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Keys To Being a Good Interviewer

“You may not know John Sawatsky’s name or face but if you watch any of ESPN’s programming, his work is on display every single night.”

Jason Barrett




During my 20+ years in the sports media business I’ve learned from many great leaders, personalities, friends and rivals. I subscribe to the theory that you should always keep looking for ways to challenge yourself, and one area where improvements can be made in our business is when it comes to conducting interviews.

While spending 2+ years at ESPN in Bristol, CT, I had a chance to sit opposite Dan Patrick on a daily basis. I learned what a good interview should sound like. In my humbled opinion Dan is one of the best of all time when it comes to interviewing people.

Equally as important and even more of a factor on my growth were the training sessions I had a chance to participate in with the architect of interviewing John Sawatsky. Most people won’t know John by name or face but if you watch NFL Live, Baseball Tonight, SportsCenter or any other form of ESPN programming, his work is on display every single night.

John created a workshop built around eliminating what he referred to as the “7 Deadly Sins of Interviewing” and in this blog I’m going to take you through each of those sins and explain why his methods make sense. Most of what’s laid out below is what John passed on during the training sessions but I’ve since changed some of the audio samples and a few of the teachings to make it more adaptable to my style and those I’ve worked with.

Keys To Being a Good Interviewer

Interviewing is one area of journalism that has NOT improved over time. Everything else has, but this is one skill that has gone down. The question and interview are two different things and have different designs. Questions are very powerful and fragile and are in place to generate response and receive information. The interview as a whole is supposed to contain a series of questions which will help us better understand and learn new information about the individual or subject we are speaking with.

Yet often the broadcaster sleepwalks through interviews and throws any questions out there without a specific purpose. In certain situations the interviewer aims to become the star of the conversation and create conflict and visual drama which for the entertainment portion of television or radio may be good but for the purpose of the interview doesn’t deliver what it was intended to do.

Part I: The Question

We look at a car and we don’t know how it works. We like it until it breaks down. The mechanic knows how to fix it. The mechanic is professionally trained and knows about the moving parts. You are the mechanic for your interview. You need to know the moving parts for when your interview breaks down.

Why did CBS fall flat in interviewing Phil Mickelson after the Masters?

We blame the car — it’s a lousy car. “No one can make Phil interesting.”

The answers you get are a function of the question asked.

Every question has two purposes: big and little.

Your question is the only tool. No one HAS to talk to us. We have to rely on questions. We use the question to move it along from Point A to Point B. Each question is moving it forward. That movement is the Big Purpose.

The question’s small purpose is to gather information incrementally. But the big purpose and small purpose are separate. Like the transmission and engine of car. You need both, but they are completely different.

Simply defined: A question is an inquiry into something.

If you can name something, you can deal with it. The name “West Coast Offense” communicates meaning without having to describe the whole system. So we will define terms.

Question = Topic + Query

If you understand that, you can ask questions with amazing precision. Think of a non-digital camera. The lens determines what’s in the picture. The shutter makes the camera operate. Lens is your topic – what you’re looking at. Shutter is the query – what does the work.


About 20 percent of what we ask doesn’t have a catalyst, an engine.

EXAMPLE – Barbara Walters with “The Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin’s Wife

Q: “You’ve lost him and you feel that you were blessed”

A: “I feel I was so blessed”

The query could be, “How can you feel blessed by losing the one you love most” or “Why do you believe you were blessed when you’ve just lost the one who mattered most to you”?

Both examples put the guest in a position to describe and explain rather than confirm or ignore. The content is a result of the process. Rapport is great, but it’s not necessary. A statement proclaims something. A question creates a demand. We have to make our questions do the work to get people to talk to us.

EXAMPLE – Texas Rangers OF Josh Hamilton on ESPN

Q: “When you were in the worst of the worst it just took over”

A: Consumed me. I was basically killing myself inside.

How could the question have been asked to get Hamilton to elaborate further?

EX: “What led to this disease getting the better of you?” “Why was this disease able to take control of you?” “How did this become as bad as it did?”

Once again, if the question asked is delivered with the intention of getting the subject to describe, explain and inform, we’ll learn more new information and deliver better results.

The query is akin to blocking and tackling. It’s basic to making everything work.


This is even more popular as a sin than the first deadly sin. This is when the interviewer elects to present the guest with two questions at once. Almost every time the guest is going to select the less challenging portion of the discussion.

EXAMPLE – Katie Couric with Barack Obama

Q: If you believe Afghanistan is the central front in the war on terror, why was this your first trip there and why didn’t you hold a single hearing as chairman of a sub-committe that oversees the fighting force there?

A: Actually the sub committee that I chair is the European sub-committee, and any issues related to Afghanistan were always dealt with in the full committee. Precisely because it’s so important. That’s not a matter that you would deal with in a sub-committee setting.

Obama goes to the one he prefers. People default to the safest, most favorable, least dangerous question.

EXAMPLE – Keith Olbermann with Hillary Clinton.

Q: What do you think of the draft Gore stories and do you think even after all this time that you’ll wind up facing him still in the primaries?

A: I’m hoping he wins and I’m waiting to hear the announcement from the Nobel committee and I hope that we give that well deserved honor to VP Gore.

We typically do this because we are in rush, want to narrow or broaden focus, want to get the story in, for dramatic effect (especially on TV). A single barrel question hanging out there doesn’t seem like that much. Often it’s because we are trying to overcome our own internal doubt about our first question. Sometimes it’s because we want to hear our own voice. And sometimes we just don’t know what the question is.

Those are only some of the reasons. Sometime you just build up too much momentum. You have to slow down before a stop sign. When we finish the question, our voice drops. Sometimes the second question is just to get the voice from 50 mph to 0. But the damage is done. The double barreled question gives the subject a ramp off the highway. You do not want to do that.


A question can’t support a topic that is too broad, or multiple topics. “What do you think about sports?” is just too broad. In the case of overloading, this is when the interviewer tries to jam 3-4 and sometimes even 5-6 questions into one exchange. Once again you’ll find the guest picks and chooses what part they wish to respond to.

EXAMPLE – Bill O’Reilly Interview of Howard Stern

Q:  So 80-100 million a year go into your corporation. You go on Sirius the satellite radio channel. How are they going to make a profit? How many people are going to go over and what are they like, $50 bucks for a subscription?

A: Is it my problem if they make a profit? Is that my worry? They paid me to go there and entertain the people and that’s what I’ll do

Howard gets defensive and answers the first part and never addresses the challenges of expecting consumers to pay for the product or touching on what he believes the future growth of the company will be due to his arrival.

EXAMPLE – Steve Kroft’s interview with Bill Clinton after the Jennifer Flowers rumors surface

Q: You said that your marriage has had problems. What do you mean by that? Does that mean you were separated? You had communication problems? You contemplated divorce? Adultery?

A: I think the American people, at least those who have been married know exactly what that means.

Clinton is bombarded with too many things at once to address anything specifically so once again the guest gravitates to the area that’s easiest to deal with.

Overloading is a cousin to the double barrel. Using the pizza principle: Usually the more toppings the better, for more flavor. With questions, less is more.


This is the most common violation of interviewing. Any time you put remarks OF ANY KIND in a question then you are offering another off ramp to the highway you’re trying to stay on. YOU DON”T NEED REMARKS. If you feel like you need to make a remark, then the question is flawed. You need to break up the question into several questions.

Newton’s Law: every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. There are no neutral remarks. Everything makes an impact.

Think of a fax machine. It has two functions: send and receive. Don’t go into send mode — giving information — when you want to receive information.

EXAMPLE: Mike Francesa with Joe Girardi

Q: Everyone talks about a fast start. It’s been so hard for the Yankees to get off to a fast start in the last 4-5 years. It’s part of being a veteran team. I don’t think it’s that I think it’s just probably being lucky health-wise and also getting your pitching ready to be ready on opening day. When you think about getting off to a fast start which I know you’d like to do I think it’s about getting your pitching ready.

A: I wholeheartedly agree. We have to get our pitching ready and we need to make sure all of our starters are ready to go and our bullpen is healthy and pitching is going to keep us in games.

Francesa simply dominates the discussion with his opinion and doesn’t ask Girardi to enlighten him at all about the club’s lack of getting off to a fast start. Instead he’s looking for validation to his opinion from Girardi which he receives but the end result is :30 seconds of chatter with nothing new learned from the guest.

EX: “Why has this team had such a difficult time getting off to a fast start?” “What adjustments have you made to make sure this team doesn’t come out of the gate slow this season?”

EXAMPLE: Sean Hannity interview with Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska

Q: I am mad at the Republican party. As a matter of fact I am re-registering in NY as a conservative. I consider myself as a Reagan conservative. I predicted year out that they would lose power in 2006 because I believe they’ve abandoned their principles on spending. They haven’t given a solution to our energy dependence. They haven’t controlled our nation’s borders. The earmarks they’ve got worse than the democrats. If republicans continue down this path they deserve to lose don’t they.

A: Well sure because the power is in the hands of the party that controls the congress in the white house.

The final part of the question gives them an out. The power comes from focusing a topic and subjecting it to them. When people want to escape questions, they will resort to a volume answer — they will take on a different premise. In this question, all Hannity did was get Hagel to agree with his opinion. Not once did he ask Hagel to provide insight or opinion on how he viewed the republican’s efforts. He didn’t ask him how he felt they were matching up to the democrats in the eyes of the public. Instead he just sought validation to his opinion. The result = no insight learned from the guest.


Often when we interview a guest there are certain stories that emerge that we have to ask about. If we don’t we compromise our credibility. When difficult areas of a conversation arise it’s extremely important to stay neutral. By leading your question in a specific direction you place yourself in a position to have the interview go south!

EXAMPLE: John Stossel interviews pro wrestler Dr. D David Schultz.

Q: I’ll ask you the standard question. I think it’s fake.

A:: [Smacks him hard, Stossel falls down] – You think it’s fake huh?

Who attacked whom? This was a physical attack from the wrestler. But Stossel instigated, and those can be lasting and deep.

EXAMPLE: Andrew Dice Clay on CNN (there is foul language in this clip)

Q: You were a headline guy and now you’re coming back

A: I’m still a headline guy

Q: For a while you popped out but now you’re coming back

A: Coming back? It’s what I do.

Q: You were running a gym for a while. Tell us about that?

A: Running a gym? You’re supposed to be a news guy, where are you getting your information from? This is ridiculous, I come on CNN and the guy doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.

Every question is made up of words that each have independent meanings. Sometimes people will react to the meaning of a word. The trigger word eats the question. It sets someone off. You put a trigger word in your question, and you can just forget that the subject will answer.


What is hyperbole? This is what comedians do. It’s great at driving home a point.

Leno: It was so cold that the accuser at Duke changed her story, she now said it was the ice hockey team.

When you’re hungry, you’re starved. When you’re bored, you’re bored to tears. Really? No one takes it literally. We use hyperbole all the time. It can be useful as long as it does not mislead. Was the shot really heard round the world? No, but this makes our copy colorful and gets the point across, so there’s a role for hyperbole — and that hyperbole is when we are in “send mode. ”

Think about a voice over. It’s job is to paint a picture and excite you BUT Hyperbole is bad if you are in receive mode. If you put hyperbole in a question, you are done. The focus becomes the excess in your question. And that excess is the exit ramp. We are communicators. We receive and send. That’s all we do. The problem is that each are governed by opposite principles. What makes you good in one makes you bad in another.

TV –the journalists who are the most colorful are usually the worst interviewers. They can send but can’t receive. The great exporters are lousy importers.

EXAMPLE: Ed Bradley with Michael Jordan

Q: There were times when you’d elevate to take your shot and it was like you had another gear up there. Like you were flying.

A: Well we all fly. Some just fly higher than others.

What is Jordan supposed to do with that question? It’s small talk with no purpose.

EXAMPLE: Barbara Walters interviewing Jon Benet Ramsey’s parents

Q: They call Jon Benet a six year old Lolita, a pint sized sex kitten.

A: That didn’t come from Jon Benet.

What do you expect a mother and father to say when asked a question like that? If the question was “How does it make you feel when you hear people say that your daughter was a 6 year old pint-sized sex kitten”? This now makes it about their feelings towards the question instead of disagreeing with the characterization of their daughter and based on the question, you’re likely to get a strong response.

If you put hyperbole in your question, you will get understatement in your answers.


This is the worst one and as John Sawatsky would say “it has a special place in hell.” We ask twice as many closed queries than open ones. A closed query is a yes/no question. A closed query only works with an absolute topic — a topic that, like a coin, can only be one or the other. Heads or tails. No in between.

EXAMPLE: Larry King Interviews Paris Hilton

Q: Purpose of jail is to teach a lesson. Did it work with you?

A: It was a very traumatic experience but I feel like God makes everything happen for a reason

Q: Think it changed you?

A: Yeah definitely

Q: Read a lot?

A: A lot. I received fan mail from all around the world. So many letters.

Q: Nicole Ritchie. How’s she doing?

A: She’s doing great

This interview with Paris was a classic case of having a flawed plan from the start. The easy response is to suggest that Paris isn’t a good interview but listen closely to the questions and you’ll find that she’s led to pointless places and never put in a position to have to provide detail. Of all the interviews I’ve listened to in my life this one ranks right up there among the worst of all-time!

When interviewers land big opportunities and fail to take advantage of them, it can lead to national criticism from other media outlets. The last thing you want is to be professionally embarrassed for doing a poor job. Take a listen to the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News the following night and how they reacted to King’s interview.

Great interviews are ones that bring surprises, something we didn’t already know or didn’t expect. What is the problem with using a closed query for a topic that is not absolute? First, let’s look at the moving parts inside a query that work together for an effective question. (Don’t think about this in terms of content — that’s the paint on the car. We’re talking about the engine).

Topic + Query = Question

If a topic is not absolute, it must be relative. Almost all of our topics are relative. What we are trying to find out in most interviews is beyond absolute information. We want people to describe change that is incremental. A relative topic would be the position of a door. It could be open at different stages — half open, barely ajar. If you simply want to know if the door is locked or unlocked, then go ahead and use a closed query. Topics such as fairness, power, freedom, justice are matters of degree. Great reporters listen to what the person values and get them to go further than they have ever gone.

What poor interviewers do: when they don’t get answers, they blame the subject. But it’s the interviewer’s fault. Why not go for the confession? Isn’t that the best story to be gotten?

Here’s the danger of using closed queries with relative topics: The tougher the topic, the more your subject feels backed into a corner. You have given them only one extreme or the other. Morality is really good or really bad? No, there are many shades in between.

If you are trying to understand someone, especially on a sensitive subject, you must use an open query to create a safe zone for your subject to explain their side. With a closed query, a subject often answers a closed query with one of the two extremes offered. But once they have chosen their extreme — the yes or no — they can’t move. They’ll lose face. They are going to deny to protect themselves. They are not going to feel safe to explain themselves. This can even damage gathering information on a fluffy subject.


Have a game plan and ask open ended questions and put your guests in positions that require them to share their insights with you. The goal is to create an atmosphere which is neutral and invites the guest to speak about themselves and what they know while steering them in the direction you wish to take them in. Remember, you can still be tough with your questioning while being fair and you will always get a better response when asking questions that request an answer.

This is a game of percentages and while nothing is guaranteed, you will win more times than not by following these methods. Nobody bats .1000 but if a hitter could bat .400 instead of .300 they’d use the advantages every time up to the plate, interviewing is no different.

Here are two interviews that contain great questions and a smart strategy. You’ll find the momentum continues moving forward with each question, the guest is put in position to describe and explain and each interviewer keeps a neutral position which leads to gaining the information they seek.

Suzy Kolber of ESPN with former Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver Chad Johnson

John Sawatsky’s classic Beaver Interview example from Canada

Keys to being a better interviewer

The Primary Impulses

The Intruders

Inputter                                     Outputter

Micro    Macro

Question = Topic + Query

Deadly Sin #1 = No Query
Deadly Sin #2 = Double Barreled Question
Deadly Sin # 3 = Overloading
Deadly Sin # 4 = Remarks
Deadly Sin # 5 = Trigger Words
Deadly Sin # 6 = Hyperbole
Deadly Sin # 7 = Closed Question

Verb Non-Starters = Do, Does, Did, Have, Has, Had, Is, Are, Was, Were, Will, Would, Can, Could, Should

  • Chart a Path
  • Set a Goal – Choose a direction
  • Locate the starting point – Before change/conflict/contrast
  • Connect the dots – struggle/reason
  • Select a route – When/What
  • Do It – Forward/Backward, On/Off, Enhance/Advance
  • Mop Up – U-Turns, Tangents, Less Important Stuff, Hunches, The Left Overs

Goal = To discover and scrutinize the change

Top 10 Questions 
10. What’s an example?
9. How did you deal with that?
8. What were the options?
7. What was the turning point?
6. In what way?
5. How would you characterize that?
4. Why is that?
3. What is it like?
2. What do you mean?
1. What happened?

Honorable Mentions
What is the effect?
What are the implications?
What do you make of it?
How does it manifest itself?
How did you feel?
What went thru your mind?
What was your reaction?
How did you arrive at that?
How does that work?

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Barrett Blogs

ESPN Has Made It Clear, Radio Is Not a Priority

“What’s unfolding now at the worldwide leader is disheartening because it could have been avoided.”

Jason Barrett




This is not a column I wanted to write. For years, I’ve expressed how much better the industry is when ESPN Radio is healthy. I’ve maintained friendships at the network, the company has supported our BSM Summit, and I reflect fondly on the few years I spent working there earlier in my career. It was a special place to work and I learned a lot about becoming a pro in Bristol.

But this ESPN Radio is not the one that I and many others were fortunate to be a part of under Bruce Gilbert. It is not the one that Traug Keller, Scott Masteller, and other radio-first believers oversaw. This current version lacks radio instincts, focus, passion, and care. That may be an opinion that folks in Bristol, New York, and Los Angeles offices don’t want to hear but the decisions made in recent years make it difficult to see it any other way.

ESPN Radio used to obsess over serving the sports fan, its radio affiliates, and network advertising partners. But serving the company’s television and digital interests is what matters most now. Relationships with radio operators have changed, interest in operating local markets has decreased, and though I’m sure some will defend the network’s interest in satisfying advertising partners, it’s hard to do that a day after the entire national audio sales team was gutted. Thankfully Good Karma Brands is passionate about the audio business and helping their sales efforts. If they weren’t involved, who would be leading the charge in Bristol?

I didn’t start this week planning to drop a truth bomb but as I sat here on Tuesday and fielded text after text and call after call, I couldn’t help but be disappointed and upset. This network has been a staple of the industry for over thirty years. Yet in less than ten it feels they’re closer to turning off the lights than celebrating success. That should not happen when you have the partnerships, history, and talent that ESPN has.

What saddens me is that it didn’t have to reach this point. ESPN Radio had chances to sell in the past to outside parties. They declined. Folks inside of Disney felt the network was worth more. Well, how’s that looking now? If the company wasn’t going to commit to doing it the right way, and was just going to cut its way to the bottom, why stand in the way of others who’d pay to save it? It’s eerily similar to what just happened with Buzzfeed News. The company thought it was better than it was, and within a few years, the whole thing crumbled.

If this were the first time the network looked bad, I’d go easier on them. I understand the business, and sometimes brands or companies make mistakes or have to make difficult choices. It’s why I didn’t bury the network when Mike and Mike ended. Though I knew replacing their stability in mornings would be tough, I felt the network had earned enough clout over the prior years to be given the benefit of the doubt with a new show/lineup. I also applauded the company for replacing Zubin with Max, defended paying Stephen A. Smith top dollar, and supported GetUp! when it was popular to predict the show’s funeral.

But how can leadership in Bristol expect radio operators to trust their decision making at this point? I’ve talked to network executives privately and publicly about these issues for years, and have been told repeatedly that the radio business matters to them and becoming more consistent was a priority. At some point though the actions need to match the words. Unfortunately the only consistency taking place is change, and it often isn’t for the better.

I’ve lost count of the phone calls, texts, emails and direct messages I’ve fielded from PDs, executives, market managers, and ad agency professionals who’ve asked ‘should I be doing business with this network? Can you help me rebrand and redesign my radio station without ESPN Radio?‘ Yesterday alone I took five calls including from two who have expiring deals coming up. Think they’re in a rush to extend a partnership given what’s going on?

If you turn back the clock, some will say that things began to go in the wrong direction when Bruce Gilbert and Dan Patrick left. Though those were big losses, there was still a lot of confidence across the industry in ESPN Radio after they left. The early signs of issues at the network really started in 2014. That’s when Scott Masteller and Scott Shapiro departed. Masteller went on to program WBAL in Baltimore, and Shapiro teamed up with Don Martin to strengthen FOX Sports Radio.

Fast forward to 2020, and the heart and soul of the network, Traug Keller retired. Traug had more in the tank when he signed off, and when I talked to him prior to his exit, he denied being forced out or having concerns about the future direction of the network. Those who know Traug, know that’s he’s a class act and not one to air dirty laundry. But I also know he’s smart. As I look back now, I can’t help but wonder if he knew the ship was headed for an iceberg. I have no doubt that the network would be in better shape today if he were still there.

After Traug’s exit, a year later, Tim McCarthy was let go in New York. The network even cut ties with longtime voice talents Jim and Dawn Cutler, though they stayed on the company’s top stations in NY and LA.

Though I hated to see all of them go because they were good at their jobs and valuable to the network, the one that made a little more sense was Tim’s exit because that had more to do with Good Karma taking over in New York. Tim has since landed with the Broadcasters Foundation of America, and Vinny DiMarco is now leading 98.7 ESPN NY, and I’m a fan of both men.

But now here we are in 2023, and once again, the folks being shown the door are the people who dedicated their lives to radio. Among the casualties, Scott McCarthy, the network’s SVP of Audio, Pete Gianesini, Senior Director of Digital Audio, Louise Cornetta, Digital Audio Program Director, and two good local sports radio programmers, Ryan Hurley at 98.7 ESPN NY, and Amanda Brown at ESPN LA 710. All of them good, talented people with track records of success in the format. I struggle to explain how ESPN Radio is better today without them.

By the way, I haven’t even touched the talent department yet. But let’s go there next.

In less than eight years, ESPN Radio’s morning show has featured Mike & Mike, Golic & Wingo (Mike Golic Jr. and Jason Fitz were added as contributing voices), Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin, and Keyshawn, JWill and Max. Middays have included Colin Cowherd, Dan Le Batard and Stugotz, Scott Van Pelt, Ryen Russillo, Danny Kanell, Will Cain, Mike Greenberg, Jason Fitz, Stephen A. Smith, Bart & Hahn, and Fitz and Harry Douglas. Afternoons have been a combination of Le Batard and Stugotz, Bomani Jones, Jalen & Jacoby, Golic Jr. & Chiney, Canty & Golic Jr. & Canty and Carlin. I could run down the changes at night too, but you get the picture.

As a former programmer and current consultant, I know that radio is a relationship listen and investment. You can’t build an audience and attract sponsor support for talent and shows if the product constantly changes. Most PDs or executives who make this many changes during a short period of time, usually aren’t around very long. Yet ESPN has allowed this to continue, which leaves me to question how much they value their radio network.

Look, I’m sure this is a tough week for those in management at ESPN. Having to tell folks they’re not being retained and watch friends say goodbye is a crummy part of the job. I’m sure some have even fought to try and avoid this bloodbath. But when the news comes down from up above that 7,000 jobs are being eliminated, it’s not a question of whether or not people are talented and valuable, it’s simply about the bottom line. I feel for the folks at ESPN who have to deliver the bad news this week but also for those who are staying and now have limited support around them to make a difference.

By decimating the radio department there are now bigger questions to be answered by Jimmy, Burke, Dave, Norby and the rest of the management team. How much does ESPN value the radio business and the stations they’re in business with? If most of the people who’ve built relationships with local stations are gone, talented programmers are being ousted, talent changes happen far too frequently, and the company becomes less involved in local markets, why is anyone to believe this space matters to ESPN? What exactly are stations gaining from partnerships besides the use of four letters and the opportunity to air play by play events?

The network expects these stations to provide them with inventory, rights fees, branding, promotion, and clearance of certain programs so isn’t it fair of stations to have expectations of the network too? Don’t radio network partners deserve consistent quality programming, relationships with managers who prioritize audio, and less negative PR?

Most who I talk to about this situation believe the network’s glory days are gone. That’s fine. Just because this isn’t the ESPN Radio of 2005 doesn’t mean it can’t be great. The product exists now to primarily serve mid to small market operators who can’t afford local content, major market stations who don’t want to spend on evening and overnight shows, and company owned stations that can be utilized to promote the company’s digital and television content. ESPN does gain value for their radio shows on TV and podcast platforms, but those benefit the company much more than their radio partners.

The general feeling in industry circles is that FOX Sports Radio now delivers the best national radio product, CBS Sports Radio has better consistency but similar east coast content issues, and others don’t have strong enough brand recognition or content to justify a change. If sports betting continues to gain mainstream acceptance and bring cash into the marketplace, that could help outlets like VSiN, BetQL, and SportsGrid gain greater traction. If Outkick gets more aggressive with offering content to local markets, especially in the south and Midwest, that could be another interesting option.

The bigger question is whether there’s enough audience, revenue, and excitement for national content in today’s sports radio space. If most major markets are focused on local, is there enough out there in rural America to keep networks excited?

I do know that just ten years ago CBS Radio entered the space because they saw value in it. NBC Sports Radio leaped in too. FOX Sports Radio went all-in for Colin Cowherd, and ESPN Radio was healthy. Even SiriusXM continues to expand its national offerings, and three sports betting networks saw value in pursuing national distribution. It’s hard to convince me that there isn’t financial upside for national sports radio brands in today’s media environment. It may not be a big ratings play but from a business standpoint there is value.

What’s unfolding now at the worldwide leader is disheartening because it could have been avoided. Instead, brands have been damaged, relationships changed, jobs lost, and questions raised about future viability.

If the world’s leading sports operator values radio, they’ll prioritize restoring confidence across the industry. A good start would be putting people in place who champion radio’s future, and make decisions that best serve the radio brands carrying their product. If they can’t do that, then maybe it’s time to step aside, and let someone else try. I know a few groups who’d be happy to take a shot at restoring the network’s pride.

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Barrett Blogs

Radio Must Bring Back The Fun

“The promotions you’re creating are not producing massive recall across the format, national media attention or revenues that change the fate of your next quarter.”

Jason Barrett




Five and a half days in Las Vegas can feel like an eternity. Especially when you’re in town for business not pleasure. But though I’d rather sleep in my own bed, eat at home, and avoid walking from convention hall to convention hall, I’m glad I made the trip because the NAB Show delivered. 

Many media members have attended this event over the years, and it’s easy to come up with reasons not to attend. Budgets are tight, you can’t afford to be out of the office, or you think it isn’t beneficial. That’s where I’ll take exception. If you can’t find something of value at a five-day event that exists to serve broadcasters and brands, that’s on you, not the conference.  

Over the past few days, I did what many do and took necessary business meetings at Encore, but I also listened to speakers offer valuable insights on artificial intelligence, marketing, programming, technology, dashboard connectivity, the future of AM radio, and more. All of these are subjects that should matter to media professionals. Having Brett Goldstein (Ted Lasso star Roy Kent) on hand to talk about content creation was an added bonus. 

As I spent my final hour inside the North Hall on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but think about how large this event is, what goes into creating it, and how many different industries and brands are represented at it. What the NAB does to make this event possible for sixty-five thousand plus is amazing, and I commend all involved because it truly is informative, and it helps bring together business leaders and brands to help move our industry forward. 

There were many takeaways from the conference sessions, but one in particular stood out. I thought Mike McVay’s session with J.D. Crowley and Paul Suchman of Audacy was excellent. Crowley’s insights on listener choice, distribution, and personalization were spot on, and I was very impressed with Suchman’s feedback on some of the behavior testing Audacy has done to learn how consumers respond to different types of content and messaging.

Crowley’s final message about people in the audio industry needing to be proud of the business they’re in was easy for me to relate to because I feel similarly. This is a great business to be in. I get tired of hearing folks in and out of the industry tear it down. So much attention gets placed on who exceeded revenue goals, what a brand’s ratings were, and what a company’s stock price is, losing sight of the more important part, our brands, personalities, and content, and the way they’re received by those who consume it.

Additionally, I was honored to speak about the growth of BSM and BNM. Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Pierre Bouvard of Cumulus Media treated folks to information on advertising and in-car data, and Erica Farber, Tim Bronsil, and Mary DelGrande did a nice job guiding multiple business conversations. I also enjoyed stopping by the Veritone booth and learning about their products and staff. My only regret, I missed Buzz Knight’s session with Nielsen’s new audio team due to a business meeting running long. Thankfully Inside Radio put together a detailed recap of what was discussed. 

But what I want to draw attention to most is something Dan Mason said on stage during his acceptance speech when receiving the Lowry Mays Award at the Broadcasters Foundation of America breakfast. It’s something I raised at last month’s BSM Summit. 

After sharing how local is a key differentiator in helping radio stand apart from other forms of media, and reminding everyone about the importance of longevity, Mason said that radio has to get back to having fun. He shared a story of a promotion he was part of in the 1970’s that wouldn’t fly today. It was a short people’s convention that included six-ounce drinks, pigs in a blanket, and strawberry shortcake. The event put his radio station on NBC Nightly News, and created a ton of buzz.  

Just because that type of event wouldn’t work in 2023, doesn’t mean others can’t. We have got to create special events that produce national attention, local market interest, and fear of missing out spending. This is what radio is supposed to be exceptional at yet it doesn’t happen enough.  

At our Summit in LA, I asked three PD’s to share with me the one promotion in sports radio today that they viewed as a killer event. It wasn’t an easy one to answer. In fact, two referenced WIP’s Wing Bowl, which ended in 2018. Had I asked five or six other PD’s, they’d have likely been in the same boat, struggling to name three or four killer events. 

I mentioned how the Mandy Awards at 710 ESPN in Los Angeles stood out, but this format should be able to deliver more than one standout promotion. I realize there are stations doing promotional events, and if they’re helping you produce revenue, great. I’m not telling you to abandon that strategy. But I will challenge you if you try to tell me sports radio’s report card on promotions in 2023 is superb. It is not.

One gentleman I listened to during the week who was attending a session shared one reason why this is the case. He was asked about creating ideas and said ‘we use a committee to brainstorm and find that sometimes the best ideas come from different departments, in fact, our last successful event was the idea of our engineer.’ 

I’m all for collaboration, and if you’re creating events that satisfy your goals, continue doing it. I’m not here to rain on your parade. But let me share an opinion some may view as unpopular. If the best ideas in your organization are coming from departments other than programming, you have a problem.

The program director and talent are supposed to be the people you turn to for leadership, ideas, passion, creativity, and execution. They’re supposed to be able to think of things that others can’t. Do you think Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino would turn over the direction of their next film to others inside their companies? Imagine the focus of Ted Lasso’s next episode being decided by someone other than Jason Sudeikis, Brett Goldstein, and the rest of their writing team. You’d be wasting the talent of your best storytellers.

Radio companies pay premium dollars for elite programmers and hosts because they’re supposed to be able to bring things to life that only exists inside their brains. If your HR or engineering department are creating the station’s best promotions, you don’t have enough creativity coming from your programming team. That could be due to having a PD who lacks ideas and vision or it could be the result of the way your creative process is structured.

One of the things I enjoyed most as a PD was coming up with ideas that created buzz, ratings, and revenue. My job was to think and execute BIG, and whether it was Lucky Break in San Francisco, Stand For Stan at 101 ESPN in St. Louis, the Golden Ticket at 590 The Fan in St. Louis, the 20 in 20 tour or Goodbye Roast at 95.7 The Game or the Gridiron Gala in both cities, we produced buzz, grew ratings, and made money. If we did something and it failed, that was ok. I’d rather swing and miss than be afraid to try. I took that responsibility seriously, and feel that when you’re making calls by committee, you’re not allowing your best people to do what they’re best suited to do. 

Case in point, I attended Boomer & Gio Live in Jersey City, NJ a few weeks ago. It was a fun event with a lot of different things going on. WFAN’s PD Spike Eskin worked the event on stage, and if you recall, the station made national news when Jets GM Joe Douglas said that Aaron Rodgers would end up in New York. There were multiple sales activations included throughout the show, and much of the fun content that took place on stage came from the creators. Because the FAN crew were allowed to do what they do best, the station produced a successful event. Had that been an ‘all departments contribute’ approach, it’d have not been the same show. 

What Dan Mason said in Las Vegas was accurate. Radio has to get back to having fun but it also has to be unafraid to take risks. I fear that we worry so much about the ‘what ifs’ and the potential noise on social media that we’re killing creativity, and the next big idea.

If I asked you to list five GREAT sports radio promotions today, could you? And I’m not talking about golf tournaments, charitable bowling events, host debates or bar remotes. If I ask this same question in five years and we’re in the same spot, that’s going to say a lot about where we are as an industry. We have to excite ourselves, our listeners, and our advertisers because when we showcase our creativity in a way that no other medium can, we make a statement, which results in increased attention, and financial investment.  

Some of that creative spirit is still alive. You see it in Boston with WEEI’s Jimmy Fund Telethon, and if you attended the Michael Kay Show 20-year anniversary special or Barstool’s Upfront, you saw what great planning, and execution looks like. But I also remember The Fanatic’s Celebrity Week, The Millen Man March in Detroit, Ticketfest in Dallas, Wing Bowl in Philadelphia, and 790 The Zone in Atlanta becoming a national sensation by creating multiple home run events.

I don’t believe enough brands today create events that deliver meaningful impact. Yet they’re needed. When done right, brands ascend to a different level. Sports radio has too many sharp, creative minds to not be creating the biggest and most successful promotions in all of media. If you work in programming and your station isn’t producing promotions that generate recall across the format, national media attention or revenues that change the fate of your next quarter, it’s time to step up your game. If you don’t, the interns, street team, and receptionist may soon be deciding the future direction of your brand’s promotional strategy.

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Reflecting on the 2023 BSM Summit

“Barrett Media president Jason Barrett reflects on last week’s BSM Summit in Los Angeles.”

Jason Barrett




One of the best parts about the world of sports is that every season ends with one team being crowned champion. It doesn’t exactly work that way managing a media company, even though we invest the same amount of time leading up to the BSM Summit, our equivalent of the Super Bowl or WrestleMania.

Having had a few days to recover and reflect after last week’s Summit in Los Angeles, I know that what we did last week was special. I’m a perfectionist and have a hard time patting myself on the back because I know there’s plenty we can do better, but last week, we hit a homerun. The venues at USC were perfect, the signage was spectacular, the tech ran well, the speakers were awesome, the crowd was great, and the sponsorship support was outstanding. It’s the first time I’ve walked away from an event and felt we accomplished what we set out to do. If time allows, check out Garrett Searight’s piece on some of the key takeaways from the show.

In 2018, Mitch Rosen invited me to utilize his space at Audacy Chicago to take a shot at trying to execute an event for PDs. Now here we are five years later with a few hundred people joining us from all across the industry. It’s pretty incredible. We’re only successful because a lot of people have come together to make sure we are. Without the speakers, sponsors, and staff around me stepping up to get things done, I’d just be a guy with an idea incapable of executing it.

In the next week or so we’ll be sharing video clips from the show on the BSM social media pages. I’m also planning to make full sessions available via on-demand for free for those who attended the show in California. If you didn’t come to the event and want to watch it online, it will be available for a small fee. Stay tuned for further details.

What matters most to me with the Summit is that folks in the room get something out of it. I thought many of our speakers delivered a ton of value this year, and there were a few WOW moments along the way as well. Colin and Rome were outstanding as expected, and Jay Glazer and Al Michaels’ speeches had everyone hanging on their next words. I thought the Shawn Michaels and Jack Rose led sessions were outside the box and well received, and I was beyond impressed by Joy Taylor, Mina Kimes, and Amanda Brown. We used 14 hours in that room to explore issues dealing with management, research, technology, programming, talent and social media, so it gave everyone a little bit of everything, which was the goal.

We did have a little bit of friction on stage during the Aircheck on Campus session, which wasn’t a bad thing. Personalities and programmers have passionate conversations inside the office every day. Rob, Mark and Scott just happened to have one on stage. All three are smart, talented, and willing to be candid. I thought that was healthy for the room.

I know networking is important at these type of events and there was plenty of opportunity for folks to do that. I look at it like this, if you can get face time with others, meet your heroes or folks you admire and pick up some ideas and insight in the process to elevate your business, that should justify it being worthy of a few days out of the office.

As crazy as it may sound, I step away from each of these events asking my team ‘is that the last one?’ I know I can create and execute a great conference, and I enjoy doing it, but I also don’t want to invest eight months of time building a show that becomes predictable and stale. It’s why I change speakers and topics frequently. This year’s lineup was phenomenal, and I’m so pleased with who we featured on stage and had in the room, but the competitor in me will also look back and say ‘Bill Simmons, Ice Cube and Lincoln Riley Should’ve Been On Stage Too!


If we do host an event in 2024, it will take place in either Boston, Chicago, Dallas or New York. You can cast your vote on

I want to thank everyone who stopped me last week to share how much they enjoy this event. That support means a lot. I think Good Karma Brands broke a record with 20+ employees in attendance, and iHeart was also well represented, which was great to see. I was also excited to have 15-20 college students in the room. The more we can educate the next generation, the better it is for all of us. I also was thrilled to learn a few of our partners and attendees made time to arrange further business conversations. If two groups can help each other, that’s what it’s all about.

But as much as I love my radio brothers and sisters, I’ve noticed more folks showing up the past two years from areas outside of sports radio. That’s both exhilarating and concerning. This year we had folks in the room from WWE, Amazon, The Volume, Omaha Productions, Dirty Mo Media, Barstool Sports, Spotify, Blue Wire, Locked On, BetRivers, Bleav, etc.. I hope that trend continues because sports media is a lot larger of a business than sports radio. As I told the room, we’re not in the radio business, television business, audio or video business, we are in the content business. That covers a lot more ground for brands than focusing on one specific platform.

I’ve been on cloud nine for a few days because overall, this went as well as I could ask for. If there’s one thing I’d like to make better it’s that I hear from a lot of folks throughout the year who say they want to learn, meet new people and give themselves a competitive edge yet when an event exists that can help them do that, they’re not in the room. Some of my radio friends didn’t come because they weren’t asked to speak. Others said they couldn’t make it because their company wouldn’t cover the costs. A few said they thought the Summit was only for programming people not managers or sellers.

First, growing and selling an audience should matter to everyone not just programmers and hosts. GM’s and Sales Managers can gain a lot at this show. So can advertisers and agencies. I’m hoping to change that in the future. Second, I can’t tell you whether or not to prioritize attending but groups outside of radio are passionate about sports audio and video, and they’re finding ways to be in the room. At some point, you have to decide if investing in knowledge, ideas and relationships matters to you and your business. Your employer isn’t going to cover everything you want to do so especially when the economy isn’t strong. Sometimes you have to invest time and resources in yourself.

Many of you reading this website know my track record in the radio industry. I built my career in radio. My passion for the business remains strong. I consult brands all across the country, and root for the industry’s success. It’s why I sink my heart and soul into this event and share all that I do over two days because I want to help people grow their businesses.

But it is strange that over the course of four live events I’ve still not had one current radio CEO sit down for an in-depth sports media business conversation. It’d be one thing if they were pitched and I turned them down but that’s not the case. I’ve had great conversations and support outside of radio from Jimmy Pitaro, Eric Shanks, Erika Ayers, and John Skipper. Jeff Smulyan has been a huge supporter taking part in our awards ceremony, and we’ve had high ranking TV executives in the room watching the show. Maybe things will change in 2024 but whether they do or don’t, I’m going to focus on helping brands and individuals who gain value from this two day event, and continue challenging this industry to think and act differently.


Now that the 2023 BSM Summit is over, my focus shifts to supporting my clients and gearing up for a massive challenge, hosting our first BNM Summit for news media professionals. The conference will take place in Nashville, TV on September 13-14 at Vanderbilt University. I’ll be announcing the first group of speakers in April after the NAB. Tickets will go on sale at that time too.

I know it won’t be easy but I tend to do my best work when I’m out of my comfort zone. This is a space I have passion for and feel I can add something to so there’s only one thing left to do, get to work, and put together the news media equivalent of what we just created for sports media professionals last week in Los Angeles. That may be a tall order but if anyone is ready to meet the challenge head on, yours truly is certainly up to the task.

Thanks again for a spectacular time in Los Angeles. Onward and upward we go!

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