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Bruce Gilbert Is Still Learning

“The minute I stop learning is the minute I should stop doing this job. I think there’s always something to learn and that’s never been more true now.”

Brian Noe

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Bruce Gilbert of Westwood One

A lot of ego exists in sports radio. Many people in the business have inflated opinions of themselves. Bruce Gilbert is not one of these people. He’s one of the most humble individuals you’ll ever meet in the industry.

Bruce could walk around like a peacock as the Westwood One/Cumulus Media Sports SVP and the guy who once hired Colin Cowherd at ESPN. But Bruce still resembles the younger version of himself that was elated to call high school hockey games in Wisconsin for 25 bucks a pop.

The tie-in with hockey makes a lot of sense because Bruce truly does resemble a hockey player. He’s an incredibly hard worker, but when it comes time to receive accolades, he’d rather put his head down as if to say, “I can’t achieve anything without my teammates.” Maybe it’s his Midwestern roots as a kid born in a little town north of Champaign, Illinois. Maybe it’s because Bruce is simply a genuine dude who gets respect because he shows respect.

Bruce is one of the brightest programming minds the business has ever seen. He hasn’t just randomly stumbled onto success; the guy knows what he’s doing. When Bruce talks about what he looks for in a host and stresses the importance of attending conferences like the upcoming BSM Summit, there are a lot of people that can benefit from his views.

We also chat about what the sports radio industry does best and worst, as well as what Bruce would change about his career. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: When in your life did you think, hey, sports radio might be what I want to get into?

Bruce Gilbert: Well, I’m so old, Brian, that there was no sports radio when I decided I wanted to get into radio. My dad was in the radio business. I had great parents and a great dad. He would let me come to the radio station. Every radio station he worked at was just magic to me. From the equipment to the announcers to just the activity and the buzz in the building.

I think I was probably about five years old when I was like, this is what I’m doing. I wanted to be a disc jockey, man. I wanted to play records and talk up the intros and be a disc jockey. To me it was like, you get paid for this? You got to be kidding me. I had a destiny that started at a pretty young age.

BN: What was your first radio gig?

BG: My dad was the general manager of a radio station in Binghamton, New York. WNBF. It’s still there. It’s a news talk station. It was owned by Stoner Broadcasting at the time. They were the flagship station for the Binghamton Broome Dusters, which was the minor league hockey team that played there. My first job was board-oping Binghamton Broome Dusters games at the age of 14. I think I was in the 7th or 8th grade.

I prayed that the game would go really fast because if it got over between 9:30 and 10, I got to play a few songs before the network news at the top of the hour. That was my dream. It turns out it’s funny, I ended up in sports radio; I started in sports and ended up in sports. It was awesome. It was the coolest thing ever to be able to do that.

BN: What led to you being on the programming side of the business?

BG: That’s just what I fell in love with. It was probably at that time, being a teenager, it was about the music and listening to music radio. In that part of the country, we were all influenced by legendary radio station WLS. WLS was in 50 states, a huge 50,000-watt Clear Channel AM radio station that played top 40 music. We all wanted to be big-time disc jockeys on WLS.

I think the other thing is my dad was in sales and it just didn’t seem as sexy. Even though he tried to tell me and he was right, he’s like don’t you see all the sales people drive the really nice cars and all the disc jockeys drive the really shitty cars? [Laughs] And I said I don’t care, I want to be on the air. That’s what I want to do. That’s where it all came from.

BN: When you’re evaluating a sports radio talent, what are you looking for and what are you drawn to?

BG: I know this sounds like the cliché answer, but the number one thing I’m looking for is authenticity. With authenticity, I think I would add to that you’ve got to be real, you’ve got to be self-deprecating, but you also have to have a life. By authenticity, it’s not just being authentic in your sports opinions, like I’m going to be authentic in what I think about that coach or that player. You have to be authentic about how you live, where you go, who you talk to, what you’re into, what movies you watch, what television shows you binge, what motivates you, what aggravates you, and all those things.

I guess what I look for, it’s one thing to be authentic, it’s another thing to be openly authentic. I’ve often said that the greatest talk show hosts, regardless of what they’re talking about, are willing to basically perform open heart surgery on themselves every day. I’m going to open it up and just throw it out here. I’m not going to apologize for it because that’s what’s in my gut. That’s what’s in my heart. That’s what’s in my soul.

You can get away with a fake persona or an over-the-top personality that you create that is some sort of alter ego for a little while, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. The only thing that’s sustainable is being you.

BN: When you look at the sports radio industry as a whole, what do you think is working well and what do you think should be a lot better than it currently is?

BG: What’s always worked well, when done right, when sports radio is done effectively and in a compelling and engaging and authentic way, it’s the ultimate escape. We’ve seen that again during these incredibly odd times we’ve been living in, now going on two years.

Like every radio station, we had a dip at the beginning of the pandemic. As sports came back, so did sports radio; 2021 was a really good year for the sports format. I think it’s because people got burned out on all of the negativity and the depressing news stories that were repeating themselves over and over. On top of it, how everything became politicized and the country got more and more divisive.

The only true uniting thing was sports. Sports unites us all. It unites people and galvanizes people in a really tight-knit community kind of way. You and I may be polar opposite politically, but if we end up sitting next to each other at the game and we’re both rooting for the same team, I don’t care what your politics are, I’m high-fiving you when we score a goal, or we get a touchdown, or we hit a home run.

That is what sports radio does best. When it’s in its prime and it sticks to the fun of the games and the storylines of the real-life heroes and villains in sports, it’s the perfect escape from all the madness of life. That’s the positive. I don’t see that ever not being a positive in a really true way. That’s motivating to me and what I love about this format.

Now how did you phrase that; what are we not doing well?

BN: Right, yeah, what isn’t where it needs to be currently?

BG: I know it sounds like I’m programmed to say this and it’s the hip, cool thing to say and everybody’s woke and all that stuff, but sports radio is way too old and way too white in general.

Look, there are people that are doing a great job of bringing in new voices from different backgrounds, but I think it’s problematic. Especially when you look at television sports and how much better they’ve done with female anchors, female reporters, female play-by-play announcers, and we’re just behind.

I think it’s a product of not digging deeper or going wider. It’s also a product of radio maybe not paying as well as television, radio maybe not being as sexy as it once was. But those are just excuses, right? If you look at the audience of the marketplace and you look at the demographics and the ethnic backgrounds of those that participate in America’s most popular sports, I don’t think sports radio is close to being reflective of those constituencies.

It’s incumbent upon those of us that are in this format to make that happen. It is true you want the best person for every open job, but you also just can’t keep recycling the same people over and over. You’ve got to go give some new people a chance. They’re going to have to stumble a little bit and figure their way through it, but if they have the right support, it will make the format more relevant and I think give the format more life moving forward.

BN: The word escape stands out to me. When sports radio dips into a political issue, it can be an interesting conversation, but it becomes less of an escape. Where do you stand on that dilemma?

BG: Yeah, it’s a great point. We’ve had a lot of conversations internally about how to address that. My personal opinion — and this is based heavily on watching how those things impact research and ratings — is that we can’t be an escape if we go down the political path. Sports radio is most successful when it’s apolitical because being apolitical is one of its true positives. That’s the uniting part. The minute we get political, we’re not uniting anymore, we’re divisive.

As much as you want to be authentic and you want to talk about what people are talking about, I think my experience is saying, and what I’ve seen as I’ve watched it unfold, I would say it’s a mistake to get political or go into those areas that could be perceived as political. We have a small audience to begin with. It’s a niche format. Why do you want to alienate part of that audience by taking one side or the other on a political issue that’s going to actually run people off?

BN: With the BSM Summit coming up, why is it important to be there?

BG: Well, first of all, we all miss each other, right? None of us have been able to see each other because we haven’t been able to travel for a couple of years, and a lot of us know each other and go back a lot of years. There’s a real value in just being able to connect with people.

The side effect of being able to connect with people is I think you learn in those situations that some of the things that you see as obstacles or problems that you’re dealing with, it’s really healthy to talk to other people that are going through the same thing and realizing, oh, I’m not alone in this. They’re having to get over that hump as well. It works in the reverse in a positive way. You see somebody that has come up with a solution or done something unique, that becomes contagious and that drives us forward.

The other reason I think it’s important is because when somebody like Jason takes the time and makes the effort to pull all those people together, and he works his ass off on this thing, I just really respect that. That is a strong message from a person that this is worth our time and worth getting away for a couple of days and shutting ourselves in a room and trying to make it better.

One of the problems with any business, I think, is complacency. If we don’t sit down in a place like that and be honest with each other about what our challenges are and how to address them, then we’re going to become complacent. I think what Jason’s done really well is he’s made it a point to not allow it to be a place where we all just sit around and pat each other on the back and talk about how great we are or live in the past. He’s done a really good job of making it about the now and going forward.

I look forward to that because look, I’ve been doing this a long time; the minute I stop learning is the minute I should stop doing this job. I think there’s always something to learn and that’s never been more true now when you look at video platforms, all the different digital platforms, how to get your things out on social media, the algorithms, all the different things that we never had to deal with that we now need to deal with. You can’t deal with it if you aren’t willing to learn it and understand it and grow.

That’s why I think it’s critical. I think it’s even more critical because of the work that Jason puts in. It’s not just a hey, let’s get together and scratch each other. It’s let’s really, really make this worth our time.

BN: What’s something valuable that you’ve taken away from the Summit before?

BG: I get two really critical things out of Jason’s Summit in particular. One, a lot of affirmation. You’re always experimenting and trying new things. It might be one little thing that you’re doing in one little market and you wonder if that’s the right thing. Then you go there and you hear somebody talk about something similar or maybe even something exactly the same and you’re like, okay, good, I respect that person and that person is trying the same thing or thinks that’s a good idea. There’s an affirmation aspect to it.

The second thing that I always get out of it is just motivation. What comes out in two days with a group of people like that is that most of us aren’t in this for the paycheck — although we all like to get paid — but we’re in it because it’s a passion. I think about outside of my wife and kids, my two loves in life are sports and radio. I get to do them both every day. What happens is you see that passion come out in different ways. Not all of them that are there are radio people specifically. They may be in a tangential business, but that passion is overwhelmingly motivating to me and I find myself recharged, re-energized.

I think affirmation, motivation, and sometimes those two actually drive you to try something that maybe you’ve been thinking about. I know I’ve had this happen where I’ve been thinking about something for maybe years and you go to a conference like that and you’re like, why the hell haven’t I done that? Now I’m going to because I keep putting it off, and if so-and-so can do it, or so-and-so believes it’s a good idea, then I’m going to go forward.

BN: What’s the most gratifying aspect of your job?

BG: That’s easy: Watching other people succeed. When I see someone who I know is busting their ass or has been trying to get something to work for so long and it clicks and it happens, or the ratings finally happen, I totally am driven by that. I love seeing it.

Those are the people I then absolutely want to help as much as I can. By help, I mean help their career, help them grow, help them find the next job or whatever they want to do that’s important to them. That, to me, it’s all about that. It’s about watching people win that really deserve it and earned it.

BN: What’s the most difficult part of your job?

BG: I don’t dwell on the bad stuff but certainly over the past couple of years, the most difficult thing has had to be downsizing our teams. Everybody has been through it, but that doesn’t make it okay. Nobody ever deserves to lose their job, especially if they love what they do. But everybody can’t keep their job. It’s just not realistic. It’s not how it works.

You’ve experienced it yourself, unfortunately, and you’re an extremely talented talk show host that I think is remarkably bright and unique. So if guys like you can lose your job, it can happen to anybody.

I have to admit, I’ve met a couple of people in my career that actually enjoy firing people and I’m telling you those people are either the devil or they’re just not human. There is nothing fun at all about having to tell people that their position no longer exists. It absolutely blows. That’s the worst by far.

BN: Yeah, absolutely. That’s crazy; I can’t imagine someone enjoying that.

BG: There are some people that do. They’re proud of it. It’s like something’s wrong with you. [Laughs]

BN: Put your current job to the side, it doesn’t count toward this question. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had during your career?

BG: Maybe this is nostalgic and we romanticize things, but probably when I was working at my dad’s Wisconsin-owned radio station. I think when I had the most fun was doing play-by-play. I used to do high school basketball and high school hockey, believe it or not. I loved it, man. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. The hockey games were outdoors. I was standing in a snowbank with a headset on calling a high school hockey game, freezing my everything off.

I think about those times and I’m like, that was a freakin’ blast, man. It was so much fun. I’m sure I had some worries, but I don’t remember having a single worry in the world then. I didn’t have a family to support yet, so it was just like, make your 25 bucks doing play-by-play and go through the McDonald’s drive-thru and life is good.

BN: [Laughs] Totally, man. For you personally, do you look to the future as far as goals or are you an in-the-now type of guy?

BG: I think for me personally, I’m definitely a here-and-now person. That’s how I was brought up. That’s my Midwest upbringing. My parents were like, as long as you’re getting a paycheck from somebody, you give them 150%. You get up in the morning, you bust your ass and go to work for them, and you do everything to make them look good and smart and make them money. If something else happens to come along, then you consider it.

That’s the reason I say I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of things just organically come my way. I don’t know why or how I was lucky enough to fall into those places. I guess a lot of really good people that have helped me and looked out for me, mentors of mine.

But yeah, I don’t get fixated personally. There’s no guarantee. For me personally, I’m all about today being as great as it can be and tomorrow being whatever it’s going to be.

BN: If you could change anything about your career, would you?

BG: No. Not at all. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t think I’ve made some mistakes. I absolutely have made some mistakes. I think I made them with good intentions. Even when I made the wrong step, it all made sense when I did it. That’s not because I’m smart or I did everything right because like I said, I’ve made some mistakes.

But just because you make mistakes doesn’t mean you have to have regrets. I don’t regret it. All of those things get you where you’re at now, good and bad. I’ve made some mistakes, but I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve been extremely lucky, man. Extremely lucky.

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Pregame Shows Have to Stop Ridiculous Pretend Pep Talks

“Audiences want access, but they want real access. Adults playing make believe is the peak of cringe TV.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Lou Holtz, Stephen A. Smith and Jimmy Johnson give pregame pep talks on pregame shows.

ABC caught a lot of deserved heat for its pregame show on Sunday. What was supposed to set the stage for a huge Game 7 between the Knicks and Pacers in the NBA Playoffs was actually something out of Stephen A. Smith’s fantasy. The show was more about the Knicks than it was anything else going on in basketball, but it was more about him than it was about the Knicks.

The network showed Smith’s arrival to the arena. To me, that was the peak example of just how bad the show was. It wasn’t the worst moment though. Sure, showing an analyst’s walk-in alongside each team’s biggest star was a new low in self-indulgence, but it didn’t match the pep talk.

Stephen A. Smith is not the first analyst to give one of the teams playing in the featured game his version of the pep talk. ESPN used to make this a regular feature of College Football Final when Lou Holtz was on the show. We saw it earlier this year on FOX NFL Sunday when Jimmy Johnson delivered an over-the-top speech to the Dallas Cowboys via the television during a halftime report.

I wish I knew whose idea this was. Who was the first producer to tell a former coach or player that they needed to give the audience an idea of what they would be doing in the locker room right now? I’d like someone to point that person out so I could slap the hell out of them.

Audiences want access, but they want real access. Adults playing make believe is the peak of cringe TV. I would rather watch literally anything else.

Even before the ManningCast, networks had learned that the access the audience wants is explanation, not bluster. Look, you won’t find a bigger critic of Urban Meyer as a coach than me, but I will be one of the first to tell you that he breaks down plays and decision making as well as anyone on TV. I understand the chess match between the coaches better after watching Meyer with a telestrator. I trust Nick Saban will bring that same quality, maybe even at a higher level, to College GameDay this season.

The men and women hired as analysts are smart. Regardless of the sport, if you’re hired to be part of a pregame show, chances are you have played the game. You have been in the locker room in these moments. You don’t have to convince the audience. They know it’s true.

Sports media is in a really interesting place. I have written before that I struggle to see how ESPN can justify a raise or a long-term extension to Stephen A. Smith in a landscape where the audience tells us over and over again that the only thing that really makes a difference to them is live games.

Star power matters because networks aren’t giving out the kinds of contracts they once did. Maybe that is why the former players and coaches don’t push back when asked to make fools of themselves in this way. They can tell us it’s about their personal brand, but if you’re doing something the audience isn’t responding to just because it puts you in the spotlight, are you building anything?

Pretend pep talks do not work. Does your respect for someone grow when you watch them get worked up over a situation they have imagined in their head? Probably not.

I have seen some studio shows take a moment and ask the former coach at the desk how they would respond to it. That makes a lot more sense. 

“Coach, the Panthers are headed to the locker room down seven and it can be pinned directly to Bryce Young throwing a pick six earlier this quarter. His rhythm has been off since then. What are you telling the young quarterback right now to get him ready for the second half?”

Analysts are supposed to be experts. The audience is supposed to feel like the analyst’s opinions have more weight than their own. Answers to direct questions give the audience insight.

My problem with so many studio shows is there is a lot of noise and not much being said. Everyone wants me to think the fellas are having a great time, so the laughter is over the top and every highlight is accompanied by a series of catchphrases that have caught on with no one. I’m not saying that I want studio shows to be completely devoid of fun. I just don’t want my time wasted.

That’s all pretend pep talks are. They’re just noise that waste my time. I don’t know a better way to describe what I saw Sunday on ABC.

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John Murphy Wanted to Go Out on His Terms as the Voice of the Buffalo Bills

“I guess I never appreciated the fact that the fans were paying that much attention.”

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Graphic of longtime Bills announcer John Murphy
Courtesy: Buffalo Bills

It’s always hard to say goodbye to a job that you love, especially when it’s under unfortunate circumstances. The Buffalo Bills organization and their many fans throughout Western New York were saddened to find out a couple of weeks ago that longtime Bills radio announcer John Murphy would be stepping away from the play-by-play position after 35 years in the radio booth.  Murphy spent 16 years as a color analyst and 19 years as the play-by-play announcer, but he continues to recover from a stroke that he suffered on January 1st 2023.

For the veteran broadcaster, the reality set in that it was time to step aside.

“I’m disappointed,” said the 67-year-old Murphy during a phone conversation last week with Barrett Sports Media.  “I’m nearing the end anyway, but you’d like to go out on your own terms and finish the way you want to finish and I’m not able to do that.  It’s disappointing but by the same token, there’s no way I can do the games talking the way I currently talk so I think it makes sense.”

Not long after the announcement, there were people, including former players Stevie Johnson, Alex Van Pelt and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who reached out to “Murph” to share their feelings about him.  Murphy also heard from so many fans and that was overwhelming to him to find out just how much he meant to “Bills Mafia.”

“It meant everything really,” said Murphy who was inducted into the Buffalo Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2019.  “I guess I never appreciated the fact that the fans were paying that much attention.  You do this for so long and your kind of alone with the four or five who are on the air and honestly you don’t think anybody is listening. It’s pretty important, I guess, to people and that makes it fun, and it makes it gratifying for me.”

From a personal standpoint, Murphy was extremely important to me when I was a student at Buffalo State College (now Buffalo State University) from 1985 to 1989.  Nobody in my family had ever been in broadcasting but it was my dream to do it and every young broadcaster needs a mentor.  I’m proud to say that Murphy was one of them during my college years always willing to talk to me when I would see him at games that I covered for WBNY, my college radio station.

Words cannot describe what this man meant to me and my career.

We shared a lot of good times back then, especially when he hosted a sports talk show on WBEN and I would be a frequent phone caller “Peter from Porter Hall at Buff State”.  I can’t tell you how many times I would call in to the trivia contest and the prize always included tickets to a local sporting event and a bucket of chicken wings from “Rooties”, a popular restaurant in the Buffalo area back then.

To this day, it has been an honor and a privilege to call him a friend and to be able to stay in touch.

For Bills fans, it was an honor and a privilege to have a true professional like Murphy in the broadcast booth.  As the color analyst, he worked with legendary Bills play-by-play voice Van Miller from 1984 to 1989 and then again from 1994 to 2003.

“Van was great,” said Murphy.  “I learned so much about not getting in the way of the play-by-play announcer and letting him have his time and enough time to set up the play and to finish the play.  It was great to see him do that, and I learned a lot.  I learned almost everything from Van as far as the right way to do things.  He will never be matched as far as I’m concerned with the play-by-play job he did here.”

Following Miller’s retirement, Murphy slid over to assume the duties as the play-by-play voice in 2004.  It’s never easy to replace a legend, but that’s what Murphy did, and he was well prepared for the task at hand.

“I had huge shoes to fill,” said Murphy.  “I feel like, 19 years later, I’m still working on filling them.  I don’t think I ever matched what he did and the way he painted the words.  It was a great education and a great way to learn how to do it the right way.”

Miller was the Bills’ play-by-play voice through the glory years of going to four straight Super Bowls following the 1990 through 1993 seasons.  After Murphy took over as the “Voice of the Bills,” the great moments were few and far between.  In fact, the Bills suffered through a 17-year absence from postseason play, an era of futility that ended in 2016.

After a long wait, Murphy was finally the voice of a Bills team that was making Buffalo sports fans talking proud again and giving them a reason to shout.

“We had a rough go,” said Murphy.  “I was the voice of the playoff drought.  To break through that threshold and to get in the playoffs each of the last five years now has made all the difference in the world.  It’s a different game when the team is a contender and the Bills have been contenders for five years now so that’s been good and good to see.”

A native of Lancaster, New York and a graduate of Syracuse University, Murphy was able to spend his final seasons with the team calling some incredible moments, many of them that brought Bills fans out of their seats at Highmark Stadium but also a few that ended their seasons before being able to get back to a Super Bowl.

There are a couple of moments that stand out.

“There was Taron Johnson’s interception against Baltimore (AFC divisional playoff 2021) in the playoffs which he ran back 101 yards for a touchdown,” recalled Murphy.  “That was an incredible play.” 

That was a great moment but there was also a sad moment that he will always remember.

“The game that sickened me the most was the loss at Kansas City that went back and forth with Mahomes and Josh Allen,” said Murphy of the classic 2022 AFC Divisional Playoff game won by the Chiefs in overtime 42-36. 

“With 13 seconds to go, Josh had the lead, and they gave up the lead and lost to Kansas City.  That was a bitter loss, but it was really a fun game to work.”

As Murphy steps away from the booth, Chris Brown is expected to be named the new radio voice of the Bills.  In Murphy’s absence, Brown finished up the 2022 season and did play-by-play for the entire 2023 season.

Murphy, who had to replace a legend in Van Miller, believes that Brown is the right man to fill his shoes.

“I’m happy for him,” said Murphy.  “Chris has a great understanding of the way things work in the league and the way players are acquired and signed and he does his homework too.  I think he’s great and will do a great job.”

While Murphy has stepped away from the play-by-play duties, he still hopes to be a part of the Bills’ gameday broadcasts.  If his speech improves by September, the plan is for Murphy to provide one or two-minute features on the pre-game show.

“I hope so,” said Murphy.  “That remains to be seen but I’m hoping that’s the way it goes.”

And so is everyone in Western New York that has been accustomed to hearing Murphy on the broadcasts for so many years.  Aside from the continued excitement about the Bills being a perennial playoff team, Murphy shares in the excitement of the organization and the fans about the new stadium that is currently under construction.

Without an agreement for a new home in the Buffalo area, there was a good chance that the Bills would have been forced to relocate to another market.

“You drive by there and you can sense that this is real and this is happening and the Bills are here to stay,” said Murphy.  “It’s very exciting and very exciting to see that the Bills are implanted in Western New York for years to come now.”

I mean no disrespect to so many other radio play-by-play announcers in the NFL, but I have to admit something. Whether it was my time at SirusXM NFL Radio or my current run at Infinity Sports Network (formerly CBS Sports Radio), I always looked forward to working on an NFL Sunday, Thursday or Monday and using John Murphy’s play-by-play calls on my updates.  As long as the Bills won, I always used his highlights.  I’ll miss those calls (but not the ones when the Bills beat the Jets) and so will Bills fans. 

Here’s hoping for his health to continue to get better and that he could still be a part of the Bills broadcasts in some small way going forward.

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Seller to Seller: Scott Speropoulos, Audacy Memphis

“I was that guy when it’s fourth and long and no time left, give me the ball.”

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Graphic for a Seller to Seller feature with Scott Speropoulos

Sometimes when you meet people, you just know immediately they’re someone you could hang out with, watch a game and have a beer (or two). Scott Speropoulos, the General Sales Manager for Audacy’s four stations in Memphis is one of those. He is high energy, a great talker and comes complete with that great southern charm and accent.

Scott knows a thing or two about media sales, too, something he has been involved with in some capacity for most of his 25-plus year career.  He started in radio as a remote coordinator before going to work for a startup television station. Along the way, he sold print as well, managed in radio, managed in print, was a Director of Sales in television and then the pandemic hit. That’s when Scott decided, “It’s time to come home, I’m back here again.”

At the end of 2020, Speropoulos returned to the group of stations he had been with from 2005-2007, which now includes 92.9 ESPN the dominant sports radio station in the market.

When asked what made him a great seller when he was getting started, he said, “I just got out there and hustled. The Director of Sales from another station called me and said, ‘Everywhere my people go, they are finding your business card, so you are going to come work for us.’ Just getting out there and hustling and getting my name built and my reputation and I tried to meet with as many people as possible.”

Speropoulos talked about what led him to pursue management opportunities after he had been selling television for six years. He said selling the television station started to feel a little bit like “Groundhog Day.” He said he looked to his younger days as an athlete and thought about how well he generally had performed under pressure.

“I was that guy when it’s fourth and long and no time left, give me the ball,” he said. “The TV station had people who had been there for a long, long time and they were not planning on retiring any time soon. And it just so happened the radio stations I had started with needed a National Sales Manager and had me come over and sell for a year and then I got the NSM role…it was just that personal challenge of taking the next step in my career.”

Clearly Speropoulos has seen many changes in our business since his sales career began back in 1997. “Back when I started, it was you buy a spot on TV and you sprayed and prayed,” he said. “Now, we’ve got so many digital capabilities where I can take more of that sniper approach. Tell me exactly who you are looking for and I can bring you those people…I can get those people without you having to waste advertising dollars on people that don’t make sense for you.”

He talks a lot about the culture of the Audacy Memphis office and says the group of air talent he works with do a great job working with the sales team and their clients.  “I am lucky because my guys here, the culture we have here is everyone is pulling on the same rope together, we all want to help each other.”

Speropoulos recently grew his sales team by one and said he found a lot of people applying who seemed scared about commission sales and “wanted everything guaranteed.” He said being a big fan of former Alabama head coach Nick Saban, it is all about discipline with him when it comes to who he is looking for.

“I can teach you sales, but I can’t teach you self-discipline. It’s someone who makes those decisions every day and knows that it’s five o’clock but goes ahead and makes that extra call. And someone who is willing to constantly learn because the world of digital changes every day. There is going to be something new that comes out tomorrow and they’ve got to be able to adapt. We can’t have anyone who is just set in their ways and says they cannot sell digital.

“It’s being disciplined. It’s making those right decisions. You have the autonomy to go to lunch whenever you are ready. Are you going to take that hour and a half lunch, or do you take a lunch where you could make an impact somewhere? Am I going to make cold calls today or am I going to push that off until Friday?

“It’s the person who makes the strong decisions and the tough decisions that hold themselves accountable. I can’t babysit you. I can’t be as tough on you as you are going to be on yourself so that’s what I am looking for, someone who is going to hold themselves accountable, someone who is going to make the tough decisions. Someone who is striving to do better every day.”

92.9 ESPN made a change in afternoon drive a little more than a year ago when Gary Parrish left for a new position and former Memphis Tigers offensive lineman Gabe Kuhn took over. Many times, changes or noise in the industry can rattle a sales team. Speropoulos said he always tells his team to focus on what they can control.

“Focus on the strategy that we have put in place for that specific client and see it all the way through,” he said. “If we stay true to what we put in place that we know is going to work, who cares if the DJ leaves tomorrow. Our goal is to help them grow their business and bring them quality consumers. If we stay true to what we believe in, all that other stuff is noise.”

Scott believes today the key is for sellers to work with clients to drill down on what their ideal target is before creating a campaign and then pick the best products that fit how to reach that person. He also said sellers have to remain on top of the changes and new products that can help their clients.

“There’s going to be new technology that we haven’t even fathomed yet that we are going to be able to utilize. So, it’s staying on top of our toes, staying educated and embracing the change as it comes.”

When asked what he does to keep it fun and rewarding for his sales team he said, “In my group everyone is a little different. Some like trophies, some would rather just go out and have a beer.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I care about every single person here and I make sure they’re happy and I put their needs ahead of mine. We have a great team. They care about how we achieve as a team.”

They have achieved quite a bit since flipping to sports in 2009 and seem headed for continued success with Scott Speropoulos heading up the sales team. He is all about the team and nobody, as they say in the south, getting ‘too big for his britches.’

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