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Sports Radio Was Ready For The Week Covid Came To The NFL

“I think we have been preparing for anything since this all started.”

Demetri Ravanos

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If you forgot Covid-19 was still the way of the world, the NFL certainly reminded you last week. The drama began mid-week with members of the Tennessee Titans organization testing positive for the disease and hitting a crescendo when Patriots QB Cam Newton got similar news. By the time the weekend rolled around, two games had been postponed.

We should have always known this was a possibility. Even with the most advanced contact tracing technology, there had been plans made for and whispers about what might happen if teams lost players to the virus. Even back in April, Adam Schefter reported that kind of thinking played into the Philadelphia Eagles’ decision to use a second round pick on a quarterback despite Carson Wentz being healthy and ready to go.

Still, this weekend was a wake up call for the league, and maybe an even bigger wake up call for some of its media partners.

Television partners like FOX and CBS have the luxury of simply throwing on another game. That is the advantage the league creates in selling its television rights in national packages as opposed to individual market deals.

On radio though, it is a different story. A cancelled or postponed game can create headaches. At the very least, it requires a lot of phone calls and decisions to be made very quickly.

I spoke with three program directors that were in that position last week. None of them seemed overly stressed out by the decision to postpone games and still tried to provide local programming to their listeners on Sunday.

Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston told me the possibility of no Patriots game on Sunday started to feel real on Saturday morning when it was announced that Cam Newton had tested positive for Covid-19. Fortunately, the station had a local show on air at the time to take the pulse of Boston.

Rick Radzik(1) - Radio Ink

“We were in our normal weekend programming with our Gasper & Murray Show,” Radzik told me via email. “Chris and Jim, who both are part of our Patriots game day broadcasts, did a great job keeping everyone updated as the story broke on Saturday morning. And eventually working in calls and reaction as it started unfolding.”

In Kansas City, Steven Spector of 610 Sports saw the news as well and knew that he needed to find out all he could about what options were on the table.

“I immediately went to Twitter to read all the latest opinions & updates from around the league. Then I checked in with my GM, traffic manager, promotions department and on-air talent,” Spector said in an email. “I sent out a group email to make sure everyone was on the same page as things progressed into Saturday afternoon & then another email on Sunday morning.”

For Spector, the decision about what to do Sunday morning was easy. 610 Sports doesn’t carry play-by-play of the Chiefs. The station does simulcast pregame and postgame shows though. Those would be moved to Monday night. He just had a three hour window to make up on Sunday morning.

“We stayed local in the morning window of 9a-12p but after that we went into satellite programming.”

Steven Spector Rises To PD At KCSP-A (610 Sports Radio)/Kansas City |  AllAccess.com

There was a little more lead time to make a backup plan in Nashville. 104.5 The Zone PD Paul Mason told me in an email that the he began weighing his options as soon as the possibility of no Titans game seemed real. His number one goal was delivering a product consistent with the station’s reputation.

“104.5 The Zone is known for having the most NFL in the market so it was imperative we find a quality replacement. And how can you go wrong with Tom Brady? I had a promo for the Bucs and Chargers ready to go the moment the game was canceled.  The theme for promoting the programming change was telling the latest with the Titans while telling the listener what we were going to have in place of it.”

Radzik on the other hand wanted to stay as local as he could. The Sports Hub would air a different game than it has planned to as well, but not before Boston got to talk about the Patriots and the unprecedented event that is your new QB being diagnosed with a incurable, potentially fatal virus.

“We added some extra local talk shows once it was confirmed the game was postponed. As the flagship station for the Pats games, our normal game day coverage takes up 10 hours of programming. We wanted to let listeners weigh in on the issue during the day. Then we aired the Bears/Colts game at 4:25 PM.”

I told Mason that the decision to cancel the game in Nashville felt like something of a slow burn and he agreed. Over the course of two days he says the list of positive tests grew and the rumors swirled.

“Our team took the approach of getting the information out to the listener in an accurate and responsible way on-air and on our digital platforms.  Behind the scenes we were planning for a number of different scenarios. There were rumors of a 5PM Monday kickoff or a Tuesday evening kickoff.  We had to scrap all of our Titans/Steelers imaging and created imaging concepts around what was happening in the moment.”

Mason credited his air staff with how it handled the ever-changing news. While he and his bosses were worried about imaging and traffic, they focused on creating content and delivering information.

The other PDs I talked to said they didn’t really focus much on the coronavirus itself in their coverage of the decision to move their local game, Mason thought such a discussion was relevant to his audience.

“Dr. William Schaffner from Vanderbilt School of Medicine is a weekly guest with The Midday 180. Doctor Schaffner is one of the best medical guests I have ever heard and we are more than grateful for his time. The other shows also talked to different medical experts with the main angle being controlling an outbreak on a professional sports team.”

The Patriots and Chiefs played their game on Monday night. It was an easy win for Kansas City that saw the Patriots have to turn to both of the other quarterbacks on their active roster to replace Cam Newton.

On Tuesday the Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick said of Cam’s health “We’ll take it day by day. Today is Tuesday,” during an interview on WEEI.

Between the NFL and the President of the United States, America has learned during the past week and a half that Covid-19 absolutely is a day-by-day situation. That is why Radzik has stayed in constant communication with his programming staff, his sales staff, and his bosses.

“I think we have been preparing for anything since this all started. We have already been through Bruins and Celtics playoffs and there were some adjustments for those game broadcasts. We are always discussing the back up plan, not only for us but for our network affiliates. We don’t have any control on games getting postponed, cancelled, etc. So, we are always prepared to adjust to anything. It’s not ideal but that’s just the way it is for everyone right now.”

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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