I was fortunate enough to get my first job producing a sports-talk show at the tender age of eighteen. How did I get the gig? I was able to show the Program Director at the time that I was an ace at hustling to book guests. I remember carrying a pager with me 24/7 (this was long before the era of smartphones). It would commonly go off when I was in the middle of a class at college. I’d duck out of the lecture hall, find the nearest payphone, and call back to make sure that we had our show booked for the following day.
No other show in town, in ANY format, drew the kind of guests that we did. It’s something that we hung our hat on. In fact, our General Manager once took out a full-page ad in the local paper that LISTED all the different sports celebs that were heard on our program.
Looking back on this a quarter century later, I realized just how folly this approach was.
Why did we trumpet our guest list so loudly? Because who we had on our show was the ONLY THING GOOD ABOUT OUR SHOW. Almost every other aspect of it was terrible. The lead host was lazy, unfunny, and routinely unprepared.
Even a quarter-century later, the overreliance on guests continues to plague sports sports-talk media. Interviews, with a few rare exceptions, are not great content.
MOST INTERVIEWS ARE SELF-INDULGENT
Oh, if I had a dime for every time I tuned into a sports-talk show where “Host A” spent the first 3-5 minutes of an interview talking about irrelevant blather with “Guest B”. If I did, I’d be able to single-handedly bring Dogecoin up to $1.
Far too often, interviews feel more like I’m eavesdropping on a private conversation between two friends. Often, they are filled with inside jokes, personal stories, and pointless punchlines. Very rarely can they keep my interest.
Time and time again, I feel that the host(s) seem to take delight into amusing themselves instead of entertaining and informing the listener.
I remember once hearing a guest who was brought on a show to talk about a MAJOR local sports story. He spent close to 5 minutes of the interview rambling on about the new book he was writing before even discussing what was important. AND THE HOST LET THEM GET AWAY WITH IT.
MOST GUESTS GIVE YOU NOTHING
What is the point of getting a writer on to talk about a story they broke? Odds are this person has written, blogged, and tweeted about most of the relevant points already. What more can they bring to the table by appearing on a show to talk about it? Odds are, not much.
Coaches and athletes…with a RARE exception, give you platitudes of nothing. Most of them have been coached by public relations professionals on what to say, when to say it and how to control a conversation or narrative.
Before a guest is booked for a show, the question needs to be posed, “What will this person GIVE us?” Hosts, producers, and content managers need to answer that question honestly before they bring someone on.
LISTENERS WANT TO HEAR WHAT THE HOST HAS TO SAY
One of my favorite shows to listen to is The Valenti Show with Rico on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit. Yes, I’m a lifelong Lions fan and Monday shows after the typical Sunday loss are always a MUST listen. But even beyond that, the show is excellent. Mike Valenti and Rico Beard are A-level talents who have amazing chemistry and the cast they surround themselves with always bring great contributions to the table. Even on a slow day, they can create memorable content. It’s no wonder it frequently sits atop most (if not all) of the money demos in Detroit’s Neilson Ratings.
One other thing that stands out about this show…they RARELY have guests. They don’t need to. What they have to say about an issue or story is far more intriguing that what a guest could say. On the rare occasion when they do have a guest, it’s because of something very relevant and they waste no time getting to the heart of the matter.
The onus is ALWAYS on the host(s) to create good content. If the best part about a show is the guests that they bring on, you have a major problem on your hands. REAL talent doesn’t need guests. They can create good content with the tools they have at their disposal.
IF YOU MUST BOOK A GUEST, FOLLOW THESE STEPS.
- Get to the point.
No one cares that you know Celeb A, Athlete B or Journalist C. Start off talking about why you are having them on, get the info and insight you need and then hang up. It shouldn’t take longer than three minutes. If you want to have a more long-form conversation with someone, save it for a podcast…where tune-ins and time spent listening don’t matter.
- Get a good connection.
Stop getting guests on cell phones. We live in an age of 5G enabled devices with apps like Skype, Zoom, etc. that are free and provide studio quality audio. Use them so you can give the listener a better experience. There are few things that kill the momentum of a conversation than having to ask a guest to “call back so we can get a better connection.”
- Remember that there are exceptions.
Every now and again a guest will give you gold. I’ve heard it. Creating good content is an art, not a science. There have been interviews that have gone on for twenty, thirty, forty minutes or more and provided exclusive content that would become the talk of the town that day. Remember, these are the exceptions and not the rule. Hosts should always be given a degree of leeway in some situations when it comes to interviews. Leeway, however, should never become the norm.
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.