Super Bowl week has certainly been different without the chaos of radio row. Different does not always mean worse. While there are certain losses from not being there and the site of an empty Radio Row circulating through Twitter is alarming, the shows have actually been better.
“You can tell by the ratings,” former ESPN Radio host Mike Golic told me on my Sports with Friends podcast this week.
Golic spent 20 years as a host of “Mike & Mike” and then “Golic & Wingo” and attended radio row every year. “I know for our show, our ratings were usually down on the Super Bowl (week) because you had wall to wall guests, you had almost four guests an hour for four hours. It was just too much,” he said on the podcast.
“Honestly I don’t think our show has suffered at all not being on Radio Row,” Dave “Softy” Mahler of KJR-AM in Seattle told me by phone. “All of the sponsors that would usually be looking for plugs in exchange for providing guests have all reached out to us and are offering those same people for the most part over the phone.
“For our show, in particular, an afternoon show on the West Coast, the East Coast games don’t make a ton of sense, to begin with. We would be on radio row as early as 7 AM and not getting out of there until as late as 10 PM. It’s not the glamorous trip that people think it is, to be honest.”
On Wednesday of this particular Super Bowl week, I took to the internet to hear radio stations all over the country. I am neglecting to say which station and which host for this experiment as I do not want to influence the Barrett Sports Media rankings.
In Boston, I heard a debate on Dustin Pedroia’s legacy in Red Sox lore. Buffalo was blaming the New Jersey Devils for spreading COVID-19 to their team (they are right by the way). Denver was discussing the disgust of the Nolan Arrenado trade (they are also right). Dallas was discussing the Super Bowl and the impacts of Covid on the week.
If those four stations were at radio row, they would be schlepping guests from segment to segment. The interstitial segments would be jovial discussions of who they met and who is walking by. The dinners from previous evenings would be a topic.
Any radio host reading this who has done a show at Radio Row knows the thrill of being there, and it is infectious. What isn’t appealing, is the typical abandonment of the normal broadcast style, something the listener is accustomed to.
“There’s no flow at all,” Golic added. “And it showed in our ratings. People just didn’t listen as much, at least to our show. I’m sure it happened at other places as well over the years because it was just too disjointed that week. But you have to do it. You have got to be down there. You have got to be seen. You’ve got to be in there with everybody else. Quite honestly, I don’t think it serves a great purpose.”
Gavin Spittle, Vice President of News/Talk Sports for Entercom and 105.3 the Fan was asked whether his station is better off not having shows broadcasting from Tampa.
“That’s a tough question,” Spittle replied. “I personally think sending people down there, when it’s applicable, you can go to press conferences, also the synergy between the hosts hanging out and appearing on other shows, I think that’s all necessary. “
Longtime PR executive Joe Favorito sees something different at Radio Row than distracted radio hosts. He sees connections, friendships, and deals developing all over the host city.
“I think the loss is really more anecdotal on the people that you meet, the reputation that you’ve developed, the friendships that get bonded, and the things you’ve learned,” Favorito told me. “That randomness of running into people and learning more about things you would have never known. The craziness of Radio Row is more about perspective. It’s golden. It’s kind of the business of football.
After talking with Favorito, the NFL might need to rename Radio Row to an NFL Media Experience of some sort. While radio stations may stay away permanently, other media outlets may replace the real estate.
“Radio Row has been progressing away from what people may think of like radio stations, to all different forms of media,” Favorito said. “So you’ve had Twitter there, LinkedIn has been there. You’re going to continue to see kind of the very storytelling platforms that you wouldn’t see before. I wouldn’t be surprised if TikTok is there next year.”
Next year’s Super Bowl is set for Los Angeles. The NFL, like so many of us, is hopeful that the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror by then. Still, there are questions as to the long-term impact that this season will have on the future of Radio Row.
“I don’t think you’re going to see stations going away,” Favorito said. “I think especially the fact that it’s in Southern California if radio stations can sell it to a brand. That’s the most important thing.”
“If the ratings don’t increase dramatically that week then what’s the point?” asked Softy. “I’m curious to see if this will force radio stations to reevaluate spending the money it takes to go down there. Travel costs are insane, and the league charges a pretty penny for stations to set up and access Radio Row, to begin with. Could be a game-changer down the road if the NFL doesn’t adjust.”
This isn’t the first year that attendance has decreased. The days of Radio Row being the center of the sports universe for a week in February was losing its luster before the pandemic. Like much in sports radio, Covid-19 has changed the way the business has been done, sometimes for the better.
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.