You might enjoy P.F. Chang’s. Chances are, however, that the restaurant doesn’t play a role in you eventually hosting a syndicated radio show. It is part of Chuck Oliver’s story though. The Auburn grad hosts a syndicated college football show year-round throughout the South, as well as an afternoon drive show on 680 The Fan in Atlanta. That’s right; two separate shows, six hours a day, five days a week. Fire up the Keurig and let her rip.
Chuck isn’t one to complain. He knows his career is a blessing. Chuck loves what he does, but the former high school football coach also talks about the demands of working 13 to 14-hour days. Keeping a tight schedule is essential just like his PhD in coffee. Chuck talks about having an understanding partner, why he eludes Twitter trolls like Barry Sanders used to sidestep defenders, and the need for bike horns. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Are you originally from Atlanta?
Chuck Oliver: Essentially. I was born in Houston, but six months in my parents moved to Atlanta. I was born in December of ’67 and then the summer of ’68 my dad got a job in Atlanta. I was the youngest of four kids, so the Vista Cruiser station wagon with the fake wood grain panels on the side, it left Houston and landed in Atlanta. Except for college, this is where I’ve been.
BN: Have you been a college football junkie from the get-go?
CO: I was a baseball fan actually more than anything growing up. My first Major League game was the Braves home opener against the Astros in April of ’77. I was a third grader. My dad and I went to Opening Day every year after that. Literally it was every single night with the Braves on Ted Turner’s satellite. I’m running down to the driveway every morning trying to get the paper before my dad so I can read the box scores and everything. I was a huge baseball fan.
College football, I actually grew up with no allegiance to anybody because neither of my parents went to college. Pepper Rodgers was the head coach at Georgia Tech. I would watch the Pepper Rodgers Show on Sunday mornings because nobody was on TV. You would have two or maybe three games on a Saturday. Most of them were regional. You’d have Texas and Oklahoma playing, USC and Notre Dame playing. If you lived in Lawrenceville, Georgia you may get Maryland and Wake Forest. It was a totally different challenge to be a college football fan. I’d watch the Pepper Rodgers Show on Sunday and catch up on Georgia Tech football. That was kind of the environment; you had to watch those coaches shows just to see anything.
BN: How did you start your syndicated college football show?
CO: A guy named Chad Scott was a producer for me way back in the day at 790 The Zone in Atlanta. I had a conversation with him at a P.F. Chang’s parking lot in 2008. He said every day that you don’t do the Chuck Oliver Show, you’re throwing money into the trash can. I ended up switching jobs. I was at 790 The Zone, which was a tremendous station; it should have been legendary. I was afternoon drive there, which was a pretty nice patch of radio real estate to have, but it was just one station in Atlanta. I went and met with David Dickey when my contract had a provision in it where I could get out with no non-compete, no anything. I had about a 30-day window and I was like well let’s jump on this.
I met with David Dickey in September of ‘08. He said “I’m David Dickey”. I said “I’m Chuck Oliver; I want my own syndicated college football show”.
He laughed. And by the way, he was right to laugh about that. You tell me, how many dudes in the South have had the idea that hey, we’re going to put together a syndicated show and just talk college football? I would bet you a couple of hundred have even tried it. That’s the reason I left afternoon drive at 790 and went to middays at 680. I was like I didn’t care about that; that’s the local play. Then six years later, David Dickey pushed the Staples button on this and made the syndicated thing happen. I started with one affiliate and now seven years later it’s two hours a day, nine states, and I think next week we add our 55th stick just outside of Knoxville.
BN: Do you cover the SEC exclusively?
CO: I’m of the opinion if the customers want hamburgers, give them hamburgers. And that really is the SEC. Now, granted the flagship is in Atlanta and we go from Lexington down to Ocala, over the Baton Rouge and Fayetteville. That’s basically our footprint, our circle.
If you’ve got 55 stations in that footprint, the majority of it each day is probably 80 to 85 percent SEC. I’m going to say it’s 15 to 20 percent maybe ACC. But let’s be honest. That’s Clemson — not this year — but we talk some ACC. That means you talk Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech maybe, and North Carolina with Mack. You don’t talk NC State. Dave Doeren is therapy for terminal insomniacs. That’s just not how the conversation is going to carry the day. It’s almost exclusively SEC.
I don’t claim to be anything superior here at all. I’m talking college football in the South. It’s supposed to work. But we don’t get dropped. Rush Limbaugh would be picked up and dropped. Dave Ramsey has been picked up and dropped sometimes. For the most part we don’t get dropped when we get picked up. It’s just a really, really nice compliment. We’re in Alabama and Tennessee and Mississippi talking college football so it works, but the response has been really, really nice.
BN: What’s your schedule like on a daily basis?
CO: I’m on from 11-1 on the syndicated show. Then there’s an hour break. Then I do the afternoon drive show on 680 The Fan in Atlanta from 2-6. It’s a full day and it’s extremely unusual. I get that. In fact our sales manager when I started, he used to be in Cincinnati, and he said we had a host that tried this, it lasted three months. It’s not easy. But I also understand the blessing is the opportunity. I’m just trying to maximize the opportunity and be thankful for it. Again I’m not playing all shucks; it’s a full day. I’m out of bed every morning at five. At 5:15 I have coffee and I’m at my computer already prepping at 5:15 and I get off at six. But I’m not complaining. Like I said that’s a heck of an opportunity, so I’m just trying to show up and do a decent job.
BN: A lot of broadcasters don’t want to talk about how it’s mentally demanding and tires you out, because you’re not digging ditches or doing physical labor. But just the mental focus it takes, do you feel it on a Thursday or Friday when you’ve been doing it all week?
CO: Oh dude, the beginning of the week, my shirt is tucked in, pressed collar. By about Thursday, I look like I just killed a bear with a knife. As we go through the week there’s this deterioration. I don’t want to complain and I’m not, I’m just saying that the physical part of it, it literally is 13 to 14 hours a day. I was asked to do Atlanta Braves watch parties. From six to nine I was out. That’s part of it. The blessing is going out to a bar for a paid appearance. That’s awesome. Today I woke up at five and I’ll be getting home about 9:30. I ain’t complaining; I’m just saying it’s a full day and I’ve been doing it for seven years.
I’ll be honest, Brian, it’s doable. My daily schedule is like a Jenga tower. If I take out the wrong thing — I’ll be candid — you and I were texting back and forth and it got down to like we were negotiating at a fair or something. I was like 9:14, and you were like 9:16, and I was like all right 9:15. It fit perfectly in there. I just have to be really regimented and disciplined and scheduled to get it all done. The thing is that would be the same for anybody that was doing these two jobs. I’ve just evolved over time and started drinking coffee. I didn’t drink coffee when I started the job. I have my schedule laid out and as long as there’s no real big curveball, I can handle it. It’s been seven years and it’s fine.
BN: What’s your go-to coffee and how many cups are we talking here?
CO: All right, brother, I’ve got the Keurig. I actually wrote that thing off. I was like this is a business expense. I go all the way on strength, two of the three bars on temperature, and I use Don Francisco’s hazelnut coffee pots. Can I give you a hack? Everybody start doing this immediately. The only dietary thing I do is I don’t have any added sugar ever. I eat everything else all day long, whatever I want, no added sugar ever. What I add to my coffee instead of half and half; heavy whipping cream. It turns it into a hazelnut latte with zero sugar in it. I have two or three of those every single morning. You wake up, it’s like walking dead, then after three of those, man, you are ready to roll. That’s what I do. Heavy whipping cream, people. Start that. It’s a treat.
BN: I’d assume your wife [Kristen] is pretty understanding about the demands of your job, right?
CO: Oh gosh, yeah. For instance I was in Charlotte for three days. I was in Houston for three nights for the World Series. In two weeks I’m going to Knoxville and blah, blah, blah. It’s a blessing, but it also is me taking off and heading on the road and saying I’m going to see Tennessee and Georgia play at Neyland. Well that’s great for me; she’s back here in Atlanta running the house and the dogs and oh yeah, trying to essentially be a PA. That’s what she’s pursuing while she’s doing everything else.
She’s awesome though. You’re right, she has a big understanding of this. The cool part though is that I’ve told her when she graduates and when it’s all done in about four weeks, the world is her oyster as far as getting a job. With radio, you can do that job anywhere. Just give me a microphone and some power and I can broadcast in India. I’m ready to roll, man. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter and it being all about her.
BN: I’m curious how you’d describe Georgia fans this year. Are they braggadocious, we’re number one, or is it sort of like this could go south at any time?
CO: Georgia fans right now are occupying themselves with the Stetson Bennett, J.T. Daniels thing. Here’s the weird thing; they’re more boisterous and finger in the air if they’re like 9-1 than they are right now after beating Florida. It’s been weird. Going into the Clemson game, it was the height of anxiety. After they got into conference play, the South Carolina game, we all looked around and realized this is what the defense is. They looked at the schedule and were like Auburn ain’t beating us, Tennessee isn’t beating us, Vanderbilt’s not beating us, Florida’s not beating us. They already looked at the entire regular season and said there’s a really good chance we’re 12-0.
This is all in the course of about two months. I had two Georgia fans tell me I’m not going to Jacksonville. They canceled their plans and sold their tickets. I was like why? Quote, it’s not a big enough game this year. I almost needed a paper bag to breathe into. I couldn’t believe a Georgia fan telling me Jacksonville ain’t a big enough game. That’s what it is.
BN: There was some serious turnover during COVID at 680. Are you feeling good about where things stand now?
CO: Yeah, John Kincade is a very, very good friend of mine and played a huge role actually in me going over to 680. When John got canned, that was just awful, awful, awful. It’s tough because you look at John, you can’t do the job better than John does it. You can’t be more prepared. You can’t work harder. He has something to say. All right, he got fired. That was kind of an attention getter. That was Sheriff Justice kicking you in the butt against the side of the car. For John personally I knew that he’s a cat, he was going to land on his feet. Steak Shapiro and Mark Zinno the same sort of thing, they’re too good. Steak’s got his TV empire anyway.
It wasn’t necessarily just related to okay what happens to these individuals? Because I knew all of them were good and were going to land. It was just a tough commentary. I’ll say this about David Dickey, he is not knee-jerk. He does not react in the moment. Everything is very measured and thought out. If that was the decision he came to, I was like all right, this is another indication of how real this thing is. John is really good at his job. It was kind of jarring because that’s just not the kind of thing that has happened at DBC since I’ve been there. And it happens everywhere in the industry, but just not there.
BN: Where do you think you would be right now if you stuck with coaching?
CO: I want to say coaching d-line somewhere. In fact I’m going to tell you right now honestly if you dropped me down onto a college coaching staff right now, I could coach technique. I could coach technique tomorrow. I would be almost useless with a game plan. I can break down film and tell you what’s going on, but I know zero. I know a thimble full as far as preparing for a modern offense. It’s just been too long.
But the techniques have never changed. Alignments, stance, hand placement, footwork, leverage, it’s never changed. I can do that. And that was awesome. I loved it. Actually you know how I could coach? Here’s what I need, just two concessions, the offense only gets three formations and there’s no pre-snap motion. If you could make that a rule, I’m back in coaching tomorrow. I promise you. It was so much fun. It was just a tremendous experience.
I coached high school football for six years and even got a ring. That was kind of cool. Also there were kids on the defensive line when I was there that went to Troy State, one went to Auburn, we had several go to Cumberland and Maryville and various places. You see a kid that showed up who’s like I’m 14 and I’m a freshman, I’m just here to play high school ball, and then four years later you realize he’s about to be able to graduate from college without any student loan debt. It is a huge, huge deal, and so many of those kids, I just loved when they got their chance.
BN: I love your Twitter bio. Part of it says it’s not possible to troll me, I just don’t engage the negative on Twitter, ever. Why is that your approach?
CO: I have a co-worker of mine, Mark Zinno as a matter of fact, he gets out of bed every morning like he’s stepping into a boxing ring on Twitter. He’s like well these people said things about me. The way I said it, my studio is on the 4th floor and there’s a big floor-to-ceiling window about 12 feet away. I don’t sit anywhere near it. I said Mark here’s Twitter, there’s a thousand people on the sidewalk that have been yelling just rude, awful things to you for the past hour. He’s like really? I’m like no. Because you haven’t gone over and looked. I was like they might have been there just yelling the most vile, awful things for the past 60 minutes, but you don’t know that because you didn’t engage them. You sat in your chair 12 feet away. I was like I sit in my Twitter chair 12 feet away.
It’s really a different environment for me. I have some funny, really insightful, sometimes helpful folks on Twitter. That’s really what I try to limit my engagements to. Twitter is this dark alley that you step into it and then thousands of people jump out with sticks and just start beating on you. I’m just not going to do that. I don’t respond to anybody because again it’s not trolling unless you engage back and kind of shine a light on it yourself. You have to be complicit in this and I just don’t do it.
BN: Over the next five to 10 years what do you want your ideal radio schedule to look like?
CO: Gosh, the syndicated thing continues to kind of unfold on its own pretty steadily. We’ll pick up six to seven affiliates. People hear about it and over the year they add some. That’s kind of only been growing. I assume that that’ll keep going unless people lose taste for college football. I found a schedule that works. I believe that I’ll keep on rolling along until public taste changes and nobody likes college football in the South.
BN: How would you describe the difference between doing your 680 show with [Matt] Chernoff where it’s a two-man show, and your syndicated show, which is solo?
CO: Chuck and Chernoff is a traditional, like the wacky morning zoo with the bike horn and all that in the afternoon. We do a dumb show. It’s fun, but it’s dumb. We’re silly and we don’t take ourselves seriously. It is the anti — because college football is serious stuff — it is the anti-Chuck Oliver Show. It’s just a lot of fun. This is my professional life and I just hope they don’t catch on soon.
BN: It’s six hours on the air each day, you probably need the bike horn at the end of the day, right?
CO: Oh God, if it was six hours of brain surgery and the neighbor’s yard is so much better than mine and everything in between, no. It can’t be all serious issues all the time. We’ll go crazy. That’s the thing about the job actually I’ve said, my job is not important. I don’t fly the space shuttle for a living. But I’ve had so many people tell me that it’s important to them. When you’re in Atlanta traffic, which you average an hour and seven minutes a day in afternoon drive, here’s what people don’t want; they don’t want a statistical seminar on the Atlanta Braves matchup with the Astros. What they want is distract me in Atlanta traffic. That’s all they want, distract me. Make me not notice what’s going on in front of me. So we just try to distract people for a little bit while they’re in traffic.
What Can Programmers Learn From A Social Media Following?
“A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure.”
I first began using Twitter in 2009 when I was a reporter at The Seattle Times. Jim Mora was the Seattle Seahawks coach and I had a smart phone made by Palm. The Twitter app was so wonky I posted live updates from Seahawks press conferences via TwitPic, sending a picture of the person speaking with the news item included as a caption. We’ve all come a long way since then.
I like Twitter. Over the past 12-plus years, I’ve found that my sarcasm and sense of humor (if you can call it that) translated better on Twitter than it ever did in print or later as a radio host at 710 ESPN Seattle. I’ve made friends on Twitter, picked fights with other reporters and generally found it a good place to test out ideas and arguments and an increasingly terrible place to discuss anything important. I have more than 40,000 followers, which is not insignificant nor is it at all exceptional given the market I worked in. None of this gives you any idea about how well I’ve done my job in sports media, though.
Yet an individual’s Twitter following has become part of our industry scoreboard. It’s certainly not the final score and it definitely doesn’t decide the outcome, but it is the best way I know to gain a quick assessment of someone’s reach and/or significance. It’s a data point that is readily accessible. It’s the thing I check first when I encounter someone who’s part of the sports-media industry.
But what does it really tell us? More specifically, how much does it tell us about that person’s ability to do their actual job whether it is reporting news, writing stories or being part of a show? Because as important as Twitter has become in sports-media, no one is making money from Twitter and social media specialists are the only people who are really being paid to Tweet.
For most of us, Twitter is not a job, it is a tool. For a radio host, it’s a way to interact with listeners outside the footprint and time slot of the show. It also is a powerful opportunity to deepen audience engagement through two-way, real-time communication. These things may help a host’s job performance, but they should not be mistaken for the actual job itself. A radio host is not valuable because he or she was right on Twitter or because they were first on Twitter or because they had a viral Tweet. A radio host is valuable because of the ability to attract, entertain and retain an audience during a specific slot of time. Twitter may help you prepare to do that, but it does not actually accomplish the task.
Programmers need to understand this, too. A large number of followers may be the result of using social media well, but if you think the size of someone’s following is proof they’ll be a good part of your lineup, that’s a set-up for failure. Just look at what book publishers have found.
An article last month in the New York Times showed how publishers have used social media followings as a weathervane of sorts for books sales. The number of followers an author has is influencing everything from what authors are paid to which books get published. This is especially true when it comes to non-fiction books. The rationale is pretty straightforward when you look under hood of that particular industry.
A publisher is the business that buys a certain book from the author, essentially making a bet that the sales of this book the author is writing or has written will more than cover the money paid to the author as well as the cost of publication and promotion of the book. A publisher wants as much assurance as possible that this book will sell sufficient copies to not just make its money back, but insure a profit. This is where the author’s social media audience comes in. The follower count is being looked to as an indicator of just how many people can be expected to buy this book. After all, someone following the author is certainly a sign they’re interested in what that author has to say. Some percentage of those followers can reasonably be expected to buy a book by this person. Except social media followings turn out to be a fairly terrible tool of forecasting book sales.
Billie Eilish has 99 million Instagram followers. Her book — released last year — sold 64,000 copies. If I was being catty, I would point out that is one book sold for every 1,546 Instagram followers.
“Even having one of the biggest social media followings in the world is not a guarantee,” wrote Elizabeth A. Harris.
So we should all just stop paying attention to Twitter followings, right? Hardly. First of all, it is a data point, and anyone waiting for social media followings to become LESS important probably thinks the Internet is just a fad. More importantly, having a following is certainly better than not having one as it does indicate the ability to attract an audience.
The issue isn’t whether it’s good to have a large following. Of course it is. The issue is how reliable that is in predicting an individual’s interest or appeal outside of that specific social platform.
What programmers need to do is get smarter about how they evaluate social media followings by answering two questions:
- Why are people following this particular talent? Content is the catch-all answer here. Go beyond that. What sort of content is this person providing that none of his or her peers are? Will that type of content be valuable as part of my lineup whether it’s terrestrial radio, a podcast or other format? Someone who’s funny on Twitter may be funny in other formats. They may also just be funny on Twitter. Are there examples of how this kind of content has worked in the past or reasons to think it will work in the future?
- How likely is this talent’s social media following to migrate to my medium? This is one of the trickier ones. One of the reasons for acquiring a talent with a large social media following is the hope that some of their followers will become your customers. While this is always possible, the more important question is whether it’s likely.
Remember, that example of Eilish, who had 99 million Instagram followers and sold 64,000 books? Well, that number of books is actually not a bad result. In fact, it’s absolutely solid for book sales. The problem was the publishing house didn’t expect a solid sales performance. It expected incredibly strong sales because it paid a significant amount of money to Eilish in the form of an advance.
It’s clear the publishing house made a bad bet, but the principal mistake was not about Eilish’s ability — or lack thereof — to produce a book. She did produce one that was 336 pages long, loaded with family photos never seen before and while there wasn’t as much text as you might expect, the sales were solid. The mistake the publishing house made was overestimating how many of Eilish’s fans would become customers in an entirely different medium, and I think that’s a lesson worth noting in this industry.
Unless you’re hiring someone to do social media for your company, Twitter is not going to be their job. It’s just a tool. An important tool, a useful one, but just a tool.
How Good Can iHeart’s AdBuilder Solution Be?
“It was slick, I admit.”
Do it yourself radio has come to a new client you will never meet. These clients are ready to do it themselves. All they want is to buy a radio campaign. And iHeart AdBuilder is all they need.
Let’s figure this out.
In 2019, iHeart started beta testing a do-it-yourself online platform for small businesses to battle Facebook and Google.
I went to the website to see how it worked. It was slick, I admit. It would be a great topic to add to the BSM Summit.
The first piece of info. the site wants to establish is your campaign goal. The four choices were “Get website traffic”, “Have listeners know my address”, “Get phone calls”, and “Announce an event”.
When was the last time you wrote a new business order with any of those four goals as the single reason for the campaign? Wouldn’t that be easier for the copywriter and the client to track results? TRY IT!
I inputted that I wanted to announce an event and proceeded to the following prompt. My business name, address, website, and industry were the following choices. So far, so good. The only tricky part were the industry choices.
I can see how specific business categories are not precisely represented, like counter service restaurants. They are not fast food because there is no drive-through, but they aren’t a full-service restaurant either due to no waiters being used and many other factors. It isn’t confusing for me, but you know how clients can be!
Selecting the market I wanted my customers to come from was easy, and it allowed iHeart to choose the closest radio stations. Identifying the ONE type of customer I wanted was fantastic. I can see how it focuses the client on a primary target. Parents with young kids or teens, foodies, married couples, single adults, or an option to select my demo all seemed easy enough.
The demos offered weren’t Men 18-34, but men, women or adults, young adults, seniors, adults, or the dreaded all ages. Next was selecting when I wanted to run and how much I wanted to spend. It wasn’t a challenge because you choose your dates, and then you’re given three choices for a weekly budget. In my case, it was $500, $750, or $1,000 per week. iHeart AdBuilder bills you less if the whole week isn’t used.
Impressions, frequency, and reach were highlighted, and they showed the logos of the two stations my $500 was going to be spent on. I noticed there was no information on when the ads would air, how many times per day, or any of that! “You give us $500, and we will spend it over the week on these two stations when and where we want! And it will work!”
The pages dedicated to creating copy are straight forward and, as salespeople, we have filled those types of forms out plenty of times. iHeart is highlighting that they are waiving the $100 production fee. Maybe, that will change in the future. After going to the checkout, your credit card is given a temporary authorization (which will be reversed), and you are told your ad will be emailed to you in a few days. You won’t be billed until your ads air.
What are the odds this $500 campaign over two stations in a few days will work? Who knows, but I bet the automated emails and follow-up calls will be relentless. I think it’s a great platform and can see a decent percentage of smaller new business deals go this direction. Some clients may even prefer to never “deal” with a salesperson again, kind of like most of our agency buyers. That leaves us with a whole lotta middle ground. For now.
Media Noise – Episode 58
Demetri welcomes Brandon Kravitz and Derek Futterman to the show this week. They talk about Hub Arkush, Aaron Rodgers, Michelle Tafoya, and Pete Thamel.
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