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Does Radio Still Think Radio Is Special?

“The radio business cannot ever lose sight of the fact that for us, the old fashioned broadcast has to remain on top. Everything else we do should serve it!”

Demetri Ravanos

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Radio is still a special thing. Despite all of the hand-wringing and fear over what podcasts and streaming audio will do to the industry, all of the numbers say that the majority of listeners are still with us. The majority of ad dollars are still with us.

Does that mean we go back to what was business as usual in 1995? Of course not! But here is a question worth pondering: does radio know that radio is still more popular than digital audio or social media?

It sure doesn’t seem like it.

Brad Carson, program director of ESPN 92.9 in Memphis, told me that he views social media as a means to support what is happening on air. That has been valuable, particularly during the pandemic, when media was the only way most people had to be social.

“Last summer we saluted local high school seniors for the month of May in Memphis who had their season cut short due to COVID and made it an athletic celebration of sorts to brighten those student-athlete’s days shouting out them, their achievements, and their local school name. It wasn’t just on-air. It became part of all of those viral platforms because we married our on-air audio from the salute moment with images of the students. And we needed that last May because major league and college sports games vanished for a brief moment.”

He thinks that all social media is worth understanding. I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but Carson’s point is that if you make time to understand something like TikTok or figure out the most relevant content for Instagram, it expands your reach beyond the target demo.

But isn’t the target demo where we put most of our eggs in media? Certainly when sales reps hit the street they are telling the story of the station’s performance with target demos. Does it make more sense to try to pick up a little bit from every age group by stretching a social strategy as far as you can or should a station focus on the platforms that deliver the highest number of 35-54 year old men?

Brian Long, program director of XTRA 1360 FOX Sports San Diego, has built a social media strategy for his station based on what makes sense for his audience and what his station can make the most use of.

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“Twitter is by far the most easily integrated with terrestrial news & sports,” he told me. “I also think Facebook and FB Live plays well with the older demo, but certainly not something that has the immediate impact of Twitter.”

I asked Long what he thought the best case scenario was for the performance of a radio show’s replay podcast. To him, it was an example of investing in things that are worth investing in. That doesn’t mean you don’t offer on demand replays. It means those are not the digital products you expect to draw the interest of your already dedicated listeners.

“I’ve found most traditional radio shows that develop a podcast that is slightly different from the daily show seem to cut thru better. The goal should be to try and give the listeners an experience that is unique.”

The opinion echoes something Joe Ovies told me earlier this year when he explained to me why he prefers to release best of podcasts instead of full show replays. The afternoon host on 99.9 the Fan in Raleigh told me that what makes radio special is the spontaneity of what happens live. That is something you cannot get on a podcast. If a station is going to invest time in creating a digital strategy and podcasts are a huge part of it, don’t you need to make sure all of your audio is special? You can’t recreate live on a podcast. Likewise, your podcast isn’t doing anything for you if it is the exact same thing listeners get on radio.

Carson reiterates that he doesn’t think radio companies’ emphasis on technology and digital platforms has to be viewed as a problem. Just look at his relationship with video.

Brad Carson puts out a video every single day on his social media platforms. It is him staring into the camera and talking about what is going on in his city and at his station. Usually all of that is happening while his dog licks his face.

For Carson, the videos are about building and supplementing the connection he and his staff have created over the airwaves.

“Whether it’s in the form of Twitch, video clips in-studio, Zooms, FB Live, Instagram live, or daily talent videos, we have found that it’s important to use video to connect,” he told me via email. “Think about it. During the pandemic, THAT IS the appearance. The pandemic seemingly has taught us the importance of RADIO.COM, smart speakers, and social. Video is part of those.”

He made it clear to me that the digital platforms should not interfere with the way radio companies think about what goes out over the airwaves. When I tell him that radio needs to do a better job of showing how silly the “radio is dying” narrative is, he takes things one step further.

“It’s definitely not dying. Frankly, I’ve been in radio for over 25 years and I’m not kidding when I tell you it’s the best I’ve ever felt about our industry. ESPECIALLY Sports.”

Long agrees. In fact, it never really dawned on him that focusing on a digital and social strategy could be conceived as sending a message that radio doesn’t know its platform’s own value. A digital strategy is just the 2021 version of trying to do what radio has always tried to do: be where the people looking for information are.

“The reality is long gone are the days of waiting for the newspaper to arrive on your door step or waiting for a radio show to begin to get up to date,” Long says. “People expect information as it’s happening. Social has the best chance of delivering that.”

Brad Carson acknowledges that everyday a new digital competitor to local radio pops up. Entertainment encompasses such a wide swath of options that it will always be a crowded field, but radio isn’t going to be lost in it.

“Yes, there are a lot folks not in radio starting podcasts, launching beats to cover teams for internet only companies, the dying newspaper industry, or the TV sports people who get a minute at night on the local news that’s DVR’d.  Those things are great, but radio has a massive advantage over all of them because we can leverage the most listened to medium in the country and expand into those areas in unique and special ways because of our local talent,” he says.

Radio is a unique medium and sometimes it is easy to wonder if the people at the top realize that. ESPN has rebranded their offerings in the space as “ESPN Audio,” and that is a more accurate reflection of the way they approach the business now. It certainly makes sense to use other media to supplement the business you have established using the terrestrial airwaves. Too often though, it feels like radio companies are focusing on those other media and losing sight of facts like radio’s widespread familiarity and accessibility because it is something we know how to do well.

The need to learn a new platform can often create a warped sense of its place in your organization’s hierarchy. The radio business cannot ever lose sight of the fact that for us, the old fashioned broadcast has to remain on top. Everything else we do should serve it!

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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