Jason Barrett welcomes the attendees to the 2022 BSM Summit. Planning the Summit was difficult with COVID creating difficulties, but it’s good to be among people again. That leads into the first panel discussion on dealing with the pandemic featuring Spike Eskin, Kevin Graham, Mitch Rosen, and Dave Tepper.
9:10-9:50 – Programming Through a Pandemic presented by
- Spike Eskin – WFAN
- Kevin Graham – KNBR
- Mitch Rosen – 670 The Score
- Dave Tepper – Altitude Sports Radio 92.5
Dave Tepper – Altitude Sports Radio 92.5
We worked with the Nuggets and the Avalanche for inventory, documentary programming, archived games to fill air time. The teams were cooperative in getting us content and it was successful.
The pandemic also presented an opportunity to get creative and see what else we could talk about, let the listeners determine what the discussion was. The hosts who weren’t all in, it didn’t quite work. But we eventually found a way through it, how to talk about sports in a different way.
Digitally, we have been growing. Clients have been responding. Ratings may not say we’re a top 10 station, but we’re top 10 in revenue because of the digital audience and being able to monetize that.
Mitch Rosen – 670 The Score
We played games from the Chicago Cubs’ 2016 playoff run and people enjoyed that. The NBA was cooperative in letting us air Chicago Bulls games, which was perfect because The Last Dance was playing on ESPN, everyone wanted to talk about those games.
We’ve learned to continue pushing the stream. People have responded. They’ve gotten used to it. Get talent to promote it, just like anything that’s over the air. The audience is there.
Spike Eskin – WFAN
Games didn’t work for us. WIP is based on arguing and debate. But the team came together and I used some tricks from my music days. We got everybody at the station to talk about the same topic. Leaning into debate and the central community hub really worked out.
Kevin Graham – KNBR
We’re personality driven, our listeners are used to that, so they responded. Building a staff, learning a market was difficult while relocating. On-air talent was all remote. Communication was crucial, reaching out to staff, talking to people. That’s all you could do.
Talent talking about their lives, what was happening in the world, risked dividing the audience. But giving strong opinions made good content that listeners could relate to and responded.
Digital ratings went through the roof and we had the data to prove it. But Nielsen was telling us no one was listening. They weren’t in their cars, they weren’t going to the office. But we knew people were listening.
9:50-10:25 – Understanding Gen-Z Sports Radio Users presented by
- Leigh Jacobs – NuVoodoo
- Carolyn Gilbert – NuVoodoo
Ratings Prospects Study broke down the audience across Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z.
Current car audio systems make it more difficult to find AM radio. For Gen Z, easier to connect to a device and get to the content they want. To reach that audience, programmers have to be device-agnostic. Listeners are not devoted to traditional radio, legacy media.
Participation in sports is important for Gen Z listeners. Playing basketball or video gaming is reflected in the content they listen to and seek out. NBA, in particular, is big among this age group. In local markets, talking about your team and its players, gets strong support.
For connected cars increasingly popular with younger listeners, stations should get car dealer clients to pre-install apps so consumers don’t have to worry about finding content, navigating the dial or menu.
Social media has shown that younger listeners, Gen Z, are willing to find content anywhere they can find it. They’re the first to know what you’re doing.
Gen Z is spending much more time with podcasts, and the No. 1 place to find a podcast is in their car, using Bluetooth and the aux port. They haven’t interacted with a radio in their lifetime. Gen Z does not see a difference between podcasts and radio.
The biggest problem for Gen Z: Content they don’t connect to. They’ll tune out or quickly move on to something else they like. Casual fans connect to the NBA, NFL, and college football. Women’s sports are growing in popularity, though audience is still male-dominated.
Talk to the audience to find out what topics are important to them. Bad topics are worse than playing commercials to Gen Z listeners. Show up at events for live broadcasts, something podcasts can’t do. Be among the people, be a presence on social media.
10:25-11:00 – The State of Media Advertising presented by
- Gordon Borrell – Borrell Associates
- Steven Goldstein – Amplifi Media
Steven Goldstein – Amplifi Media
Sports radio listeners are 37 percent more likely to be podcast consumers compared to the average American. 91 percent of sports listeners are likely to listen to sports podcasts. Those in the sports content business have an advantage over other formats.
Radio has to carve out space in digital advertising because TV, newspapers, local publications are producing podcasts too and going after those clients.
Gordon Borrell – Borrell Associates
The overall message from data is that the advertising world is changing. Businesses are hiring people to handle their media because advertising is on Google and Facebook. Only the big brands are currently breaking through as exceptions.
Messaging needs to be broader because there are so many more opportunities available now. But 95 percent of those opportunities are in the digital space, not in traditional media like radio, newspapers, and television.
Radio interprets the digital opportunity as podcasting. Stations need to realize they’re in the information business in what they provide for listeners, for advertising to reach them, not just talk sports or report news. The Gen Z audience is too media-savvy for traditional forms of advertising and can be reached through podcasting, video, social media, even audio streams. So radio sellers must focus on digital — video, targeted banners — with current and new customers.
After a quick break, the 2022 BSM Summit returns for its next session.
11:15-11:50 – Kings of Content presented by
- Fred Toucher – 98.5 The Sports Hub
- Mike Felger – 98.5 The Sports Hub
Jason Barrett congratulates Mike Felger on Felger & Mazz winning the inaugural Mike and the Mad Dog Award that recognizes sports radio’s best local show.
Mike Felger – 98.5 The Sports Hub
When The Sports Hub first came on, having non-Boston fans allowed talent to take different angles on local stories, rather than just cheer on the city’s teams and athletes. We reset the topics — Patriots, Bruins, Celtics, Red Sox — constantly for a fervent audience that’s constantly tuning in, many in their car. Whatever of those four teams or topics is most important, we’re talking about that.
We take a lot of calls, but I like to do it quick, keep it fresh so it doesn’t linger. We come at sports with a more tabloid approach, having both worked at the Boston Herald. We’re not radio guys, we’re not broadcasters. But we can drive a sports segment. I don’t do second and third sports topics. I try to stick to the top two stories of the day. We don’t worry about keeping it fresh. It’s fresh for the guy getting in his car at five o’ clock.
I hate guests. Guests slow us down. We used to have Cam Neely, he got so sick of our shit that he quit. We don’t bring on beat guys. I hate doing phone interviews because the phone usually cuts out. If we do talk to people, we like to bring them in the studio.
Embrace debate? – We don’t talk beforehand. We have an email chain, but are always saying “Don’t talk, don’t talk.” Because, as you know, it’s so hard to go through it the second time. Tony and I don’t argue much. We tend to agree. I think the debate stuff can be overrated. But taking on fans, like the Baby Patriot fans, the Celtics fans we call “the Green Teamers,” that’s where the arguing comes in.
Fred Toucher – 98.5 The Sports Hub
We don’t reset as much on our show. Coming from rock radio probably influences that. But we don’t do take-driven radio, we don’t take phone calls. Mike’s show works much better in the afternoon as people are into the day. We have a much more passive audience in the morning.
We do a lot of stupid shit. Drunk fans. People in their driveway staring at a squirrel. I can’t do four hours of serious sports content like Mike. If we were on in the afternoon, we wouldn’t do nearly as well.
The six o’ clock hour is just nonsense, whatever is on our minds. Then we’ll get into the news of the day. We’ll have guests, but they have to be good on the air. The way our show works, Rich will bring something up and I will react to it.
The importance of sharing your life – I had to explain that I was going away. I was going to rehab. But I try to censor a lot of that now. My kids are older. But I was going through a bad time. We were at the height of COVID. Things weren’t going well at home. You have a relationship with the listeners and I found that extremely helpful when I came back. My suggestion is to not overshare on the air. That’s a mistake. I’ve put the brakes on that.
11:50-12:15 – BSM Summit Awards Ceremony presented by
The Champion’s Award – Adam Schefter, ESPN
Adam Schefter’s efforts in raising money for Jeff Dickerson’s son, Parker after he passed away, reaching out to the media community, to generate a tremendous amount of support is recognized.
Schefter was unable to attend the BSM Summit because he’s covering the NFL Draft Combine, but thanked those who donated on Parker’s behalf via video. The breathtaking number of donations was an example of the good social media can do, he said. Schefter dedicates the award to them.
The Jeff Smulyan Award – Traug Keller, former SVP of ESPN Radio
A video tribute to Jeff Smulyan includes many personalities from the radio world who credit him for creating the sports talk format at WFAN. The award in his honor goes to someone who has led, taken risks, and produced results in the industry. Smulyan then takes the stage to introduce Traug Keller, joking that he objected to Keller being chosen because he doesn’t work in radio.
“There is no one who is more deserving of this award than Traug Keller,” Smulyan said. Leading ESPN Audio, Keller expanded the brand beyond radio to television (via simulcast) and podcasting, creating a product that has made a major impact on the sports audio industry.
Accepting the Smulyan Award, Keller notes the “great seats” he’s had during his career at ESPN and praises the many people he’s worked with who have helped him in his success. Keller makes a comparison to this season’s Providence College basketball team and how he’s noticed that they’ve won because they enjoy working with each other. It’s something that applies to his career and something we all can learn from in our respective endeavors.
The 2022 BSM Summit takes a one-hour lunch, and then returns for the second half, led off by a conversation with ESPN’s top boss, Jimmy Pitaro.
1:30-2:15 – The Day 1 Keynote Conversation presented by
- Jimmy Pitaro – ESPN Chairman
Jason Barrett begins by asking Pitaro by asking when the Derek Jeter Cast starts and if Tom Brady will join ESPN’s NFL talent crew. Pitaro won’t comment on exact moves, but points out that the network’s inventory of NFL telecasts is increasing with its new rights deal, including more regular-season and playoff games, in addition to two upcoming Super Bowls.
The state of ESPN+ – Pitaro says the ESPN app is crucial to the network, the jewel of its content. It provides access to ESPN+ and ESPN Audio. ESPN+ is driven by live events, including exclusive UFC and La Liga events. The network will continue pursuing more rights for ESPN+, in addition to its studio shows.
In his view, ESPN needs to boost its marketing strategy for the 30 for 30 catalog, which he feels not enough people know is available on ESPN+. Pitaro believes 30 for 30 needs to be promoted by Disney along with Marvel and Star Wars content.
The future of alternate broadcasts – The “ManningCast” is a rising tide. ESPN’s internal data shows viewers switch back and forth between the regular Monday Night Football broadcast and the “ManningCast.” Golf, college football, and UFC are among the other sports that will get alternate broadcasts as part of ESPN’s deal with Omaha Productions.
“Serve the sports fan any time, anywhere.” Alternate broadcasts are a big part of ESPN’s future.
ESPN’s relationship with the NFL – Pitaro is proud of the new rights deal with the league that’s increased the inventory available to viewers and also provided the opportunity for flex scheduling that didn’t exist with previous deals. But relationships can always be improved, and ESPN will continue trying to do that. (He believes the narrative that ESPN needed to “fix” things with the NFL when he took over as the network’s president was overblown.)
Pitaro isn’t worried about over-saturation of the NFL product. If Amazon does well with Thursday Night Football, in Pitaro’s view, that helps ESPN and Monday Night Football. There was concern years ago that there was too much NFL product being offered and maybe there was some fan fatigue. But that no longer appears to be a question and ESPN is in a good position to benefit — and continue to benefit from its relationship to the NFL.
ESPN Radio’s constantly changing lineup – Stability is important. Listeners and programmers want to know that a show, a lineup of talent, will be consistent for a long term. The network feels good about its current lineup, that it’s close to stability. The deal with Good Karma Brands will help with local programming, which is still a priority for the network in addition to national content.
ESPN should be present on all platforms, traditional radio and podcasts. Terrestrial radio is as important now as it was 30 years ago, when ESPN Radio launched. It’s no different than ESPN is doing with linear television and streaming with ESPN+. Parallel paths is the philosophy.
The state of television measurement – ESPN will not shift away from Nielsen to measure ratings. The network signed up for the NielsenOne product. But there needs to be cross-platform data. The audience has to be tracked and data provided to advertisers through a number of services, not just one. ESPN will benefit from multiple partners.
2:15-2:50 – Inside The Corner Office presented by
- Chris Oliviero – Audacy New York
- Mike Thomas – Audacy Boston
- Joe Bell – Beasley Media Group Philadelphia
- Scott Sutherland – Bonneville International
Chris Oliviero – Audacy New York
Lessons from the pandemic – Losing revenue, losing listeners during the pandemic was humbling. I hope we take that humility into what we’re doing now and into the future. Not panicking may have been the most important lesson learned.
The importance of play-by-play for a station – Play-by-play deals can’t be made emotionally. Think of it logically. Radio play-by-play is much different from television play-by-play. Hardly any play-by-play airs during radio’s most important times, so the majority of content budget can’t be spent on something that doesn’t broadcast during non-prime hours.
Retaining and hiring talent – Don’t wait until the last minute to renew a contract. If you know the talent is special, why play that game of chicken? Don’t run the risk of someone coming along and snatching that talent away. And don’t risk hurting relationships.
Mike Thomas – Audacy Boston
Lessons from the pandemic – The pandemic helped digital growth tremendously. Our listeners are not in their cars anymore, which was their No. 1 place for hearing us. With smart phones and smart speakers, there’s been a major change in the audience.
Retaining and hiring talent – As there are more options for listeners, there are many more options for talent too. Some of the most talented guys are doing podcasts now. If you like the talent, growing that relationship over a number of years is vital.
Joe Bell – Beasley Media Group Philadelphia
Lessons from the pandemic – Reaching out to clients during the pandemic, asking them how we could help, strengthened our relationships with advertisers.
The importance of play-by-play for a station – Play-by-play begins by having a true relationshp with the team whose broadcasts we’re pursuing. Play-by-play is important to the success of a sports station, as we’re seeing with James Harden joining the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s really driving sports talk in our market.
2:50-3:25 – The BIG 12 presented by
- Raj Sharan – 104.3 The Fan
- Sandy Cohen – Union Broadcasting
- Ryan Hurley – 98.7 ESPN NY
- Rod Lakin – Sports Radio WIP
How did programmers extend their brand, generate engagement to take advantage of interest or provide a boost during slow times, and create stronger relationships with advertisers?
Raj Sharan – 104.3 The Fan
We launched campaigns with the Avalanche and Nuggets, both of whom were great with cooperation and showed interest in reaching fans online. Video became vital to creating these campaigns. We could create video around our regular radio shows, but also produce original programming for the website, but also Facebook and Twitter. But on-air talent is important. You really need the right host and we had that with Rachel Vigil.
Sandy Cohen – Union Broadcasting
Campaigns are built around events, such as the Kansas City Chiefs season. That included video studio programming. Listeners and viewers responded, and so did advertisers when they toured the studio and saw the online product. We can create a space for a client to be an anchor sponsor. But finding the right sponsor who sees a potential audience is key.
Ryan Hurley – 98.7 ESPN NY
Our jobs are to entertain and to create revenue. Events have helped attract listeners and clients. Some events were exclusives for listeners who won spots on the air. Spaces are created for clients in the campaigns.
Weekly paid guests also have live appearances in their deals. For instance, Sam Darnold (when he played for the Jets) did a private Zoom during COVID. Technology created opportunities to get creative with promotions, even when people couldn’t meet in public. Such events became in-person once it was safe, as we did with Michael Kay.
Rod Lakin – Sports Radio WIP
A virtual tailgate experience was successful for us when I was at Arizona Sports. Exclusive Zoom calls with on-air hosts and special NFL guests. Analysts could come by and join the tailgate. Listeners could win prize packs. Sponsors responded as listeners showed interest and support.
The end of the Philadelphia Eagles’ season created an opportunity after the Super Bowl. Fans were upset and wanted to talk about who the new quarterback could be. “94 WIP Picks the QB” involved listeners and staff making their pitches for the Eagles’ next quarterback. Fans could vote in a poll online. A particular show could be centered on a particular candidate, like Aaron Rodgers. And it built toward Angelo Cataldi making his pick at the end of the campaign. It worked well in generating interest during a typically slow time.
A brief timeout for attendees to recharge, and then we’re back to close up Day 1 of the Summit with two more excellent sessions.
3:40-4:15 – Planting Your Flag In a Digital World presented by
- Kevin Jones – Blue Wire
- Logan Swaim – The Volume
- Carl Scott – Meadowlark Media
- Phil Mackey – Hubbard Radio
Carl Scott – Meadowlark Media
Key to making brand stand out – Authenticity is key in breaking through the noise. Be media-agnostic. The best screen wins. Be efficient with your talent. Not every host or show is suited for every platform. But some, like Dan Le Batard, works across platforms.
Value of live content in an on-demand space – Live events make a precious thing for us. It’s an opportunity for fans to get together, create excitement for the two times a week that Dan does a live show on YouTube. We can also create content around live events, like leading up to the Super Bowl or the national championship game.
When you know something isn’t working – I like to look at weekly downloads, where you should see some increase if something is doing well. Is it moving upward, especially if there are more shows available and people can binge? If people decide they don’t want to listen to more, that’s usually a sign.
Logan Swaim – The Volume
Biggest opportunity to connect with the audience – Barriers to entry have disappeared. In the past, to find talent, you’d have to be an exec who gets tapes. There were steps to follow to discover talent or have talent reach you. Now, with social media, we can find talent much more easily, sometimes almost unintentionally.
Value of live content in an on-demand space – With YouTube and live content, you’re creating appointment television. There’s an immediacy, an excitement behind that. Live also creates a community of online fans who like to talk shit to each other, consume something in real time.
Kevin Jones – Blue Wire
The role of video – We’re finding our most success, discovering talent on Tik Tok. On YouTube, we’re looking more for existing creators, someone who covers Syracuse basketball, as an example, not trying to figure out a fit.
Predictions for sports media content – Amazon, Apple, and Hulu are getting more into national video content because they don’t have a local component. You’re going to see those companies get into live sports in a big way, which they’ve already started. As those large companies snatch up big broadcast rights, that creates spaces to work in for new content.
When you know something isn’t working – We’ve had some projects that we had to take out behind the barn and say goodbye to. Downloads probably tell you, especially early on, if there’s an audience. But we’ve shut some things down when they didn’t do what we hoped.
4:15-4:50 – Finding Diverse Leaders and Influencers presented by
- Pablo Torre – ESPN
- David Roberts – ESPN
- Debbie Brown – Good Karma Brands
As the population becomes less white, local radio stations, on-air talent, and program directors need to reflect that change. More new blood needs to be discovered and hired. Right now, on-air hosts aren’t adjusting with the times. If the audience is changing, programming needs to adapt to the market.
Pablo Torre – ESPN
This is not a profession I ever thought I would be in. People would hear I worked at ESPN and assumed I worked in tech support, not writing or on the air. But don’t make diverse hires just because you feel guilty. There are plenty of candidates out there who don’t need that.
I’m earnestly grateful to hear from people who tell me that I’ve shown them that this is a possible career for them, which is something they didn’t think before. Every time I get that kind of message from a young person, it means the world to me.
David Roberts – ESPN
Diversity in radio – There’s room for improvement. The numbers underscore the opportunity available. Diversity is not just something done to check a box. It’s something that can help your business. Commitment to diversity requires that the net for applicants be broad.
Using Get Up as an example, it drew an audience of 15 percent African American at first. But the numbers told us the audience was 45 percent. So we had to change and as more faces of color got on those shows — the Stephen A. Smiths, the Marcus Spears — the audience grew. People want to see people like them on the screen.
Looking for talent in local markets – Instead of just going to minority conferences or sending minority talent there to recruit, attend those conferences. You need to go and recruit, meet the people who could make a future impact. Maybe that talent won’t resonate, but the playing field has been leveled and then you can make decisions the way you did before.
Debbie Brown – Good Karma Brands
On prioritizing representation – In the past, hiring might be based on who you’d like to have a beer with. That doesn’t apply anymore. We’re doing well, but we can do better. Representation has to be at the top. The table has to be bigger.
We’re in the process of updating our internship program. Previously, it was an unpaid internship program but that really limits the number of candidates who can apply. So we’re changing to a paid program to attract a greater number of applicants. And we’re expanding the pool to community colleges, areas where we may not have heard from before, not just the largest universities.
When we identify a candidate, we have them talk to a number of other people in that organization, usually four other people, and look at them for a variety of roles to see if they could be good for other jobs they may not have considered. It’s also important that the people they talk to are diverse, to open everyone up to a variety of experience.
Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas
“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”
Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.
The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.
It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.
For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.
Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.
But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.
I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.
Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.
Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.
Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.
Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.
You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.
Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.
Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media
“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”
Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.
As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.
As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.
I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.
But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.
Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.
I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.
Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.
These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.
If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.
I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.
Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure
“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”
If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.
When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.
Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.
It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.
In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.
I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.
We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.
Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.
This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.
Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.
Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.
I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.
For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.
That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.
But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.
Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.
How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.
The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.
Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.
Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.
You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.
I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.
Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.
One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.
Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.
It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.
Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?
I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.