Finding yourself in a career rut isn’t a question of if but rather when, in the sports radio business. How you get out of those ruts, can ultimately determine the path your career takes. Dan McDowell found himself in a rut in the mid-90’s while hopping around small stations in Ohio. He wanted something bigger and more exciting but he was struggling to find a way to make it happen. McDowell’s plan was simple: send radio reel tapes and resumes to any attractive openings he found across the country. And he sent a lot. The problem was that he rarely received any interest back, or even a response.
There came a point where McDowell started to wonder if he was going about things the right way. He then came to the realization he didn’t really know what a great resume looked like or what a great demo tape sounded like. How was he supposed to improve his situation if he wasn’t exactly sure what to send to a Program Director? McDowell thought of a way to see how other broadcasters were doing it. And he came up with a brilliant idea.
“I would go to Radio.com back then and look at the ads for the things I wanted,” said McDowell. “Some of the addresses just had P.O. Boxes. My mom had a P.O. Box in Cleveland, so I wrote an ad, describing exactly what I wanted, sports talk, mid-market, blah,blah,blah, send tape and resume to this P.O. Box.”
McDowell got around 100 tapes sent to his mom’s P.O. Box from people across the country, including some from hosts he was familiar with. He got to look at every resume and listen to all the tapes to see exactly what people were doing. Granted, McDowell humbly says he doesn’t know if this idea helped him out in the end, but it gave him the access to really see what the competition looked like and what it was doing.
“I would just try to set myself apart with little things,” McDowell said. “Like, perhaps, since you would send a cassette tape, maybe I had hand written something on it. I saw some people had really nice pre-printed things on them instead. I would try to do that, just to make it look more professional. Even some things people were putting on their resume that I didn’t think was worthy to put on a resume. Oh, this guy is putting that on there? Yeah, I’ll put my high school play-by-play experience on there.”
Mixed with some luck and great timing, McDowell’s intuition helped him get out of his career rut and into a major market. The only potential issue was that he spent the majority of his career working in small Ohio towns such as Athens, Marietta and Zanesville. The big break was in Dallas and he had no ties to the city. That’s when Bruce Gilbert came in.
To tell the story of Gilbert’s incredible impact on McDowell, you first have to know how the two initially met one another. McDowell was working in Dayton and was actively trying to leave the market. He had a friend working in Cleveland that knew this, so he contacted him about a recent job opportunity he was turned down from, but had an amazing experience with the PD.
“He said, I didn’t get this job opening in Dallas, but the PD called me,” McDowell said. “Bruce listened to my friend’s tape and gave him some tips on how he could improve. My buddy said, hey, you might not get the job, but at least you’ll get feedback.”
McDowell sent a resume and reel to Gilbert, in hopes of nothing more than to get feedback from a major market PD. The thing was, Gilbert liked what he heard and requested McDowell to send more. He wanted to hear an entire hour of his show in Dayton. Not long after, the two were in negotiations to bring McDowell to Dallas to host at 1310-AM The Ticket.
The year was 1999 and The Ticket was celebrating five years on the air. If the job opportunity in a market like Dallas wasn’t intimidating enough, working at a station that had built up some longevity certainly was. The station was really starting to hit its stride and create an identity when McDowell walked through the doors for the first time. He was paired up with Bob Sturm and BaD Radio began. But like any new show, especially with a host without any ties to the city, it took a while before the audience accepted him.
“I think that took probably a decade,” McDowell said. “Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but I was not accepted right away. Bob could tell you that. We used to call it a List of 100. I’m talking about people at the station and other media members in Dallas. There were at least 100 people that thought they should be sitting next to Bob and not me, because I was just some guy out in Dayton that nobody knew or heard of. I had been to two hockey games my whole life and the Stars were in the middle of a Stanley Cup run. Email was the main source of communication and I got my fair share of negativity. It took a while, for sure.”
Regardless of how McDowell felt the audience wasn’t embracing him during those early years, he never doubted for a second the support he got from Gilbert. Routinely, McDowell and Sturm were told by Gilbert they belonged at The Ticket and should be proud of what they’ve accomplished. Even during airchecks, which had always been awkward for McDowell in his previous jobs. Gilbert came with advice but also incredible optimism for how the show was doing. There was a genuine belief from Gilbert in the success of the show.
“He’s meant everything,” McDowell said. “He was amazing and he’s still amazing. He’s still the greatest. We wouldn’t have survived with anyone else. Bob and I were outsiders. The Ticket was already a thing. The station had been on air for five years and it was so intimidating. Bruce kept telling us we belonged here. That meant so much to me. The guy that matters believed in us.”
Behind Gilbert’s steadfast belief, the show started to pick up steam. In McDowell’s mind, two things in particular helped fuel the rise. First, was the famous on-air spat with ESPN College Football Analyst Lee Corso. In the early 2000’s Corso was on the air with BaD Radio and he didn’t particularly care for McDowell’s sarcasm. So much, that Corso called him a jerk on the air and left the interview after just a couple of minutes. The Ticket listeners made Corso the butt of the joke and even went as far to create signs with references to the interview, which were brought to College Gameday locations in the following years. The incident had an enormous effect on McDowell gaining the approval of listeners.
Second, was the approval he gained with the popular afternoon show on the station, The Hardline.
“Those guys really started to embrace us as a show that could do bits and be funny,” McDowell said. That and the Lee Corso incident, in my head, that was a big turning point for a lot of the listeners and I got a lot of good, positive feedback. I’ve always thought that was a key moment.”
BaD Radio never turned back after that. For several years, they helped grow the identity of The Ticket, which was sports takes but with incredible comedy and bits. But at some point, one way or another, every great radio show comes to an end. BaD Radio was no exception. A massive shakeup at The Ticket happened in 2020 after Mike Rhyner surprisingly announced his retirement. Sturm was sent to afternoons to co-host The Hardline with Corby Davidson and replace Rhyner. This left McDowell with a new partner. A situation he hadn’t been in for over 20 years.
“I was very scared in the beginning,” McDowell said. “Bob and I had great chemistry and we were friends, both on and off the air. Then it was, well maybe the only reason we ever had any following was Bob? I didn’t really believe that, but maybe people will just revolt against this. The great thing is Jake (Kemp) and I had already been working together for 10 years. He was the producer and the main fill-in host. That made it a lot easier.”
McDowell, Kemp and the other voices of The Hang Zone let the show organically morph into its own identity. What was a scary new venture at first for McDowell is now something he’s incredibly happy with. In a way, it’s even given him the passion and stamina to continue to do sports radio for several more years.
“It was a revitalized type thing,” McDowell said. “I wonder if that’s the case for Bob, too. When you do something for 20 years in a row, not that it was stale, but there’s a newness I like. It’s kind of a re-energized type thing.”
It’s a new time slot with a new co-host and a new show name, but the past two years have been enjoyable for McDowell. He doesn’t show any signs of wanting to leave The Ticket anytime soon. That would be a fitting story for someone that has played such a key role in The Ticket’s success over the years. McDowell would be quick to tell you the credit needs to mostly go to guys like Rhyner, Davidson, Sturm and others, but you can’t downplay what he’s meant to Dallas sports radio. One could make an argument The Ticket has the most well-known identity in sports radio. McDowell helped build that.
“I’m happy to just be a tiny slice of it,” McDowell said. “The credit goes to the guys that started it. I credit Bruce and his support, but being in the middle of those guys when it was already a legendary station when it was just five years old, helped us succeed. That The Ticket is thought of in that way, and that I’m here as a piece of it, is great.”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.