“I opened the show today with Sonny and Cher – ‘I Got You Babe,’” shrugs Justin Acri. “If I feel like I’m in Groundhog Day, I imagine most of our listeners do as well.”
He might have a fancy title, but the General Manager of The Buzz in Little Rock is very casual. In a time of heightened tension – his disarming personality is soothing. His relaxed demeanor a welcome change of pace.
“I’m a big believer in focusing on what you can control,” explains Acri, who had just finished his midday show.
His easy going nature and the format of his station are actually uniquely equipped to handle this COVID crisis. Calling 103.7 The Buzz a “sports station,” would be shortsided – if not downright irresponsible.
“Don’t get me wrong, sports is a big part of what we do here – but our shows are all over the place.”
Take a deep dive into the history of The Buzz and you’ll come to fully appreciate the station’s ambiguous format.
It was the mid 90s when Philip Jonsson and Signal Media purchased the station and just about a decade before they fully embraced sports. In the meantime, the frequency gained notoriety as a spot on the dial for “guy talk.” A maverick himself in the industry, Johnsson encouraged large personalities to be large on the airwaves – a broadcast philosophy that inspired Justin Acri to step away his television career and embrace life on the microphone.
“I can’t say enough good things about that man and what he did for this community and my career.”
Just last week, the founder of Signal Media passed away peacefully at the age of 95. For roughly 20 years, his son Steve has been running the company and by the looks of The Buzz’s guest list over the past few weeks, he’s been keeping his father’s free spirit approach to the station very much alive.
Michael Mando, otherwise known as Nacho of Better Call Saul made an appearance for Buzz listeners.
Janet McTeer, who blew some minds as the stone cold attorney Helen Pierce on the widely consumed 3rd season of Ozark.
“Oh and Lou Diamond Phillips,” adds Acri. “He was awesome, I love Young Guns.”
In addition to the fun, popcorn guests, Acri is perfectly aware that right now people are hungry for real information almost around the clock. Medical professionals, lawmakers at the state and federal level as well as Governor Asa Hutchinson have all come on the air to answer any and all questions and alleviate whatever stress they can.
While the absence of sports certainly hasn’t been much of a content issue for The Buzz, those working in programming understand their platform can be used for more than just a daily distraction for the community. With that in mind, RJ Hawk and Roger Scoot, two members of the Buzz’s morning show, took it upon themselves to start cutting and edging the lawns of healthcare workers in the community. As you might imagine “Cutting for a Cause,” has been a huge engagement tool as listeners are encouraged to nominate doctors and nurses before Hawk and Scott show up and go to work.
“The on air guys have been fantastic,” exclaims Lesli Griffin-Reddick, whose email signature humbly reads “Dictator of Sales and Evil Genius” of Signal Media.
Like so many other Signal employees, Griffin-Reddick has been with the company for a very long time and considers herself lucky to be surrounded by a veteran sales staff.
“Most of our Account Executives were here through the recession. They understand the value of advertisement even when times are tough, they’re well prepared for tough conversations.”
Tough conversations get a little easier when you’re forward thinking like the Signal Media Dictator of Sales. At no extra cost to the client, Lesli and her staff have been working together with on air hosts to produce small quasi commercials in front of local businesses and sharing the video on their digital platforms.
“We recognize this is hard for so many of our partners so we’re really pulling out all the stops to do anything and everything we can for them.”
When the “Evil Genius” of Signal Media says her team is doing anything and everything for their clients, she means it.
“We trained on the small business protection act and we were able to become an asset to helping them access the program and protect their employees and bring dollars back to advertising once they were able to access the funds to help keep their lights on and make payroll.”
If it takes one to know one, it certainly takes running a small business to understand what it is to run a small business. By the numbers, Signal Media is a small company but it’s impact on Little Rock has been immeasurable.
Just this week, Governor Hutchinson announced a plan that will allow small businesses like restaurants and gyms to slowly open their doors to customers in the coming weeks – which has been welcome news to many Signal clients.
“Activity is really picking up,” Lesli explained via text following the announcement. “I was really swamped today and that’s a great feeling!”
Things are still a long way from anything resembling “normal” in Arkansas, but Justin Acri and his team are prepared to stick it out with their community for as long as it takes.
“We do feel a big responsibility and the guys here are taking it very seriously,” the GM pauses, careful not to get too sentimental. “Don’t mean to get too sappy with you but it’s the truth.”
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.