Summertime radio can be really frustrating. You prep all day, come up with great topics, deliver those topics in an entertaining manner, and then…flop. It feels like there’s nobody listening.
During this part of the year, it may take more than just great content to pull the listener in. Sometimes, it requires thinking outside the box and coming up with an idea the station has never tried. With great ideas come great results, and there’s no better time than now to take a chance on the air.
During the MLB All-Star Break, nobody may have done a better job of this than Brady Farkas and Arnie Spanier of 101.3 The Game in Burlington, Vermont. While most sports radio stations struggled to keep listeners involved during the slowest time period of the year, Farkas and Spanier had a unique idea that brought the listener to the station like never before.
For an entire week, a listener would get to experience what it would be like to be a sports radio host.
“It’s been something we’ve kicked around for a while,” said Farkas. “Arnie has worked in a lot of places and he always has zany ideas, doesn’t matter what it’s about, he always has something creative. He’s always been joking around about, hey, let’s bring the interns on, or hey, let’s bring a listener in. I said, okay, we’ll take it a step further and bring one listener in every day.”
The Friday before the All-Star Break, Farkas mentioned on the air that listeners were going to have the opportunity to co-host for an hour each during the following week. Seeing as Rich Haskell, one of three voices on the show, was on vacation, it made sense to fill the empty chair with someone else. Interest to be a radio host for a day came in bunches. So much so, that tryouts were held to decide which listeners were talented enough to be on the air with Farkas and Spanier.
“It was funny because I read an article on Barrett Sports Media that said listeners tune out during the All-Star Break,” said Farkas. “I played that up and said, ‘hey, this article says you guys aren’t going to listen next week, so we’re going to come up with something that makes you listen and allows you to become a part of the conversation.’”
Farkas and Spanier decided on seven listeners to be on with them during the entire week. Travis in Milton, Andrew in Richmond, Jay in Essex, Harry in St. George, Vince, Rams Fan Ralph and Beth Spanier (Arnie’s wife) all had their shot last week to showcase their radio chops. The selection process was easier than normal, seeing as Farkas started a podcast that had already featured many of the listeners on the station.
“I started a podcast where it was bringing on our listeners to give them a voice,” Farkas said. “Our listeners have become a character on the show. We get a lot of texts, calls and social media engagements, so our listeners know who our listeners are. You find out quickly who’s good and has the chops for it.”
At 4:00 every day, a new listener would take the third chair in studio with Farkas and Spanier. Seeing as seven were picked, two listeners a day were featured on Thursday and Friday. Farkas told each listener that the hour would run largely the same way the show normally runs. At the top of the hour, a Top 4 at 4 would be the feature with the listener getting a chance to sound off on each topic. The second segment, was used as a one-sport topic of the day and then a ‘get to know you’ segment for the listener.
“Our listeners already know each other, we just wanted to give them each an opportunity to tell us more about themselves,” Farkas said.
The last segment was dedicated to the listener and any questions they had to Farkas and Spanier. The logistics of running a radio show, how to book guests, even sports related questions were asked. Anything and everything was open for discussion. For the final segment, it was about the voice of the listener.
The idea was an absolute hit and only bolstered the loyalty each listener already had to the station.
“I think they’re definitely P1’s and they’ll remain P1’s,” Farkas said. “I think our listeners appreciate that we have a podcast and a show that’s really interactive. It’s one of the best complements we get. People feel their investment in listening to us is valued. It was good for us because it was a chance to challenge some of our listeners and go back-and-forth. We invited some of the ones that are the most contentious with us on social media. It was fun to get them in person to see if they would back down or get aggressive. They even got the experience of being heckled on the phone line and text line. All that was great.”
Some listeners took the opportunity to hammer the show hosts they listen to on a frequent basis. But even though it was all in good fun, it didn’t always end well for the new co-host.
“We had one listener who accused of us having way too many hot takes,” said Farkas. “But when he tried to define what a hot take is, he really struggled to do so and the text line hammered him for that. That was really fun. We had another listener who was hammering our third host who was on vacation and wasn’t there to defend himself. This guy was really giving him the business.”
The highlight of the week may have come when Spanier’s wife came into the studio. Though Beth is hardly ever on the air with her husband, she’s become a character on the show.
“He complains about her cooking, inheriting money from her mother, how irritating her voice is, all the things marriage relates to,” said Farkas. “But it was great. Arnie and Beth have a very interesting relationship. They’re constantly bickering with each other, but at the end of the day, they love each other maybe more than any couple I’ve ever seen. They talked about how they met. We even got the story of how she proposed to him. Then she asked some questions, like if he ever regretted leaving one of the many jobs that he had, which brought an emotional side to it. It was a really cool moment.”
For 101.3 The Game, taking a chance provided a boost in listenership and a week that many listeners will never forget. That’s gold if you can produce that type of results in the middle of July. The versatility of the on-air staff was shown during last week’s shows and now gives the station confidence they can pull of more original content ideas to get the most out of their programming.
“I’d definitely do it again, for sure,” said Farkas. “I would do it again during the All-Star Break and even outside of the All-Star Break. The thing I would do differently is I wish I had planned this about a month earlier. We could have blown it up into a content and a sales opportunity. If certain people had already tuned out during that portion of the sports calendar, they would have had no idea we were doing it. If we announced it earlier we really could have made some money from it.”
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.