I keep thinking about the Super Bowl. Is it because I grew up a Buccaneers fan and I am utterly flabbergasted that my team won a second Super Bowl in my lifetime? Yeah, absolutely. But it is also one particular image. That shot of Patrick Mahomes, hanging in mid-air, parallel to the ground as he manages to throw a perfect spiral is among the most amazing things to come out of that game. How often do we look back on a championship game at any level of football and say undeniably, the best play was an incomplete pass?
You can say whatever you want about the Chiefs’ offensive performance on Sunday night. The game plan was predictable, clock management was abysmal, and the offensive line played like all five of them had money on the Bucs. One thing I have seen a lot on social media that is absolutely not true is people saying that Patrick Mahomes played like shit. Statistically, it was bad, but he did literally everything he could.
Look at that picture again! That isn’t “falling down”. To quote Jack Black, “that’s levitation, homes.” And Patrick Mahomes found a way to throw a dart to Tyreke Hill despite his lack of footing. It isn’t the quarterback’s fault that the receiver let the ball hit him in the facemask.
That realization made me think about our industry. We may not have distracted coaches or patchwork pass protection to overcome, but just like the Chiefs on Sunday evening, a show, a station, or a building is only as strong as its weakest link.
I asked people at various positions in the industry across a variety of stations. The “links” here are not metaphorical. I asked people what the strongest link between various positions and departments looks like in sports radio.
We’ll start with the link between production and programming. I asked Ryan Haney, program director of JOX 94.5 in Birmingham how good a station can be if it doesn’t have great imaging.
His answer? Imaging is where a station’s success begins.
“Your imaging needs to reflect the tone of how you want your station to be perceived,” he told me. “If there is a specific ask of the listener, it needs to be as precise as possible. And in turn your content needs to pay that off.”
What about the link between sales and programming? John Mamola, program director of WDAE in Tampa says everyone in the programming department has to have a relationship with the sales staff. He told me the best advice he was ever given for programmers getting the most out of sellers.
“You should kind of find your best three or four on your sales floor, whether that is physical or virtual, and get them the big ticket items. They can do the best with those. They know your product the most,” he says. “You communicate with everyone else constantly. Present new opportunities to new people and maybe you add someone to that three or four that can have serious success down the road.”
Mamola says that he is lucky to have an air staff that also wants to work with ad reps. If you go to work for John, he makes it clear that there are benefits to making yourself seen in the bullpen.
“Be open and never say no, because the minute you start saying no is the minute you’re not being asked anymore,” he says when I ask what he tells his air staff about interacting with sellers.
The relationship between a programmer and his air staff is of the utmost importance. That is the link that determines whether your on air product can evolve or if what your listeners hear will stay stagnant and eventually bore them.
I asked Jim Costa, who recently took over the night shift on 97.1 the Ticket in Detroit exactly that. How can a programmer help keep a host from losing relevance with his audience?
Jim is quick to point out how much he likes feedback. He says that it is easy to accept “if it’s coming from the right place and not an egg on Twitter.” The right place in Jim’s mind isn’t just a programmer he trusts wants to hear him succeed. It is a programmer he trusts has an idea of what Jim needs to do to make a difference.
“Formatics and mechanics are important but the real value is content selection and execution,” Jim says. “Even if we disagree it can be healthy and force me to reflect on if there is a better way to get the content to land. A trusted set of ears can push a host to be the best version of themselves.”
Josh Dover is part of the mid day show at Altitude Sports Radio in Denver. He is partnered with ex-Bronco Ryan Harris and ex-Nugget Scott Hastings. As the one guy on his show’s staff that is a lifelong broadcaster, his role is something akin to a ship’s captain.
When you’re steering things behind the mic, what sort of support and feedback do you need from the guy or gal steering the direction of the station as a whole?
“Open communication that goes both ways and honest, like brutally honest,” Josh answers. “I want my PD to be able to tell me what I’m not good at, ways to fix it and always tell me ways to improve. I’m a big fan of constructive criticism. But I want to be able to tell them if I have an issue with the show, production, sales, money, and with a great PD, personal struggles I may be going through.”
Inside the studio, there are relationships that matter too. I know that sounds obvious and I have written a lot about this before, but the relationship between a producer and a host should be built on trust and respect.
Travis Hancock, best known as T-Bone to listeners of WFNZ in Charlotte, went from being the producer of the station’s morning show to its co-host. That is great experience to have. It also means that he has very clear expectations in terms of what he needs from the guy behind the board.
“A great producer prepares like a host would because you hope to one day be the guy in charge and when your time arrives you’ve been preparing for it well in advance. The top producers also anticipate well and know what a hosts wants or needs without having to ask”
Erin Maloney is the producer of Doug & Wolfe on Arizona Sports 98.7. It’s important for a host to communicate their expectations to a producer. It is the best way to ensure everyone is happy and on the same page. Maloney says that it is also important to know she is making an impact.
I asked her what it meant to be empowered as a producer. When does she most feel like she is making the show better and the hosts’ jobs easier?
“To me, I feel the most empowered as a producer when I can use all of my resources to improve our listener’s experience,” she told me via text. “I make it a priority to bring creativity and innovative content that inspires my hosts which in turn grows our audience.”
Looking back on Super Bowl LV, to me it is clear why the Chiefs lost. It isn’t some mythical “winner’s blood” that flows through Tom Brady. It isn’t even a single mistake or ticky tack penalty that started things rolling down hill at an unstoppable pace.
Patrick Mahomes tried playing like he always does. Eric Bienemy tried calling the same plays he always does. There was no adjustment to the new reality of a significantly depleted offensive line. That gave the Buccaneers every opportunity they needed to disrupt Kansas City’s game plan. Without acknowledging what was now their weakest link, Kansas City set itself up for failure.
A constant eye on improvement and making each other better is how we address and strengthen the weakest links at our stations and in our buildings. As John Mamola told me, it really is a team game. The individual members of the team may have their own goals, but the definition of success for the team should be pretty obvious.
“We’re all in this together. We’re all in this to have a good time, but at the same time make money and have ratings success and revenue success,” he says. “The more we can work as a team, the more success comes and the more money hopefully ends up in everyone’s pockets.”