It’s days like today where I don’t envy being the program director at a sports radio station. That’s because days like today mean sports are on the back burner and the topic shifts to something nobody can agree on: politics.
Today, as a program director, your mind might be racing as what to do. Do I tell my hosts to stay away from election results, or do I give them free reign to talk about what they want?
Do I allow callers to express what their opinion is?
What if my actions cause people to tune out the radio station?
Those are just some of the thoughts that might be on the minds of program directors across the country, today. But ultimately, it’s about trusting the situation you’ve put in place. Hosts are passionate about sports, but some, even more so, about politics. There’s a fine line as a PD to letting your hosts have free reign to express their opinion, but also allowing the other side to have their voice.
But what do you exactly tell your hosts on such a unique day like this?
“We really don’t say to stay away from politics or dive all in on politics,” said John Mamola, PD at 95.3 WDAE in Tampa Bay. “But it is pretty purple, at least our county and surrounding areas are, can’t say that for the rest of the state. That’ll be the top topic Wednesday. It’s not going to be the focus of conversation, but if it gets there, the only thing I tell my guys is you have to be accepting and at least welcome the other side of the argument. Whether there’s a result or not, whether there is a winner or not, if you’re going to go that route in your content, just make sure that it’s balanced. As long as you can do that, then I think everybody wins. Then everybody has a chance to share their voice.”
Totally ignoring the election is a disservice to the audience. Do some people just want to skip the nonsense and hear about sports? Yes, but a majority of your audience will still be interested in one of the most interesting elections we’ve ever seen in our lifetime
“In the end we’re still a sports station,” said Jason Ross, PD of 1140 KHTK in Sacramento. “I still think some people would want to hear our hosts opinions but also hopefully everybody is respectful of either the outcomes or other sides beliefs and feelings, because it’s obviously a very trying and a very sensitive election.”
Do days like this make PD’s nervous? As previously stated, maybe there’s a host that’s known to aggressively defend one side, which can cause controversy with the listeners. Does that change when controversial sports takes turn into controversial political takes?
“I wouldn’t say nervous,” said Ross. “Ultimately you still have to have the trust of the people you have on the air but I think if anyone is bothered by something, unless it’s something one of your hosts says that’s completely outlandish, people are going to disagree, even if it feels as down the middle as it comes. It’s almost finding the balance, because I hear people say, hey, I’m listening to you for sports. So it’s kind of playing both sides a little bit, because there really isn’t a bigger story than the presidential election. We’re not a news source, where we’re totally breaking down each state and what happens, but I think to ignore it was also a little bit shortsighted.”
Many stations across the country are still active with the phone lines. How does that change when people will likely want to talk about the election, especially in a purple state such as North Carolina?
“We don’t get those kinds of callers, actually,” said Terry Foxx, PD at Sports Radio WFNZ in Charlotte. “To be honest with you, our callers are calling about sports, man, because they probably want to get away from this election fatigue. I think that’s kind of the mindset, which is even though we’re in North Carolina, which is a battleground state, our listeners are calling us to talk sports.”
Luckily, if you want it to be, election season being the fall, means football can always be a change of pace or even distract from the political news that’s surrounding the country. Again, don’t pretend it’s not happening, but it’s perfectly ok to mix in football talk to keep the right balance of sports and politics.
“We’re a sports station,” Mamola said. “The Bucs play the Saints on Sunday Night Football coming off a short week that was a win, even though it wasn’t the greatest. I’m sure that’s going to be a main topic for tomorrow. Plus you have the NFL trade deadline coming up, and the Bucs have added all kinds of pieces such as Antonio Brown. That’ll be the focus of the day.
“But we’re not going to purposely make segments or topics surrounding the election. But again if people want to voice their opinion, I mean I have hosts that lean left and hosts that lean right, it’s fine if you’re very passionate about it but as long as you understand that if you decide to go into that route, just be sure to make it balance so people aren’t tuning out.”
The main point is to still remember what sports radio is all about, which is to always discuss what people want to hear about the most. Today, that means politics. Will that be the case tomorrow, next week or even next month? Probably not, because sports is still the ultimate distraction. But for today, it’s about the most important thing going on in our country.
“You cannot avoid it,” said Foxx. “This is a big national story. Even at a sports station, of course we’re not going to break down and talk news, but I told my guys to have fun with the thought process if it comes up in conversation. But it is something that’s top of mind, so you have to sort of pay attention to it and we will integrate some of that into conversation. We have promos promoting WBT, our sister station, which let’s listeners know for all their complete election coverage, throughout the process, is at WBT. That’s how we’re handling it.”
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.