Connect with us
BSM Summit
blank

Barrett Blogs

How Important Are Callers To Sports Talk Radio?

Jason Barrett

Published

on

Everybody who loves sports, has an opinion on it, and those who listen to sports radio shows, want to be a part of them. But should they be?

We’ve all heard that classic line “long time listener, first time caller” and depending on your personal preference, you either cringe or smile when you hear it.

caller1I’ve had the benefit during my career to experience a lot of different approaches to creating great sports talk radio. Growing up in New York, callers often drove the content and until I left home to experience other cities, I assumed this was the only way to deliver quality sports talk.

Who could argue? WFAN in New York launched the format, and has been ultra successful for nearly 30 years. They employ great talent, have a pool of fourteen million people to tap into for passionate calls on the area’s nine professional teams, and they’ve had no reason to change their strategy.

Yet when I spent two years in Bristol producing shows for ESPN Radio, we’d rarely take calls. At first I was surprised. If New York had access to fourteen million people, and the lines were flooded, shouldn’t a national network have even more activity?

Well they did, but as I learned quickly on the network level, it was about creating great content, driving the segments, utilizing feedback thru multiple platforms and not relying on people on the outside to carry the conversation. We weren’t a sports bar where people came to have conversations. We were the content provider who was known for delivering insight, opinion, entertainment, huge guests and breaking news.

gilbertOne line my former ESPN Radio boss Bruce Gilbert used to use which I’ve borrowed many times during my career was “If you wouldn’t give the keys to your car to a stranger, why would you give the keys to your radio show to them“?

It was a great point and one that I connected with. I also realized that a national show operates much differently than a local show, so I saw the value in working with talent to create better segments, features, land strong guests and deliver programming that could work across the nation.

When I left the network, I made a move to Philadelphia where the passion of the local community was off the charts. Jody MacDonald was my afternoon drive host at the time, and he was our version of the local bartender who everyone was stopping by to chat with about the day’s local sports stories.

jodymac2Jody was excellent at providing comfort and a good solid back and forth conversation about local topics with local people, and I saw that much like New York, Philadelphia was very passionate, and the need to engage with people on sports talk radio shows was important for having success there.

The only time I can remember being ticked off about a call was when I called Jody in and congratulated him on lining up Mel Kiper, Ron Jaworski and Caller George as guests on the show. He quickly corrected me and said “George wasn’t a guest, he was a caller“. I responded “Given that George had more air time than Mel Kiper, I’m not so sure he wasn’t a guest“.

We both laughed and Jody understood my point and gave me the classic Jodyism “Ok bossman, we’ll try to be better tomorrow“. My point to him that day was that while we wanted people to call and connect with him on the show, we also didn’t want them to control the flow of it.

As I moved on to St. Louis, I noticed that the fans were very different. While New York and Philadelphia were known more for being loose cannons who wanted immediate changes, retribution and instant results, fans in the midwest were more relaxed and happy to digest the content, enjoy the experience and give their teams their trust and respect.

mckWhile at my first stop in St. Louis, 590 The Fan, we took a lot of calls. Our lineup was solid and a few of our personalities were skilled at engaging with local callers, but the value of the calls as a whole wasn’t as strong, and overall our results weren’t great. That confused me.

If the formula worked for local stations in New York and Philadelphia, shouldn’t it work here too?

Not exactly.

The Beard 1 152When I landed my next opportunity in St. Louis with 101 ESPN, I started the brand with the understanding that we were going to control the content flow, build our presentations around informed and entertaining opinions and conversations, quality guests who moved the day’s stories along and fresh production which helped the station skew younger and sound topical.

I had learned the market better and felt strongly that people were much more interested in listening than engaging on the phones and I was fortunate to hire a number of personalities who grasped what I wanted to accomplish, believed in the approach and had the skills necessary to execute the vision.

While we did take calls on occasion, anytime we took them, they were utilized to contribute to the content we were creating and add to the show. We weren’t offering an open forum for them to dictate what the host talks about next, instead they were reacting to what we asked them to react on.

By employing that strategy, we created memorable content, became more interactive through social media and texts and less reliant on calls and as luck would have it we became a force in the market and were consistently top 3, rising to as high as 2nd overall in the format.

Group PicWhen I accepted the position to build 95.7 The Game in San Francisco I was curious about which approach would make more sense. Would we need to operate how a New York or Philadelphia station does or would we follow the path we employed in St. Louis?

One thing to consider, when you’re in each of these situations, you also need to analyze how you measure up against your competitor. If you’re simply going to present the same type of presentation and experience, then why would a local audience flock to your brand when they already have one that they’re comfortable with?

We kicked off the radio station with the focus of driving connection to our personalities through texts and social media. While our competitor was seen as the “old school” brand which relied on calls to drive segments, we wanted to differentiate ourselves and show that we were more in sync with the way the younger part of the demo was living their lives.

texting2If you pay attention to the way a male 18-44 lives their life today, you’ll find that they rarely want to be on the phone. If they are, it’s to read something, send a text, send a tweet or check Facebook. The likelihood of them calling in, sitting on hold for thirty minutes to chat with you for less than two minutes and doing it repeatedly is very slim.

For the first two years we employed that strategy and our social media numbers and engagement were outstanding, our ratings consistently grew and our talent showcased themselves as a content-first product that local fans appreciated.

It became clear that there were different approaches with the two local brands, each provided different value to different people, and as a result, it gave listeners options to choose from.

I remember sitting in a focus group after our first year on the air and a few people inside our group were concerned that we might be using a bad strategy by not being reliant on phone calls. Once again, it works everywhere else so why are we not doing the same thing?

rightIf there’s one thing that drives me crazy in this industry it’s the old “everyone is doing it so why aren’t we“? If the majority of the world operated that way we’d still be using rotary phones and pay phones, the internet wouldn’t exist, we’d listen to music on cassettes and CD’s and sports radio would be the red headed step child inside most clusters, operating on weak AM signals and seen as the first candidate to consider when the company contemplates a format flip.

During the focus group, the question was asked to a number of local listeners about their feelings on the station not being heavy with caller activity. I was confident that we were taking a smart approach and curious to see how local people were receiving it.

focusgroupWhen the room was asked to give a grade, nearly everyone of them said they were thankful that we weren’t operating shows that were built around local calls and they were tuning into the shows to hear the personalities, guests, bits and other ways we entertained.

Afterwards our group chatted and when the subject came up about callers, I was asked if I thought the same approach would make sense in some of the company’s other markets. I responded that while it made sense for us where we were, I wouldn’t take the same approach in some other cities where it’s clear that the passion for caller activity was higher. Case in point, Boston is a hot bed for great sports radio caller participation and not taking calls there wouldn’t be smart.

bruceAs time passed, we’d eventually begin to take more calls on shows, specifically in afternoon drive where my host Damon Bruce was excellent at engaging with local people. Damon was also a solo show, which presents a different plan as opposed to working with someone.

For some of our other shows, which featured more than one personality, we stayed true to our content strategy while bringing in the audience when it made sense to utilize them. We also kept pushing reaction through Text, Twitter and Facebook because the amount of activity in those three locations was much larger than having six to eight phone lines lit.

When I began my career on-air, I remember the thrill of seeing the phone light up when something I was talking about generated a response. It’s an exciting feeling to know that something you say connected with a listener enough to make them respond.

drivingHowever, today there are so many ways to connect and as people listen less and deal with an avalanche of extra distractions, especially while they’re driving, it’s about providing content and making them feel like you’re providing them with insight, opinion and inside information that they can take with them to use with their friends, co-workers and family.

I think there are many factors to be considered when determining whether or not callers should be utilized to add value to your programming.

  • How does your competitor operate and how are you presenting a different presentation?
  • Are they driving your content or are you utilizing them as props to advance the content you’re discussing?
  • How long are you keeping them on for? Is it an open bar conversation where the discussion lasts five to six minutes or is it a network approach where they’re on for less than sixty seconds?
  • Are they making your personalities look smarter, funnier, more likable or are they adding a level of entertainment to the show that would be missed if it weren’t available?
  • Is your host comfortable and interested in connecting with people? Do they operate better off-the-cuff or when they know what’s coming? Are they better served using a recorded call or taking it live?
  • Who’s screening the call, coaching the caller and working with your talent to make sure the pace keeps moving and the show doesn’t go off the rails in a bad way?

One pet peeve of mine, if you’re screening a call, make sure the caller has the radio turned down before they get on-air. They’re not going to hear themselves in real time given the station’s delay.

Also, tell the caller not to ask your host how he or she is doing and simply be ready to dive into the conversation when they’re called upon. The host is fine or they wouldn’t be at work, and the goal is to keep the pace of the show moving, and advance the topic, not bring everything to a screeching halt.

I recognize there’s a big difference in audio entertainment value between reading a text or tweet and taking a good call, but there’s also something to be lost when you take a bad call as opposed to controlling the content flow and reading a short text or tweet.

bernieAs a fan of both, I can listen to a host like Bernie Miklasz in St. Louis deliver a monologue and opinion for an hour, and not care less if he ever engages with a local listener. Yet if I’m in New York driving during the morning, I love hearing Craig Carton go at it with people and throw in some verbal jabs and one-liners to make the audience nuts.

I recall listening to Mark Chernoff talk about this subject last year in San Diego and he said something that stuck with me about the way Mike Francesa views his callers. He said “Mike’s view is that when someone calls the show, they go from being a listener to becoming a part of the show”.

I thought that made a lot of sense, and in listening to Mike over the years, that approach has definitely worked for him.

finebaumIf you’ve ever listened to Paul Finebaum he’s got a very similar approach which also has worked. His audience is at times delusional, hysterical and the entertainment value you gain from listening to him connect with his listeners is enjoyable to listen to. Some won’t like it, others will, but it works for him.

That doesn’t mean though that a host who doesn’t pound phone lines for 3-4 hours can’t be successful or create an excellent program. I’ve seen tons of talent operate that way and have a lot of success.

dpcolinIt’s sort of like trying to pick a favorite national host between Dan Patrick, Jim Rome and Colin Cowherd. They’re all great and for different reasons and you’re going to listen to them when you’re in the mood for their specific brand of content.

Many will listen to Dan Patrick for his interviews, others will turn to Jim Rome to hear him interact with his callers and Colin Cowherd’s going to be your destination for strong opinions and interesting viewpoints. All three have different styles and execute differently and that’s what makes them unique.

For every host like Francesa who sees the value in making the audience part of the show, there are others like Tim and Sid in Toronto who have a different approach.

timsidWhile their show has moved recently from radio to television, when asked about the transition to the visual side they responded by saying “Our radio show proved you could literally interact, without taking phone calls, with your audience and react in real-time to any news that is going on at the time, or whatever is hot and topical on that day. So now the question is how to take that to TV.”

This is a subject that we all have opinions on and while we’re all going to stay true to what we believe and enjoy, the truth is that there is no right way or wrong way to incorporate callers. Are they valuable to a show? That’s debatable depending on who you ask.

In my opinion, each situation depends on what feels comfortable to the on-air talent, what makes the brand unique in the local marketplace and what type of personality traits exist with your product and how valuable will they be to your on-air presentation.

In the end its all about entertaining the audience and keeping them listening. If you dedicate more content time to your talent or you involve your local listeners more and it works, who can argue with it? And after all, isn’t that the point?

Barrett Blogs

Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

Published

on

blank

We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

Continue Reading

Barrett Blogs

Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

Published

on

blank

As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

Continue Reading

Barrett Blogs

California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

Published

on

blank

With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

Continue Reading
Advertisement

blank

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2023 Barrett Media.