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What Do You Learn From A Long Stretch On The Sidelines?

“We work so hard to land these positions and when they are gone, it can take time to get the train back on the track. Weeks turn into months, months turn into a year, then two years, then three.”

Demetri Ravanos

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The thing about sports radio that can be so frustrating is that there are only so many on air jobs to go around. That means that some good people will be left on the sidelines, sometimes for considerably longer than they ever anticipated.

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I wanted to talk to some of those guys today. I reached out to two buddies, Nick Kayal in Nashville and Jeff Pantridge in Raleigh. Neither has been totally on the sidelines. Nick has part-time gigs in both Atlanta and Nashville. Jeff has moved from the programming side into sales. Still, I don’t think either thought they would be where they are right now when they started their last full-time on air job.

So with all of this time on the sidelines and plenty of time re-evaluate what does and doesn’t matter to them, how have they changed? How has the way they think about radio changed?

Pantridge says he hasn’t changed much about how he applies. He still tries to learn all he can about a station and a market before sending off a demo or resume. What has changed is if he applies at all. After three years away from the microphone, he has learned to value himself a little more than he did before.

“For a while, I was applying for anything and everything,” he told me. “When radio is all that you know and you are forced out of the industry, you must piece together odd jobs until your next radio opportunity arrives. Leaving an odd job is easy. I was selling people insulation for a little bit. I don’t know anything about insulation. And let me tell you, selling insulation sucks. If I got an offer in 2019 to wash vans for a sports station in rural North Dakota, I probably would have considered it. Now that I have a more stable career in radio and digital sales with a great company, I can pick and choose where I want to apply. Plus, if I get an offer, I have the power to walk away if the offer isn’t worth changing my life, which I have done.”

Kayal has also reassessed what matters to him. He has a wife and two kids and realizes that any job he is offered doesn’t work for him if it doesn’t work for them.

“My wife and daughters are very happy in the south and they love living in Nashville,” Kayal said in an email. “Sure, if FOX Sports Radio was interested in me filling Clay Travis’s vacancy, I’d absolutely listen. If ESPN Radio wanted to hire me, I’d jump on it. If the chance to go back to Philadelphia was realistic, I’d be all ears. But largely, I am very happy with the 2 great stations I get routine work on and am focused on moving up the ladder at one or both of those places. I’ve also had steady work for both of them during the pandemic, so I am very blessed in that regard because I know a lot of talented people in the industry can’t find any fill-in work, much less full-time gigs.”

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I asked both guys how they see themselves in the business now. Are they hosts and only hosts? Could they see themselves being happy in another side of the building?

Kayal started in the sales side of the business. It is how he first got his foot in the door in radio, hosting a morning show from 6 until 8 am in Allentown, PA and then selling spots for the rest of the workday. It taught him the value of building relationships with a sales staff, but it isn’t something he wants to do again.

“At 37 years old, there’s no way I would do sales full-time. I still have too much of an itch to host. I have too much of an ego to being sitting in a cubicle or on the road listening to the show/host that I’m selling if I know I am more talented than that person. I just couldn’t do it,” he says with a laugh.

You have to give Kayal credit for knowing who he is. Whether or not people are lining up to hire him for a prime, weekday shift is irrelevant. He knows what makes him happy and intends to pursue it.

Jeff Pantridge is different. Maybe that is because he is older than Kayal. Maybe he just has a different set of priorities. Neither is wrong. Jeff just knows that sales provides some things for him that chasing low-paying on-air gigs cannot.

“It took me a while to realize this, but believe it or not, there is more to life than hosting a sports radio show. Is hosting a show more fun than sales? No question. Does it pay as much? Nope. I’m in my mid-40’s now, and I have come to a point in my life where I need to start thinking about retirement. I also love to travel, and when you are in radio and you are on vacation, there is always a piece of you that is worried that your station might replace you with your fill-in because they may come cheaper or may even be (gasp) better than you. Being in media sales, I can also have a direct impact on my community by helping these local businesses that support our products grow. That matters to me.”

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I wanted to wrap up giving both guys a chance to speak directly to programmers and GMs that do the hiring in radio. I don’t want them to pitch themselves or their ability. That is what the BSM Member Directory is for. I asked them what they would want hiring managers to know. What has a longer-than-anticipated stint on the beach taught them about the industry.

Pantridge says that he hopes companies and stations understand where value comes from in your audience. Spending time on the sales side of the business has taught him that quality is always more important and more valuable than quantity. He encourages hiring managers to think about what makes an audience loyal to a talent.

“I believe that a lot of sports radio ends up sounding the same, because there seems to be a universal formula that many management types follow. I understand that this is a business, and the endgame is to make money. With that said, there are many ways to do that. Now that I am in sales, I have come to realize that numbers are not everything. You also must create a passionate audience. If I am a radio station, I would rather have 200,000 passionate listeners than 500,000 passive ones. Local businesses have a much greater chance of connecting with them versus somebody that is just listening to the same old sports radio show because they like sports.”

He uses Dan Le Batard’s deal with DraftKings as an example. Pantridge says that a lot of local sports radio stations didn’t know how to make sense of Le Batard. All some managers saw was that fewer people listened to Le Batard in the station’s 10 am to 1 pm slot than listened to Colin Cowherd when he was there and decided it wasn’t working. DraftKings, on the other hand, saw an audience that didn’t listen passively and wanted to support their favorite show.

Nick Kayal just wants PDs and GMs to see the people applying for their openings as more than resumes and mp3s. He wants them to know just how much a little common courtesy means to people trying to find a new job.

“When a talent reaches out to you and pours his soul into impressing a decision maker you shouldn’t ghost them. The whole world is on a smartphone and has a dozne means of communication. You owe that talent a reply and a genuine one at that. This is a very small industry. Don’t be the guy who says “I’ll circle back to you”, or “I’ve got a lot on my plate.” I swear theres a PD verbage/clich playbook that was published in 1998 and it’s quite annoying. We are all busy. I get that. But you’re programming a sports talk radio station, not creating the next vaccine for the next global pandemic. You have time. You work in communications. Be better than that.”

Losing a gig sucks. There’s no need to sugarcoat it. We work so hard to land these positions and when they are gone, it can take time to get the train back on the track. Weeks turn into months, months turn into a year, then two years, then three.

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The best anyone can do with their time is learn. Learn about the industry and more importantly, learn about yourself. Learn not just about the weaknesses that lead to the exit from your previous job. Learn about the strengths and goals that maybe could not be served working in and thinking about radio like you did before.

BSM Writers

Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes

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Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3xYq3Oe 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3JVYgDp   

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3JWPFQS 

Google: https://buff.ly/3w9RBzX 

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3psPDGZ  

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BSM Writers

Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game

“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

Tyler McComas

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If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without long thoughts and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up. 

In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.

“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”

Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.

“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kinda learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?

“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ok, what the hell have you done? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”

Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible. 

“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”

Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk. 

“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”

To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, wow, this is a PD I would love to work for. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, he’s incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts, but he’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him. 

“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”

I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?

“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”

Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show. 

“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”

So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun 

“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”

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BSM Writers

Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt

He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster, Kevin Burkhardt

It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated. 

Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY. 

A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him. 

He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”

Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed. 

ROAD TO FOX

After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season. 

Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw. 

According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”

He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen. 

Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.

GOOD CHOICE

When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers. 

If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision. 

Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons. 

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.

While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.  

The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst.  It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York. 

I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised. 

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.

In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.

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