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Every Format Has Its Hits And Every Host Has To Play Them

“Playing the hits on sports talk radio should be a fun challenge that forces you to go deep and find new, interesting angles to explore the biggest story of the day.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Pulse Films

Ask any program director in any format their advice for choosing great content, and it is a safe bet you will hear these three words: Play the hits.

The message is pretty clear. Give the people what they want. Make them comfortable with what we are doing here. That is how you turn listeners into fans.

Courtesy: Crown Archetype

For DJs and personalities on music stations, playing the hits can be tiresome. Take it from someone that spent 18 years in rock radio. There is no variety to the hits. If the playlist says to play “Seven Nation Army,” brother, you’re playing “Seven Nation Army”.

Are there better songs than “Seven Nation Army”? Sure. Are there better White Stripes’ songs than “Seven Nation Army”? Absolutely. But the masses know and love “Seven Nation Army,” so that is what you’re gonna play.

Hits in sports radio are topics. The Monday after the first full weekend of NFL action comes with an expectation that you are going to be talking about the biggest stories from the game with the most local relevance. There is no mandate on what you are going to say. Playing the hits on music radio is tiring because it is always the same song. Playing the hits on sports talk radio should be a fun challenge that forces you to go deep and find new, interesting angles to explore the biggest story of the day.

Q Myers programs Lotus’s sports stations in Las Vegas. He also came from a music format. He was a little bit more enthusiastic about playing the hits than I was in my music days. That has helped guide how he talks to talent about why we keep going back to the top stories of the day.

“Especially to me with my music background, I know it’s all about the hits,” Q told me. “What is the hot topic? What is important in my market and how many ways can you talk about it to keep it fresh? I look at is an ‘A’ record. How can I play this ‘A’ record but still make it sound hot and fresh? How creative can I get to allow my audience to embrace it like it’s brand new?”

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“I want the host to hit the big topics every 40 minutes. We are competing with too many audio sources that I don’t want the talent ever more than 40 minutes from a hit,” Gregg Henson, program director of 910 The Fan in Richmond told me. “We are moving more and more to preparing a one-hour show and repeating it every hour. Nobody is listening for three or four hours. The presentation should vary per hour but the content shouldn’t.”

For Gregg, those big topics will always lean towards the Washington Football Team and Virginia’s college football and basketball teams. News and speculation about those teams are the lifeblood of Richmond sports fans.

Steven Spector disagrees. He programs 610 Sports in Kansas City and told me that he hopes his hosts can recognize times there may not be a hit to play.

“A Monday after the Chiefs comeback to beat the Browns requires playing the hits but it doesn’t mean that every NFL Monday is the same,” he told me in an email. “On the days when there is not a 1a story, then you need to make people laugh. Entertain them. And if you keep the pace moving, you’ll get to the stories and opinions people want to hear.”

There are all kinds of exercises for taking those hit topics and mining them for content. Sports radio’s go-to is Bruce Gilbert’s topic tree, but there are other options. Have you ever seen Steve Reynolds’ wheel of content? Are you a list maker? Maybe you follow a pattern that forces you to change things up. You give your thoughts the first time the topic comes up, then you go to a guest, then you take phone calls.

No right or wrong answers exist. This is purely about preference.

Spector says he doesn’t care which tool his hosts and producers use. What is more important is that they know they are expected to recognize when a “1a story” exists and get the most mileage they can out of it.

“I think if you set a general philosophy for the radio station when it comes to content, then it’s known before the day starts and before show prep starts. Then it’s about daily/weekly check-ins with your guys to make sure they’re following the philosophy. Generally speaking, I believe the talent & producers know when there are ‘those days’ where you don’t stray from 1a.”

Myers thinks about the hits in a number of different ways. Sure, he wants his team talking about the Raiders today. He wants them talking about the Raiders a lot, but he told me that a story doesn’t have to happen in Las Vegas in order for it to be a hit with a Las Vegas audience.

“That’s a question I always want my team to be thinking. If something happened like a legendary player or coach dies for example, do we have someone locally who played for or with or against them that can add a unique perspective? I always try to bring our national stories and give them a local feel, so it means more to our audience.”

The hits matter. As a host or producer, it is understandable that talking about the same thing for an entire show or an entire week can be boring. That is why it is on you to make sure you aren’t stuck on a single angle or detail of a story.

Is that on the host and the producer? Ultimately yes, but just like Spector, Gregg Henson believes that motivation comes from the top. A staff will only place as much value in playing the hits as a programmer does. That is why he wants to see the show prep being done and how it shakes out.

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“As a PD, the best way to ensure that a host is hitting the A topics is to the set expectation in advance and make sure the show sheet matches the mission,” he says.

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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