Now that I’m writing for the sports side of Barrett Media, I’ve been going back to my roots and doing a lot of listening to sports radio in my spare time.
While there are many great shows on many different platforms, I STILL hear a lot of mistakes being made. What’s odd (and also a bit frustrating) is that these are mistakes that I used to rail against when I was running radio stations.
Like a bad penny, they keep turning up.
Every Program Director/Content Manager has similar thoughts and philosophies on what makes good content and bad content. However, there are some pet peeves of mine that I just can’t let slide.
I narrowed it down to what I consider to be four mortal sins.
I would always tell my hosts that I wanted them coming out of the gate swinging. Get to the heart of what you want to talk about because people tuning in don’t have the patience for you to get warmed-up. If sports radio were football, I always wanted my people running no-huddle.
Recently, I had tuned into a sports-talk show host on Sirius-XM that started his show by introducing himself, his producer, and his engineer. He then asked everyone how their weekend was and spent several minutes laying out all the different things he was going to talk about over the next few hours. Ugh. By the time he got to his first topic, I was so annoyed I didn’t even care what the guy had to say.
If you’re hosting a show, you have about 10 seconds to make a pitch that can hook a listener into a segment. The best hosts are the ones that hit you with their opinion right away and follow it up by unpacking their rationale one point at a time.
THE LIONS MADE A GREAT MOVE TODAY, AND I’M GOING TO TELL YOU WHY.
AARON RODGERS AND THE PACKERS ARE DONE, AND THIS IS A GOOD THING FOR BOTH SIDES.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HAS A MAJOR PROBLEM AND IF THEY DON’T FIX IT, THEY’LL BE DEAD IN 10 YEARS.
These are examples of GREAT ways to open a show or a segment. You lead with an attention-getting statement which buys you time to explain yourself.
Overproduction can also be a real drag on a program.
There was one major market sports talk show I listened to once that opened-up every hour with a montage that (and I timed it) went on for nearly three minutes. It was filled with clips from the previous day’s show, sound-bytes from movies, sound effects and bunch of inside jokes that I couldn’t understand.
This thing went on longer than the open to Sunday Night Football.
I am sure that the hosts and producers found it amusing…I found it to be a self-indulgent waste of time.
Based on that program (and station’s) ratings, I’m not the only person with that opinion.
TAKING TERRIBLE PHONE CALLS
When it comes to callers, I’ve always believed in quality over quantity. While a GREAT phone call can be a standout moment for a show, a terrible one can send it into the gutter.
Yet, I still hear hosts that will put almost anyone on, and many of them add nothing to the program. People that ramble, talk slow, have a bad connection, etc. are absolute show killers. If they can’t be screened out in the producer’s booth, get rid of them. That sounds cold-blooded, but this is show business. Disconnecting may upset the caller, but it will likely be a sigh of relief from the thousands of other listeners who couldn’t stand what they were hearing.
A good rule of thumb for hosts…if a caller is boring YOU, it’s likely boring the listener.
FALLING DOWN A RABBIT HOLE
This is one that REALLY gets to me and I still hear it far too often.
Sports Media A.D.D. is a major, major problem.
Odds are you’ve heard it. A show starts talking about one thing and then it goes off the rails by talking about something completely uninteresting and irrelevant.
Often, the hosts are guilty of self-sabotage and it makes for terrible radio. Maybe they get distracted by something in the studio. Maybe a co-host, caller or producer tries to change the subject or take the conversation in a different direction. There are countless examples.
I remember once listening to a host who STARTED out by talking about a major move one of the local teams made and somehow segued into asking listeners if a hot dog was a sandwich. How did he get there? He did an aside on how he had a hot dog for lunch that day and sucked the show into a vortex of one of the dumbest questions ever created.
Sports radio is not a Phish concert. No one wants to listen to you jam randomly for hours at a time, making things up as you go along. If you want to live in that kind of world, go do a podcast…where TSL and tune-ins aren’t as important.
Every segment is like a trip…you’re taking listeners to a destination. Don’t pull off the road every time you think you see something interesting.
NOT SELLING THEIR SEGMENTS
A listener’s time is valuable currency. If you want it, you need to sell them on reasons to stay. Yet, I still hear a lot of empty teasing from the hosts.
COMING UP, WE’RE TAKING YOUR CALLS ON THE (INSERT TEAM)
WE’LL TALK ABOUT (INSERT NAME OF PLAYER/COACH) RIGHT AFTER THIS
These statements tell me NOTHING. Yet, I still hear them being thrown out there as ways to grab people’s attention.
There is an art to teasing and front selling. It’s not a science and it really isn’t difficult. Hosts need to put themselves in the mindset of having to make a pitch. Just because a host thinks something is good doesn’t necessarily mean listeners will have the same opinion.
You’re competing for tune-ins with a lot of other media. You need to give to convince them that its in their best interests to stick with you and not channel surf.
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.