the curtain and it’ll lead to more sampling of your audio content.

14: Quick Paced Updates – If you’ve read this site for a while you know I’m not a big fan of sports updates. However, if you’re going to do them, you might as well make the most of them. One way you do that is by keeping the pace moving. The audience doesn’t need a deep dive into the content, just the quick notes version of it.

As the anchor you may hate not having the ability to further explain the story, but that’s why the host is in the room. It’s their job to do that. Think of yourself as the audio version of House of Highlights. If it’s not brief and entertaining, the listeners will skim past it.

If you’re doing a :60 second update, don’t focus on 2-3 stories and include a :15 second soundbyte. That makes an update feel slow. I’ve always preferred 5-6 stories in the span and audio clips between :05-:07 or less. Some even pull it off with :03 clips. Give the audience the meat of the story, and remove the meaningless drivel surrounding it.

If it’s quick, fun, entertaining, and interesting, you’ll have done your job to steal :60 seconds of the listener’s time.

15: Research Your Audience – If your station has the ability to retain Edison Research, Jacobs Media, Amplifi Media, Coleman Insights or Harker Research, excellent. All do tremendous work to help brands learn more about their listeners.

But if you don’t have those resources available, that doesn’t mean you should stop trying to learn more about your listeners. Whether it’s creating in-house focus groups, newsletter surveys, social page groups to encourage station feedback, social chats with the PD or face to face conversations at station remotes, all provide you with input that can help you improve your brand.

Programming and executing a show does require having instincts and trusting your gut but you also benefit by using data and feedback. Otherwise your decision making is solely based on what you think is right. Not what you know is right.

16: Do Your Homework – Getting a host to read and be informed isn’t difficult. Most understand that’s essential to doing the job. Others take it a step further and watch or attend games. You’d assume that’d be necessary to do this line of work, but not everyone spends 6 days a week watching sports. That said, those who do, often sound more convincing, and informed. They also tend to receive better access.

Sports is a never ending job. You watch, you read, you attend, you discuss in person, you debate on social media, it seriously never ends. If you want to be successful in any line of work you’ve got to do the things necessary to have success. This is a full time commitment. There are no shortcuts. It’s a long day and night, but it’s a fun day and night. I can think of much worse things to do than having to stay informed about the world of sports.

Barrett Blogs

Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas

“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”

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Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.

The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.

It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.

For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.

Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.

But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.

I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.

Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.

Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.

Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.

Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.

Additional:

You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.

Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.

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Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media

“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”

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Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.

As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.

As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.

I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.

But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.

Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.

I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.

Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.

These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.

If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.

I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.

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Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure

“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”

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If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.

When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.

Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.

It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.

In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.

I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.

We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.

Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.

This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.

Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.

Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.

I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.

For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.

That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.

But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.

Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.

How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.

The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.

Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.

Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.

You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.

I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.

Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.

One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.

Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.

It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.

Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?

I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.

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