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Tackling The Sports Radio Universe

Jason Barrett

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Look around the country today and you’re sure to find former football players invading your sports talk radio dial. This wasn’t always the case but over the past 10-15 years the list of former athletes doing talk radio has grown leaps and bounds and in most cases, the formula has worked very successfully.

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I took a look around in as many markets as I could and I found all of these former professional football players doing local sports radio over the past year. Click here for the list.

I’m sure I missed some so if I didn’t list someone, don’t shoot me. What I think this list shows though is how popular this formula has become for sports talk programmers and listeners alike. It also shows that athletes are more interested in the media business as a second career than ever before.

So why is it attractive? Well as someone who has hired 3 former athletes as weekday hosts (2 of them being former football players) and had success with them, there are a few reasons why I believe it works.

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1. They’re instantly identified and liked by listeners in your market – half the battle is getting people to the dial, these guys do that!

2. They’re very coachable – These guys were under the microscope every game and used to receiving coaches feedback; they carry it over to our business and can handle being challenged.

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3. They study and know how to relate – Most former athletes study to fill in the blanks where they’re weak. They also try to relate their past experiences to current subjects. It’s not about who knows the most, it’s about who can explain it well, share a well informed opinion and make it easy for the audience to understand.

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4. They are extremely marketable and attractive to advertisers – Getting exposure and making $ is a big part of our business. If I walk into a client’s office, they’re not blown away but they may do a deal. If a host who’s won a Super Bowl or World Series ring walks into the room, client’s are instantly engaged and thinking about how they can be closer and more connected to your brand and that particular individual.

I could list many more reasons why I think they’ve connected so well but one thing that often gets lost is how hard some of these guys work. Walking off of a football field and into a radio studio can be intimidating for a lot of guys especially when they’ve only been focused on one particular sport for 10-15 years. Most of the players that I’ve worked with have understood that preparation and being receptive to criticism are an important part of this business and they put the time in to improve.

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To every broadcaster who’s spent time learning this craft, there are certain things that are natural and you just pick them up as you go along. That’s what football players think when they take on the best athletes in the world. But introduce a former player to the word re-set or tease or ask them to fill 45-minutes of air time with compelling storytelling, identified headlines and strong payoffs and they’re likely to look at you like you have 5 heads. It’s no different than a broadcaster walking into an NFL locker room and being given a playbook and being asked to run a play.

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Today in sports radio, the combination of the local radio personality and the ex-athlete is growing and I believe it’s because athletes draw a large amount of revenue and attention to the show/station, while the radio pro guides the programs and presents the view of the audience. Having a view from the seats and a view from the field creates a unique blend and plenty of differing viewpoints and that leads to numerous content opportunities. The tandems that find their groove, often deliver strong results for their respective brands.

A few guys who have made the transition from professional football into the sports talk radio universe were kind enough to share some thoughts with me on a number of subjects. If you’ve ever wondered about the mindset of an athlete as it applies to working in this medium, I think you’ll enjoy this conversation.

Our 3 Featured Experts:

  • Ron Wolfley – Arizona Sports 98.7 FM – weekdays 6a-10a
  • Sean Salisbury – Yahoo Sports Radio – weekdays 4p-8p
  • Brock Huard – 710 ESPN Seattle – weekdays 7a-10a

Q: What was the hardest part of transitioning from the football field into the broadcast studio?

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Sean: The hardest thing was being precise. Hitting your points and moving on and realizing my football career was natural. The studio wasn’t. Double time is needed in preparation.

Brock: Starting over. Having to swallow hard and know that the value of my time and talents was going to start at the ground floor. Even if early media assignments paid less than the babysitter rate at home, you have to humble yourself and start anew.

Wolf: Making sure I didn’t make the game seem easy to play. There seem to be a lot of broadcasters that make player or coach failure sound like it should never happen. I had to remember how tough it was to compete at the highest level our species can generate.

Q: How intimidating or challenging has it been to get into deeper discussion on other sports you haven’t been as familiar with? What have you done to catch up and prepare yourself for those subjects?

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Brock: Not that difficult, but you must be curious, willing to ask questions and admit when you do not know. Transparency and honesty pair pretty well with humility too.

Sean: It wasn’t intimidating for me. I didn’t play football until high school. I was into baseball, hoops and hockey first. They came natural to me and I prepared as if it was a weekly game plan. Make sure I know everything about a defense and what’s happening in all sports. My focus is on over preparing and then having an opinion. My biggest asset though has always been my strength in other sports. At times they’re even better than my football material.

Wolf: I was a three sport student-athlete. Although I have to work harder at baseball, basketball and hockey, the commonality of competition remains the baseline no matter what sport you’re talking about.

Q: What’s your approach when it comes to being critical of your former team, teammates and front office friends or acknowledging something you did during your career that might ruffle some feathers?

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Wolf: My approach will never change: I speak what I believe to be true – good or bad. It doesn’t make me rught or wrong it just makes it my opinion. There is a way to say a guy isn’t getting it without saying the guy “sucks.” I can have an opinion, but I make sure I don’t editorialize that opinion. And the reason why I don’t editorialize that opinion can be found in never forgetting how difficult it is to compete at the highest level.

Brock: Be willing to say anything on the air right to the face of that former colleague or friend.

Sean: My approach is always honest. Whether I compliment or criticize, players respect a real answer. I’m not worried about being liked. I’m concerned about respect. If you study and speak the truth, players may not like it but they will always respect it. I study the same that they do so they respect the truth and I always make myself available if they want to discuss. I’ve never believed in hiding behind a studio desk and I keep my comments centered around their job not their private lives. Having an opinion is what I get paid to provide. No opinion equals no respect.

Q: How comfortable are you with interviewing former friends, colleagues and/or opponents? Are they easier or tougher to interview than someone you don’t know as well? How do you prepare for those on-air conversations?

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Sean: It’s easier because they are more comfortable. Relationships get friends and those you know to open up more because they trust you. I don’t do softball interviews. If you make them laugh early in interview they will always tell you more. Comfort is information and I use the the question why often. They will talk when questions are short and precise. They like being the star.

Brock: Separation is in the preparation.  I don’t think it’s difficult at all, and from our first guest (Matt Hasselbeck) to our regular guests (Damon Huard and Drew Bledsoe), you must be able to leverage those relationships for depth, quality and sounding connected and big.

Wolf: Broadcasting starts and ends with being real. Therefore, interviewing somebody that I know has never been a problem. I typically say something early in the conversation that he will recognize and laugh at. That typically sets the table and tone for the conversation.

Q: How comfortable/uncomfortable are you with handling critical listener feedback on the phones, in-person or via social media? How do you deal with it?

Brock: I tend to block a lot of that out, maybe the positive of playing QB where you just can’t be distracted. I have come close to hitting “send” on a few tweets or emails to disgruntled listeners, but I often remind myself, “what’s the upside?” Usually very little.

Sean: Early in my career I was concerned about everyone’s opinion and critics hurt a bit. I learned though that opposition is a golds star in this business. I also learned that many fans are very smart. We never know it all and self deprecation makes fans feel like they know us. It makes them feel as if they are in the room with us. I can take hard criticisms as long as they’re respectful. If it’s presented that way, we may learn something. If the President can win an election 51-49% then far be it for me to ask for more.

Wolf: Ignore it. You can’t please everybody all of the time.

Q: What advice do you want to pass on to other athletes who are retiring and thinking about entering this line of work?

Wolf: Study the English language and, if possible, brush up on history. History can be analogues to many athletic endeavors and it also sets the context for every conversation you will ever have – no matter who you’re talking to. What has been is why things are the way they are and every story/topic has a starting point. Also, I would tell them to make sure they pull every story through the prism of their personality. Don’t be afraid to show listeners who you are. Authenticity is the great mediator of broadcast brilliance.

Brock: Humble yourself, get up earlier and work harder than you ever have before

Sean: The biggest piece of advice I can give is to call on your strength. You made it in sports because you out worked others and this business requires even more because it’s not just your own sport. Fans are privy to bullshit. They are too smart. A big piece of advice is to be careful not to alienate the listener by feeding them the “when I played” cycle. Bring them into your career but not every day. And also, tell me something I can’t read in a paper or online. Use your access and connections to get special information.

You can listen to Brock Huard weekday mornings from 7a-10a on the “Brock and Salk Show” on 710 ESPN in Seattle. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here. Ron Wolfley is part of the “Doug and Wolf” show, weekdays from 6a-10a on Arizona Sports 98.7FM in Phoenix. He’s also on Twitter. Click here to follow him. Last but not least, Sean Salisbury is one half of the show “Prime Cut”, weekdays from 4p-8p on Yahoo Sports Radio. He too is on Twitter. Click here to follow him.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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