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Why Can’t Some Stations See Beyond Local Ties?

“Where you went to high school is a big part of how conversations begin. There is an agreed upon correct answer for for which Applebee’s is “the nice one”. Someone from another town would be so far behind the 8 ball at the beginning that it doesn’t even make sense for them to come to town in the first place.”

Demetri Ravanos

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The Evergray

Every host has experienced it. You apply for a gig at a station with a great reputation. You have a good conversation about your audio and your skillset with the PD. Then he or she says something that makes your heart sink, wondering why you wasted your time.

“I think you’re great, but I can’t hire you. You’re not from here. The listeners just wouldn’t accept you.”

Loneliness, homeworking and financial worries made our mental health worse  in Lockdown 1 - Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER)
Courtesy: Institute for Social and Economic Research 

It’s not a phenomenon exclusive to one region of the country or to markets in a particular size range. So many markets think of themselves as parochial. Where you went to high school is a big part of how conversations begin. There is an agreed upon correct answer for for which Applebee’s is “the nice one”. Someone from another town would be so far behind the 8 ball at the beginning that it doesn’t even make sense for them to come to town in the first place.

How true do we believe it is that the local population cannot accept opinions on the home teams from people that didn’t spend their entire lives in the town? Surely, it isn’t always smart to think that way, no matter how much you think your listeners value local knowledge. It could work in Chicago, where there is an abundance of talent that grew up knowing what it was like to suffer with the Bears, but think about a place like New Orleans. It isn’t even one of the 50 biggest radio markets in the country and more people are moving away from the area than into it. Does it make sense to demand all hires for a sports station there grew up with parents that drank Community Coffee and consider The Neville Brothers every bit as important to rock n’ roll as The Rolling Stones?

Dave Tepper is in a unique situation. He programs Altitude Sports Radio 92.5 in Denver. That market is becoming a hub for transplants from all over the country. His radio lineup though is made up of a lot of long time Denver residents and guys that have spent a considerable amount of time in the city’s sports media scene.

Tepper says that creates a unique challenge. How do you take advantage of so much institutional knowledge and still entertain an audience that everyday adds more and more people that lived halfway across the country when Peyton Manning led this team to a win in Super Bowl L?

“Denver is filling up with transplants like myself. We do talk about it and most our talent have been here long enough to have seen how it’s changing,” he told me. “We often discuss the importance and pacing of balanced content. We strive to talk about relevant topics both local and national. Talent challenges themselves to tie national topics back locally but not to force it. It’s ok if a national topic doesn’t turn local because most sports fans, natives or transplants, are aware and interested in what’s relevant.”

Erik Gee grew up in Norman, Oklahoma. It is right outside of Oklahoma City, where he hosted for years. He now serves as co-host of the Pat Jones Show on The Sports Animal in Tulsa. Gee says getting out of his hometown was important in order to truly grow.

Articles by Erik Gee - Sports Illustrated Oklahoma City Thunder News,  Analysis and More
Courtesy: SI.com

“The biggest drawback is sometimes you can’t be a star in your hometown,” Gee says. “The audience and even the people you work with (especially if there isn’t a lot of turnover in your building) will pigeonhole you into a particular role that you can’t seem to escape. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, don’t be discouraged. Continue to work hard because good things will happen.”

I asked if there is any undeniable drawback to hometown radio.

“If you grew up rooting for the teams in your hometown, you will be more likely to think like a fan, he answers. “99.9% of the time, having the same passion as a fan is good, but you need to know when to pull back and look at the big picture.”

I asked Jason La Canfora the same question. CBS’s NFL Insider also co-hosts the afternoon drive show on The Fan in Baltimore. He doesn’t focus on the drawbacks. That is mostly because he is focused on the fun he has in local radio, as opposed to when he has been on nationally.

Jason La Canfora calls Cardinals 'inclusive'
Courtesy: Arizona Cardinals

“Its not even close,” he says in an email. “We all speak the same language and I so far prefer finding a way to educate or entertain the people I am sitting next to at the games I go to with my kids rather than trying to pretend I could figure out how someone in Indiana thinks 9 could best spend the next 10 minutes.”

La Canfora doesn’t see how someone from the outside could really break in and have success on the radio in Baltimore. He is aware that it is not an issue of whether or not the outsider is talented. It’s just that Baltimore values…well, Baltimore.

“I’m not sure that it is any one thing as much as it is the fact that ultimately you aren’t from here. It is a very tough market to penetrate unless you are one of us at your core.”

It is really hard for me to believe that local ties are more important than if a talent is engaging. I’d rather listen to a guy that just moved to town and is a unique thinker than a lifer that hasn’t had a new thought about the home team in a decade.

Am I crazy? As long as the new guy isn’t misidentifying the market, anything can be overcome, right? If you are entertaining, I can live with you mispronouncing the name of a prominent landmark. Tepper agrees.

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“I think local ties are important but not as much as finding the right talent that’s willing immerse themselves into the local teams. It’s great to have talent with local ties but it isn’t as important to me as fit. Getting too caught up in local ties can eliminate or minimize consideration of fresh voices that can do the work to fit into market.”

Good content is all most listeners are looking for. That is not to dismiss every programmer or GM that thinks local ties matter. Any local station in any market owes a level of connection to their listeners. I just don’t think that connection has to take decades to build. Thinking that way really limits the pond you can fish in and probably limits the number of keepers you’ll reel in.

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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