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Congrats, Now Train Your Replacement

Jason Barrett

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Working in the sports radio industry is a privilege that some of us often take for granted. We get to play in the toy department of life and engage in spirited discussions that are often referred to by industry types as “soap opera for men” and have access to people that most of our friends would pay large sums of money to spend 2 minutes with. We’re not digging ditches or ripping shingles off of roofs and we’re not heading home after each shift talking about how much we dislike our jobs. Face it, we’re pretty lucky….and we get paid to do this!

jblarussaOver the past 10 years of my career I’ve taken road trips with Dan Patrick, talked about coaching and motivating people with Tony LaRussa and Rick Venturi, attended a barbecue at Steve Spagnuolo’s house, sat with Billy Beane and listened to his views on the business of baseball and shared a stage with former Raiders Head Coach Dennis Allen. To say I’ve been treated to some special experiences would be a massive understatement but that’s what you become accustomed to when you work in this industry.

While all of that may be fine and dandy and it showcases the extra perks of working in this industry, it’s not as rewarding as making an impact on the people you work with every day. Sure it looks sexy and it sounds cool when starting a conversation with your friends but in the grand scheme of things, does it really matter? Not really.

achieveIn my opinion, one thing that matters a great deal is something that not everyone is willing to do – pushing people to get better and to take on bigger career challenges! Not every relationship will be positive but I try to make sure that wherever I work, I leave behind more people who felt like they learned something from me than those who didn’t. If a few friendships are made along the way, that’s icing on the cake.

I’m aware that my personality and style isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and every strong leader with strong opinions is going to have critics and fans. I don’t worry about whether or not I’m liked or disliked or if people care to have beers with me outside the work place. My job is to coach people, make them better, deliver results, make sure they’re prepared for the next step in their careers, fight for the brands I represent and by doing that it often leads to earning the respect and trust of those I lead. When I head home each day, that’s what matters to me.

In this industry so many of us are conditioned to compete and it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of worrying about ourselves. We worry first about our own needs, our own paychecks, our ratings, meeting our sales budgets and how we’ll personally be impacted if something around us changes. It’s much harder to think about a co-worker and how we can play a larger role in helping them take the next step in their career.

jbdpCase in point, when I left the Dan Patrick Show to become the first Program Director for SportsTalk 950 in Philadelphia (now 97.5 The Fanatic), Dan wasn’t initially excited for me. He was concerned about how my departure would impact his show and I didn’t blame him. He had a very successful program on the biggest sports radio network in the country and as a team we were starting to gel. Once the smoke cleared and Dan saw that everything would be fine (and probably better, haha) he was able to genuinely wish me well.

That reaction out of people is natural but I believe that each of us sometimes need to be reminded of the bigger picture and how important it is to help someone take steps in their career rather than focus negative energy on how it may impact our own situations. If we’re good at what we do, we’ll be fine regardless of who’s around us. If we use our talents to grow those around us, it speaks even higher volumes about what you stand for as a professional and more importantly as a person.

scottcarlinThat leads me to the headline of this column and how I personally relate to it. In 2002 I was working in Poughkeepsie, NY paying my dues for radio station 1340/1390 ESPN Radio. We had one local afternoon show and I was producing and doing updates on it for about a year. I was making strides inside the workplace and enjoying my role and it led to my Operations Manager Scott Carlin and General Manager Bill Palmeri taking a liking to me.

One day I was called up to Scott’s office and he wanted to talk to me about how we could improve the radio station. Our PD/Afternoon Host had been let go earlier in the day and Scott was of the opinion that if I took on the PD role and afternoon host position we’d get better. I was honored that he and Bill believed in me enough to trust me leading the radio station and I saw it as a great growth step for my career and I gladly accepted the opportunity.

Right after Scott informed me of the salary and shook my hand, he uttered the following words “congratulations, now start training your replacement“. I was confused and asked him if he was referring to making sure we had a new producer and update guy in place to fill my old spot. He smiled and said “No. Make sure you get the next Programmer ready for us“.

jbwpdhConsidering I had worked hard to earn this position and had just been offered the job, I wasn’t thinking straight and the thought of getting someone else ready to do the job wasn’t sitting well. Scott then explained his rationale and once he spoke his piece it all made perfect sense. He told me he knew I’d one day go on to do bigger things and when that opportunity comes my way, it’ll be important for me to make sure that the place I leave behind is in capable hands. The building in Poughkeepsie wasn’t going to change locations so it was my responsibility to prepare others for future opportunities with the company.

I then told him I’d do my best to make sure we had great depth at the radio station and I’d focus my efforts on making sure I made those around me better. That conversation that day made a major impact on me because it taught me that what you leave behind matters and it also influences how people measure you and talk about you long after you’ve left a situation.

giffordSince that day, I have taken great pride in trying to help people advance their careers. When I worked at ESPN Radio as a Producer, I pushed my intern Amanda Gifford to become great. She had natural talent and a great way of communicating with people and she loved being challenged. While she was new to the business I wasn’t going to let that be an excuse to not make an impact. Because she worked her tail off and impressed those around her, she kept moving up the ladder. Today she’s a Program Director for ESPN Radio Network.

jbhossIn St. Louis, I spent 5 years working with Chris “Hoss” Neupert at two different radio stations. I challenged him to showcase his creativity and manage people and collaborated with him on numerous events and ideas. When I left 590 The Fan, KFNS he was named as my replacement and when I left 101 ESPN he wasn’t initially put in as PD but he’s in that position now and nothing makes me happier than seeing him kick ass and take names and knowing I played a small part in helping him reach that level.

jbcrowe2In San Francisco when we launched 95.7 The Game, I knew I needed a partner who understood my way of doing radio and had the passion and desire to run a station in the future. I convinced my former ESPN Radio colleague Jeremiah Crowe to leave Bristol and join me as the radio station’s Executive Producer. Over the next 4 years I challenged him again and again and it helped put him in position to earn a promotion to Assistant Program Director. He’s now ready to become a Program Director either here in San Francisco or somewhere else in the country.

smearAdditionally, some of my former producers have made great strides professionally. John Semar who worked for me at 101 ESPN in St. Louis and 95.7 The Game in San Francisco is now the Executive Producer of CBS Sports 920 in St. Louis. Ben Boyd who produced for me at 101 ESPN is the Executive Producer for KMOX in St. Louis. And my former afternoon producer at 95.7 The Game Kyle Englehart, now holds the Executive Producer title at XTRA Sports 1360 in San Diego.

benboydIn each of their cases, I’ve pushed for them to take on bigger challenges. When Ben came to me at 101 ESPN and asked what he should do when Sirius XM put a bigger opportunity on the table, I told him to take it, even if it meant leaving us where he’d done remarkable work. As it turned out, the Sirius XM situation didn’t last but Ben gained valuable experience from it, and that combined with his strong track record in St. Louis earned him a bigger role with KMOX.

In John’s case, I not only encouraged him to leave St. Louis and join me in San Francisco to take on the challenge of a different show and market, but when he decided St. Louis was where he wanted to live and work and his current boss Tim McKernan asked my advice on hiring him, I told Tim he’d be improving his company immediately by adding John. Tim elected to take my advice and hire John and their partnership has turned out to be very positive.

jbkyleWhen my fellow PD and good friend Brian Long reached out and asked for suggestions on strong candidates to become his right hand man in San Diego, I suggested Kyle without hesitation. Kyle was surprised when I called him to my office to tell him I recommended him for a job back home in San Diego and he was very appreciative that I had done so. While selfishly it would have benefited my station and afternoon show to have him stay, I had to think about what was best for his career. I had faith in my own abilities to create a solution that would keep the station and show in strong shape while allowing Kyle to take the next step in his career and everything has since worked out great for both parties.

parcellstreeSome of my staffs have heard me use the line “graveyards are full of irreplaceable men” and whether that’s ignorance or cockiness on my part can certainly be debated but I believe in the “next person up” mentality. You hear it often in pro football and I believe it translates to radio too. Find me an organization without depth and talented people ready to step up and I’ll show you a losing organization.

louholtztreeNobody is impossible to replace. However, you’ve got to develop your key people and your bench because if you don’t then you’ll never be your best and you won’t help your people reach their full potential. I can accept losing an employee to another company because they did great work and were presented with a growth opportunity. What I dislike is having to part ways with someone because they either didn’t get the job done or conducted themselves unprofessionally.

bryancoxI remember when I covered the NY Jets early in my career and I had a chat with Bryan Cox who told me that Bill Parcells was dogging him after he had an outstanding game. Parcells walked on to the practice field with two gas cans, one which was full and one which was empty. Bill told Bryan “you started as one of these, now you’re the other one, you figure out which one you are“.

Cox was pissed because he was coming off of a great game but the trick worked because he went out that Sunday and played a great game and the Jets won. The following week Bryan told Bill he could kiss him where the sun didn’t shine for suggesting he was on empty and Parcells loved it because he knew he had pushed his player to perform. However, he also gave Bryan some words of wisdom that stuck with me and I use when developing my radio teams.

coxHe told Bryan “never lose sight of the fact that every single day you’re competing for your spot. What you did last game doesn’t guarantee a strong result in the next one. If a day comes and I think your backup, his backup, another teams starter or another teams backup can do the job better than you, you’re not on this field. It’s your job to make sure you bring it every day and give me no reason to look for other alternatives“.

The point of those examples above isn’t to showcase how they’ve each had success in their careers nor is it to pat myself on the back for helping them. It’s to emphasize the importance of looking out for what’s best for your people and doing your part to help them be their very best, even if it means having to lose them at some point. I believe that when you do that and you show people that you care about them and their future, you get more respect and buy in from them. It also sends a strong message to the rest of your employees and other professionals that you’re the type of person worth going through a wall for.

relationshipsWe sometimes forget that people in this business go to work for other people, not companies. Life decisions are made based on who we like, trust, respect and feel we will gain something from. It isn’t just about money, although that sometimes blinds us when accepting positions. When someone comes to work for me, they enter into a partnership with me and the radio station I oversee. Yes the company has certain standards that need to be met and they issue a paycheck and benefits but the day to day decision making comes from the person you work for. That relationship normally dictates how long you stay in a position and whether or not you enjoy the experience.

Not everything I’ve done over the years has been endorsed by the companies I’ve worked for but the majority of my employers have respected and trusted my approach and I’ve been lucky more times than not to work for good companies and good people who empower me to make decisions. It’s then my job as a manager to make smart choices that are best for the brand and our people. I take both of those priorities very seriously and I treat them equally important.

jbburwellEven when I’ve parted ways with people in this business, it’s never personal unless someone wants it to be that way. In many cases I’ve worked with people multiple times. Case in point, the late and great Bryan Burwell worked for me twice in St. Louis. Bob Ramsey, Chris Neupert and Sara Dayley did as well. In San Francisco the same holds true for Mychael Urban, Dan Dibley, Drew Hoffar and Matt Steinmetz. If I believe someone can help the organization and they’ve conducted themselves professionally, regardless of the prior situation it’s my job to do what’s best for the radio station. If I think they can help us get better, I don’t hesitate to re-open the door.

strongpeepsIf there’s something to take away from this article it’s that I hope if you work in this industry that you recognize how important it is to make lasting impressions on people and lift them up to your level (and hopefully beyond it) rather than keeping them stagnant. A disruption is never ideal and maybe the solution won’t be as good but it’s not the end of the world or your career. If you’re smart, talented, willing to put the work in and help people improve, you’ll be just fine!

If you value those around you and challenge them to get better, they will. When they do, they’ll likely get scooped up or they’ll rise inside your company. Their job is to make sure they’ve prepared their replacement. Because as I learned in 2002, the building doesn’t relocate!

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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 BSMSummit.com.

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.

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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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