You have seen the stories popping up online. Every week some fast food franchisee posts a sign on their door or on their drive through speaker with a message to the effect that the establishment is short staffed because no one wants to work anymore. It’s hard to find people to squirt sour cream out of a caulk gun onto your Doritos Locos Taco for $8 per hour when they’re getting a sweet $300 per week from the government! Weird how all of these signs, which pop up at different businesses in different parts of the country, all have the exact same message written in the exact same font…but I digress.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the narrative being pushed is that it has to be the fault of lazy workers and not the fault of shitty employers that don’t offer higher wages or meaningful benefits. The fact is that people want to work, they just don’t see the point in working multiple minimum wage jobs just to get their nose above the poverty line. That’s a failure of the system, not individuals that are fed up.
When I was just starting in the business, I was told that you really had to love radio. This business would never make you rich. As I got older, I heard that was Clear Channel’s fault. Then I worked with people that had come from Clear Channel and I was told that it was fine there. Really it was Cumulus’s fault. Then I got to know folks at the Cumulus building across the street and heard from them that Entercom was the real problem in the industry. You get it. The road keeps winding just like this.
The reality is that regardless of company, the radio industry has the exact same problem as any other business struggling to find good people. From the outside looking in, the problem is obvious. When you’re in the forest though, it can be tough to see that the individual trees say things like “low pay” and “shitty benefits”.
About two weeks ago, Rob Taylor wrote about the overwhelming desire of young people to work in the sports media and the absolute lack of interest in radio from those exact same young people. If we want to understand why new talents aren’t interested in our business and why established talents keep leaving for different fields and platforms, we have to first acknowledge there is a problem and make an effort to understand what it is.
People of all ages don’t look at sports radio as a realistic career path in the media. Why? Because while there are plenty of people in the industry that are doing just fine, the majority of people working in radio will tell you that it offers no realistic path to a comfortable living. So, let’s see what we can do better.
First, let’s acknowledge the paycheck. Way too many positions in radio pay way too little. That is true in major markets. It is true in unrated markets. It is true of full-time positions. It is true of the positions that used to be full-time and are now filled by two part-timers.
How many producers have you worked with that are getting paid somewhere in there area of $10 per hour? How many of those producers have a strict cap of 29 hours per week? Where is the motivation to get better with those restrictions? There is absolutely no message from corporate that starting at the bottom is a path to eventually being at the top.
Clinging to the idea that this business will never make anyone rich is not working for us. I am not advocating that every single producer position start with a $60,000 per year base. What I am suggesting is that exploring an opportunity that clearly will require a candidate to have a roommate or live with their parents and maybe take on a second job just to scrape by isn’t really a recipe for finding diamonds. There may be a few, but really, you’re just gonna be stuck with a lot of rocks.
Producers aren’t the only ones that suffer from this. Do you know how many hosts I have talked to that have turned down jobs in bigger markets because they weren’t even being offered the same money they are currently making?
There are some companies in this business that do pay their people well for their work, and those companies can be hard to move on from, but that isn’t the norm. What is way more common is that corporate or management has determined that their afternoon drive opening is a $40,000 per year position and they have no money for moving expenses. The offers are presented as “take it or leave it”.
Is no one at the top stopping to think how much this severely limits the pond where they can fish for talent? Is no one thinking about the message this sends about the company to the rest of the industry and the way your next help wanted ad will be received? Let me answer that. The message is you don’t care about quality and no matter how good of a job an employee does, it isn’t valued.
That brings us to the next thing we need to acknowledge. It can be hard to feel valued in this business.
How many of us started out as part-timers? How many of us got to the point where we demonstrated some level of competency and were told that we were so important to the station that the company was going to use us as often as possible, but that we would have to be cool with not being paid for our efforts?
Program directors, I need you to be honest with yourself here. How often have you told a part-time producer that you need him or her to work 40 hours this week but only write down that he/she worked 29? “I’ll hook you up with some gift cards” is usually how it is sold. KNOCK THAT OFF! JESUS CHRIST! You’re telling people that they need to be cool with a barter system, when employment law clearly states that isn’t how this thing works.
Stations all over America run syndicated programming except for in a single weekday day part. That’s not uncommon. It also isn’t uncommon for a station to have the host of that day part be the one and only full-time employee on the payroll.
No full-time producer. No program director. These stations just rely on a host with no real, reliable support staff and no one to tell them what is and isn’t working. How do we expect talented people to want to take on a job like that? How do we expect people that have talent and just need room to grow to see a future in a job like that?
Also, and I have written about this before, talent and programmers are not given the chance to work with people that are actually qualified. Someone who’s lone qualification is that they press buttons on the board during a minor league baseball game is turned into the morning show’s executive producer not because they showed any other competency. It is because we keep taking full-time jobs and turning them into part-time positions.
It’s not just producers. It is hosts too, and I am talking about hosts in weekday prime slots. It takes a lot to create a unique two, three, or four hour show and as an industry, we are telling the people we are trusting to do that that any effort they put into their show beyond the time they are in the studio is not valuable to us.
Finally, we need to acknowledge where we can do better and ask ourselves if we are giving every employee an opportunity to grow? Are we investing in our own success by investing in theirs?
How do you respond when an employee wants to talk about their career? Does the idea of them valuing their career over the company’s needs make you uncomfortable? Does it feel like that is something that is even okay to talk about?
Very few people get into sports talk radio because they want to be a producer forever. In fact, most only think about the possibility of becoming a producer when they realize that is the first step to becoming a host.
It can be scary to ask your boss what you need to do to get to the next level. Meeting that vulnerability with “You’re a producer. I need you to focus on that right now,” is a surefire way to kill any drive to get better and to do it in a way that could benefit the station.
What about working with hosts? Do programmers and GMs evaluate what they are hearing from a quality standpoint or does the evaluation stop with “is this making money”? A show that isn’t challenged to do more doesn’t help a station and it can lead to complacency. It can also lead to hosts wondering how much the people up top even care about or know what is going on on his or her show.
Employee growth also means helping to grow their own wealth. As a programmer, are you taking the time to get to know your people on a personal level so that you can go into sales meetings and say that you know your morning co-host loves his dog or cat. Let’s go get him an endorsement from a local animal hospital? Are you encouraging your talent to attend and advocate for themselves? As a sales manager, have you done the work to learn what all of the benchmarks on your station are so that you can help your staff explain to clients why each one is worth sponsoring?
Nothing in this article is meant to dump on radio. I love this business. Everything I wrote about here is fixable. We don’t have to watch quality people turn to digital media or leave the business to sell real estate or open a bar and say “well, I guess nobody believes in radio anymore.”
Saying “no one wants to work anymore” is lazy and you know it is untrue. Asking “why does no one want to work for me?” or “why does no one have faith in this business?” forces you to come up with answers and take action. If you have a problem, that is how it gets solved.
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.