Tom & Giselle. A-Rod & J-Lo. Jay-Z & Beyonce.
There are certain tandems that roll right off the tongue when you think power couples. A combination of two forces that are greater than the sum of their parts. Every industry seems to have their gold standard couple – and in the voice over world it’s Jim and Dawn Cutler. Although, if you ask Jim, he doesn’t exactly hold up his end of the bargain.
“Dawn is more than 50% of what we do for everyone. I am not worthy to touch the hem of her garment.”
“I think George and Amal Clooney are a wicked awesome power couple,” adds Dawn. “We’re just a couple of working stiffs.”
Jim met Dawn back at WDHD in Boston and the two set off together to conquer the field with their own separate career paths. Their resumes are daunting; ESPN, ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, HBO, Nickelodeon, with each of their voices floating around radio stations in every major market coast to coast. They’re titans of the industry – but nothing about their demeanor resembles anything other than humility. Their approachable nature is clear from their self produced vlog on their website.
One of the more recent videos details a personal accident most people would keep private. The 14 minute YouTube clip is called “The Day I Almost Died,” and the title is not misleading. Jim and Dawn recount the day Jim fell off a ladder, shattering his body in the process. Rather than recoil and recover, the power couple did what power couples do best – they persevered. Leaning on Dawn’s strength, Jim was back to work 6 days after first responders weren’t sure he was going to live.
“The mantra from my clients was ‘your voice AIN’T broken so read this stuff.’”
Jim and Dawn opened up about how they got to the top of their profession, and more importantly, how they intend to stay there.
JACK FERRIS: What was it that set you along your unique career path?
JIM CUTLER: I was on track to be an Astronomer/Astrophysicist. I made a huge mistake when I was a kid. I walked with my Dad up to the planetarium controller-guy to tell him I wanted to be an astronomer. He harangued us for 30 minutes how there were ZERO jobs and I was an idiot to want that and how since he had failed I surely would fail. We drove home and I was literally crushed by that nerd and decided to do something else. That conversation taught me to never discourage anyone. It changed my path. I’m a serious hobbiest still.
DAWN CUTLER: My entire career has been a series of lucky accidents. I landed my first job in radio by winning a coin toss. Not an exaggeration. I was with a startup New England Business regional newspaper. It was just clueless me and one other kid doing literally everything. We got an invite to a Chamber of Commerce lunch and tossed a coin to see who would go. I won and randomly sat next to a news station manager at the lunch which turned out to be a life changing connection. Number 2 happened a few weeks later. I was learning commercial copy writing in production when the Imaging Director pulled me into the studio to read a local mall spot on the fly. The female talent from another station who normally did them for the market was on vacay and the current spot had to be re-tracked with immediate changes. I told no one and prayed no one I knew would hear it. (They did.)
JF: Dawn, I imagine it was a bit of a male dominated industry when you were first getting your feet wet. Did that deter you at all?
DC: It still is overall in terms for the number of signature / primary voice opportunities for men as opposed to women. It’s improved by leaps and bounds from what it was. It didn’t deter me at all. It actually compelled me to keep going. I read my share of mall spots but once I was able to make the leap to promo and imaging work was when things started to change.
JF: What was the landscape of the industry like when you first got on the scene? What jobs were you happy to book when you first started?
JC: There were about 5 people who voiced everything on TV. I was lucky to get anything. In Boston I’d get cast at a studio where 5 other actors would each have one little single word each to read. But my part of the commercial would be to read 30 lines in ten seconds which is impossible. The other actors who had one word each would say, “Well he isn’t very good.” I’d be thinking “great, I couldn’t get the single word part could I? Now it will be another six months before I’m cast again in something.” Lots of frustrating stuff like that.
On TV, I wanted to sound less like the “announcers” of the time. I was looking to the future. As a kid you hope to do things differently than the status quo. When I started in the biz the old guys looked down on me for not doing that affected read. Luckily the biz quickly changed to more of my style. If it hadn’t I would have been out and done.
JF: Over the last decade, what shifts have you seen in the industry and how has the work changed?
JC: Microsoft says the attention span is now 6 seconds. I think that’s right. That’s why Google has the inescapable 6 second ads that you can’t skip, etc. Television gets this and promos and imaging has become very short. At the ESPN TV newsmagazine show E:60 we used to have this fantastic theme song and opening credit sequence with the reporters walking up from the Subway, and coming to the board room. No time for that anymore, we go right to content. It’s the age of “Skip Intro”. Which is also a fantastic DJ name.
As for voice work changing? The future of voice work is Youtube style – regular guy. The “radio guy” style sticks out like a sore thumb on Youtube. It’s totally moving that way and I like it.
JF: Do you prefer radio work or television?
DC: Both equally. I love the variety. Radio is format specific and in TV I might be doing news, comedy, drama all in one day.
JF: What advantages do younger, aspiring voice professionals have today that you’re envious of? What are the disadvantages?
JC: Equipment is dirt cheap. Mic and a laptop. The only disadvantage is there are Ten-Trillion trees growing in all of North America. Go to any one of those trees and shake it, and 200 voice people will drop out. My mailman has a mic and a laptop and is on “Voices 1-2-3”. Glad I’m not starting now. BUT, if you want it there is no reason not to go for it.
JF: Advice you’d give to a younger voice professional?
DC: I get this question a ton. Almost every day. My experience isn’t going to resemble anyone else’s foray into the biz. (See my response to question #1 ….I mean, what are the chances of anyone stumbling down that path?)
It isn’t “in a world” or any of that other cliché stuff. Yet almost everybody thinks it is because of that movie. If you really want to do it, jump in however you can but don’t quit your day job for a very, very long time.
JF: What excites you about the unknown future of media? What scares you?
JC: I love it. Broadcast radio will definitely be in the mix. But look at what I think is coming soon online: You know that your Amazon home page is different from my Amazon homepage. We all have a page that’s unique to what we bought in the past and what Big Data says they think we want. We’ll that’s easy to do. Once they have the data about you they are just serving you photos of these things. That’s jpeg files and links, right? Well audio files are just as easy to send.
What if Big Data tells the sports network that YOU, and JUST YOU like the Yankees, the Chiefs, Real Madrid and golf? Your stream from the sports radio network would feed you 50% of the new stuff the host is talking about, and the other 50% would be content about Yankees, Chiefs, golf and Real Madrid football. It’s just wav files, just like Amazon serves you jpegs and links of the things they know you want.
DC: We are where we are because we embrace change. Looking forward to embracing more. I say to the industry about new things: “Bring 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.