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Choices, Consequences and Questions After Cumulus Cuts Unvaxxed Employees

“I struggled with understanding how someone would walk away from a media career, something that is cherished in our business, because of a principal.”

Seth Everett

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Let’s start with some sports talk.  I applaud the Brooklyn Nets for telling star guard Kyrie Irving that until he can play full-time with the team, he should not practice or play in their road games.

Nets Will Sit Kyrie Irving Until He Receives COVID Vaccine
Courtesy: Getty Images

I’ve said on the radio, podcasts, and on Twitter, that the Vikings should tell quarterback Kirk Cousins the same, and my beloved New Jersey Devils should tell their goalie Mackenzie Blackwood to stay away from the team until he gets the vaccine too. I had so much trouble understanding all the baseball players that still are not vaccinated.

Those are my opinions that I am FREE to believe, and it is within my RIGHTS to want that.

Irving is forgoing millions in his free decision NOT to be vaccinated against Covid-19.  Yet, I was absolutely floored when several Cumulus radio employees lost their jobs this week due to a Covid-19 vaccine mandate within the company.

I struggled with understanding how someone would walk away from a media career, something that is cherished in our business, because of a principal.

The former program director and morning host of 107.5 The Game in Columbia, South Carolina is one of those individuals. Tim Hill was let go on October 7, 2021, after refusing to take the vaccine.

He spoke with Barrett Sports Media about the situation.

“I wasn’t surprised,” he told me in a phone conversation Thursday. “But I was disappointed that we couldn’t figure out a reasonable accommodation for my religious extension request.”

I pressed him on his reasons for not getting the shot. “Various religious reasons, plus a lack of long-term studies,” Hill replied.

This wasn’t a conversation about the merits of the vaccine.  Instead, I asked him if he understood why Cumulus was mandating vaccines.

“I don’t know completely, but I do know their explanation is to keep employees safe,” he answered. “I think that vaccine mandates are wrong.”

Truth be told, I did not race to get the vaccine. I wanted to see how people were dealing with it, and I knew that there were people who wanted it more than me. Still, it was only about 10 days before I signed myself up for the shot. I believe that the vaccine is the only way back to a truly normal life. I hate that my youngest daughter is not eligible.  I hate that I have to wear a mask in workspaces. 

The mandate is a political tentpole. In 1918, people argued against mask-wearing to stop the spread of the Spanish Flu. In 1968, there were protests against a law mandating the wearing of a seat belt. People fought the seat belt rule with the same vigor as the anti-vaccine campaigns of 2021 have shown.  Thankfully, this conversation never took that nasty turn.

This is not just about Hill or any of the other Cumulus former employees losing their jobs.  This label will stick with them, and future employers will judge him/her whether fairly or unfairly.  

“I have no concern about this being something that sticks with me. If that’s how people want to identify me or see me, that’s up to them,” he said.

Could he see himself back at 107.5 at some point, whether it was because Cumulus backed off their mandate or he eventually got the vaccine?

“I certainly didn’t burn any bridges and would like to think there’s a possibility there, but I think that’s probably much more on their end than mine,” he stated. “I don’t have a plan. Didn’t have a plan B. I am just kind of exploring every opportunity at this point.”

Hill is far from the only Cumulus employee to be shown the door as a result of choosing to remain unvaccinated.  Jeff Crank is out at KVOR radio in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Roxanne Steele of WYCD in Detroit, Michigan was hosting mornings until she was told her anti-vaccine stance would cost her her career.

Steele wrote this impassioned post on Facebook: “I know what you might be thinking. I’ve already heard it from co-workers, friends, and family. Just get the shot. For me, there’s a bigger picture people seem to be missing. If you are vaccinated and that makes you happy, I’m happy for you. I’m just personally not ready to get it. I have my reasons and it’s nobody’s business. I shouldn’t be bullied or forced to do something I don’t want to do, and that’s exactly what’s going on. I’m not against the vaccine so to say. I’m objective to the mandate of being told what I should do or not do or else. It’s very un-American. People should be able to choose to take this shot based on their specific medical and health needs, not for fear of losing their job or education or being looked at as an outcast. In a society that teaches us to be kind, and don’t be a bully, don’t discriminate, etc., when did we lose sight of that? I’m proud that I’m standing by what’s best for me. And what’s best for me may not be best for you and that’s OK.”

Kyrie Irving will not be hurting for money even if he never plays a minute of basketball ever again. Still, Tim Hill and Roxanne Steele did not have multi-million dollar contracts, and I’m legitimately worried that a decision they are making is going to cost them their livelihoods, but that is the decision they made. I was shocked and told Hill exactly that.

While I am encouraged in the latest Covid-19 statistics in recent weeks, I still want a world where masks are not needed, and political debates can be about debt ceilings and border patrol.

I try to understand how Tim and Roxanne and all the Cumulus employees processed losing their jobs as opposed to joining 78 million others and getting the vaccine.  What I can offer is respect, and hope that this does not derail their aspirations in an already battered media business.

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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