January offered a fully loaded month of sports content in Philadelphia, filled with topics that were tough to dream about when the pandemic put all seasons on hold last spring.
Beginning with the Eagles “tanking” on Sunday Night Football, followed by their decision to retain Doug Pederson, only to part ways with him shortly after. Debates about the future of Carson Wentz and whether his short tenure as a starting quarterback is already over. Finding the next coach, then hearing Nick Sirianni’s opening press conference. Potentially dealing Ben Simmons for James Harden, and even the Phillies got in on the action when they signed J.T. Realmuto.
It’s a lazy radio host’s dream. Let the headlines do the work and feel good about calling it a day because there was no room for creativity.
But Jon Marks and Ike Reese are focused on more than just getting through each show for 94WIP. The afternoon duo works to build a community of listeners. It’s fast paced, with moving parts that keep the show busy. Producer Jack Fritz offers an energetic third voice on standby. And the fabric of sports radio in the northeast is on full display, lots and lots of callers.
There was room for more audio, drops and clips. Audio actualities fit the show’s pace and continue it on the path of having morning sound with afternoon content. Similar to the way color makes magazines more exciting than a newspaper, sound enhances the listening experience of a radio show.
The month started off with a local topic that went national when Doug Pederson and the Eagles seemingly tanked their final game of the regular season. There weren’t many people defending Pederson’s decision to play Nate Sudfeld during the second half of the Eagles Week 17 loss to Washington. There was an even smaller percentage of former players who were defending what appeared to be a tank job.
What the Eagles did in their final game of the season was sacrilegious, yet while Marks’ anger built on-air, Reese was more sympathetic to the decision by Pederson and the Eagles to prioritize jumping three spots in the draft.
For years, Reese has been yelling ‘let the bronco buck!’ But as soon as the WIP mainstay wanted the Ferrari tucked into the garage, it showed that after nearly 15 years away from the field, Reese might be more media than former player. A former player accepting the decision to tank, rationally recognizing the long-term benefit? The surprise was refreshing.
Marks and Reese do a good job of letting conversations build, they state their opinions at the start of a topic, but their best supporting points might not come until later in the segment. Pick a talk radio host and transcribe their monologue or segment. Then convert it into an essay and you might be able to cut it in half because of repeated points with changed verbiage.
But WIP’s afternoon show stacks their points rather than repeating them. If Marks is passionate about a topic, his energy builds as the segment gets rolling. An eloquent voice of the fans, maintaining a naturally genuine sound as his frustrations snowball.
I would have liked them to dig deeper on James Harden being dealt to the Brooklyn Nets. The news broke shortly after an interview with Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer where the census was Harden would be heading to Philly. In the next segment, WIP dropped their ‘Breaking News’ sound effect, announcing the Rockets and Nets had a deal.
Marks and Reese were on opposite ends of the spectrum with what was a potentially franchise altering move for the 76ers. When the situation had finality, I was expecting a solid discussion to come out of the news, but it was brief before the focus shifted to caller opinions. If hosts have drastically different opinions on a polarizing decision, I’d delay the calls and see how the conversation can cultivate.
I understand text lines and the purpose they serve. It gives your community of listeners another avenue to contribute and get in touch with the show. But while I believe callers have the ability to enhance a show when used correctly, a host monotonously reading off a list of texts does nothing for the listener.
The chosen texts are often self-serving, providing a pat on the back for the show or host.
‘Nice job, love listening to you guys!’
But turning the bland segment into a parody by having the texts voiced over was a great idea from Marks & Reese. It made a usually boring segment into a humorous bit, combining sound and listener interaction to unveil a reimagined text line.
If a listener misses any of the show, they have plenty of content available on-demand through the RADIO.COM app. The four-hour show is generally broken up into five podcasts. Entercom doesn’t have a blanket podcast policy, they let their stations govern themselves on how they want to offer on-demand content. I like having the option to hear the entire show, but realistically, I don’t frequently take advantage of it.
If I see a list of five podcasts, each about 35 minutes long, I’m more likely to say ‘I’ll listen to it later.’ Much of sports radio is time sensitive and I’m probably not fishing through 35-minute segments to find content that’s still relevant. But if the clips are cut down to less than 10 minutes, I’m willing to invest that time to check out a rant or debate, even if at the risk of it being old news.
The interviews on Marks & Reese were fine because they were generally a side note to the show. Brian Baldinger, Eliot Shorr-Parks, Merrill Reese, Kevin O’Connor, they were predictable guests that might not do much to further the conversation, but they didn’t derail the show either. You’re not going to be surprised by a guest and the Insider impact was minimal for the casual listener, but still offered something informative for the die-hard fan.
Marks and Reese take a lot of calls, just as most northeast sports radio shows do. And there are some brutal callers. But there are also callers that become part of the show and help create that community aspect. As a listener, I prefer bad callers over boring interviews. I will never stop listening to a bad call, because I know it will be over in seconds. But I will never continue listening to a bland interview because I know it won’t be over for another 10 minutes.
Calls give listeners a chance to congratulate Marks on his minivan purchase. It’s also where you get listeners who are jealous of Chuck from Mount Airy, calling in to question his authenticity. Talking to people who are less concerned with the radio clock or speaking with inflection, and are instead only focused on an irrational point about the Eagles, makes radio relatable.
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.