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Burnout Is Real And Radio Is Not Immune

“As much as I prefer the main hosts be here throughout football and basketball season, I have never denied a PTO request.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Wired

Jamie Ducharme wrote a very interesting piece for Time. It’s about the American workforce and just how fragile it has been revealed to be. You have seen all of the stories and heard all of the complaints about people not wanting to work anymore. Now Ducharme paints a more realistic picture of what is happening. It is something that Texas A&M business administration professor Anthony Klotz calls “The Great Resignation.”

'I Quit' spelled out in sticky notes, with a shadow of someone walking away giving peace hand sign
Courtesy: Kevin Rathge/University Communications

In short, Americans walked away from their long-held jobs in record numbers in 2019 and in 2021, we are on pace to shatter the record again. The reason has been the same both years: burnout. People feel like they have had all they can take of the work-life they have known for so long.

Covid-19 has turned the world upside down. You can’t even call it a once-in-a-lifetime event. Plenty of lifetimes went by without existence as we know it transforming forever. Something like that is bound to make people take stock of what matters most to them and whether or not they are happy.

It has affected every industry and radio is no exception. You can burnout in any job, even one that doesn’t really feel like work a lot of days. To make sense of it and to discuss how managers can best combat it, I turned to two leaders in two very different situations.

Mary Menna is the Vice President and Market Manager of Beasley’s cluster in Boston, which includes 98.5 The Sports Hub. She and her staff put an emphasis on safety as soon as it became clear Covid-19 was something to be taken seriously. The protocols they developed and actions they employed made it possible for the Beasley staff to return to their Boston building in some capacity by Summer of 2020. Mary says that gave her staff options and that helped tremendously.

“We worked hard to make the office a safe place. That ability to be in person really kept us connected and the ability to also work remotely kept the burnout level to a minimum,” she told me. “I think working 100% at home could be very isolating and stressful. The hybrid balance really worked for us and got us through the darkest of times.”

Justin Acri is in the almost polar opposite situation from Mary. He is in a smaller market at a locally owned station. He is the GM of Signal Media’s 103.7 The Buzz in Little Rock. On top of being the GM, he is also the PD and he hosts a mid day show. Forget his staff for a moment. I wanted to know how Justin managed to avoid burnout of his own!

“As the sports talk great Jim Rome says, I take a lot of vacation because I get a lot of vacation. I encourage my staff to do the same,” he said in an email. “I know the value of getting out of town, not keeping up with everything going on in sports and pop culture for a few days, sticking your toes in the sand and letting your brain relax. I am 100% convinced it makes me better when I come back.”

It is great to hear that Acri is willing to lead by example when it comes to prioritizing the ability to disconnect when you need to. I did wonder though how he could get to the point where he is wearing three very demanding hats.

Justin Acri: Stay humble, won't stumble
Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

“That was not always my policy, but it has made me a much better broadcaster and manager.”

He extends the same policy to his hosts. College football and basketball season matter a lot in Arkansas. The state will likely never have a major league professional team in any sport. That means the Hogs are the lifeblood of sports talk in the state. Acri wants his hosts to know that they are needed during those times of year, but if they have their own needs, that is okay.

“As much as I prefer the main hosts be here throughout football and basketball season, I have never denied a PTO request. I want my guys to take days when they think they need to take a break.”

I asked Menna what a leader’s responsibilities are to his or her staff. Is it best to be as involved in their day-to-day work life as possible so that the leader is more likely to spot problems in the early stages or is it better to let an employee come and ask for help or relief?

Menna, like that little girl in the Old El Paso taco shell commercial, answered “why not both?”.

“As managers, we have a responsibility to be in touch with our people and help them to be their most productive selves, make sure they have the tools to perform their jobs, and give them the encouragement and guidance necessary to help them manage through difficult work situations,” she said. “We cannot be expected to be mind readers and interfere with the personal lives of employees if they do not want us to interfere. We certainly want all our employees to be honest with us and let us know how they are feeling, but that just isn’t reality. We may have that relationship with many of our employees, but we will never have that with 100% of them. Many people prefer to be more private, and we need to respect that too.  Help where we can and be there for all of our employees.”

Menna said that one thing that has always been radio’s saving grace from employee burnout is that for so many that work in the industry, this is their dream job. Getting to where they are was either their ultimate goal, or it is a piece of the puzzle. Dreamers don’t want to risk derailing the dream, and that has helped some evaluate if their burnout really is about needing a career change or can be solved with a few days or a week off.

Meet The Market Managers: Mary Menna, Beasley Boston - Barrett Media

What about bringing new people in? Ducharme’s story says that one of the motivators for people leaving long-term employment is shifting priorities and goals during the pandemic. In some cases, people have taken a “life’s too short” approach to work life. They are leaving careers that no longer (or in some cases never did) excite them for dream jobs or jobs in fields they truly love. Has Beasley Broadcasting and 98.5 The Sports Hub benefitted from people looking for that kind of change?

“We have not had an increase in the number of inquiries we have gotten to work at 98.5 The Sports Hub,” Menna says noting that she sees that as a very good thing. “We have so few openings because our staff does not leave, and that consistency is a great thing for our listeners!  Sports is always going to be a recruitment magnet.”

There is a flip side though that has hit Beasley in Boston just like everyone else looking to fill low-wage jobs. As live events came back, Mary Menna found her staff needed to fill street team positions. Being a road to a dream job in a cool environment wasn’t the lure that it used to be.

“In this recruitment climate, it was harder to hire a temporary student workforce at minimum wage, so we increased those hourly rates a bit to become more competitive and attractive.”

Overall, Menna has a lot to be happy about. Burnout is real and it is not like Beasley’s Boston building went untouched. She notes that she lost about 3% of her staff. For some people, the allure of working from home or a new professional challenge is just what they need in their lives and that is something you can’t really do anything about. You wish those people well and focus on meeting the needs of the employees you still have.

Sports radio, any talk radio really, is about storytelling. It isn’t your typical 9 to 5 where you know what will happen during 99% of 99% of your days. Acri thinks that sets the bar a lot higher for burnout in our industry.

“One of the things that help us avoid that is even though we are structured and there is a rhyme and reason to how we do the shows, there are always new and interesting things happening that serve as a challenge on how to approach these topics on the air which keeps it fresh, fun and exciting.”

We have cool jobs. I think most of us that work in sports radio genuinely love sports and entertaining people. The duties of the job are never the things we will complain about. Radio has largely been lucky, but American work culture was long overdue for an overhaul. Even those of us that cannot imagine doing anything else have moments that we feel taken advantage of or simply disrespected by our employers. Workers on whole are waking up to the fact that their jobs may need them more than they need any one particular job.

A Worrisome Sign on Hiring - WSJ
Courtesy: Wall Street Journa;

I have written before about employers needing to wake up to the fact that the pandemic changed the way people thought about compensation. Our industry is just like any other industry. Right now, it is part of that “Great Resignation.” The leaders that are best positioned to retain their people are the ones the spot signs of burnout, ask questions and listen to what their employees tell them they need out of their worklife.

BSM Writers

Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different

I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Brian Noe

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Radio

Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.

With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?

I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?

Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.

It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.

A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?

Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?

Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.

It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”

The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.

Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.

Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.

One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?

That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years

Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.

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In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.

It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.

“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”

I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.

The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).

The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.

The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.

I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.

Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.

ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.

The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.

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BSM Writers

The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3STupzF

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