In recent months, my sports radio listening has been mostly occupied by shows that aren’t reliant on sports. But listen to Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti on Boston’s 98.5 The Sports Hub and you’ll instantly be reminded that there’s still room for a sports radio show dominated by sports.
20 years ago, if you asked Mike Francesa and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, “What’s the future of sports radio?” they never would have described The Dan Le Batard Show, Carton and Roberts or Pat McAfee. They would have described something like Felger and Mazz.
Felger and Mazz stick to sports, hammer the headlines, read and react, give strong opinions, and find ways to trigger emotion. Is it the type of show that can reach a very broad audience? No. But they deliver on the expectation of what the show is meant to do: entertain Boston sports fans.
Maybe it’s their background as columnists, but Felger and Mazz bring a lot of newspaper articles to the radio. There’s no doubt many sports radio hosts use journalists’ work as fuel for their content, but Felger and Mazz actually credit the writers. They read an excerpt and cite the source whether it’s Greg Bedard, Gary Washburn, Mike Reiss or somebody else.
It’s an old-school sports radio approach that requires polarizing personalities to succeed. Read the papers, find something that prompts reaction and take it to the airwaves.
As much as they love a good sports debate, Felger and Mazz have a unique ability to be polarizing even when they agree. Many duos will move on from a topic that doesn’t feature conflicting opinions, or one host might fabricate a point to play devil’s advocate.
But Felger and Mazz never lack authenticity, and they never sound rehearsed. When Felger opens a segment with a topic, the ensuing discussion skips the phony side of sports radio, instead featuring organic debate. If the discussion was preconceived or meant to troll, their strongest takes would start at the top, but Felger and Mazz let their segments build.
More than a third voice chiming in on occasion, Jim Murray should probably have his name on the show. There are many times Murray even breaks into a segment and gives his opinion before Massarotti does. Luckily, all three voices sound very different, making it easy for a newcomer to know who is talking and when.
Mazz with a higher pitch, Murray offers a deep tone, and Felger positions autonomously in the middle. Felger pops his P’s with the best of them, he also speaks with as much or more conviction than any other sports radio host in the industry.
For years, I’ve said I’m more passionate and interested in the radio side of “sports radio” rather than the sports aspect. I’ve rooted for the same teams for more than a quarter-century, and as much as I’m invested in them, I find the conversation that surrounds the game much more worthy of attention than the score itself. If it’s debate and discussion that interests me, I’ve wondered why I gravitated to sports radio as opposed to news and political talk?
I answered the question while listening to The Sports Hub’s afternoon show somewhere around their eighth plea for Jimmy Garoppolo. And I was thrown an assist while revisiting a conversation I had with Felger last summer where he gave the following quote:
Say something. Even if it’s wrong, just say something. There’s a lot of nuance with topics, but it’s a better discussion if you’re less nuanced and sports lends itself to that. You have a scoreboard, a winner and a loser, someone makes the right play, someone makes the wrong play, and someone makes the right trade or the wrong trade. They have that scoreboard for a reason, and your commentary should reflect that.“Michael Felger Can’t Ignore the Apocalypse” by Brandon Contes June 25, 2020
“Say something, even if it’s wrong,” lends itself to less nuance when paired with sports because of the scoreboard. There’s my answer. The visible and easily accessed truth makes sports radio great. If a political talk show is having a debate, the ground rules are missing. The facts are impossible to sort.
But with sports radio, the scoreboard doesn’t lie. If Felger and Mazz debate “Alex Smith vs Marcus Mariota, they might have vastly different opinions, but the ground rules for that discussion are easily accessible.
In the political realm, a debate over global warming might see one person argue the world will end in 10 years as fact, and the other side claim climate change is a hoax. The audience is left to decipher what’s true and false, without the easily accessed scoreboard sports fans are privy to.
That doesn’t mean you have to stick to the scoreboard in sports radio, unique opinions and hot takes are more than welcome. At one point, I experienced listener-vertigo from Felger and Mazz, and struggled to decipher whether the Patriots truly are a franchise in disarray or closer to the team just two-years removed from the greatest dynasty in league history.
This is March, peak quarterback speculation season. And nobody did it better than Boston sports radio as they desperately try to recoup from watching Tom Brady win a Super Bowl for Tampa Bay.
Not so breaking news, they weren’t thrilled about Cam Newton returning to the Patriots. And they definitely were not thrilled with Bill Belichick’s aversion to place stock in the quarterback position.
The Sports Hub’s afternoon show has a unique ability to paint a dire picture, nearly putting Belichick on the hot seat. But giving in to the notion that Belichick and the Patriots earned a grace period would be an admission to the fans that it’s OK not to care. Telling fans not to care? That’s committing sports radio suicide.
The show is call heavy and interview light. Listening to a Boston, New York or Philly sports radio station, you know going in they’re taking calls. The audience wants to be heard, they want to interact, and throwing them a text line won’t suffice.
But a lot of sports-centric talk radio shows rely strongly on interviews. Felger and Mazz choose to rely on their own takes and reactions to construct segments. The interviews serve a purpose of adding to the show’s conversation rather than using a Q&A segment to fill time.
And this is a four-hour show, five days a week. There is a lot of time to fill. But don’t look for them to depend on fabricated bits to get the job done. The day Felger, Mazz or Murray tweet out “if the Patriots don’t trade for Jimmy Garoppolo by 2022, I’ll shave my eyebrows,” is the day the show hits the panic button. It’s not who they are and it’s not how they need to entertain.
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.