For five years, John Fricke and Hugh Douglas have been a top-rated morning show with Atlanta’s 92.9 The Game. On-air from 5 – 10am each day, totaling 25 hours a week, it might not be fair to fully judge their show while most professional leagues remain shut down. But as we approach four months without pro sports and no guarantee they’ll survive through the fall, hosts have needed to adjust.
Content has focused on when and should sports return during a global pandemic. Many shows have taken these months to reminisce, while others welcomed the opportunity to dive into topics outside sports. And as sports continues to intersect with social issues, it can sometimes present an uncomfortable scenario for hosts and listeners.
With Drew Brees’ comments on protests during the national anthem, NASCAR banning the Confederate flag and a noose found in Bubba Wallace’s garage, some hosts may prefer sticking to sports, but it’s impossible to ignore the issues of racial injustice. For Fricke and Douglas, they seemed at their best discussing these topics, offering measured, honest commentary.
Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce has become a leading voice in the city while fighting social injustice, and his interview with 92.9’s morning show regarding the issue of racial inequality was short, but insightful. Two days later, Douglas, a former NFL defensive end, offered an emotional response to Brees’ comments that he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag.”
“It’s not about the flag, it’s about being treated equal,” Douglas said through tears. “It’s about making sure that when my son drives through the city, he’s not going to get killed.”
To hear a former First Team All-Pro express that type of emotion and fear, allowed listeners to connect with the host in a way they probably didn’t realize they could. Many people believe someone like Hugh Douglas, who made millions in the NFL, doesn’t experience social hardships at this point in his life, but after hearing him speak Thursday, June 4, it would be ignorant to continue that assumption. Douglas made himself relatable to the audience and Metro Atlanta’s Black community, a city with racial inequality even though it touts the slogan of a “city too busy to hate.”
With local teams in the three major professional sports, NFL, NBA and MLB, it was interesting to hear how much soccer Fricke and Douglas mixed in. The Atlanta United have a partnership with the station, which gives reason to emphasize their local MLS club, but the hosts’ interest sounded genuine.
In New York, for example, the only time you’ll hear soccer on sports radio is during the World Cup. A local radio station might offer a quick spot to focus on matchups and countries, but very few discussions will include specific players.
When Mike Conti joins John and Hugh to discuss the Atlanta United, they break down specific players which gives me something to watch for. If I turn a game on after hearing the interview, I have a stronger connection with the United because I recognize players on the field. As Major League Baseball burns relations with its fans, 92.9 The Game’s MLS coverage is timely.
My favorite segments from John and Hugh were ones that brought in additional voices. For hosts like Colin Cowherd and Jim Rome who plan and organize each show block in detail, less on-air voices can be more. But for a local morning show that reacts to yesterday’s headlines, the segments that welcomed additional personalities offered a more communal listening experience.
Daily segments such as the Morning Mashup and Morning Menu introduced a variety of topics for the hosts to react to and included producers Abe Gordon and Orin Romain. Fricke and Douglas speak with smooth, easy listening tones, but sometimes the addition of a third voice can break the morning monotony with a quick shot of enthusiasm.
There were some bits that fell flat, such as a guessing game of what are Douglas’ five favorite drinks in the summer. It felt like filler radio, although my attention did spark when Fricke asked if a mixture of “Red Bull and Sprite” made the list – Red Bull and Sprite?
The rest of the show was equally confused. The ‘Pick 6’ segment, ‘list the six Heisman winners with the worst NFL careers since 2000,’ was slow to start simply because Douglas didn’t have the last 20 Heisman winners in front of him.
I would still encourage more creatively built segments, especially at a time when local sports topics were thin. As listening habits change and people like myself spend more days working from home and less time in cars, I look for content that withstands time. Rehashing last night’s headlines won’t always succeed in convincing me to listen live or download a podcast.
There are radio shows and podcasts that were released last week, month or even year, and when you listen, you forget the date they were recorded. Not every live show will be Dan Le Batard, where I can listen back to an episode from five years ago and be entertained for hours, but in the current digital and work-from-home age, timeless content is essential.
Just as I enjoyed the influx of personality from Orin and Abe, involving the listening audience can provide similar depth. During my hours of listening to John and Hugh, I did not hear one caller join the show, and can’t remember a listener text, email or tweet read on-air. (I admittedly did not listen to all 110 hours of the show during the month of June.)
There are varying opinions on taking calls in sports radio, but being from New York where WFAN built its show model around that input from the audience, I see its benefits. The Morning Show w/ John and Hugh isn’t alone in its decision to stick to the hosts. At the 2020 BSM Summit, 92.9 The Game afternoon host Carl Dukes discussed how his show takes very few calls and didn’t express much of a desire to implement more listener interaction.
But especially during a time without sports, there’s room to involve the audience. Fricke and Douglas introduced a variety of discussions from their personal lives about housework, first apartments and children mooching that would be enhanced by audience involvement. The opportunity is there to ask listeners for unique stories on the topic, either through a phone call or tweet.
Speaking with conviction during those personal stories, regardless of how basic they may be, will provoke the audience to participate. It’s natural to be confident when you’re offering a sports opinion, but not all hosts speak with the same tone when they’re telling a personal or funny story.
Fricke and Douglas keep the show moving with short segments and a lot of topic changes. During my month of listening, it was rare that a single topic became a focal point of the show. The rundown of headlines can limit a discussion from branching out and building through the addition of new thoughts and opinions. You’ll certainly find highlights with this sports-first show during the course of a five-hour morning, but like many hosts, the duo will benefit from the returning scoreboard.
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.