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How Sports Radio Deals With Tragedy

“Not only was it unprecedented nationally, with the way everyone felt like they lost a friend, but I think in Los Angeles, they lost a family member.”

Tyler McComas

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Mike Breen said what we were all thinking during his broadcast of the Knicks-Nets game on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. 

“Just don’t feel like broadcasting.”

It was an unbelievably beautiful and emotional tribute that left Breen in tears. All of America joined him in sadness. 

Whether it was a local host in Los Angeles or even one of the many doing national radio shows, everyone behind the mic on Sunday felt exactly what Breen was feeling in that moment. But as tough as it may was, being on the air was an absolute necessity. Many Americans, whether they loved or hated the Lakers, whether they cheered or booed Kobe, all looked for an outlet to help cope with the sudden and unexpected loss. Sports radio was that outlet. 

When the news broke, Greg Bergman, assistant PD at 710 ESPN Los Angeles knew his team had to get on the air. His first order of business, was to get on the phone with the station’s PD, Amanda Brown. From there, the two made the necessary arrangements to try and help carry the city through the day.  

“We called Steve Mason and LZ Granderson, it was just really all hands on deck,” said Bergman. “We made contact with every host. We made sure to call a board op or two to come down to the station. We also had someone cutting up sound so that we could play it on the air. Our social team came down so that we could be putting out quotes on social media. They even had a guy outside Staples Center that was filming everything that was happening. We just had to make sure everyone was on the same page, being available and getting down there and going to work.”

Nick Cattles was hosting on ESPN Radio and planned on discussing, how just hours before he went on air, Lebron passed Kobe in career points. Unfortunately, his show took a more somber tone. There’s no script for how you handle a situation like the one that unfolded on Sunday. Especially when multiple erroneous reports were being floated around on social media. It’s already tough enough for a host to have to guide his audience through a tragedy like Kobe’s passing, it’s even harder when trying to decipher which reports are actually true to relay on the air. 

“During a moment like that, you just have to take direction from the people above you to make it as easy as possible,” said Cattles. “It really came down to communication during the show, between producer and me, and then my producer getting the OK or the not OK from the top. ESPN is great when it comes to having enough hands on deck.

“There were a lot of people, when this story started to break, that were in the studio up in Bristol, if not hovering around the studio. It was difficult to try to focus on hosting while seeing everything that was coming through on Twitter, because you just didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t. I think in a case like that, you want to rest on the side of caution and not say something you’re going to regret later.”

One way to help get through such an agonizingly tough show, was to quickly book guests. Whether it was a reporter that covered the Lakers, a former player that played with or against Kobe or even someone that knew him personally, multiple perspectives and stories played well over the air on Sunday. 

John Ireland, radio play-by-play announcer for the Lakers and co-host of Mason and Ireland on 710 ESPN LA was on the team plane when the news broke of Kobe’s passing. While on the air via cell phone with ESPN Los Angeles, he said, “I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to get over the looks of the faces of the people that were closest to him.”

Yes, that’s chilling to read. But it’s also authentic and real. As tough as it is, that’s the type of content his station can be proud of during such an emotional day. 

Clips of former Lakers great James Worthy were played over the air on local stations in Los Angeles. Worthy said, “It’s something you don’t want to hear. And you can’t believe it when you hear it. Extremely devastating. My mother used to always say that you can’t put a question mark behind God’s period. Something has happened to a great person and a father that has given us everything.”

Station promos were specifically made for the day’s events. The unmistakable voice of Jim Cutler led-in from breaks with the read of, “We are with you today. Dealing with the news of the death of one of our favorite players and people to ever be a part of our life. Celebrating the life of Kobe Bryant on 710 ESPN.”

Anything and everything was used to try and provide an escape for the city, even if it was just for a few hours. Dave Shore was the Operations Manager for ESPN Los Angeles from 2010-2015. He was also a pregame host and sideline reporter for the Lakers’ radio broadcast. He witnessed first-hand how much Kobe meant to the community. He also thinks there isn’t a public figure that means more to the city.

“I think this was unprecedented,” Shore said. “Not only was it unprecedented nationally, with the way everyone felt like they lost a friend, but I think in Los Angeles, they lost a family member. Seeing the photos of what used to be just right outside my office there on the courtyard around the Staples Center, to see everybody that had shown up and were just standing and putting down flowers, that’s what they felt inclined to do. That’s what he meant to the city.”

Image result for steve mason kobe bryant

Sunday was a tough day of radio, but one nobody that was behind the mic will ever forget. Steve Mason, alongside Andy and Brian Kamenetzky, said, “It just doesn’t seem possible.” 

The trio spent their time Sunday on ESPN Los Angeles discussing his incredible career after basketball, what kind of father he was and how much his death stings the city. Between the three, things were said such as:

 “There were new things with Kobe, that if you were a fan of him, you could take pride in. There were brand new achievements that didn’t just end the day he retired.”

“No matter what profession you’re in, you can apply the Mamba mentality to your work.”

“And of course, he loved being a dad. Gah, I’m going to tear up saying that in past tense.” 

All of the emotion that was felt when the news broke didn’t fade off into the night. The hurt was still there when Monday morning arrived. 

Colin Cowherd was one of the many that got choked up remembering Kobe. Petros and Money of AM 570 LA Sports had guests such as Clayton Kershaw, Mark Madsen, Cody Bellinger and others throughout the show to share their thoughts on his legacy. Though the initial shock may be gone, radio in Los Angeles will still have a somber tone for several more days. 

But all you can do as a station is to work through it and give your listeners the best content possible. Whether it was hosts in Boston talking about the bombing at the Boston Marathon, New York City sports radio trying to pull the city together after 9/11 or the very situation going on with Kobe’s death in Los Angeles, this is where sports radio can never be duplicated. It knows the pulse of its city and what people need to hear. Like Shore told me over the phone, “There’s no one better than your local host to help walk somebody through by hand.” 

Whether or not hosts in Los Angeles, around the state of California and even the ones hosting national radio shows know it, they served a major role in the healing process on Sunday. That’s truly what it’s all about. The consensus amongst the ones on the air will probably be that they’ve never experienced anything like this in their careers, but it should be one where many should take pride in the effort they showed on such a tragic day. 

Image result for kobe bryant gigi

“I’m very proud of the way that we handled it,” said Bergman. “It was pretty incredible what they did on such short notice and without any objections. LZ Granderson flew down from San Francisco to be here. Travis Rogers drove from Santa Barbara to the station. Alan Sliwa, who did the last four hours, drove from Lake Arrowhead on his time off to come be here. Mason was at home doing his own podcast and other things, which he had to drop everything and leave to come down here. It was such a complete effort but also on such a difficult day. We’re all Kobe fans. It’s a Kobe town. I’m incredibly proud of what everyone did.”

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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