Many moons ago, I was once a program director for a station in Albany, New York. A man named Rick Scott was employed by 104.5 The Team as our consultant. Rick was talking to me about another on-air host that wasn’t driving solid ratings in a key daypart. I told Rick that the host was improving and that he had a strong work ethic — all things that were true. Rick then asked me a very important question — if your job was tied to his performance, would you still want to keep him?
My response was, “Nooooo.” The process of parting ways with that host was very difficult, but it was the right decision for the station. Managers are sometimes hesitant to make a change because it isn’t ideal for their own situation. Maybe the employee has a wife and kids, works hard, and is someone you genuinely care about. But if your paycheck is tied to their performance, all of a sudden your thoughts are more aligned with what is best for the company.
There are many examples of this dynamic in sports. Take Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians for instance. In the week leading up to Tampa’s 38-35 win against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Arians said that he didn’t want to make a decision on quarterback Jameis Winston’s future with the team before the season ends. “I’m gonna wait until the end of December,” Arians said. “There’s been really, really, really good and there’s been some really, really bad. I’m gonna pass until it’s over and then we’ll make a decision.”
Arians is on point. On the good side, Winston has the exact same number of touchdown passes (26) as MVP candidate Russell Wilson. On the bad side, Winston has thrown 18 more interceptions than Wilson. 18 more! Winston leads the league in interceptions and is allergic to protecting the football. It isn’t as if teams like the Chiefs and Texans need to see how the season plays out in order to commit long-term to Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Tampa does. Arians is doing a good job thus far of not allowing his personal relationship with Winston to cloud his judgment about how the team should proceed with the QB.
A program that hasn’t exactly nailed this concept down is USC. The school announced its decision to retain head football coach Clay Helton in spite of a 13-11 record over the past two seasons. What’s even worse is that USC’s recruiting is severely lacking right now. The Trojans have a rich tradition littered with championships and Heisman winners. They have beautiful weather and a recruiting hotbed in Southern California, yet the incoming class is ranked in the same neighborhood as Miami of Ohio? Excuse me while I L-O-L.
Clay Helton is a likable guy. He works hard and is a respectful man of faith, but keeping Helton is like Denzel Washington driving a Kia. Why would you choose a car like that if you have far better options available? That’s the question USC needs to ask itself; is Clay Helton the best we can do here? The answer is an emphatic no. Both president Carol Folt and athletic director Mike Bohn are risking their paychecks on the performance of Helton going forward. That isn’t a wise move.
While your paycheck can be tied to the performances of people around you, it most certainly is tied to your own performance. It’s understood that gigs will be lost if hosts say things that are completely out of bounds. What’s even more important to understand is that hosts can find themselves in a bad position due to comments that seem like they might be out of bounds.
Tim Ryan is a color analyst for the San Francisco 49ers radio network. He was suspended for the 49ers most recent game — an epic 48-46 win against the Saints on Sunday — due to comments he made last week about Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. “But when you consider his dark skin color with a dark football with a dark uniform, you could not see that thing,” Ryan said while describing Jackson’s ability to execute zone read plays. “I mean, you literally could not see when he was in and out of the mesh point. If you’re a half step slow on him in terms of your vision, forget about it, he’s out of the gate.”
To some it seemed like Ryan was trying to take credit away from Jackson by mentioning his skin color and race. It wasn’t as big of an issue to others like 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman who said Ryan “could have used better words but it may have been made bigger than what it really was.”
I don’t think Ryan’s statement was racist. I think it was unwise. It was like grabbing lunch with a sexy co-worker as a married man. It might not be anything at all. It could be totally legit without anything shady whatsoever, but it doesn’t look that way. Radio hosts have to be aware of how things look, not just how things are.
Poker Hall of Famer Doyle Brunson had a great philosophy during his card-playing days. Brunson wanted to force his opponents to make a decision for all of their chips. When so much is on the line, it causes you to make choices more carefully. It’s smart to consider your career in a similar fashion. If you are in a position of management or behind the microphone, make decisions carefully with the thought that your entire chip stack — or paycheck — is at stake. This isn’t a blueprint to be boring or careful to a fault. Be fun and take chances, but don’t do it at the expense of sound judgment.
One of my favorite rants from former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards was when he said, “Put your name on it.” Edwards was describing his disgust for anonymous sources. Instead of hiding, Edwards wanted those people to attach their names to their comments. Let’s extend this great stance to another area — put your job on it.
If you are still comfortable proceeding while knowing your career is on the line, then have at it. It’s a great way to double-check your decisions though. Is this quarterback the guy we should keep? Is this coach the guy we should fire? Is this the comment I should be making?
Put your job on 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.