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Andrew Fillipponi May Be Ringo, But Ringo Is Still A Beatle

“If I had a 9-to-5 job, I still think I would spend an inordinate amount of time watching and following sports. I think it would probably be a detriment to whatever professional life I had if the sports radio thing didn’t work out.”

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Andrew Fillipponi has had a solid career in sports radio thus far. He hosts a successful afternoon drive show on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. He also does some national radio for CBS Sports. One of the many things that stand out about Andrew is that he has a who’s who of close contacts in the business. His college buddies from Syracuse include FS1’s Nick Wright and Danny Parkins from 670 The Score in Chicago. Plus, he sprinkles in a unique dynamic between his close friend, Gregg Giannotti, as well as Craig Carton for good measure.

Here’s the thing; I love comparisons, but sometimes they lead to poor conclusions. If you compare Fresno to Los Angeles, of course Central California doesn’t stack up to SoCal. However, if you then compare Fresno to Topeka, Kansas, all of a sudden Fresno looks like an exotic vacation spot. The point is that although Andrew hasn’t reached the same level of success as some of his friends — yet — that isn’t where the comparisons end. Andrew isn’t just looking up at the success his friends have achieved; many sports radio hosts are chasing the success Andrew has enjoyed.

93.7 The Fan: Andrew Fillipponi Wiki, Age, Wife, ThePoniExpress

There are plenty of interesting subjects that Andrew covers in this interview — from Pittsburgh’s personality and his Mets fandom, to big bets and Ringo Starr. Let’s get to it already. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What’s this I hear about you being college roommates with both Nick Wright and Danny Parkins? Is that even true?

Andrew Fillipponi: I like the urban legend. That sounds better. If you want to say that, I’ll continue to push that narrative. Nick is a year older than me. Nick graduated a year before me and Danny graduated a year after me.

I think we were roommates in the sense that your kid might say that one of his parents’ friends is an uncle, but is not a blood relative. I would say we were quote-unquote roommates because of the amount of time we spent together. It was probably a two-year period where the three of us hung out every day. I would say as far as the sports radio guys went at Syracuse — me, Nick, Danny and then a guy who did mornings in Houston for a long time, Mike Meltzer, was in that group a lot too.

BN: Did you have any idea that you guys would reach the level of success that you have?

AF: Yeah. That sounds like I’m bragging, but to me there are three important things in this business; it’s work ethic, talent, and networking. I could tell with Danny and Nick that they were incredible at all three. I, at least, thought back then that they were better at those three things than I was. It was motivating actually. It made me — even at that immature, green age — it did make me want to strive to get better at this. In between hanging out with those guys and probably drinking and gambling too much, there was some constructive work that was getting done there.

BN: My ears perked up when you said gambling. What’s your worst beat ever?

AF: Oh, I love questions like this. My worst loss; I convinced my old man to give me my college graduation present in the form of a $10,000 check to put on a baseball future. My argument to him was I know more about baseball than I do stocks or any kind of investment strategy so why wouldn’t you just let me — it’s not just one game, it’s a full season — why wouldn’t you trust me to take that money and bet it on a baseball team for an entire year? He went along with it. I bet the Mariners to win more than 87.5 games. I think this was 2008. They lost 100 games and the bet was dead on like June 1st.

I had made this very impassioned plea to my father like this is the way that I should be investing money. I’m good at this. I’m telling you I have skill. It’s not just betting with my heart. It’s betting with my brain — yada, yada, yada. It was dead not even halfway through the season. So that one was painful.

BN: [Laughs] Oh, man! What would you say is the biggest strength of yourself and also Nick and Danny just as hosts?

AF: That’s a good one. With Nick, I just think that he is able to process his thoughts and articulate them better than most people I’ve ever met. That doesn’t mean just sports media, that’s across all fields. He comes up with ways of saying things and relating things to people, or persuading people of certain ideas. I know that he obviously does his homework and he’s well researched, but what always impresses me about him is he’ll say something that you can tell was a reactionary point, something that got said and he had to come up with his rebuttal to it in real time. I’m super impressed by how he’s able to do that as effectively as he does. I’m very jealous of his innate ability to do that. To me a lot of that is God-given and I just don’t have quite that way of doing things and making them sound as good as he does in such a reactionary, on-the-fly sense.

Danny, he to me is such a radio nerd. As much as he appreciates and enjoys sports, I think that watching sports and talking sports for him you can’t separate the two. I don’t think he can exist in a world where he just could watch sports and then didn’t have the platform to talk about them. I think he’s always been even more of a radio buff than a sports buff. I think what’s made him great is that he has listened a lot and paid attention a lot. He’s heard things or seen things from other hosts. He’s borrowed some ideas and made them better, which is not to say he’s a copycat of anybody or he’s trying to do somebody else’s shtick, but I just think he’s very well aware of what works and what doesn’t work in this business, what gets a reaction and what doesn’t. I think that he’s really good at that.

It’s a little bit harder for me to talk about myself and what I’m good at. I’m just really passionate about the whole thing. I have a harder time differentiating what I love more. If I had a 9-to-5 job, I still think I would spend an inordinate amount of time watching and following sports. I think it would probably be a detriment to whatever professional life I had if the sports radio thing didn’t work out. I just care about it and it’s all-consuming for me.

Darren and Derrick: Andrew Fillipponi Interview (3-29-16) by  thegamenashville.com on SoundCloud - Hear the world's sounds

I also love the spoken word. You’re the conduit or the moderator or you’re the authority voice on things. I’ve always admired and critically thought about the people who have done that well. Since I was in my early teens and I discovered this was a medium, these types of people that have had either national or really important local sports talk radio shows; I’ve always had a curiosity with those people. Studying them and listening to how they did it and what made them as popular or as controversial as they were. For me it’s just really an unconditional love that I have for sports talk radio and sports debate that really fuels me and allows me to put 100 percent into this at really all times.

BN: What is your 60-second bullet point resume?

AF: I went to Syracuse. I worked at WAER while I was there, which a lot of people that come up in this business do. My senior year I was the director of the sports talk staff, which is the position that Nick held before me and the position that Danny held after me. Then I went to another radio station, which is kind of like the competing student radio station at Syracuse. I went to one of their dinners. They did an alumni dinner every year and I met Craig Carton there. We went out for drinks and out of nowhere he decided that he liked me.

He contacted on my behalf the program director at WGR in Buffalo who had been his producer at WIP in Philly, Andy Roth. It was completely serendipitous. I’m eternally grateful to Craig that after a two-hour encounter he took that chance on me and paid it forward. That got me an interview in Buffalo. I worked at WGR and did afternoons, reporting, updates, and weekends for almost two years. Then when The Fan launched here in Pittsburgh in 2010, I came down here and I did nights. Then I did middays, and now I do afternoons.

BN: Your first real gig was GR in Buffalo, huh? That’s a big station to start at.

AF: It was perfect. That being my foray into this business, I couldn’t have asked for a better start. I think the PD there, Andy, was tremendous as far as coaching younger talent, wanting to develop younger talent, taking chances on younger talent, but also he could be critical and he would not just be your friend as a coach. He would tell you things that you screwed up and things you needed to get better at. That was obviously important for me when I was breaking into the business.

I predominantly worked with the afternoon guys there, Schopp & Bulldog, who I think for a mid-market sports talk show are as good as anything I’ve heard. I listen all the time. I listen to sports talk stations all over the country. I don’t think there are many afternoon drive shows that are better than theirs just in terms of being able to do everything, sports and non-sports. Having that as my introduction into the business was hugely important in my career path. Without that I don’t know if I’m here right now. 

BN: You’re a diehard Mets fan. How does it play in Pittsburgh being a fan of an outside team?

AF: Here’s the thing about that. We had a guy here when we first launched who liked another team in the AFC North that wasn’t the Steelers and another team in the NL Central that wasn’t the Pirates. He never said it on the air. He was afraid to do it. One time we were in a debate with each other and I slipped up and said it on the air just as a witty comeback. I forget the exact argument we were having. We got done with the segment and he lost it on me. He went nuts.

I don’t like when the transparency or the honesty about sports isn’t there. I don’t really do this because I’m pretty much an open book with my personal life. I like my listeners to feel like they know me and I know them. If I hold things back from them, I think it’s harder to establish the trust level that you want with your listeners on a day-to-day basis. You want your listeners to spend four hours a day with you, 20 hours a week, which is a ton. It’s hard to get that kind of P1 listenership, but that’s what you strive for. If I kept secrets or hid things from them about which sports teams I like, I just think that’s so stupid.

People know I’m a Mets fan and people know I went to Syracuse and they’re kind of a Pitt rival, but whatever. It’s sports. I hope that fans or listeners here appreciate me because I have the teams that I grew up with and I still love. I think any Pittsburgher who would leave here and go somewhere else wouldn’t abandon their teams, so I think they appreciate that about me, at least I hope they do. I’m also passionate about the teams that we have here too. It’s not like I’m a complete robot or I’m completely emotionally detached from the teams in Pittsburgh because when they lose I’m as upset as anyone.

BN: How would you describe the personality of Pittsburgh listeners? What works for them in that market?

1 again! Pittsburgh tops list of best city for football fans for second  year in a row

AF: That’s a great question. I don’t think shtick works. I think these topics that are kind of silly and fun and redundant, maybe kind of cookie cutter or something you may hear on a national show, I don’t really think that plays well here. I think authenticity does. I feel like as long as you have expressed to the people here that you care about the teams — I don’t think being anti-Steelers works here. I think if you zigged when everybody else zagged and said I think I’m going to be the one guy in town that hates the football team here. I have a feeling that would not work. I have not seen it done before, but I just have a feeling that that would probably backfire greatly.

I do think that they’re parochial, which is fine. I do think that they’re provincial, but I don’t think it comes from a bad place because I think sports here is kind of like a religious experience. It’s so ingrained in people that I think they want you to match that enthusiasm and that passion. When you fake it, I think that’s the worst thing you can do.

The people here that have been successful have been able to ratchet up the intensity about the teams here, not always agree with the teams here, but have a lot of passion and a lot of emotion about what’s happening. You don’t always have to be right. You don’t always have to sound like you’re the smartest guy in the room. I think you just have to show that you’re into it and that you really care. I think those are the people that work. The ones who don’t, who might have come from other markets, don’t last as long here.

BN: Over the next decade, is there anything in particular that you would like to accomplish?

AF: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve got goals for myself. I want to continue to build my brand. I want to continue to make bigger impressions nationally. I want to continue to make the most and take advantage of the opportunities that CBS Sports Radio has given me. I want to continue to grow here because I don’t think we’ve maxed out. I don’t think we have hit our ceiling yet. This market, they have habits that die hard.

People pass down a tradition of listening to certain shows and different hosts. I hope to one day be one of those people here that kids will say as they grow up that I listened to you when I was high school. I listened to you when I was in college. I want to be a presence in this city where when there’s a big sports story, I’m the person that listeners turn to. But also when it’s just a lazy Wednesday and there’s not much going on, I’m the host that people turn to just to be entertained because they like the way we do things.

I’m not content with things yet. I’m somebody that continually wants to get better at things. I push myself. I’m competitive about things. There are a lot of my friends that have done amazing things in this business and I’m so proud of them. It’s really cool that I have those people in my life who have really achieved things where if they retired now you would say they had a great career in this industry. I want to keep up with them. I want to continue to run that marathon with them and not have something derail me or keep me from getting to the finish line. That’s what it’s about. It’s not only about money. It’s not all about ratings although both of those things are very, very, very important. It’s also about the camaraderie and the competitiveness that I established with friends when we were in our late teens and early twenties.

BN: Is there anything that I should know about you? It could be radio, your personal life, or anything that’s interesting about your journey.

AF: I think there are a lot of Kevin Bacon comparisons there. There are just a lot of people that I’ve met in my life here. I’ve worked really just in two places. I was in Buffalo for a very short time and I’ve been here for now more than a decade. The amount of people that I’ve had the fortune of meeting and developing great relationships with, I’m incredibly blessed in that way. Not only Danny and Nick but Gregg Giannotti and I started here at the same exact time. He’s one of my best friends. I was in his wedding. He’s somebody that I lean on not just professionally but personally too. We’ve shared so many ups and downs together and now he’s killing it. He’s back in New York where he wants to be with Boomer.

How about that whole dynamic where he replaces Craig Carton and that’s the guy that helped me get my first job. It’s just wild how many people I’ve met in this business that have gone on to have incredible careers and have had an affect on me. That’s to me the part about this that’s been really cool is I’ve been able to watch people that I have really strong friendships with, go on to really bigger and better things. I’m hoping that eventually I get there with them if I’m not already there now, which I kind of hope people think that I am. I told Danny and Nick I hope that people don’t think I’m the Ringo Starr of that crew in college, but I kind of feel like I am, which I’m totally all right with.

8 Ringo Starr style lessons: From polka dots to square shades | British GQ

BN: Yeah, you need some friends that have just flamed out and done nothing in sports radio.

AF: [Laughs] I’m definitely the Ringo but he was still in the Beatles, you know?

BSM Writers

Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call

“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”

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I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.

The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.

OKC Radio Host Sam Mayes Fired After Racist Audio is Leaked

Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.

Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.

We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.

I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.

You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.

People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.

How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.

All About the Lucky Star Casino in El Reno, Concho
Courtesy: TripAdvisor/Adam Knapp

Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.

If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.

In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.

Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.

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What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.

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BSM Writers

Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!

“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”

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Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?

Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.

To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:

#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?

#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?

#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?

If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!

Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.

Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:

#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.

#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.

#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.

#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.

#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.

Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!

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BSM Writers

Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas

“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”

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Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?

Chevy Chase, aka Clark Griswold, to light up stage in Berks | Berks  Regional News | wfmz.com
Courtesy: Warner Bros./National Lampoon

Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!

One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.

Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.

There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.

Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.

I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.

Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.

It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?

25 Best Christmas Inflatables - Top Inflatable Christmas Decorations

Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.

If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.

Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.

A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.

“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.

We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.

Kevin Anderson on Twitter: "Just noticed that I've been blocked by the  international civil aviation authority @icao Have others working on  aviation emissions also been blocked? Appears to be that their commitment

As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.

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