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Why Strong Branding and Imaging Is Needed In Sports Talk Radio

Jason Barrett




In today’s radio word there are brands with a heavy focus on branding and imaging and others which put a lesser importance on it. Many have different strategies on why they execute the way they do and I respect that tremendously. Since though I tell my hosts to always have an opinion and not ride the fence on the subjects they’re discussing, I can’t be a hypocrite and not offer my own personal point of view on this topic.

Take a listen around the country and you’re going to hear some stations overly produced and some with little to no imaging creativity. Those which don’t put a lot of focus into their promos, rejoins, on-air branding campaigns, etc. instead use production to air generic station liners and sales supported promotional messages. Is that wrong? Not necessarily but I always wonder why that’s acceptable. We’re in the entertainment business and expected to be creative thinkers with unique ideas yet for some stations they choose to steer clear of that approach.

whyA friend of mine in the industry told me a few months ago that one of the leaders in his company asked “Why do we need imaging and production? We put too much emphasis on it“! He responded by letting this person know that he was nuts to discount its importance. As I thought about their discussion I wondered why one would think its value in what we do wasn’t critical. One of the true strengths of sports radio is the ability to make our format entertaining so when one suggests making it less of a focus it surprises me. Not that it’s wrong because it’s just an opinion but I believe in making a product more entertaining not more homogenized.

As a programmer, one of the real joys for me is when I get to spend time with my Imaging Director and Assistant Program Director and talk through the various ways we want to message things or strengthen the focus of our brand. We’ll sometimes spend hours brainstorming things especially if it’s a specific event or campaign and once that position is identified and we roll it out, it becomes really cool when you can see it and hear it communicated back through the audience.

appleFor example, when we launched 95.7 The Game, we made a decision to be aggressive and utilize the Apple vs. Mac strategy with our promos opposite our local competitor. Similar to a political campaign, we knew there would be people who would rally behind the message and some who would dislike it but regardless, we knew it would get people talking. We utilized our current imaging voice Steve Stone as the voice of the FM radio station and we hired Sean King, the former voice of our competitor to play the old and out of touch AM station. The contrast between Steve and Sean was excellent and to this day I still have people ask me about the campaign.

The full credit for the campaign’s brilliance goes to Jeff Schmidt our Imaging Director who not only knew certain intricacies about the market and our competition but also had a vision for how to bring it to life. To this day it’s one of the most fun campaigns I’ve ever been associated with. Here’s one example for you to enjoy.


While on the air it sounded cool, it more importantly got people inside our own building to recognize that we would be fearless in establishing our position in the marketplace. It also fired up local fans who were hungry for a new choice. One of the funniest and best examples of seeing the branding come to life took place a few months later when we held a contest to reward a local fan with an opportunity to host their own show on the station. At our very first audition, one guy showed up 6 hours before the contest wearing a custom made “F KNBR” t-shirt. That my friends is when you know your message has connected.

notinterestedThis subject always gets my juices flowing and lately I’ve wondered, can you imagine how much less interested we might be in television if they took the same approach as some sports radio stations do? How much less would we watch if we weren’t drawn to shows through promos? How much less familiar would we be with brands and their slogan’s if they weren’t pounded into our heads?

Would you know ESPN stood for the “Entertainment and Sports Programming Network” if it wasn’t explained to you? Would you know TBS to be “Very Funny” if they didn’t say they were? How about MTV and their position as “Music Television“? Ok that one we can forget since they hardly offer music anymore but hey they can’t all be grand slams.

itworksLet’s take it beyond television stations for a second. Think about the most popular brands who advertise on many of our radio stations. Bud Light = Here We Go, McDonald’s = I’m Loving It, Geico = 15 minutes could save you 15% on car insurance and Papa Johns = Better Ingredients, Better Pizza, Papa Johns. Why do these companies invest so many dollars in advertising and their marketing message? It’s simple…because it works!

Watch the MLB Playoffs, an NFL pre-game show on Sunday or your favorite local channel and how they promote an upcoming program and I guarantee you’re going to receive a strong degree of hype with one main purpose – to peak your curiosity and get you to tune in. These networks understand how to build anticipation and get you interested and they do an excellent job using creative messaging with music that makes you remember what you’re witnessing.

Case in point, check out this promo for the MLB 2014 Playoffs. You’ve likely seen it air during most of the games you’ve watched and by now now you likely have the Fitz and the Tantrums hook permanently implanted inside your brain.

One of my favorite shows on television currently is “Sons of Anarchy” on FX. Each week the shows delivers strong storylines, drama and action that leaves its fans on the edge of their seat. When you look at the way that the show is promoted at the end of each program and throughout the week through promos, it’s no surprise that the show dominates in the ratings. A great show combined with outstanding promotional support and creativity will lead to strong viewership. Here’s a look at one of the show’s promos. See if you can quickly catch on to the events on the show and feel the connection to the drama that’s about to unfold.

Taking a look at a lighter approach, here’s the promo which ran on Tru TV to launch the comedy show “Impractical Jokers“. Watch the clip and see if you can quickly pick up on what the show is about and whether or not you find yourself laughing and curious about what happens. Even if it’s not your cup of tea, I think you’ll agree it’s easy to digest and if you’re into lighter comedy, it should peak your interest.

When you listen to sports radio stations around the country today, ask yourself when you listen if you feel hooked by the creativity and suspense on your favorite brands outside of the main talk show content. I’m not talking about whether or not you remember the name of the station and where it broadcasts from thanks to the top of the hour legal ID. I’m also not talking about liners which lead you back into a segment and remind you of who the host is and the station they’re on. I’m talking about creative production which revolves around big events/games, tune-in opportunities, originality and brand messaging that strikes a chord.

cbsrI notice that a number of CBS sports stations in local markets as well as on the national network, utilize a similar sound. CBS sports talkers will traditionally use jingle packages, older music beds and the same imaging voice (Paul Turner) and be very simple with their approach (not all of them, but most I’ve observed). Given their success in numerous markets, you can say their approach works well for them. They focus on less bells and whistles and more on the nuts and bolts.

On the other hand, ESPN local stations and the network itself do some very strong creative production and present more flair for the dramatic while also winning in numerous markets with a very different philosophy. They also tend to utilize the same imaging voice (Jim and Dawn Cutler) and ESPN branded jingles.

When I listen to those two brands, I can tell instantly how they’re different. As a listener I like it because it provides me with a choice which illustrates that there’s more than one way to run a sports radio station. You’re rarely going to hear a thirty second promo hyping up one of CBS’ local talk shows yet on an ESPN station you’ll hear promos highlighting personalities and regular big name guests. On CBS stations they use liners heading into breaks or off of their updates to reinforce their shows, play by play events or sponsorable items whereas ESPN uses liners to introduce shows, segments or more programming centric items.

hookBoth approaches have their pluses and minuses but I tend to lean more towards the ESPN approach because I look at promos as a tool to draw more occasions to a radio station. The goal of a promo is not to fill thirty seconds of air time and showcase how cool you can sound with fancy editing tools, it’s to make people curious and hook them with interesting examples of your programming, personalities and the radio station. When you highlight personalities, guest appointments, play by play and strong campaigns effectively, they can have an impact on people.

Sometimes when we’re working on promos we forget that a promo in the minds of the audience is another commercial. While we separate it internally, those on the outside see it as an interruption and something that is keeping them away from their favorite talk show host for an extra thirty seconds. If it’s fun, suspenseful, entertaining or powerful, it can draw people in. If not, it’s a time filler and one more roadblock for the listener to navigate past.

As an example, if you’re going to promote a game and all you do is have the voice guy mention the two teams, game time and the position of the station, it’s predictable, not very creative and doesn’t generate an emotional response with your fans. But, if you do it like this, I think you fire up your fan base and get them more excited to tune in.


Ultimately, audiences will have different tastes. Some will like brands with a stronger creative delivery and others will prefer the opposite. However I believe that as more stations migrate to FM and new personalities are introduced, the ability to entertain and stand out is going to be more important. Those who wish to stay the current course can certainly do so but as new products continue to emerge, the risk of sounding mundane and trapped in yesteryear could become more problematic.

differentwayToday people are using Spotify, iTunes, iHeart, Pandora and YouTube (just to name a few), when it comes to hearing new music. In the old days, you’d have to wait for a certain time of the day for your favorite music station to introduce new songs. If that same mentality was kept in music radio today, stations would die quickly. Audiences have adapted to a new way of consuming music and they have much less patience or tolerance for clutter so it’s important to connect with them instantly or you risk losing them to other outlets.

Think about this. If the newspaper industry had been at the forefront of where new media was headed, would they have suffered as badly as they have? Today people read Twitter and Facebook first thing in the morning, not the local paper. I’m sure many in the print industry previously thought “we’re a dynasty, irreplaceable, we can’t be caught” but when people operate that way and stop evolving, they leave a door open for others to walk through. The way we now consume written content is much different than we did 10-20 years ago and it was created by an entire industry refusing to change.

scAs it pertains to sports radio or television, the same rules apply. Do you remember what was popular 20-30 years ago? ABC’s Wide World of Sports and ESPN’s SportsCenter were two very strong brands that during their time were seen as acceptable when it came to the studio sets, camera shots, use of video and jingles. Each show was well received by sports audiences. If those same presentations were being delivered today, they’d be rejected quickly because they don’t suit the wants and needs of today’s audience. Clearly ESPN adjusted and continues to do so which is why it’s always among the most powerful brands in America. For all of it’s imperfections, you can’t say they’re not committed to trying new things.

In my view, that’s what sports radio has to do too. Face it, people today can stream stations all over the country and they can download a show via a Podcast and skip interruptions. The goal is to make them want to experience it LIVE and if you employ great talent and enhance your opportunities for tune-ins by reinforcing the cool, dramatic and worthwhile content pieces on your brand through quality imaging, branding and production, you have a puncher’s chance of winning the battle for space inside one’s head.

audienceleaningYou also have to write in a way that the audience relates to and make your messaging sound fun, witty and interesting. The days of “get ready for a steady dose of hardcore sports talk with Joe and Jim” are over. If that’s your level of creativity, prepare to be bypassed by those behind you. Whether you’re a PD, APD, Imaging Director, Promotions Director, Host or Producer, if you’ve got any involvement in the messaging on your radio station, put the time into it because it will stand out favorably or negatively with the audience.

Much like we do with the subjects we talk about, we’re trying to grab the most amount of people possible to consume our content, so if your hosts are being paid to talk about the key things which will grab the majority’s attention, the production and branding of a radio station needs to be focused on the most important things too. I believe it’s much better to beat the drum of 3-4 strong messages then to overload an audience with too many things. Rarely does the majority of your material get consumed that way. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way.

shapingWhen I look around the country today I find myself impressed by the production work done by a number of stations. Arizona Sports 98.7FM in Phoenix, The Ticket in Dallas, 98.7 ESPN NY, WEEI in Boston, 710 ESPN in Seattle and 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia are some who I think do a really nice job. I also think my current station 95.7 The Game does a strong job but its always harder for me to highlight my own brand because I’m too close to it. That said, credit is easy to give when you’ve got good people doing good work.

To bring this to a close, as I look to the future I hope to see stations in this format put a stronger emphasis on production value and recognize its importance in connecting with people. Listeners = supporters of advertisers and the #1 promotional tool for our radio stations. Why that’s not seen in a bigger light by everyone inside every building is puzzling. Add to that the increased engagement and activity from people through social media and you’ve got thousands each day to help spread your message.

Some companies will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a TV marketing campaign to tell local people they exist and when the commercial production process happens, numerous people from the station will get together, analyze every key detail and make sure there is a clear message presented for the viewer to consume. While that’s smart planning if you’re going to do a TV spot to promote your station, I could easily question why the same focus, energy and commitment of time isn’t given to the messages that are being delivered on your own radio station. Chances are you’ll promote your brand more on your own radio station then you’re going to on a television buy.

Sometimes when we’re in our respective buildings, we become creatures of habit and fall victim to taking the easiest path to get something done. If we concentrated more on our own messaging and creative presentation, similar to how we act when a camera is in the room and a light goes on, imagine what we might be able to offer our listeners. Who knows, maybe we’d surprise ourselves and provide more drama and entertainment value than even television can. I’m allowed to think that’s possible right?

Barrett Blogs

Rachel Nichols and Baron Davis Headline Final Speaker Announcements For the 2023 BSM Summit

“I’m sure Baron and Rachel will have all eyes and ears focused on them when they take the stage together next Tuesday at 2:45pm PT.”

Jason Barrett




The 2023 BSM Summit schedule is set. After months of planning and talking to everyone across the industry, I’m ecstatic to roll out next week’s agenda including making one final announcement involving seven great additions to our conference.

For starters, it is a pleasure to welcome Showtime’s Rachel Nichols to the BSM Summit. I’ve admired her work on television for years, and am thrilled to have her guiding a session which I think many in the room are going to really enjoy.

Rachel’s guest will be former NBA star Baron Davis. Baron runs his own company, Baron Davis Enterprises, and he has been active in investing in media brands, and exploring ways to evolve the industry. Among his areas of passion, athletes taking more control of their brands, and the media industry needing to improve its track record with diversity. I’m sure Baron and Rachel will have all eyes and ears focused on them when they take the stage together next Tuesday at 2:45pm PT.

Also joining the Summit are a few longtime industry friends. For starters, VSiN’s program director Jon Goulet is someone who I’ve known and worked with, and he understands the sports betting audio space extremely well. Jon and BetQL VP of Programming Mitch Rosen will spend time with another industry friend, Bryan Curtis of The Ringer. Collectively they’ll examine the state of sports betting audio on Tuesday March 21st from 3:35p-4:10p, and what they look for when it comes to sports betting talent, and how they determine what is and isn’t success in the sports gambling content world.

With Mitch taking part in the sports betting panel, Jeff Rickard of WFNZ in Charlotte steps into The Programmer’s Panel alongside Jimmy Powers, John Mamola and Raj Sharan. The session is scheduled for Wednesday March 22nd from 9:10a-9:45a PT. Ironically, all four of these programmers work for different companies, so it’ll be interesting to hear how they differ and where they align while navigating through a few sports radio programming topics.

Next, I’m excited to introduce a social media session with Karlo Sy Su of ESPN Los Angeles and Matthew Demeke of AM 570 LA Sports. If you look at the performance of their brands on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook, they’ve each delivered strong audiences and engagement. I’m looking forward to hosting this one and learning about their processes, how they decide which platforms to focus on most, what they consider a social media win when analyzing social statistics, and how they develop their content process. Given our location, we’re calling the session ‘Social Media Goes Hollywood‘. It’s scheduled for Wednesday March 22nd from 3:35-4:10 PT.

I realize you’re not going to remember all of these session speakers and times off the top of your head, so to make it easier, log on to and scroll down past our speakers. That’s where you’ll find our detailed list of sessions/times and activities planned each day. We have eighteen sessions, two awards ceremonies, and two parties. Our kickoff party is presented by the WWE and takes place Monday March 20th from 7p-9p at the 1880 Founders Room. The ESPN Radio After Party takes place Tuesday March 21st from 6p-8p at the Lab Gastropub. Both party locations are in walking distance of the USC Hotel and our conference venue.

As an added bonus, thanks to the generosity of our friends at WWE, we will be giving away a pair of tickets to the first night of WrestleMania, and a WWE title at our kickoff party. WrestleMania takes place this year in Los Angeles at Sofi Stadium on March 25-26. You must be present at the kickoff party to win either prize.

We’ll have more to share next week including providing an ongoing blog with session news and notes for our readers. We’ll also have a ton of content available on our social media channels so if you’re not following @BSMStaff on Twitter, @BarrettSportsMedia on Facebook or @BarrettMedia on LinkedIn, what are you waiting for?

The focus now shifts to finishing our creative for next week’s show, sending information to our speakers for their sessions, and finalizing our attendees list. For those who are attending, we’ll be sending out an email on Friday or Saturday with a complete list of names of who’s coming so you can plan meetings in advance.

If you forgot to buy your ticket after seeing months of promotion about the event and meant to do so, you can still do that, but it costs more. Students on the other hand can take advantage of a low rate established for college kids at

Putting this event together isn’t easy, but I’m extremely pleased with how it’s come together. We have a lot of smart, talented, and accomplished people making time to be part of this, and I appreciate each and every one of them for doing so. Now, it’s all about the execution. Hope to see you next week in LA.

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Sports Broadcasting Icon Al Michaels To Be Honored at the 2023 BSM Summit

“This is a man who has spent more than five decades on your television screen calling the biggest games, and producing some of the most iconic moments sports has to offer.”

Jason Barrett




If you work in the sports media industry you’ve likely heard someone along the way utter the phrase “don’t bury the lead“. I’m usually good about following that advice but I didn’t do that at our 2022 BSM Summit.

We introduced the greatest tandem in sports radio history, Mike Francesa and Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo and it was a special half hour. Mike and the Mad Dog were reunited after seven years apart and every individual at the event knew they were witnessing something magical on stage. I created a Mike and the Mad Dog Award for the event, which went to Felger and Mazz, who were the absolute right choice to win it. Even Chris remarked ‘that’s the right call‘.

But I learned quickly that although the intention was right in honoring the industry’s current top performing show, when you have legends in the room and they’re in their element, the last thing you want to do is overcrowd them. The connection Mike and Chris had on the air became the gold standard by which we measure successful sports talk shows, and they didn’t need an award created to deliver a special moment, just two mics and 20-30 minutes of stage time.

As I began thinking about the 2023 BSM Summit, I knew there was an opportunity to build on what we started last year with Mike and Chris, and after talking to a few people who I trust and respect, the decision of who we would recognize became crystal clear. I believe it’s important to honor the greats in our business because those who leave a permanent mark on our industry deserve it. The man we’ve selected has spent more than five decades on your television screen calling the biggest games, and producing some of the most iconic moments sports has to offer. He’s worked with the best of the best inside the booth, has helped elevate the presentation and execution of in-game content for ABC, NBC and Amazon, and his call of the Miracle on Ice, the US Olympic hockey team’s 1980 gold medal win over Russia remains one of the best calls in the history of sports.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am honored and privileged to share that Al Michaels will join us on Wednesday March 22nd at the 2023 BSM Summit for our awards presentation, where we will present him with BSM’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Michaels is one of America’s most respected sports broadcasting voices, known for his exceptional work on Monday Night Football (1986-2005), Sunday Night Football (2006-2022) and Thursday Night Football (2022-Present). He’s called the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, Hagler-Hearns, the Olympics, the Indy 500, Horse Racing’s Triple Crown races, College Football and Basketball games, Golf, and more. He’s even held roles as the voice of the University of Hawaii, the Cincinnati Reds, and the San Francisco Giants, and was in the booth in 1989 when an earthquake rocked the Bay Area during Game 3 of the A’s-Giants world series.

The Brooklyn native turned Los Angeles resident has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and owns a ton of hardware including five sports Emmy’s, three NSMA Sportscaster of the Year honors, the 2013 Pete Rozelle Radio & Television Award distributed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the 2021 Ford C. Frick Award given out by the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Though his trophy case may be full, we’re excited to add another to his collection to show our appreciation and respect for the impact he’s made on the sports media business.

A quick reminder, the BSM Summit takes place on Tuesday March 21st and Wednesday March 22nd at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California. Tickets are on-sale at

Be advised, we have started adding sessions and times on the website. As always, the schedule is subject to change. Our final agenda will be posted by the end of next week. In addition, attendees will receive an email by next Friday with details of who will be in attendance. We hope to see you there.

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Rob Parker, Brian Long, Sean Thompson and Matt Fishman Join The BSM Summit Speaker Lineup

“I’m excited to welcome a few folks who have enjoyed success in different parts of the country, and in different areas of the business.”

Jason Barrett




As we gear up for our 5th annual BSM Summit on March 21-22, 2023, I’m starting to get a better feel for how the final puzzle may look. When this process starts I have no idea how it’s going to turn out because so much depends on who says yes and no. Many who’ve attended over the years have complimented our lineups, and I appreciate it because I put a lot of time and effort into featuring a strong mix of professionals from different areas of the industry. Though I’m proud of the work we do and the schedule we deliver, there are so many things pursued leading up to the event that I can’t help but wonder ‘what if this or that had worked out?’

One thing that some folks don’t understand if they haven’t been to the show before is that this is not a talent conference. It’s a sports media business conference. That means we feature radio, TV and digital executives, programmers, researchers, sales professionals, and yes, talent. I believe on-air performers are vital to the industry’s success and I want the best of the best sharing their wisdom with everyone in the room, but we’re also not going to do two full days of on-air conversations. Being successful in sports media requires understanding the on-air side and the business side, and we do our best to offer a blend of both.

For today’s announcement, I’m excited to welcome a few sports media pros who have enjoyed success in different parts of the country, and in different areas of the business.

First, Rob Parker is someone who has made a name for himself as a radio host, writer, TV commentator, and teacher. He’s currently heard weeknights on FOX Sports Radio, teaches students at USC Annenberg, writes for Deadspin, and is helping MLBBro gain awareness and a bigger mainstream media presence covering Major League Baseball. He’s experienced, smart, and never short on opinion. I’m looking forward to having him join Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score/BetQL, and Scott Shapiro of FOX Sports Radio for a session titled “Aircheck On Campus“. They’ll take the stage together on Wednesday March 22nd from 2:10-2:45.

My next three speakers, all come from the sports radio programming department.

Matt Fishman is the Director of Content for ESPN 850 Cleveland. Fishman has been with the brand since January 2020 following stints at SiriusXM, 610 Sports in Kansas City, and 670 The Score in Chicago. He even wrote for BSM for a few years.

Sean Thompson is responsible for programming decisions at Arizona Sports and ESPN 620 AM. He joined the well respected Phoenix brand after more than a decade in Atlanta at 92.9 The Game. Sean has also worked in affiliate relations for Westwood One, and on the air and as a programmer in music radio for Good Karma Brands in Madison, WI.

Brian Long is the program director of both San Diego Sports 760 and KOGO 600 in San Diego. In addition to guiding two of the top talk brands in his market, he has also managed Seattle Sports 710, and served as the Assistant Program Director for ESPN LA 710.

Matt, Sean, and Brian will be part of one of our final sessions on day two of the Summit. The Last Call which yours truly is hosting, will explore unique revenue opportunities created by local brands, and examine a few new ideas and missed opportunities that brands and managers may want to take advantage of in the future.

As of today, the Summit has more than forty accomplished professionals taking the stage at the Founders Club at USC’s Galen Center on March 21-22, 2023. I’ve got a few others still to announce as well, including a few cool giveaways planned for the WWE’s Kickoff party.

If you haven’t bought a ticket and wish to be in the room, visit The last day for ticket sales will be Monday March 13th. I’m hoping to release our final schedule of sessions on Tuesday March 14th. Hopefully I’ll see you in the city of angels.

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