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The Strange NBA Season Is Keeping PDs On Their Toes

“We’re not calling the shots. Covid is,” Martin says. “We have to be flexible.”

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This is a weird NBA season. I wish I had a more creative way to open this column, but I mean for God’s sakes, the Toronto Raptors are playing in Tampa! There’s no better way to sum things up than “this is a weird NBA season.”

Business as usual is a wonderful goal, but not a very realistic one. At the time of this writing, we are approaching 30 games having been postponed over the course of the entire season. The league can strengthen its Covid-19 protocols, but the fact remains that Adam Silver and team owners are trying to play games in the midst of the deadliest resurgence of a pandemic that has already killed 400,000 Americans.

U.S. Hits 400,000 Covid-19 Deaths, Nearly 1 In Every 800 Americans

What does that mean for sports radio? It means staying flexible. 

Don Martin is the GM and PD of AM 570 LA Sports. The station is the flagship of the Los Angeles Clippers. While there hasn’t been reason yet to switch to emergency programming on the fly, Martin says the station is ready thanks in large part to the Dodgers.

“AM 570 had a ridiculously successful dry run with Covid before the Clipper basketball season started, okay? We had to pull off an entire baseball season.”

Dodger games featured three different broadcast booths at the ballpark and another in a studio. There were a lot of moving pieces in order to get the team’s games on the air in a way that sounded good and kept the people calling and producing the action safe.

“We’re not calling the shots. Covid is,” Martin says. “We have to be flexible.”

While the Clippers have not had to be flexible yet, the station has. AM 570 is also the flagship for the UCLA Bruins. That team found out just 30 minutes before the station’s pregame show was supposed to start that a game against Oregon was being postponed. In that instance, the fix was simple. Tell Petros and Money that they aren’t getting a half day after all and keep the show on the air until 7 pm.

Media Confidential: L-A Radio: iHM Promotes Don Martin Of KLAC

It isn’t lost on Don Martin how fortunate he is right now. Whether it is the Clippers or the Bruins, a cancelled or postponed game isn’t going to devastate anyone in the building, because there are enough people in the building to keep things running.

“I feel sorry for some of the smaller markets and medium markets that don’t have as many hands on deck, Martin says. “What we’re finding out, when you run into situations like this, you find out how good your folks are and you find your future talk show.”

The Sacramento Kings have also been fortunate. The team has not had any games cancelled at the time of this writing.

“Based on the way things are going it sure seems like we will see it happen soon,” says Jason Ross, play-by-play voice of the Kings and program director at the team’s flagship station, KHTK.

(Immediately after hitting publish, the Kings had to postpone two games.)

Like Martin and AM 570 though, Ross says his station has had practice with cancellations and postponements and understands the headache they create.

“We had multiple baseball games postponed with the Oakland A’s, NFL games that were moved around and UC Davis basketball that has been off for over a month,” he says. “The real challenge becomes moving around the log and keeping people flexible with air shifts, board op shifts, etc. If 2020 taught us anything it was to be fluid and that is continuing into 2021.”

Postponements and last minute cancellations are a pain in the ass, especially if you want to fill the hours reserved for a game with local programming. There’s no way around that. But Ross knows that in radio, sometimes your primary obligation is to the advertisers. He says KHTK has been fortunate to partner with companies that understand that whatever sport they are putting their money into, none of them come with guarantees. Sometimes that means management has to do a lot of shuffling of inventory to make sure the terms of ad buys can be met.

“Everyone has been very understanding,” Ross says. “We have been able to air almost everything we had missed before so we have been able to cover our basis. We would always do what we can to make sure that spots missed get played so we keep that strong relationship with our broadcast partners.

Jason Ross

Partnerships are going to be the key to sports stations weathering the storm of another league putting its collective head down and trying to conduct businesses usual when the world is telling you that just isn’t the case. As Don Martin and Jason Ross point out, the key is to plan. Have as much crew personnel as you can and work with advertisers to understand what you can do to meet their needs even as the games they have paid to have their message on are being cancelled and postponed

BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 44

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This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.

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BSM Writers

Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio

“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”

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Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon.  Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight. 

Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.

A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show.  Especially in sports.

Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.

On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.

First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.

On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly.  Never interrupt the guest with an ID.

Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.

“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”

In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.

We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up.  He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.

Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard.  It was a really inciteful chat.  Never was on the podcast.

Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.

“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”

“Have you seen a life for you after football?”

“How much do you hate a certain player?”

All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.

Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.

ShinStation - Game Over - #017 - Wrap it Up - YouTube
Courtesy: Comedy Central

I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway.  The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.

I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.

Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.

Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.

Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.

(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)

The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming. 

Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks. 

They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.

Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.  

Quality shines through the speakers.  The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.

How to Start a Podcast: Podcasting for Beginners - RSS.com Podcasting

The podcast industry is continually evolving.  Radio needs to evolve as well.  Then, it can be a fair fight.

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BSM Writers

National Voices Can Work For Local Clients

“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”

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Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.

I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.

In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.

Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area.  The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen. 

Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!

If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.  

Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it. 

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