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Have Faith In Bomani Jones And His Audience

“Your audience can handle more than you think your audience can. Your audience just wants entertaining content, and entertaining content can come from a broad range of people”

Demetri Ravanos

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It was 2006. The Carolina Hurricanes were on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Versus, the pre-cursor to NBCSN, carried the games and made a big deal out of just how into hockey Raleigh had become.

Bomani Jones lived eleven miles west of Raleigh in Durham. He was writing for ESPN’s Page 2 while attending grad school. Where he was, not only was there not the hockey fever the national media was describing, he never even noticed the games on at bars when he would go out at night. Like any good writer, Bomani turned that into content.

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At that time, I was hosting the morning show at 96 Rock in Raleigh. Our sister station, an oldies station called Y102.9, was the team’s flagship, so most of the ra ra stuff fell on us. I saw Bo’s article and knew we had to get him on air. That was the beginning of a friendship that has lasted 14 years. I think it was also probably the last time we talked about hockey. That friendship, I would guess, is the reason he agreed to appear on a panel at the BSM Summit in New York this week.

I wasn’t the only one that called Bomani to talk about that column in 2006. Adam Gold and Joe Ovies were hosting the afternoon show at what was then 850 the Buzz. That was Bo’s first exposure to a sports radio audience.

“Joe Ovies called me and said ‘we want to get you in studio on this’ and then Adam Gold found out I lived in town and was like ‘Okay, we need to have this guy in more.'”

For a guy that is as smart and thinks as quickly as Bomani Jones does, it would be easy to think talking about sports was a lifelong ambition.

“Nope. Never considered it even for a moment,” he says when I ask if that in studio appearance was the first step towards one of his goals.

Bomani eventually went on to host shows on 620 the Bull in Raleigh and Durham, the Score in Toronto, and ESPN Radio. Now though, his audio content is off the airwaves and on the internet. That is why I wanted him to be on stage at the Summit.

Bomani is smart. He is creative. His takes come from consuming diverse sources and considering the points laid out in front of him. Radio may not be hurting necessarily, but the national sports talk scene is a lot less interesting without him. As his television show High Noon was about to launch, Bo realized that if he wanted to keep doing The Right Time, it would have to move out of afternoon drive on ESPN Radio and into the podcasting realm.

“It was just the time constraints that came up when the television show started. Three hours per day, five days per week of radio. I didn’t really realize until I stopped how consuming it was and how much energy it took,” he told me.

When Bomani speaks about why he moved away from radio at the BSM Summit on Wednesday morning, one thing that will undoubtedly come up is the lack of diversity on sports radio. He told me that not only did it effect the way programmers looked at him, it made some of them skeptical of his content choices.

“Program directors get so obsessed with programming to who they think their median audience is: someone middle aged and usually white. What has always frustrated me about radio programmers is they don’t have much faith in their audience’s ability to deal with somebody that is not like them. 

“I swear, I have seen enough to indicate this to me, man. Your audience can handle more than you think they can. Your audience just wants entertaining content, and entertaining content can come from a broad range of people. Now, you do need someone that can relate to the audience and understands where they come from, but I could relate to those audiences through shared experiences. Me being black and them being white didn’t mean that we didn’t have things in common, and I think that a lot of programmers struggle to recognize that can be the case.”

With The Right Time podcast, Bomani has found a place for his audience to get his show exactly how he envisions it.

“Since it’s an opt-in product, we get a lot more flexibility on what it is that we can do,” he says. “Part of what I think makes me good as a radio product is the ability to go and do a bunch of different stuff and talk about different things that maybe aren’t exactly in sports, but are tangentially connected. Maybe it has nothing to do with sports. Now we can do that on a podcast, because we aren’t worried about somebody scanning the dial on a sports station, hearing a tech story and wondering ‘what am I doing here?’ With a podcast, they know what they’re doing there.”

That audience has a potential ceiling in Bomani’s eyes though. That is why it was so important the show came out of the gate strong and maintained a consistent level of quality when it transitioned away from being a radio show. With podcasting, Bomani doesn’t have the advantage of catching the attention of someone just scanning the dial.

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“You really really need the first people who listen to love it. They can’t just like it. They have to be out here telling everybody ‘Man, this is a great show’ every time you send it out.”

Make no mistake though, Bomani Jones doesn’t hate radio. He isn’t the type of guy to tell you radio is dying. In fact, he was quick to tell me that he still considers himself “in many ways, a tried and true radio dude.”

That is why, in addition to reconnecting with old friends, Bomani has a list of people he is excited to meet and hear from at the BSM Summit in New York. He speaks glowingly of Pat McAfee. The duo share an agent but haven’t really interacted very much, so he is looking forward to getting some face time with another ESPN star.

And then, there’s the Sports Pope.

“I just want to see Mike Francesa in the flesh,” he says laughing. “I’ve never met Mike Francesa. What he is is your standard local radio guy. It’s just his local has 20 million people. I am really fascinated by the idea of that and how you sustain that.”

Radio still, very much matters in the eyes of Bomani Jones. He even says if all things were equal, he would still be doing a radio show. “No question.”

It’s not that Bomani doesn’t believe in the digital space. He will be the first to acknowledge that podcasting isn’t just the future. It is the present for a large audience. Maybe in said future radio won’t have the impact it once did, but in 2020 radio matters, particularly in the sports world.

“I think about some of the long, flowing things people have written about Dan Le Batard’s radio show. They aren’t doing that if that’s just a podcast,” Bomani says of the praise heaped on his former TV partner. “Radio still carries a caché. It still has that intimacy. To me, the best part of radio will always be the connection with the people that listen to you.”

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When Bomani talks on Wednesday about why he chose to move away from radio, it won’t be with animosity or bitterness. This is a guy that clearly loves the medium and the format. He just wants to see the voices we don’t hear from enough get a microphone and room to grow and thrive. Creating that environment and improving the sports radio landscape is something he says is “hugely worth the fight.”

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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