SKOR North isn’t like a lot of other stations in America. The Hubbard sports talker re-branded at the end of 2018, dropping the ESPN 1500 name as part of a step towards something more in line with the way fans consume content right now. Sure, the station still wants to create great radio content, but there is a real focus on what makes an impact with a digital sports audience. During a pandemic, when most of your listeners have changed a routine that included listening to your station on their drive to or from work, that digital awareness is paying off.
“They aren’t in their cars as often, but they ARE on their phones. They are glued to their screens,” SKOR North’s Director of Content and Distribution, Phil Mackey says of his audience. “OK, let’s put more chips on some of those tables. The nightly video streams we do (Mackey & Judd w/ Ramie Happy Hour, Vikings Draft Sim with Matthew Coller, Twins Catch-Up with Derek Wetmore, etc.) have all been reaching several thousand people each time we fire one up.”
Mackey says that the station is seeing a surge in its online numbers. In March, SKOR North saw its video views rise 50%. It was also a record setting month in terms of usage of the station’s mobile app. Mackey is expecting the numbers to be even better in April.
“I’m really proud of the way our staff has stepped up and created new segments, shows and other pieces of content during this sports dead zone. To be honest, it’s been a fun challenge. We love it.”
The brand isn’t beyond looking to other outlets for inspiration. Mackey admits within the first ten seconds of a recent video that the idea listeners are about to see is taken directly from ESPN’s Katie Nolan.
The SKOR North crew followed the inspiration of Katie Nolan’s celebrity Zoom chat challenge, where she and other ESPN personalities tried to get big name celebrities to join their Zoom chat without knowing exactly what was going on. For the SKOR North team though, the objective was to keep it local.
Mackey, his co-hosts Judd Zulgad and Ramie Makhlouf, and other station employees made their goal to grab big names in the Minnesota sports community. Mackey admits that he had no idea if the goal was a realistic one.
“I was honestly a little worried that the Zoom video would wind up being me, Judd, Ramie and like one other person. But as it turns out, people are mostly sitting around their homes or offices looking for other people to talk to! So it worked out well once we started spreading the word.”
Some big names joined the chat. Five-time WNBA All-Star and current Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s basketball coach Linday Whalen, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders, and Utah Jazz forward Georges Niang all showed up at different times. To Mackey, the thrill wasn’t just that big names showed up, it’s that they were into the idea of hanging out and being a part of something that was so fundamentally Minnesota.
“The best part of the video is that everyone who entered the Zoom chat stayed for at least 30 minutes,” Mackey said.
I asked Mackey if he started the bit with a goal in mind. Was there one person that he needed to see pop up in the chat in order for him to call it a success? He didn’t hesitate.
“Joe Mauer. And we got Joe Mauer! He’s honestly one of the nicest, best humans on the planet.”
SKOR North, being built the way it is, has taken what others may see as a challenging time and operated with a business as usual approach. Mackey will be the first to acknowledge that just like the listeners, everyone in the SKOR North building wants sports back. But he isn’t sweating it.
As the director of content, Phil wants his team to be entertaining first. Do listeners expect them to talk about sports? Of course, but even if everything were normal, he would be telling his crew to make listeners laugh, a quality more important than rattling off stats from the previous night’s action.
“It’s a buzz kill to lose the Twins, in particular, this time of year, but we have had a blast creating new segments like “Name That Viking”, “Vikings Draft Sim”, “Action Movie Rewind”, “WrestleMania Rewind”, “Let Us Not Forget” and a ton more,” he says. “This is the most creative we have been potentially in our entire careers, collectively, and we are having fun with it. Hopefully listeners and viewers pick up the same vibe.”
In a time when so many stations are racing to figure out how to create digital content that they can include advertisers in, SKOR North is doing what they always do. It’s a station that was built to be consumed differently. It’s a brand that walks into every pitch meeting and shows potential advertisers a half dozen different platforms where it has a presence.
That doesn’t mean SKOR North isn’t also swimming in new waters. It’s just more equipped to jump in without floaties. Mackey says just maybe, the pandemic and current state of the world is forcing the brand to up its game in a way that sticks.
“Ultimately, it’s very likely we come out of this a lot stronger in the long run just based on the new tools and muscles we’ve been forced to use,” he says. “Some companies might be nervously biting their nails. I think we take pride in running toward the fire, so to speak, and pivoting as needed.”
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.