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Does Sports Radio Value Its Black Audience?

Listening to the radio is FREE. There is no reason why the sports radio format shouldn’t have a higher Black listenership…and more Black hosts. Period.

Rob Taylor

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Congratulations, sports radio! (not really)

You’re so unique! You’re in a lane by yourself! You just so happen to be one of the only mediums in life where the dominating topics involve African Americans, but its hosts and audience are dominated by Whites.

Black folk are NFL fans too'

Seriously….how did this happen?

In urban radio, the format is dominated by Black hip-hop artists and Black on-air personalities like Funkmaster Flex of HOT 97 (New York City) and Big Boy of Real 92.3 (Los Angeles). And a majority of its listening audience is also Black. The same goes with urban adult contemporary radio.

Cable network VH1 got rid of all that “Behind the Music” stuff and went all “Love and Hip Hop,” “Flavor of Love,” “For the Love of Ray J,” and “Basketball Wives,” and not surprisingly, VH1’s audience also went majority-Black.

Place Stephen A. Smith on ESPN’s First Take, add rapper Wale to do the show intro, bring Black celebrities onto the show regularly, and whaddya know? The viewership of the two-hour daily First Take was at 53 percent Black, according to 2017 ESPN data, by far the largest Black viewership on ESPN during any part of the day.

One can understand The Golf Channel having a majority-White audience. Same with the NHL Network. But…from LeBron, to Zeke, to Deshaun Watson, to Kevin Durant, how in the world did the sports radio format, which endlessly discusses the actions of athletes that are mainly Black, sustain such a large percentage of White on-air hosts and listeners? African Americans are very engaged in radio; and surely we love sports, so what’s the issue here? And don’t you dare say, “Well, the NFL and NBA are majority-Black but the people who attend the games are majority-White…” That is an economic issue, a lesson in generational wealth, so we won’t even go there in this column…

Listening to the radio is FREE. There is no reason why the sports radio format shouldn’t have a higher Black listenership…and more Black hosts. Period.

I believe that the sports radio format, in general, cannot attract an increasingly Black audience because there are not enough sports radio program directors who “have been” Black. Notice I said, “have been.” As in, sports radio PDs “have always” been White for decades, and just like hockey, NASCAR and golf (with the exception of Tiger Woods), if young African Americans never see people that look like them in certain positions, a lot of them will believe it’s not a viable career choice. So, this goes back decades. 

More African American PDs would eventually equal more Black on-air hosts. More Black PDs would eventually equal more Black producers, executive producers and assistant PDs. The way people snap photos at work with their phones today, word would spread visually on social media and word-of-mouth to other Black individuals that this is a career for you. But you don’t see it, so you just move on to something else.

Terry Foxx is the program director at WFNZ in Charlotte. As outstanding as he is, shouldn’t have to carry the mantle as the only Black sports radio PD in the nation’s top 60 markets. He can’t move these mountains by himself.

I’m not the only one giving an opinion here. Some people in the sports radio format also wanted to weigh in on this column’s polarizing topic: “Does Sports Radio value its Black audience?” Below are the conversations I had with a few of them.

Emmett Golden, on-air host, ESPN Cleveland

Golden, Emmett | Good Karma Brands

Rob: Emmett, do you believe that in general, sports radio is specifically tailored for White men? Or do you think that the Black male audience is also thought about when making programming decisions on hosts, music selections, producer selections, etc?

Emmett: Generally speaking, I would say sports talk radio is tailored to White men because most of the people running radio stations are White men. I believe there are exceptions, but if you look at the lack of Black hosts, especially those that weren’t former pro/college athletes, you can’t help but feel like African Americans aren’t top of mind when people are programming radio stations. Now, over the past year with all of the social unrest going on in our country, I do believe there is a shift happening. I think there is more thought put behind having a diverse line up now than there has ever been before. 

Rob: Why do you believe there aren’t more Black sports radio hosts on the air these days?

Emmett: There are a variety of reasons. One of them is that I don’t think the decision-makers understand the spending power of the African American community. We know that “Cash Rules” and I believe that some people think that there’s more disposable income available from the middle age White man, so let’s hire middle age White men and they can sell to that same audience. Another reason is with the lack of minorities running radio stations there’s a relationship issue. Most people are likely to hire someone they know or someone that gets a referral from a person they know. I understand that’s just how things work but without the representation at the top, it’s tough for minorities to get the, “Hey I know the perfect person for the job” type of opportunity. 

Rob: Last, did you personally find any obstacles getting on air in your sports radio career because of your ethnicity? Or did it maybe help you get on air faster to increase diversity on the station?

Emmett: I feel like I was lucky. I got an opportunity to intern at ESPN Cleveland and after getting that opportunity I was able to show them my value. My ability to build relationships, my willingness to do ANYTHING that was asked of me, and my overall attitude is what separated me from others in my intern class. I got the opportunity and many minorities don’t get the chance. Where I am in my career now being Black (I’m biracial, Black and White, but I know the world sees me as a Black man and I embrace that) could benefit me as more people look to add diversity. The responsibility is on me to open as many doors for young Black men and women so they can get the opportunity that they deserve. I was a part of Good Karma Brands’ launch of 101.7 The Truth in Milwaukee and we need more stations/opportunities like those in the radio business.

Matt Fishman, Program Director, ESPN Cleveland

Matt Fishman Named Dir./Content At WKNR (850 ESPN Cleveland) | AllAccess.com

Rob: Overall, do you believe the sports radio format values its Black audience? For clarification, to those (usually) small percentage of Black listeners who are listening to a particular show, are those listeners valued in say, the show’s music selection, topics, hosts?

Matt Fishman: The great thing about sports is that it creates a place of connection across different races, genders, ages, backgrounds, etc. Ensuring your team is made up of talent from diverse backgrounds allows for unique perspective on various topics and subjects, helps to avoid “blind spots” and reaches and relates to the audience.

Rob: Matt, can you explain, as a program director, how you believe having hosts such as Emmett Golden and Je’rod Cherry impacts, maybe, the diversity of ESPN Cleveland and, maybe, the relatability factor of those hosts to Cleveland’s sizable African American audience?

Matt Fishman: Emmett and Je’rod are amazing. Their show The Next Level is very welcoming to fans of all backgrounds. When last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations were taking place in Cleveland and across the country, Emmett’s perspective as a life-long Clevelander and an African American allowed him to talk about the injustices in a way that only he could.

Jimmy Powers, Brand Manager, 97.1 The Ticket, Detroit

Rob: Do you believe that in general, sports radio values the Black audience?

Jimmy: Absolutely. Radio as a whole, is a very competitive business and every listener in the DMA is important to the success of our radio stations. Sports radio is no different. Since we have a very niche audience because of the format, all of our listeners are extremely valuable.”

Rob: What do you think can be done to increase, improve Black listenership in sports radio?

Jimmy: Creating content that is relevant and reflective to the listening audience is key. This means discussing major news stories that has an impact on the entire city; regardless if it’s a big local story or a national story, it should resonate to all listener demographics and shouldn’t be avoided. In addition, we need to continue to do our part to find more talent that reflects the market listeners as a whole.”

Scott Shapiro, Vice President, Fox Sports Radio

Rob: Do you believe that in general, sports radio values the Black audience?

Scott: Every listener is important, no matter their demographic, race or identity. Representation plays a large role in showing the audience that they are valued. It’s no secret that the industry as a whole can do better to have more voices from people of color.  At FOX Sports Radio, it’s important to us and a priority to continue growing and fostering diversity on the network.  When looking across our seven-day-a-week lineup, we’re proud to have eight Black hosts making up 30 hours of weekly airtime. And we’re excited about our most recent launch, Up on Game, which airs Saturdays from 1-3pm ET, headlined by three former NFL players – LaVar Arrington, TJ Houshmandzadeh & Plaxico Burress.

Rob: Were there any reservations or concerns from yourself or anyone associated with FSR/Premiere about having two Black hosts (Rob Parker and Chris Broussard of The Odd Couple) host a daily three-hour program on a syndicated national network?

Scott: There were zero concerns or reservations. It was our idea to put Chris & Rob together, and they are a tremendous pairing that America loves! They host a wonderful show and we are extremely happy with it three years in as it continues to grow.

Rob: Last, how do you think sports radio could begin to cultivate more Black program directors?

Scott: It all starts from the bottom up. Bringing in more diverse voices in the hiring process is the place to start. That way a deeper pool of candidates learn the business from entry level to the managerial stages.

Matt Edgar, Program Director, 680 The Fan, Atlanta

90+ "Matt Edgar" profiles | LinkedIn

Rob: Overall, do you believe the sports radio format values its Black audience? For clarification, to those (usually) small percentage of Black listeners who are listening to a particular show, are those listeners valued in say, the show’s music selection, topics, hosts?

Matt Edgar: I don’t think the Black audience was always valued but I truly believe they are now.  Though I’ve mostly felt sports radio is color blind, more needed to be done to cater to the African American listener by way of hosts.      

Rob: Matt, is Atlanta a market that has a higher than usual Black listenership to The Fan? Or would people be surprised to know that it’s considerably smaller than the market’s percentage of African Americans?

Matt Edgar: The ratings don’t always show a higher than usual Black listenership for us and I honestly believe that’s a Nielson issue.  Whether it’s the make-up of the crowd at one of our events, our callers, feedback, etc., I feel very strong about our African American listener representation.    

Rob: You were the PD of the 2 Live Stews, when they were on the old 790 the Zone. Was the White audience, in general, a fan of the show? And what made it resonate so much with Black listeners?

Matt Edgar: The White audience was a fan of the show for the most part.  It had an originality that sports radio hadn’t heard much of yet…..two brothers, who disagreed & fought like brothers….they were African American, which was very unique to the sports radio landscape back then….they were pure fun! 

I thank those in the sports radio realm who opted to respond with comments for this important topic. If you would like to give your opinion, feel free to email me at rtaylor@newpittsburghcourier.com, and if you’re an African American in this world of sports radio who may have aspirations to become a PD or other commentary, let me know that as well.

Sports Radio leaders, take a look at the daytime programming on ESPN and Fox Sports 1. There’s more African American hosts/contributors on these two national networks from sunup to sundown, you’d think they were broadcasting from the Barber Shop. Mike Greenberg is surrounded by Black contributors, First Take is, well, engrained in African American culture, then Sage Steele anchors Sportscenter, followed by Jalen Rose’s platform, plenty of Black NBAers on The Jump, and you can’t miss Bomani Jones and Dominique Foxworth on Highly Questionable.

On the competition (FS1), there’s Brandon Marshall on First Things First, Shannon Sharpe on Undisputed, Joy Taylor on The Herd, and Marcellus Wiley and Emmanuel Acho on Speak For Yourself. It seems like the national TV sports conversation has a sizable percentage of African American hosts/contributors, unlike local sports radio.

Which brings me to national radio. As Scott Shapiro referenced earlier in this column, Chris Broussard and Rob Parker are making an impact in their daily Fox Sports Radio program as an African American tandem. Unfortunately, it’s very seldom to find two Black hosts with their own local sports radio show.  
And props go out to JR, of the JR Sport Brief Show on CBS Sports Radio, each weeknight from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. ET. For those who thought he was just filling in during the pandemic…no no…he showed the audience that he was the real deal, as he’s nearly a year and two months into the national program. I had a chance to speak with JR about this column’s topic. He gave me that “look” that I could even see through the email, and he then referred me to a Tweet he posted on Aug. 26, 2020:

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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