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Independent Nation: Union Broadcasting

“If there’s a big decision to be made on policy or logistics – a small group gets together to discuss and we’re putting a plan in place. It takes almost no time.”

Jack Ferris

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It’s a time zone and roughly 500 hundred miles that separate Kansas City and Louisville.  That and more than a couple cultural differences.

“Kansas City has a little bit of everything,” explains Sandy Cohen, Union Broadcasting Director of Sales. “NFL, MLB, MLS, roughly half a dozen BIG XII schools within 2 and a half hours, not to mention an SEC presence with Missouri.”

As a result, tune into SportsRadio 810 WHB at any time and you’re likely to hear anything from a Chiefs Xs and Os discussion to Royals bullpen depth to Coach Klieman’s recruiting class in Manhattan.

Sandy Cohen

“As far as Louisville’s culture,” Cohen continues, “that’s a town made up of two types of sports fans – Cardinals and Wildcats.”

Naturally, the types of businesses that partner up with Union and ESPN 680 in Louisville are a little bit different than those that work with WHB.

“In Louisville we work with a lot of bars and restaurants,” explained Cohen before educating me on the illustrious history of pizza in Derby City. “In Kansas City there’s more car dealerships, mortgage companies and investment firms working with us.”

Two stations in two cities with two different kinds of clients.  From a dealership in western Kansas to a pizzeria in northern Kentucky – one thing all Union Broadcasting clients have in common during these uncertain times is the unwavering support of Sandy Cohen and his team.

With just two stations to preside over, those who work in sales for Union Broadcasting view their accounts as much more than monthly revenue makers.  

“There’s friendships everywhere.  Real friendships.  We’ve been to weddings, they’ve been to our weddings.  Kids birthday parties, you name it.”

Cohen points to those bonds as paramount during this time.

Looking back to March 11, the evening the NBA shut down, which led to roughly 72 hours of postponements, suspensions and cancellations – Union sprung into action.

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“That’s really the best part of being a small company,” claims the Union Vice President. “If there’s a big decision to be made on policy or logistics –  a small group gets together to discuss and we’re putting a plan in place.  It takes almost no time.”

Concerned first with the health of their staff, that week the decision makers put a plan into place to make sure everyone was able to work from home.  Once that hurdle was cleared, all attention was focused on the clients.

“That following Monday, no one wanted to immediately withdraw their business, no one really knew what this was at that point,” remembers Cohen. “The big word that week was ‘Pause.’  So, we hit the pause button with whoever wanted to just wait until we all knew more.”

Generally, the handbook of account management says when a client wants to cancel you do whatever you can to convince them to stay on.  If that’s the rule, COVID is, without question, the exception.  If partners wanted to take a step back, Union wasn’t getting in their way.

“This is unlike anything any of us have ever seen.  No one was prepared for something like this, how could anyone be?”

Cohen audibly reaches for a file on his desk.

“I’ll tell you what though, I’ve been taking detailed notes.  If and when this happens again we’ll be ready,” he promises.

So what seems to be working?  In Union’s case it seems to be flexibility.  Two different markets with two vastly different books calls for different accommodations.

“In Louisville, every morning we’re highlighting a different local business as part of the show.  We’re telling people what they need to do to support that particular bar or restaurant- whatever the case may be.  We seem to be getting a good response there.”

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Head west for 7 and a half hours (switching from I-64 to I-70 around St Louis) and you’ll find things to be working a little differently for Union in Kansas City.

“We have a strong social media presence with WHB so we’re offering a lot of digital messaging for clients out here – curbside pick up information, anything they want.”

With a quarter down and 3 to play, 2020 has already proven to be a brutal year – unless of course you’re a Chiefs fan.  If that’s the case, things were looking pretty bright just two months ago, and Cohen and his production team are doing their best to call upon those happy experiences that already seem so old.

“What we’re doing is encouraging business owners to record their favorite sports memories – obviously a lot revolve around the Super Bowl.  We have them email it in, our guys in production clean it up, maybe add a music bed and in less than 24 hours we’ve turned around a personalized ad ready for air.  It’s actually been a pretty good time for little innovations like that.”

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Another bright spot Cohen points to is the implementation of facetime and zoom for client calls that would otherwise just be on the phone.

“There’s something about being face to face with our partners that is comforting for us and them.  Even when we have sales meetings, it’s so much better seeing human faces.  That’s definitely been a bright spot.”

Cohen wouldn’t say that navigating these uncharted waters has been easy, especially without land on the horizon.  There is, however, an immense comfort in knowing we’re all in the ship together.  Louisville, Kansas City, and beyond.

“We’re gonna make it through this.  I have no doubt.”

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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