Imagine being a host and an expansion team suddenly pops up in your city. Now, picture it being an NHL team. Most hosts might panic, because a fundamental understanding of hockey isn’t as prevalent as football, baseball, or basketball knowledge for the normal sports fan in this country.
Some station managers and program directors might even run away from it, seeing as the NHL tends to struggle nationally compared to other major sports. But that didn’t happen at 950 KJR in Seattle. The exact opposite happened, actually. When the Kraken was introduced as the newest NHL franchise in July of 2020, KJR ran directly towards the team, because they saw an opportunity that some didn’t.
From the beginning, the station was all in on helping the Kraken boost ticket sales, as well as the overall popularity of the team. Some hosts had previous experience working hockey, others made it a point to expand their knowledge, as well as their hockey content during shows. It was a collaborative effort to help welcome the newest team in town.
“When they first brought the idea to build a building (at the old site of Key Arena) I think we were all a little skeptical, because we want to see the NBA come back,” said Ian Furness, host at KJR. “But we jumped on board as a station and every host basically said, hey, let’s embrace this. The ticket drive the team had, we really helped promote that and were big supporters of it.
“I’ll give our management credit, our guys behind the scenes, our GM Mark Glynn, our VP of programming Rich Moore, they worked tirelessly with Tod Leiweke to get this deal done. It’s unreal. We have a presence in the building, outside the building, studio at the practice rink and our FM station will benefit with the concerts coming to town. To be honest with you, our competition across the street, they basically ignore all things hockey and all things NHL. For us it’s a no-brainer.”
The team won’t debut until next season, but KJR holds the rights to Kraken games. It’s a nice change, seeing as the station hasn’t been the home of a team in one of the four major American sports leagues for quite some time.
“We’re a pretty unique station,” said Furness. “We lost the Washington Huskies five years ago, we got them back this year, and were the Sonics flagship up through 05-06 season. Besides Husky football and basketball, we haven’t had a property. I don’t think there’s any station in the country that has gone as long as we have without having a property, and not only survive, but thrive. We have really good talent that learns how to adapt.”
A new team and new rights is exciting, but don’t expect KJR to flip its content to something that would resemble a station in a hockey crazy town like Toronto. KJR knows the Seahawks are still No. 1, No. 2 and even No. 3 in terms of importance in Seattle. But there is a scenario that exists where the Kraken could emerge as the next option in town. Four playoff appearances in 44 years has left the fans growing tired of the Mariners yearly antics and Husky football will always play second fiddle to the Seahawks in the fall. The Kraken will have the unique opportunity to have the stage all to itself in a market that’s craving winter sports. If that happens, KJR could benefit greatly from a Vegas or Nashville-like hockey boom.
“I think they have a chance to tap into the fandom of Mariners fans,” said Jason Puckett, host at KJR. ”However, baseball fans are baseball fans, that won’t ever change. They could change on how they spend their money. I don’t think they can ever reach the fandom of Husky football. That product is an institution that has been fostered over generations. The popularity of hockey I think we’ll depend on how much they find early success. They need to immediately hook the fans so they can build on that momentum. But, they will obviously have a grace period to develop that success and passion.”
“We’re starving for winter sports here,” said Furness. “The NBA stole the Sonics from us 12 years ago and we’ve had this big, huge gap from the end of the Seahawks season to the start of the Mariners season. Then, by the time they fall on their face in April, it’s the start of college football and the NFL again. They’re going to fill a nice gap here.”
Hockey isn’t the easiest sport to learn in a short amount of time. Especially if you don’t have a prior knowledge of the sport. Luckily for KJR, the station has hosts that either have worked in the sport, or have made a concerted effort to speed up their knowledge as much as possible.
“I’m probably unique, because I’ve worked in hockey off and on for 30 years,” said Furness. “I’m different than most hosts, in the sense that I have a hockey base of knowledge. I did around 1000 games of play-by-play at the minor-league level. I think as a station, every one of our shows has had a hockey presence on and has done a good job learning it.”
Seattle is very underrated when it comes to cities with an extensive knowledge of hockey. No, it hasn’t had an NHL team, but the city does have a minor league presence that features very popular teams. It won’t be surprising to any of the locals if the Kraken really catch on in Seattle. But regardless of what happens, KJR will roll with the punches that come its way. They’re able to do that because of the versatility with the staff.
“We have really good talent that learns how to adapt,” Furness said. “Yeah, we talk Seahawks all the time, but we can talk about other things and have a good knowledge of it. Our morning show is probably the best baseball show in town. Jason Puckett is easily the most knowledgeable when it comes to the NBA. (Dave Mahler) Softy is Mr. college football and college everything. I think I fall somewhere in between with all that. All of us have done hockey content, with guests and segments. For us it won’t be that hard and it’s not like it’s going to dominate.”
“We’re not gonna be talking to a fan base in Toronto (laughs). We don’t have to be breaking down the ice time and the right hand shot on the power-play, or anything like that. A year ago I would’ve told you were in pure panic mode right now and we would’ve all been hoping we can keep our jobs, but we’re thriving. We’ve done a nice job.”
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.