Two years ago, we did a poll on the site. We asked listeners what they value least when listening to sports radio in the morning. They had four options, which included guests, updates, and basic information like news, traffic, and weather. None of them came close to the top spot.
Overwhelmingly, listeners told us they hate hearing another listener on the air. In a poll with four options, more than 50-percent of the people that responded said callers have the least value to the sports radio audience in morning drive.
Does that mean no one should ever take a phone call? If I am being honest with you, that is my mind set. I have written several times that the only person that cares about what Chet in Dunwoody thinks the Falcons should get back for trading Julio Jones is Chet in Dunwoody.
Not all shows are built the same though. And the issue of how best to use phone calls has changed. Now, we all have to figure out the best way to use fan interaction. For some that will mean phone calls. For others that will mean texts. If this were still 2002, we might be talking about faxes or IMs.
Is less more? Will listener interaction spur more listener interaction? There are so many competing philosophies that I decided it was best to ask hosts and producers what they think.
In the national sports radio landscape, if I say phone calls, you are thinking about one name: Paul Finebaum. I want to hear less calls. He can’t imagine the Paul Finebaum Show without them.
“The callers are the most important element of the show. They are the show,” Paul told me in an email. “There are countless very sports show across the dial and available on many platforms. There are far more knowledge and talented hosts. But I don’t think there is another program in the country that matches ours for the authenticity and passion of the callers.”
Look, I can’t argue with that. I grew up in Alabama listening to Paul. Some of my memories of sports news unfolding in front of my ears involved his old show. I am talking the pre-JOX days. I go back to the WERC days of Paul reading the Sports Illustrated story of Mike Price’s visit to a Pensacola strip club live on air in absolute shock.
You may jump to the extreme when you think Finebaum callers. Hell, if you aren’t from Alabama and don’t know any of them by name, you probably know Harvey Updyke. But that show is not that show without I-Man and Legend and Tammy and Phyllis and the Jims (both the Tuscaloosa and Crestwood versions). Those are the callers Finebaum is adamant he could not do his show without, the ones that are every bit as important a part of his work family as his wife Linda is to his actual family.
“I’ve the given the eulogy at several funerals of our callers and the thing that has struck me is how the other callers have always shown up, people they only knew as a voice on the radio, but who felt like they were a part of their own family,” he said.
When you think about sports radio in the Northeast, it is hard not to think of phone calls. Cabbies loudly yelling into a brick of a cellphone about why a manager should be fired for the way he handled a pitching change is the stereotype sports radio was built on.
Tyrone Johnson, who produces and co-hosts Mike Missanelli’s afternoon show on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia, doesn’t like that the entire region is lumped together, but does admit the city’s loud-mouthed fanbase is an asset.
“What works in Boston or New York doesn’t automatically work in Philadelphia and vice versa,” he says. “There are no hard rules, but Philadelphia fans expect interaction in my opinion more than some others.”
Johnson knows that the trend in sports radio is moving away from phone calls. It isn’t something he quite gets though. He struggles to see how eliminating listener opinion makes shows better.
“I think people overthink it by eliminating them completely based on a bit of self importance. While the hosts’ opinion is most important, stating things with no feedback or no pushback to me isn’t great radio either.”
So Johnson, and the rest of the behind the scenes staff on Missanelli’s show make sure the calls they take work for what is happening. He told me that as far as he is concerned, there are two rules for making the air if a listener picks up the phone during afternoon drive.
“#1 the call has to be about the topic. There are shows that sort of do open phones and that makes no sense. #2 calls are wanted but not needed, no individual caller is important enough to derail what is going on. There is a screener and then I have to view the person after that, so it is basically double screened. As far as when to hang up, normally shorter is better within reason. The biggest mistake people make is letting calls go on too long.”
Geoff Calkins doesn’t take callers often. His show on Memphis’s 92.9 ESPN is thought out and strategic. He knows where he wants to go. He has to know that the time is right before he asks for phone calls, but when he does, he is rarely disappointed. It is something he attributes to the makeup of his city.
He told me that on Tuesday’s show, he had a specific question about the Grizzlies’ playoff performance. That lead to a call from a truck driver working for Baskin Robbins and suddenly, his show was all about ice cream.
“Maybe the best calls come when I ask about the really hard issues, involving race or politics. Or the calls we took during the early days of the pandemic,” Calkins says. “I think most people know which way I lean on these things (I’m a lefty) but the show is respectful enough that people call in with all sorts of perspectives. It struck me that there aren’t a lot of places where that happens these days. Too often, Americans only want to hear from people who mirror their own views. I feel lucky that we’ve been able to do something different. I hope it helps the broader dialogue.”
Should listeners read anything into Calkins not taking a lot of phone calls? Does it say anything at all about how he feels about their opinion? After all, the guy estimates that he takes phone calls “about once a week. And often it’s just for a segment.”
Remember, this is someone that likes asking his audience to think. He wants to hear what they have to say in response to big issues and hard questions. Those don’t come up everyday. When they do though, he makes more time to let the public speak. He used last summer’s protests as an example of when he thought it was right to let listeners steer the ship.
Other times, Geoff Calkins finds other ways to get listener opinions on the air. But that is the key. They have to have opinions and those opinions have to matter. He doesn’t want to ask people to share a thought as a way to kill time.
“We’ll do Twitter polls occasionally, and read the answers as they come in. But we’ll do that, too, strategically. Never just have a poll to have a poll,” he says.
No one I spoke with was afraid to give the listener a voice. No one wanted to hear as much of those voices as Finebaum does though.
“I will always fall on the side of going too long as opposed to being short,” he said. “You never know what the next thing that will come out of a person’s mouth will be. They may have a great sports take or reveal something about their life that affects or influences the entire show. For many, it may be their only time ever on a radio show. It may be one of the most important moments in their life. Not that many calls end up in the Smithsonian. But my attitude as a host is to be insanely curious about every caller, without fear or favor.”
So maybe listener interaction isn’t useless. Your fans are turning to your show to be entertained. If you do that by turning over the airwaves to other entertaining people, so be it. You’re still accomplishing the end goal and who am I to say boo to that?
I think the key is that everything you do on air has to put you in the best position to best serve your listeners. When you shine, they are more likely to connect to the show. How you use other voices and opinions should almost always be about how each one helps you accomplish your goal from segment to segment and show to show.
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.