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Where Are The Sports Radio Programmers of Tomorrow?

“As someone who’s helped many aspiring programmers over the years, I’ve seen less new people seeking out advice the past few years than they did from 2011-2019.”

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Radio BG
Photo Credit: Roman Gorielov

I don’t get the opportunity to write as often as I’d like to. Consulting projects make that harder these days but I do miss it. Fortunately I’ve been able to assemble a quality team to deliver news and industry opinions to your inbox and social media platforms each day. If you receive our emails, then you should notice one of those improvements today with our BSM 8@8 Newsletter. If you aren’t receiving our emails and would like to, click here to sign up.

The reason I chose to write today is because there’s one specific area of our industry that I’m concerned about and need to draw attention to. That’s the emergence of tomorrow’s sports radio program directors.

If you work in or follow this business, can you recall a year during the past decade where we saw more programming changes in sports radio than this one? I can’t. WFAN in New York, WEEI in Boston, KNBR in San Francisco, WIP in Philadelphia, Arizona Sports 98.7 in Phoenix, ESPN 97.5 in Houston, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, 750 The Game in Portland, ESPN 94.5 in Milwaukee, The Fan in Indianapolis, 107.5 The Game in Columbia, ESPN Las Vegas, 1620 The Zone in Omaha, and 98.1 The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City have or are soon to undergo PD changes. This follows a year where 101 ESPN in St. Louis, 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, WFNZ in Charlotte, and 680 The Fan and 92.9 The Game in Atlanta changed programming leaders. 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, ESPN 1000 in Chicago, 710 ESPN in Seattle, and ESPN LA 710 went thru changes too in the fall of 2019.

Twenty three brands undergoing change at the top of a station’s programming department in that short period of a time is an eye opener. But what really stands out are the lack of new faces to arrive on the PD scene let alone even come up during the interviewing process.

For every Rick Radzik, Amanda Brown, Kyle Brown and Qiant Myers who were elevated to PD positions over the past two years, there are proven leaders like Kevin Graham, Jeff Rickard, Tommy Mattern, and Terry Foxx who’ve landed in new situations. Those folks absolutely deserve those positions, so let me be clear, proven PD’s should always be valued. As I’ve told many decision makers before, a great PD is a difference maker. The film industry pays big money for Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorcese and Quintin Tarrantino because their track record highlights their abilities to deliver box office hits. Proven PD’s who can do the same for a radio station deserve similar respect.

But if you’re a younger person looking to advance your career into a programming role today, how do you take that next step let alone earn the nod when more experienced people want the same gig? Who’s advocating on your behalf? How would a corporate executive or market manager know that a producer, board op, promotions director or part-time host is capable of becoming the next great programmer?

Better yet, how does any corporate executive or market manager running a local brand know anything about your management style, vision, multi-platform skills, ability to lead people and work with multiple departments, and create exciting content, events and promotions if you’re working for another company in a different city? Here’s the answer, most times, they don’t. You apply for the job, your resume and email arrives in their inbox, which leads to them asking others about you. If someone you’ve crossed paths with says something good about you, you might get a call. If not, your materials go on file should the station have future needs.

Having led PD searches for a number of brands the past few years, I think the first step is finding out who’s interested in growing. Does anyone know of your desire to one day lead a brand besides the host you work with and the programmer you work for? Who have you sought out to gain knowledge and mentorship from outside of your building? Are you counting on an internal promotion to become a leader or assuming your PD will hype you up to potential employers? What are you doing to make sure the right people know you’re hungry to take the next step and you’re ready to go wherever an opportunity exists?

As someone who’s helped many aspiring programmers over the years, I’ve seen less new people seeking out advice the past few years than they did from 2011-2019. Maybe folks don’t think to come my way as much. Maybe they assume the company they’re working for will take care of them when the time comes. Maybe they don’t have the motivation to relocate or upset their current situation. Maybe the pandemic forced folks to press pause on pursuing advancement. Or maybe the role of a program director isn’t as appealing as it was to leaders from my era.

Some assume that because they’ve been successful at producing, and have done it for a long enough time, it means they’re ready for the next step. But programming is much more than managing a show. Not everyone is built to handle a verbal lashing from a market manager, balance a budget, negotiate deals, coach high profile talent, understand and examine PPM ratings, and unify departments. Let’s not forget interactions with corporate, being multi-platform skilled, knowing how to study and attack the competition, dealing with negative PR, and being the brand leader who keeps play by play partnerships in a healthy state.

If you’re behind the scenes in the sports radio industry, your path will most likely lead to becoming either a host, PD, moving into sales/marketing/imaging/digital/corporate or leaving the business. Top 10 markets and national networks are an exception as there are some very talented producers who’ve continued to work with top shows/stations for a long time. Both invest more in off-air positions. In many other cases, the financial upside for behind the scenes help is limited so eventually you reach a fork in the road when you have to decide the best path forward to make a decent living.

But those looking to take the next step don’t often think about positioning themselves to land the next big opportunity. They don’t take time to build relationships with key executives who they’ll one day interview with for a top job. Instead they think about that day’s show and the immediate tasks at hand. You can be the most creative, multiplatform savvy, best guest booker and strongest talent coach in America as a producer but if nobody else knows it outside your building, it’s going to be hard to take the next step. Which is why you have to make time to help yourself. You can start by emailing me. That can’t hurt.

Program directors have a responsibility here too. They should be making time to teach and push their behind the scenes people to want to advance their careers. They should also be telling anyone who will listen why one of their own is ready for the next step. Not enough do that. I can count on one hand the number of PD’s who’ve come to me championing one of their own for a top programming job over the past six years since I began helping stations find PD’s. Just going thru the interview process can be huge for an off-air professional who dreams one day of leading a brand. It helps them learn what to expect, how to present themselves, which areas they need to improve on in order to make the jump and most importantly, it shows them you care about them and their professional development.

I know that the job is busier today than ever for a PD and finding time is a pain in the ass. But coaching people is one of your biggest strengths. It’s why why you’ve been trusted to lead your brand. When twenty three positions open up and more than half require hiring elsewhere in the country and turning to folks inside different companies, that should raise eyebrows. Have you told others to consider someone on your staff? Did you push for them to be interviewed, even if they weren’t the right fit because you knew it’d serve them well later? Did you invest time in them to to make sure they were ready for the next step? And that doesn’t mean just giving them the crap you hate like filling out affidavits, building clocks, and corresponding with the traffic department.

Have you conducted 1 on 1’s with all of your off-air crew and learned who aspires to one day do what you do? Have you taught them how to analyze ratings and content? Sit in on show meetings? Critique talent? Recruit future staff? Participate in creative brainstorms or sales meetings? Have you told your GM or other high ranking executives or PD’s in your company about their passion to lead?

It should go without saying that if you’re in a position to lead and develop people, that it applies to more than just on-air talent. It should include grooming future programmers too. Any executive with oversight of your brand should be asking “who on your staff is ready to take a step?” If the answer is no one, they should be asking what your plan is to change that so the answer is different the next time they ask. If you’re skilled enough to lead a brand for years or even decades, those above you should want to protect the future by having you develop the next crop of programmers too. Your report card as a PD isn’t complete if all you can point to are good quarterly ratings. There are plenty of brands who’ve won in spite of their PD and others who have lost despite having an elite program director.

By the way, shouldn’t a PD want to see people inside their operations get called upon to take the next step? As hard as I pushed my crew to perform in St. Louis and San Francisco, when one got an opportunity to become a PD, APD or EP I was proud as hell. There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing someone you have mentored, challenged and cared about take their career to a higher level. If you spend years in the position and have producers and assistant programmers not landing opportunities, let alone receiving calls to be interviewed for openings, you should be asking yourself ‘what haven’t I done to get them to that next level’ and ‘do I have the right people here who want to grow?’.

Lastly, I recognize everyone is under pressure to add good help. A station operating without a leader in the programming department creates a lot of problems, especially when it lingers for months. But you also need to find the right people or you end up with bigger problems later, most notably, others questioning your ability to hire the right people. If there’s one thing I’ve learned going thru these processes with different companies is that often times, decision makers want to move fast and find people who are referred by others they know and respect. If they hear a few good things said in conversation by a candidate that match what they value, they’re ready to move forward. Some get caught up in resumes or similar experiences/interests but not all ask the right questions and research people well. It’s amazing what you’ll learn if you investigate properly and ask questions that make folks uncomfortable. If you’re going to trust someone to lead your brand and staff, and set the tone for your operation, spending the extra time to be sure about those you hire is absolutely necessary.

Taking a chance on the APD or smaller market PD isn’t as safe as hiring a veteran leader. If you have a proven winner interested in your opening and feel confident that they fit your needs, I’m all for them being hired. But don’t make the mistake of assuming someone with less experience can’t make a greater difference. Imagine if we were back in 2004 and you passed on Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg in favor of a proven Newspaper editor to lead your brand’s digital strategy. How would you look today? That could be your radio station in five years if you overlook those with an ability to see the future better than the present when future openings arise.

To grow this format we need a mixture of new blood, new ideas, people who view the audio business differently from those in the present or past, and proven performers who’ve helped turn this format into a very successful one. We have to ask the right questions, fully research candidates, challenge our executives and programmers to take a greater interest in developing the next crop of sports radio executives, and consider new roads rather than the ones we’re most familiar with. We also need to hear from people who haven’t told us of their interest in taking the next step. We need to encourage them to want to grow and show them the path to do so. If we each do those things better, our format is going to spend a lot more time thriving and less time surviving in the years ahead.

Barrett Blogs

Black Friday Sale TODAY For 2022 BSM Summit Tickets

“BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets will begin at 12:01am ET on Friday November 26th and expire at 11:59pm later that same night.”

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There are less than 100 days remaining until the 2022 BSM Summit takes place in New York City. We’ve announced 31 participants for the show so far, and have more to reveal in the weeks and months ahead. I think you’re going to like what’s still to come.

Putting this conference together isn’t easy. It requires months of meetings, brainstorming, promotion, selling sponsorships, pursuing speakers, and creating everything that attendees see on stage over a two day period. I’m thankful to have help from some amazing partners, but as I’ve mentioned previously, this isn’t an event that makes us rich or ends with 5-10 new clients signing up to work with BSM. The goal each year is simple, make sure the conference is valuable for those who attend, and don’t run BSM out of business by doing it. As long as those two things remain solid, it’s worth doing.

Some might wonder, why go thru months of headaches if you’re not going to break the bank or immediately add clients. That’s fair to ask. If you look at it from a pure business standpoint, one could easily make a case that pouring this type of energy into something else could be more lucrative. But money was never the motivation for doing this. I felt the sports media industry lacked a signature event where smart, successful media professionals (who don’t often cross paths) could gather at one location to laugh and learn together, and I wanted to change that. If over a two day period attendees could gain insight, information, ideas, and introductions, it’d put everyone in a stronger position to remain successful.

I’ve unapologetically loved the sports media business since I started listening to Mike & the Mad Dog on WFAN and watching SportsCenter on ESPN. I was fortunate to live and work in a number of cities over the past two decades, learning how different companies and people operate, and I remain involved today thru my work with BSM. I mention this because I also know media people. They tend to wait until the last minute to book hotel rooms, airfare, and purchase tickets, even if they can save money by acting sooner. I know, I used to do it too. I can’t control when you book your room or plane ticket, but I do want to give you an added incentive to buy your ticket to this year’s show. Seating is limited, and once the last seat is filled, that’s it. We can’t make extra room.

With that in mind, most of you are either taking today off or working inside a much quieter building. If you’ve thought about coming to the Summit, take 5-10 minutes to log on to BSMSummit.com to take advantage of our special Black Friday sale. We’ve reduced tickets for the day, so whether you’re planning to attend in NYC or watch the conference online, there’s a discount to help you out. Just $199.99 for live tickets, and $124.99 for virtual.

BSM’s Black Friday sale on Summit tickets expires at 11:59pm tonight. In the meantime, Hotel Edison in NYC is offering rooms for just $109 + taxes to Summit attendees. Click here to take advantage of the special room rate we’ve secured for this year’s show. Those of you planning to fly to NYC for the show, there have been a ton of great deals offered by American, Southwest, United, JetBlue and Frontier. It might be worth checking into today since Black Friday often has even better sales on travel.

If you’re interested in learning more about the industry, staying a step ahead, forming new relationships, strengthening existing ones, exploring potential business deals, and celebrating the business you’re in, I hope you’ll join us either online or in New York City for the 2022 BSM Summit. I’m making it easier on you, by offering lower ticket prices today. The rest is up to you!

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Barrett Blogs

Craig Carton, Fred Toucher, Mike Felger To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.”

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When you talk to industry people about successful brands in sports talk radio, most conversations include WFAN and 98.5 The Sports Hub. The New York and Boston sports radio brands are consistently recognized for their ability to deliver large audiences and revenues.

Helping to create that success is a mixture of strong play by play partnerships, skilled programmers and even more importantly, some of the most dynamic on-air personalities in the format. Fortunately for us, a few of those gamechangers will be present to share their opinions and insights on content matters in New York City at the 2022 BSM Summit.

Starting in New York, it’s an honor to welcome WFAN afternoon drive host Craig Carton to the 2022 BSM Summit. Heard daily on ‘Carton and Roberts‘ alongside Evan Roberts, which is also featured on TV on SNY, Carton has made his presence felt ever since returning to the airwaves in November 2020. Prior to taking on the challenge in afternoons, Craig spent a decade partnering with Boomer Esiason on ‘Boomer and Carton‘, forming one of the most successful sports radio morning shows in the country. In addition to enjoying success in New York, Craig has also experienced the ups and downs that come with performing in different markets. His radio travels have taken him to Philadelphia, Denver, Buffalo and Trenton, NJ. The Syracuse graduate and outspoken host is expected to join BSM President Jason Barrett for a one on one conversation at this year’s Summit.

Shipping up to Boston, it’s a pleasure to welcome two of the format’s highest rated performers to New York City. They’re heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub in morning and afternoon drive, and at the Summit, they’ll interact together during an in-depth content conversation with BSM President Jason Barrett.

Fred Toucher is one half of the Sports Hub’s popular morning show ‘Toucher & Rich‘, which recently added syndication. The Detroit native started his career in Georgia before moving to Boston in 2005. Toucher & Rich, which includes Rich Shertenlieb, officially moved into the sports talk format in 2009. Since making the format switch, the duo have consistently produced some of the best ratings in the entire format in mornings during the past fifteen years. Toucher & Rich have also been recognized by industry executives as one of the top two morning shows in the format each of the past three years in the BSM Top 20, including taking top honors in 2018.

Mike Felger on the other hand is heard on the ride home alongside Tony Massarotti on The Sports Hub. The Marconi Award-winning afternoon radio show has been a fixture in Boston since the station’s inception in 2009. During the past twelve years, Felger & Mazz have been a steady force atop the Men 25-54 ratings including recently delivering an impressive 18.9 share in the summer book to finish 1st. The Milwaukee native also hosts a show for NBC Boston, and has previously served as a columnist for the Boston Globe. Similar to Toucher & Rich, Felger & Mazz have earned high praise from format execs in the BSM Top 20. They’ve been voted one of the top 2 afternoon shows each of the past 2 years including grabbing the top spot in 2019.

We’re excited to add all three of these men to the lineup for the 2022 BSM Summit. As vital as it may be to spend time on business issues in order to stay ahead of a rapidly changing media climate, without great talent and content, the rest is irrelevant. Few understand what it takes to deliver success in this format consistently like Craig, Fred and Mike, and I’m glad they’re making the time to share their knowledge with us.

To reserve your hotel room, purchase tickets or learn more about the speakers we’ve lined up for the 2022 show, visit BSMSummit.com. We hope to see you online or in New York City this March.

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Barrett Blogs

BSM Summit Adds Borrell, Crain, Cutler, Goldstein, Scott, Shapiro & Thomas

“The Summit is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited.”

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The 2022 BSM Summit continues to add firepower to the sports media industry’s premier conference. After previously announcing the first twenty one participants to take part in March’s event in New York City, another seven talented media professionals have been added to the speaker schedule.

Making his BSM Summit debut in 2022 will be the media industry’s leading business analyst Gordon Borrell. The well respected and accomplished CEO of Borrell Associates is featured frequently in the trades and mainstream publications for his insights on advertising trends and forecasts in local media. Borrell will join Amplifi Media CEO Steven Goldstein on stage at the Summit for an in-depth discussion on the advertising climate in 2022. The two men will offer insights and opinions on what advertisers value most, where they’re expected to invest future dollars, which categories will continue to rise and decline, and what brands can do to position themselves better to increase revenue. Additionally, Borrell will be hosting his local advertising conference in Miami a few days after the Summit. Those interested in heading to South Beach and learning more about the marketing world can learn more by clicking here.

Switching to the content end, the Summit is thrilled to welcome The Volume’s Jake Crain to New York City. The host of The JBoy Show will also be making his debut at the conference. Crain will be part of a talent panel along with John Jastremski and Kazeem Famuyide.

Also making his debut at the Summit will be Carl Scott. Meadowlark Media’s Executive Director of Audio will join our podcasting panel featuring Blue Wire CEO Kevin Jones and The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim. Hubbard Radio’s Digital Content Director Phil Mackey will guide the conversation.

Not everyone participating at the Summit will be new to the audience though. Returning to the stage as part of our GM’s discussion will be newly appointed Audacy Boston Market Manager Mike Thomas. Thomas recently led ESPN 1000 in Chicago as the station’s GM after working with Mark Hannon to turn 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston into one of sports radio’s top performing stations. It should be noted that each time Thomas appears at the Summit it follows a recent promotion. We figure by 2023 or 2024 he’ll be running the entire industry.

A Summit isn’t complete without attention given to programming matters. To help us address some of those key issues, we’re excited to welcome back the Vice President of FOX Sports Radio & Podcasts Scott Shapiro. The passionate network executive who oversees many of the nation’s top national programs is always a great listen for folks interested in learning how programmer’s view and tackle the industry’s most important affairs.

Last but certainly not least, voice talent extraordinaire Jim Cutler will return to the stage to lead a session on storytelling. One of the industry’s prominent station voices and creative minds has a penchant for putting on entertaining and informative sessions. If you’ve attended the conference before, you’re already aware. To those planning to catch this one, you’re in for a treat.

Keep an eye out over the next two weeks. We’ll be making additional announcements involving a few high profile talents we’ve lined up for the 2022 BSM Summit. A reminder, the event is just 104 days away, so if you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, please do so. Half of the room is already full and seating for the conference is limited. I realize some folks may prefer to wait until the last minute to make sure the world is safe. If you’re not comfortable flying to NY for the show, we do have an option in place to enjoy the conference virtually thanks to NuVoodoo Media. For more information on tickets, click here.

That said, the in-person environment is excellent. If you haven’t attended the Summit before I think you’ll find the two days in New York City to be time well spent. This conference is not open to the general public. You must either presently work in an area of the media industry or be pursuing a degree in the broadcasting field.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that we still have some sponsorship opportunities available for the show. We’re thrilled to have the support of great partners, ESPN Radio, Premiere Networks, FOX Sports Radio, Stone Voiceovers, Compass Media Networks, Point to Point Marketing, and Core Image Studio. If you’d like to be part of the event too, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com for additional details.

One final note, airfare is low right now. There are roundtrip flights to and from New York from many major cities for less than $200.00. We’ve also secured a low hotel rate of $109.00 per night at Hotel Edison in NYC to help companies and individuals keep costs down. The sports media industry has endured two years of difficulty due to the pandemic, preventing many from networking, learning, celebrating, and growing. The two days we spend together in the big apple won’t solve every issue facing our business, but I promise you’ll leave the show more informed, more connected, and better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead.

Hope to see you in New York on March 2nd and 3rd.

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