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Whitey Gleason is Finding the Fun Again at Sactown Sports

“It’s been important to establish first that, look, this is important to you. It’s important to me too, but I’m still going to have some fun with it.”

Brian Noe

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A photo of Whitey Gleason and the Sactown Sports logo
(Photo: Sactown Sports)

Sometimes we forget why we committed to something in the first place. It’s a silly dynamic but true. We committed to a relationship because we really like the other person. We dedicated ourselves to a project because we saw the value in it. We devoted ourselves to sports radio because it’s fun. Someone who hasn’t forgotten why he became a sports radio host in the first place is Whitey Gleason of Sactown Sports.

Despite all of the negative stuff — losing a gig, getting heckled by trolls (I call them fun suckers), and the arguments along the way — Gleason hasn’t lost sight of the feeling that this is fun. It’s not trigonometry. It isn’t criminal law. Sports and sports radio are fun.

It might seem like a simple point, but you’d be surprised how many people in the industry have lost sight of this concept. It’s refreshing when a host like Gleason remains undeterred.

Originally from Vallejo, which is in the North Bay Area, Gleason comes from a sports-minded family. His dad was a sports writer and his uncle pitched in the majors. His mom’s dad was also a really good player and actually pitched in the Coast League for a while.

Gleason is a smart guy and makes several interesting points in our conversation below. He talks about the order of being serious before having fun. Gleason also talks about the value of tripping up your co-host and using criticism to your advantage. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: You’ve been at it for a couple of months now on your new show with Kyle Draper. How are things going in general?

Whitey Gleason: It’s going really well. It’s cool because Kyle and I, we really didn’t know each other. So in a sense, we’re still getting to know each other a little bit. But the main thing is the foundation for everything is we both really care about the show, so I know everything is going to be fine. Kyle’s a really cool guy. He’s obviously very accomplished already. We’ve got different backgrounds; he’s from Philly and I’m from California, so it’s really interesting.

The energy is different than some other shows I’ve done in the past because we do disagree openly and with a lot of energy on things. Be that the 49ers, or what the Kings should do about this or that. We also have a good understanding of, hey, we’re just talking sports here. We disagree and then we move on. The best thing to me is that it’s very clear that we both have the best interest of the show at heart. It’s been a lot of fun.

I just had someone telling me Friday that, oh, your show has a different kind of energy. I was like, what do you mean? They said, well, you guys kind of go at each other a little bit. [Laughs] I haven’t really been on a show where that’s as much a part of it and so for me, having done it as long as I have, to do something that’s new in that sense, it’s really exciting.

BN: How do you approach PM drive compared to AM drive or middays?

WG: That’s a great question. I’ve heard, and there are so many different theories now. I don’t know that anybody really knows, so much of this is guesswork. But going back to 12 years ago or whatever when PPM first came to Sacramento, I’d heard that, hey, we’re realizing afternoon drive should be more like morning drive used to be.

That said, I think fans in the morning, they want a little more, hey, let’s go, let’s wake up. It’s been my experience that fans in the afternoon, they’re a little bit more ready in general for real substantial conversation.

Me being a morning guy originally, it’s kind of my natural thing, it’s not that I try to be funny, but my natural inclination is to try to every so often remind everybody, you know what, we’re just talking about basketball here. And it’s supposed to be fun. I think it’s changed a little bit with PPM. I think afternoon drive is a little more fun than traditionally it used to be years ago.

BN: That’s interesting. Morning radio tends to sound more upbeat, you can loosen the collar a little bit more. PM drive can sound like, all right guys, the games are about to begin, let’s get down to brass tacks. [Laughs] So you’re saying it’s a little bit different than that now?

WG: Well, that’s what I’ve heard. I think I’m just going to always bring that different sensibility to it because it’s just my natural inclination. I think there’s plenty of room for that too. Fans don’t want just the hardcore stuff all the time. This is what I believe based on what I’ve done; you have to establish with the people that are listening, that are really fans that, look, I know what I’m talking about. And I’m going to prove it to you here by telling you this and talking to these people, and they acknowledged they know what I’m talking about. Once that’s established, then I can have some fun.

If you do it the other way around, people just think this guy is a goofball. He doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about. [Laughs] So to me, it’s been important to establish first that, look, this is important to you. It’s important to me too, but I’m still going to have some fun with it. But first, I have to show people, it’s okay, I know what I’m doing here. I know what I’m talking about. I’m with you on that.

BN: Yeah, I’d almost be like driving down the road, where you stay on the interstate for a little bit, and you’re like, I think I know a shortcut. And they’re like, okay. But if you just start with the shortcut, they’re like, this guy’s radical.

WG: [Laughs] Let me out of this car.

BN: [Laughs] Yeah. What do you think the driver’s responsibility is on a radio show?

WG: The main thing is to keep it moving. And set things up in such a way that, look, this makes sense, right? That’s not just the driver, everybody’s in on that. You have a game plan, a general plan. Then I think the driver’s main responsibility is just to recognize, this is going great, we stay with that.

Of course, the producer helps too. Everybody is part of this, but the driver is the one making that decision, moment to moment, we’re staying with this now. Or you know what? This just isn’t, for whatever reason, it’s not clicking. We’re going to have to find something else. I think primarily, it’s just to keep that finger on the pulse of does the show have energy? It doesn’t have to be manic energy. It just has to be, is something happening or are things just kind of ehh. That, to me, is the most important role is keeping it moving, keeping it interesting.

BN: What’s it like for one part of your brain to be focused on keeping it moving, driving the show, and then the other part of your brain to be really focused on whatever topic you’re talking about as well? How do you describe balancing both things?

WG: I’ve tried to describe it, I know you’ve done it, so you know as well as I do what it’s like. It’s hard because if you think about it, I don’t think you can do it. You kind of just have to let half of your brain be creative. It’s like you’ve got two gears going. You’ve got your creative brain; this is what I have to say about that. This is what I think. Oh, this is a good line. This is a good point. Then the other half of your brain is, what time is it? When do we have to break? We have to tease.

When it’s going well, the two gears kind of line up and they mesh and they keep each other turning. Every so often, when things are gummed up or you’re not sure what you’re going to say, and the gears stop, then you’ve got to back out and restart it. But yeah, it’s hard to describe. I don’t know if you can try to do it so much, as you just have to do it. Then you realize, oh, okay, these two things kind of work independently of each other, and yet when they’re meshing, that’s how the show is propelled forward.

BN: Yeah, I hear you, man. As someone who was involved in the 95.7 The Game versus KNBR battle, what do you think about the recent layoffs at KNBR and where that rivalry stands right now?

WG: It’s just sad. I know some of those people that got let go. I’ve been there where you’re doing a good job and everyone agrees, you’re doing a good job, but sorry. So that’s unfortunate. It just seems like it’s kind of shrinking. I will say this, most recently when I was at The Game, I was there from 2019 to just last summer, I filled in that whole time. I got a good amount of work, but I was filling in, so I’m not taking any credit for this.

What Matt Nahigian did there in terms of overhauling KNBR in the ratings, that’s so huge. That took a long time and a lot of hard work from some really talented people.

In 2011, I went there as part of the morning show when they started The Game. I remember it was almost like we’re looking up at a mountain that was KNBR. It’s like, we’ve got to get to the top of that? And they’re like, don’t worry about it, just don’t look all the way to the top, just see what you can do.

We didn’t get very far there. That’s the one thing that stands out to me. That’s nothing against KNBR. I remember when they started as a sports station, it’s a legendary station. But I think, Matt Nahigian and all the staff there at The Game, they deserve a great deal of credit for getting the ratings actually to a point where they were better than KNBR. That’s staggering.

BN: What do you think has been the most important thing you’ve learned over the years from any of the program directors that you’ve had?

WG: For me, it’s be willing to look at every piece of criticism. I know when I started, you bristle. Part of it, for me anyway, you get a little anxious. It’s like you think you’re doing something well and someone says, “Hey, what about this?” And you’re like, “No, I’m feeling good about everything, I don’t have room for your criticism right now.”

But I’ve learned, and not just PDs but also sometimes listeners. Every time someone gives you a note or criticism, you take it and you look at every aspect of it all the way around. Is there anything here that can help me get better?

Sometimes there is, and sometimes it’s not even exactly what was intended but an open mind to that. It’s like, hey, someone’s criticizing you or they’ve got some notes, all right, it’s a chance for me to get better. You look at that and absorb it and get better, and look at it as an opportunity. Sometimes you just have to look at it and go, ehh, there’s nothing here. Thanks. You nod, all right, you got it, and then you throw it aside. [Laughs] It wasn’t easy for me, but learning that, all right, great, this is a chance for me to get better, I think that’s the best way to go.

BN: We always talk about what’s in a basketball player’s bag. Maybe they worked on their lefty finish or developed a step-back three. What do you think you’ve been able to improve on the most over the years that’s now in your sports talk bag?

WG: One of the things I’ve been working on lately is just making sure that I make points more succinctly. It’s easy to say, I think the 49ers are really good this year. It’s just so much better to say, the 49ers are the best team in the league. That seems really obvious, but it’s just the economy of language is better, so it’s more direct.

Plus, obviously, people pay more attention to it if you say, this is the way it is. They’re going to pay more attention than if you go, I think maybe blah, blah, blah. It seems like an obvious point, but it’s something I try to always keep in mind. It’s really, really helpful and it just helps propel things forward a lot.

BN: When you’ve worked with so many different people along the way, whether it’s a writer, a TV broadcaster, a young radio guy, or an ex-athlete, how would you describe those differences?

WG: I don’t know how I describe them, but I’d say it’s just a matter of figuring out where people tend to come from, and then adjusting everything so that you can get the most out of that, if that makes sense. Everyone has something to offer, so it’s not like, hey, don’t do that, do this. It’s like, all right, that’s what you’re doing?

Everybody has something unique to offer, so it’s just a matter of listening and learning how to set them up. I also like to learn how to trip them up here and there because that keeps them interested. [Laughs] It’s just learning everybody’s game a little bit and their approach and where they’re coming from and making sure you work that in as best you can to the whole fabric of the show.

BN: What would be an example of how you would go about tripping someone up?

WG: Well, like Kyle Draper right now. We had a disagreement a few weeks ago about Keon Ellis, who is a Kings player that is not playing much. The Kings were playing terribly and I suggested that maybe they should play him a little more. Kyle didn’t think so. It turned out the next game he started, so every so often when we talk about Keon Ellis, hey, did you see that he started? Things like that.

And Kyle is from Philly, so he’s a big Eagles fan. He owned up. Last week, he wore a Brock Purdy jersey in. I gave him a ton of credit, but obviously right now it’s easy when we’re talking about the 49ers to kind of trip him up about anything going on with the Eagles. He was not a big Brock Purdy guy, so anytime I want to, did you see what Brock Purdy did yesterday?

Do you know the last time somebody completed 70% of his passes four games in a row, do you know who that was? It was Joe Montana. How about that? Little things like that. You’ve got to make sure they’re okay with this, right? Because you don’t want to make anyone upset. They’re not taking this personally. It’s good. It’s all in fun. All right, it’s a play on.

BN: How about future goals? Is there anything that you would really love to experience or accomplish?

WG: I would love to cover an NBA Finals in Sacramento. That’s not so much a goal because it’s out of my control, but that would be really cool. I’m really focused on what we’re doing on this show. I love doing radio shows. That’s what I want to do. And I’ve been doing it long enough now where I don’t know how much longer I’ll be doing it, but I want this show to be as good as it can be. That’s what I want. I work on that day-to-day. That’s really my goal. You can really immerse yourself in the day-to-day and I just like it. I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing that.

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WWE’s Paul Heyman Joins the 2024 BSM Summit

“I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes.”

Jason Barrett

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The final few weeks leading up to the BSM Summit are my least favorite time of the entire process. Between last-minute preparations, unexpected changes, laying out a schedule that fits everyone’s schedule, giving speakers direction, and handling the creative for the banners, programs and what appears on the screen, it can be overwhelming. This event isn’t created and produced by a large organization. It’s done by BSM’s small team and a few volunteers. There is no production team. That’s me. There is no sales team. That’s Stephanie. The creative squad that brainstorms ahead of the show? That’s me peppering Dave Greene, Demetri Ravanos and Stephanie Eads with every single thing that pops into my head.

I share this because on Monday I’ll be releasing our full schedule for the 2024 BSM Summit. You’ll find it on BarrettSportsMedia.com/Summit. If you type in BSMSummit.com it will take you to that page. I’m also hoping to announce our final collection of speakers. You guys will like some of the folks coming to speak who we’ve yet to announce.

Booking this event month’s in advance could be easily done. I could execute a radio conference in my sleep. But I’m not interested in easy. I’m focused on delivering a two-day event that unites professionals across the entire media universe, many who you may never share space with again. I believe in this concept because it helps you learn, stay sharp, discover what others do to create success that you may not have thought about, and in the process, you build new connections.

Creating an event that dives into radio, podcasting, social media, newsletters, television, video execution, sales and promotions, the economic climate, and programming strategy, requires thinking outside the box and swinging for the fences. Think about it. Where else are you going to hear the CEO of a radio company one minute, two local sports talk show hosts the next, four digital executives after that, four social media superstars once they’re done, and cap it all off with discussions about business, entertainment, and the future? It may not be perfect or rolled out the way a few would prefer but it works for us. By the time we hit the stage on March 13-14, that’s when the six months of hard work pay off and the fun begins.

Speaking of fun, if you’ve been to a Summit before, you’ve heard me connect the world of sports media to professional wrestling. The battle for audience attention, understanding how to leverage social media, incorporate advertising, create interest in on-air talent, and design programming to capture ratings are something the two world’s have in common. We’ve been fortunate to have Shawn Michaels and Eric Bischoff speak at prior shows but never have we had a speaker involved who’d be part of the upcoming main event for WrestleMania.

I am thrilled to share that on Wednesday March 13th in New York City, we will welcome a man who has experienced every part of the wrestling and entertainment business both on-air and behind the scenes. It is an honor to have the great Paul Heyman joining us at this year’s Summit.

If you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Heyman, here’s the cliff notes version of what you need to know. Currently, Paul serves as the special counsel for WWE Universal Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. Reigns has been world champion for 1269 days, and the storyline he’s involved in (The Bloodline) has been a massive hit on television and digital for the WWE. Roman will be competing in the main event at the WWE’s largest show of the year, WrestleMania with Heyman in his corner. The event has become so big that The Rock has returned to become part of the story.

As an on-air character, Heyman is gifted in his ability to command the audience’s attention. His promos are always well thought out, well executed, and interesting. Learning about his process as a talent and what goes into creating a compelling monologue is going to be a real treat for on-air folks in the room.

In addition, Paul is an accomplished writer, executive, promoter and booker. He’s served as the lead writer for both WWE RAW and Smackdown, leading both to the top of the ratings charts. He’s also been on the other side as the leader of an underdog promotion (ECW) tasked with building a brand and competing against the top dog, WWE. Paul is also well versed in advertising having co-founded the Looking4Larry Agency, which is known for its wildly imaginative campaigns for 2K Sports, NASCAR, Smart Cups, Monster Trucks, EA Sports and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Las Vegas.

Talent have praised his creative ideas and ability to design and structure compelling television. Audiences have emotionally connected to his on-air commentaries, and on Wednesday March 13th, BSM Summit attendees will learn what it takes to create, cut through, and command the room’s attention when I sit down with Paul Heyman for an in-depth conversation.

A reminder, tickets for the 2024 BSM Summit are on-sale through BSMSummit.com and the BSM Store. Prices will increase on March 4th so act now and save money before it’s too late. I hope to see you in NYC in three weeks.

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Sports Broadcasts Should Remain Political-Free Zones

There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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A cartoon depicting political candidates talking sports
Credit: Maia Lathrop / Clarion

Political thoughts and ads are everywhere. It seems like everything these days is politicized. Sports hasn’t escaped either. Athletes take stands, some commentators have made their political positions well known too.

In this case, politics is more of a catch-all term. It doesn’t just mean Democrat or Republican, it can mean making a comment on any hot button issue in America or anywhere else. Controversies that create a public stir. We’ve had a few over the course of the last few weeks that drummed up lots of emotion and certainly could have been avoided.

The most recent example took place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Saturday on TNT. As I’m sure you know by now, Kenny Smith had some things to say about the Steph Curry/Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout. Such choice things as, “She should have shot it from the women’s line, that would have been a fair contest.” Ionescu more than held her own, with 26 points which would have qualified her for the men’s finals in the event. Smith’s partner Reggie Miller didn’t make things much better, when he chimed in, “According to you, you want her to be playing with dolls.” Smith’s response: “Playing with dolls is good, too.” The fallout was swift thanks to social media.

Smith went on to Stephen A. Smith’s ESPN show earlier in the week to defend his commentary. “I think it’s much ado about nothing, honestly,” Smith said, when asked about the controversy. “Most people who know basketball understood what I was talking about. Actually, I was advocating for her, more than anything else, because basketball is muscle memory. So, he practices from one range, she practices from another.” Smith further explained, “Most people just don’t check the tape, they want to just check the bait. My history and track record speaks for itself,” Smith said. “I was clueless why people thought I didn’t want equality.”

Can. Worms. Opened. I get it, social media can make things appear one way when they are intended in another. My question to Smith and Miller, why make the commentary at all in that moment? Ionescu is a terrific basketball player and shooter. Everybody knew the rules going into the exhibition, so why make a stink about it? Or, if the need outweighs the caution, how about putting some notes down on paper so that you aren’t taken out of context? There are ways to make the commentary smoother. It’s not like the event was a surprise.

Talk shows fall into a different light. That’s all about opinion and it is likely up to each individual to understand how far to push it. Hosts should know their markets and from there can figure out what may or may not work. Topics like these generally lead to more fan engagement, because everyone has an opinion. It’s up to the host or hosts to keep the topic ‘on the rails’ or it becomes a free for all.

When it comes to announcers, hosts and reporters in the industry, mistakes can happen. I get that. It’s live and sometimes thoughts can go awry. We’ve seen it countless times. My question is this, why even go there? What is the benefit? Some like to try and make a name for themselves, to be controversial just for the sake of “look at me” or “listen to me” and trying to make headlines. That’s kind of sad to me. There is more to lose than to gain in these cases.

We’ve seen cases of misspeaking and/or controversial ‘hot button’ statements made on air that have proven costly to livelihoods. One of the more recent moments took place in May 2023. Glen Kuiper and the A’s were in Kansas City and had visited the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum earlier in the day. He was discussing the visit on air when he dropped the n-word. His claim was that his pronunciation of “negro” was misheard. After an investigation, he was fired. Kuiper was one of the best local television announcers.

Before that Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic, making a homophobic remark. Brennaman was pulled from the broadcast mid-game and suspended. The Reds later told Brennaman that he would not be returning, which prompted his resignation. To his credit Brennaman owned it and is trying to improve himself as a person. He’s been forgiven by the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, after he attended several meetings with leaders. They weren’t easy as he told me a couple of years ago, but he made the extreme effort.

If there’s one entity in sports broadcasting that needs to stay out of the fray, and be ‘politic proof’ it’s the sports broadcast and telecast. The booth needs to remain pure. It needs to be a sanctuary for fans and broadcasters alike. There aren’t many fans that are tuning into a baseball, basketball, football or hockey broadcast to learn about your opinions about anything else but the game. Fans look to escape that when listening to or watching a game. Sports is the place we go to forget about the real world for 3-4 hours at a time.

We all have opinions about things in the sport and out of it. Opinions about the game you are broadcasting is what you’re there for, right? For example, I can’t stand the ‘ghost runner’ at 2nd base in extra innings in Major League Baseball. It’s gimmicky and takes away from the way the game was meant to be played. Me expressing that opinion as the game heads to extras is appropriate, as long as you don’t lose track of the game. My thoughts on the Presidential race or a Senate race is inconsequential in the scope of my baseball broadcast. Be engaging to your audience about things they care about in the moment, the game.

I hate when people tell us in the industry to “stick to sports”. Nothing grates on me more. I keep thinking, oh, because I talk about sports, that’s all I know? So, all that doctors know about is medicine then, right? It’s a simple-minded criticism, but I have to say, in these cases, in a booth, we should stick to the sports aspect of things.  There’s a time and place for opinions on other things, but during a game isn’t that time or place. Be smart and think before you speak.

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Jeff Rickard Understands The Benefits of Attending the BSM Summit

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Jeff Rickard is one of the truly familiar faces of the BSM Summit. He’s not involved in the planning or with the company, but it’s an event he never misses.

“It went from a small group in Chicago the first year to recognition from everyone in our industry, and there’s a lot to be gained when we all get together from different markets and cities,” said Rickard of the event’s growth. “We’re not competing against each other. Instead, we’re there to bring each other ideas, lift each other up, and give each other not just support necessarily, but different ways of looking at and doing things. It allows you to kind of take some energy from another building and bring it back to your own.”

Since the BSM Summit first launched as an invite-only event, Rickard has held jobs in Indianapolis, Boston and Charlotte. In fact, it was at the 2022 Summit in New York where he had his first meeting that would lead to him taking the reins at WFNZ.

Different jobs have come with different situations. Rickard has been able to talk with fellow attendees about translators, transitions to FM, and building digital strategies. He appreciates the networking opportunities that exist at the Summit, but the access to new points of view have helped him grow as a programmer.

“Over the past five or six years, the industry has been growing up a lot,” he says. “In the last, I don’t know, three to four years, I think BSM has helped that along the way.”

The “radio is dying” narrative is a popular one. We can pretend that it only exists outside of our industry, but how many of us know someone very much inside the industry that exclusively speaks the language of doom and gloom when asked about future goals and plans? 

Rickard says that coming to the Summit is a necessity for anyone stuck in or around that mindset. Radio may not be as popular as ubiquitous as it used to be, but there is still enthusiasm for sports radio. That is something to feed off of!

“Local sports radio, if done right, will always attract an audience, because [listeners] can go to Sirius XM and they can go to ESPN and they can get the main stories of the day, and they can talk about the Chiefs winning another Super Bowl, and they can talk about if the Golden State Warriors being past their prime,” he says. “That’s all great, but if you’re in Indianapolis or Charlotte and you want to hear about respectively the Pacers or the Hornets, you know that we’re going to be talking about them. I think we’ve learned about the things that our local audience is going to want.”

Lessons Rickard has learned at past BSM Summits have had a major impact in Charlotte. WFNZ’s cume isn’t just up since he arrived. It has nearly quadrupled. 

According to Rickard, that is the result of valuing all perspectives. He’s a programmer, but that doesn’t mean he is only paying attention to sessions featuring other programmers. He also isn’t focused only on executives that could offer him the next opportunity. Rickard encourages any programmer that attends the BSM Summit to come and take notes when talent from other markets are on stage. 

“You have to realize that they’re not on a level below you. They are in large part you’re partners,” he says. “I always enjoy listening to guys that are highly successful, at those summits, talk about what motivates them, what they’re thinking about, how they go ahead and put a show together. There’s a reason we hire those talented people because they’re really good at what they do. They’re really good at attracting an audience, and they’re better at holding that audience. That’s why they’re speaking at a conference like BSM.”

Day-to-day operations are always on the minds of the people that attend the BSM Summit. When Jeff Rickard comes to New York next month though, he wants to hear conversations about the bigger picture. Whether it is from the stage or at networking events, he wants to be part of the conversations that are fundamental to the future of radio as a medium and broadcasting as a business. The one at the forefront of his mind? Audience measurement.

“We’ve been dealing with Nielsen for a long time,” he says. “There’s good, there’s bad. We all understand the system and how it works. But with so many of our listeners coming to us now through an app or coming to us by downloading what we’re doing online, they’re coming to us straight to the website. We’re starting to be able to kind of pick and choose our own numbers. We can see with certain day parts and certain guests or certain topics that, ‘wow, a lot of people checked into the app at that particular time.’ 

“So I think moving forward, the biggest thing for our industry is how do we continue to more accurately assess who our audience is and what’s really happening there on a moment to moment basis. I think we’re getting better every year, but I’m curious to see what the industry believes is the future for the next ten years, because I don’t think we’re using it now.” 

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