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Oscars’ Mistake Was Not Knowing Radio 101

“We try a lot out on the fly and sometimes something goes wrong or it just doesn’t land like it was supposed to. Still, I couldn’t help but think about how the Oscars didn’t follow a rule of live broadcasting that I feel like I learned my first day in the business. Don’t set your audience up for a payoff if you aren’t positive you can deliver it!”

Demetri Ravanos

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If TV ratings are accurate, I am guessing few if any of you actually watched the Oscars on Sunday night. I didn’t even watch, but let me tell you about something that happened that bares examination for so many reasons.

Every year, the final award handed out is Best Picture. That makes sense, right? People that like movies want to know which one is determined to be the very best each year. Well, Sunday night, seemingly in the heat of the moment, it was decided that the last award handed out would be Best Actor.

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The show’s producers wanted to create a moment that would bring attention to the ceremony and create a moment that would be replayed on all of the morning shows. Chadwick Boseman, who died in August, was not just a sentimental favorite to win the award. He was the odds on favorite for most online books as well. It would have been a perfect ending if it had worked out like it was supposed to.

You probably see where this is going.

When Joaquin Phoenix opened the envelope, Boseman’s name was not inside. Instead, Anthony Hopkins won the award. I can’t tell you which deserved it more, but I can tell you that it was an embarrassing moment for the Oscars. Not only did the award not go to Boseman, giving the evening a memorable payoff, it went to someone that wasn’t even there! How does that happen?

We make a lot of mistakes in radio. We try a lot out on the fly and sometimes something goes wrong or it just doesn’t land like it was supposed to. Still, I couldn’t help but think about how the Oscars didn’t follow a rule of live broadcasting that I feel like I learned my first day in the business. Don’t set your audience up for a payoff if you aren’t positive you can deliver it!

ABC looks bad. The Motion Picture Academy looks bad. Anthony Hopkins looks apathetic. Chadwick Boseman’s family was set up for a special moment only to instead get an emotionally devastating fall.

It did not have to happen this way, but the Oscars were relying on business as usual. You just can’t do that anymore. You have to have answers before you make grand plans.

Gregg Henson, program director of Audacy’s 910 the Fan in Richmond, told me that he is all for grand gestures. He would rather have his team thinking big instead of playing it safe.

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“Many times in today’s climate the inclination is to judge an idea before it gets off the ground. We try to foster an environment where we are always thinking big and pulling back,” he told me in an email. “A lot of people have inner blocks and limiting beliefs that we try to break down to make a promotion bigger and better.”

Before he gets to that moment though, Gregg makes sure he has answers to a few questions.

“First, is there value to the listeners! Second, can we provide value to the client. After these components are answered in the affirmative, we decide if we can execute the promotion to provide a payoff for the audience.”

Sam Pines, the market manager of Good Karma Brands’ ESPN Cleveland, makes sure he surrounds himself with people that have the answers he doesn’t. Before he can make a big promise to a client, he wants to make sure that the people that are strong in his blindspots have had their say.

“I’m not great at understanding what goes into pulling off the idea, but generally an idea like this will involve at a minimum Matt Fishman (Director of Content ESPN Cleveland), Debbie Brown (VP of Marketing GKB), Amy Crossman (Director of Sales and Marketing ESPN Cleveland) and Nikki Hollis (Chief of Staff- ESPN Cleveland) and all play different roles within that brainstorming including whether it’s realistic or not.”

The Motion Picture Academy typically doesn’t let anyone except for the accountants that tabulate the votes know Oscar winners ahead of time. That is how things were done for the first 92 years of the Academy Awards and it worked out fine.

Moving the Best Actor category to the end of the night is a big change though. And it is a big change in a year where nothing was normal. Fewer than 10 million people tuned into the broadcast for the very first time. Do you know why? Because most people didn’t see a lot of movies in 2020. Why did the producers of the show not take that into account? Even the people that voted on the Oscars likely didn’t see some of the performances they were voting on. That seems like a logical explanation of how Hopkins won, right? You didn’t see the movies, but you know Anthony Hopkins is great! Just vote for him. The Academy wanted to do something special, and relying on business as usual bit them in the ass.

I asked Pines if he could think of a corollary. Is there something that used to be taken for granted in radio that now has to be completely rethought and remade?

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“One word,” he answers. “Events.”

Henson says when he was at WDFN in the late 90s, it was possible to pull off some pretty epic promotions and events without a lot of internal communication. That just isn’t how business is done anymore.

“At the WDFN in Detroit in 1997 we traded a 737 and flew an airplane full of Red Wings fans to DC for the Stanley Cup finals, Henson says. “Bought the tickets and traded the charter and hotel rooms without ever involving sales.  That can’t happen today as we have become more savvy and better at creating synergies between sales and programming.

Safety nets can be a pain in the ass sometimes. There is no denying that, but they exist so that your brand doesn’t end up looking foolish by building up to a payoff you cannot provide.

Can you imagine the world of hell we would give the NFL if Thursday night came and the plan for the Draft wasn’t well thought out? The event is live again after a year of virtual drafts across all sports. The players, the teams, the leagues, they all had to jump through hoops to make those work. Now imagine we are finally back in person and the first round picks who have made the trip can’t get up to the stage to take a picture with Roger Goodell because someone at the league office forgot to put stairs at the front of the stage.

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This stuff is live event 101. It’s radio 101 and it is so easy to do. Get it right, and it goes unnoticed, but get it wrong, and it becomes infamous.

Ratings tumbled, but what tarnished the reputation of the Oscars and its trio of producers more this year was this single awkward moment that was supposed to be a sweet, triumphant remembrance of Chadwick Boseman. Instead, what we got was a winner that wasn’t even there. It all could have been avoided if the people in charge didn’t rely on business as usual and just asked a few questions.

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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