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Playing The Game Without Coaches

Jason Barrett



Imagine this scenario. It’s the fourth quarter, less than a minute left, your football team is down 1 point, and your offense is on the field and on the verge of crossing the 50. The goal is to either score a Touchdown or kick a field goal and win the game.

qb1The players approach the huddle looking to the quarterback for instruction on what play they’ll be executing, only this time the quarterback has no answer.

He explains to the group that the coaches have vacated the sideline and are no longer calling plays, so they’re now left to their own devices and the outcome of the game rests in their hands.

The Quarterback selects a play which he hopes will work and propel the team onto victory, and on this day, his decision making pays off and the team exits the field with a 2 point victory.

nocoachesThe excited bunch head to the locker room, ready to celebrate, except when they arrive, their pride and enthusiasm are deflated when they realize that there are no coaches around to offer a post-game speech or distribute game balls to the team’s top performers.

They leave the stadium, and head home, trusting that the next day will be different. Except it isn’t.

They arrive at the practice facility expecting to get treatments and go over game tape but once again the coaches are absent. This leaves the players upset, confused, and frustrated. Although they are talented and enjoy some independence, they also want to improve and receive guidance from their coaches.

winningHoping to get a sense of what’s going on, the quarterback seeks out the owner. When he explains how the group is frustrated because they’re receiving no coaching, the owner replies “Relax. All that matters is that we make money. Winning and losing is not important”.

The quarterback leaves the owner’s office, returns to his locker, and tries to process what he’s been told. If the only thing that matters is selling tickets, advertising, and broadcasting rights, then why does it matter who’s on the field, if they make plays, and who wins the contest?

This example may be farfetched for the National Football League, but it’s unfortunately a reality inside a number of radio stations today.

nielsenI was raised in this business with the understanding that the ratings are your report card. The grade you receive from the audience tells you whether or not your product is successful. A higher number means more interest from advertisers and the more they spend, the easier it becomes to distribute raises to employees for a job well done.

While there are brands that care deeply about the performance of their radio stations, there are many others that measure success by the revenue generated by their sales teams. Although I agree that sales are vital, I also believe that results should be delivered on the programming end too.

wantThe audience is not privy to your business plan, nor do they care what you make or lose each year or if your stock price has risen or declined. They simply want to tune in, hear a local host discuss the teams and topics they care most about, and gain something from the content to share with their friends and family. The more unique content experiences you provide, the more tune-ins you’ll receive.

But how exactly do you produce unique on-air content experiences? Is it solely the responsibility of the on-air talent? Does a producer have skin in the game? What about the Program Director’s involvement?

The answer in my opinion is that it’s a shared responsibility. More times than not it’s going to start with having an inquisitive talent on the air who is masterful with the english language and has a brain that allows them to consider possibilities that are uncommon to the rest of us. That’s part of being a special talent.

coachesBut even the best thinkers and content creators experience brain freeze and need to be coached, challenged, and given tips on how to improve.

If you watch baseball, you probably know the names Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. They’re incredible players who have each won an MVP Award and they’re also both under 25 years of age. As great as they are, they still need to be coached.

Do you think just because they have talent that they have it all figured out and won’t ever fail?

mlbThere’s a lot left in their respective careers and there are many obstacles they’ve yet to face. Regardless of how naturally skilled they may be, they each will need the benefit of great guidance to help them reach their full potential.

When a new pitcher comes up and has a certain strategy for attacking the zone, do you think that information might be helpful to them before they enter the batter’s box? Sure, maybe they’ll get lucky and connect on the first pitch and hit a homerun, but great players seek every advantage they can get to be successful and they rely on their coaches to help them.

What happens when they each sign larger contracts in the future and become Major League Baseball’s highest paid athletes, generating over 500 million dollars apiece? Do you think they won’t deal with different pressures, expectations, larger challenges off the field, and jealousy from inside their own clubhouses? When that happens, don’t you think they’ll want coaches they can trust to help them through some of their uncomfortable moments?

aloneNow think about that from a radio standpoint. There are some operators who assume just because an individual possesses talent, and receives a big paycheck that they don’t need coaching. The feeling becomes “He/She knows what they’re doing so leave them alone”. When that happens, many stop learning, and begin to treat their show as a responsibility instead of a labor of love.

I understand that it is a business, so if a company wants to adopt that approach and leave the talent in the middle of the ocean to swim to shore without a life preserver, that’s certainly their right. But I believe that you get the most out of people when you show them you care about the work they’re doing and invest time in gauging how they feel about the show, offering ideas to make it feel and sound better, and addressing any issues or concerns that are creating tension. It tells them that you’re paying attention and care about their progress.

creed2Each week I receive dozens of emails from people across this country seeking my coaching. I’m grateful that they think enough of me to want my feedback and it impresses me to see individuals seeking outside help to try and get better. That commitment to self improvement is what helps good performers become great. Every radio company should want people like that working for them because when people possess talent and treat their craft seriously, it pushes those they work with to be their best.

As excited as I am to see many striving to get getter, I’m equally saddened by the reminder of how many radio stations invest little to no time in their most important asset – their people.

chefI realize that the business has become difficult for programmers. Many corporate executives and station managers are disconnected from the product and don’t understand how the meal gets made, who’s involved in making it, or why the customer is eating it. They simply look at the total amount of meals made, what it cost, how many were sold, and what type of profit they generated from it.

That’s business, and business does come first. But unlike music stations which have the benefit of relying on the music created by artists to fill their airwaves, sports talkers only go as far as their on-air talent can take them. If the talent is left to roam through the desert without a compass, it’s only a matter of time until you’re sending in the search party to find them. The great ones will find their way, but even those who aren’t great right now, may have the ability to reach that level in the future, but without coaching you’re limiting their potential to grow.

When I landed my first Program Director job in Poughkeepsie, NY I had no idea what I was doing. I had passion, a good work ethic, and my co-workers responded well to my lead. I had no idea though what content made the most sense to focus on, what separated a good promo from a bad promo, how the station could increase its ratings, or why an on-air talent should or shouldn’t take calls or conduct interviews. There was no book, seminar or mentor available to teach me how to become a good programmer. I was just thrust into the position and had to learn on the job.

NHB and Devito in PoughkeepsieBut that was Poughkeepsie, NY. In most smaller markets where budgets don’t exist, that’s to be expected. Why it’s set up that way though in some top 20 markets is frightening.

I know some programmers today who are running three or four radio stations inside one building, and also have roles either in production or on a talk show. There is even a situation where one sports station is led by a music station programmer who has a strong disdain for sports talk and tells the staff that he wants no involvement with them.

When I hear of these situations it’s very concerning. We can blame the individuals for a bad attitude and not getting enough out of the staff, but the bigger question is, how did these positions get created in the first place?

Maybe someone accepted the position because it included a raise. Or they were pressured into it by their company. If employers though believe an individual is going to make people better, maximize the radio station’s potential, and do good work when they’re spread that thin and running formats they dislike, they’re kidding themselves. A few may skate by for a while but eventually the results suffer and people leave.

cashI had a conversation last week with someone I previously worked with who’s on a station that is getting soundly beaten in their local market by the competition. When I asked him what he was doing to reverse the latest trends and make a bigger impact with the audience, he told me that the ratings performance didn’t matter in his building, only the station’s revenue. When I asked him “how do you factor into that if you don’t deliver numbers or sell advertising for the company” he said “I just go to and from work, do my show and let the sales people worry about it”.

That answer bothered me because if you work in programming in this industry, the reason you do it is because you’re creative, passionate, love sports, enjoy competition, and want to be a success. The better you perform, the more money you make, the more popular you become, and the more successful you feel.

You also value the audience and have pride in your work, and care about the product you’re delivering. When you decided to pursue a career in this business, you didn’t do it because you wanted to fill air time and be seen as someone who was in a chair to sell sponsor messages. You pursued being a host because you felt you had something to say, you enjoyed connecting with people, and you felt your knowledge and presentation could help a company command a larger audience which in turn would help them generate revenue.

If the only thing defining your success now is whether Johnny or Suzy in sales sell spots inside of your show and meet their sales budget, then why are you even necessary? If it’s only about the advertising revenue, shouldn’t Johnny or Suzy host the show? I bet they’d increase their sales if they also had the air time to go with their selling skills.

If you’re not a host but are responsible for managing the radio station, and you’re not making time to coach your people and grow the radio station’s ratings, why aren’t you? Your title says “Program Director” not “Sales Assistant”, “Corporate Associate”, or “Budget Administrator”. I understand that the position is demanding and every department wants your time, but sometimes you have to say no.

assetThere is nothing more important to your future success and maintaining your position then the way you connect with your people. If they don’t get your input and their perception of you is that you’re uninterested in the product and their personal growth, they will eventually leave. When a brand’s best people depart, the performance declines, and when that happens, don’t be surprised if you’re the next one the company is calling on to vacate the premises.

Talent has to matter and factor into every sports radio station’s strategy and success. No brand wins without great on-air personalities and they don’t reach their full potential without regular coaching from experienced leaders who understand how to help them win. Why that’s not considered important in some buildings is beyond my level of comprehension. You’d think that with competition increasing in the audio space today that there’d be an even larger focus placed on securing great leaders who can guide a brand to bigger results. Unfortunately though that’s not the case in each location.

When I hear a brand state that only sales matter, it’s usually because their programming isn’t generating big numbers. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money. Believe me, I want to win the revenue game too, and feed my family lobster instead of ramen noodles. But programming is the lifeblood of the sports radio format and if it’s not great, and not consistently worked on, then you become non-essential to the audience. Without an audience, your business is on life support.

peopleThe goal in every organization should be to maximize the talent’s skills, show them the strengths and weaknesses in their show, and point out where the opportunities exist in the market to enjoy larger success. You do that by holding regular conversations, critiquing content, pointing out trends in the ratings, and explaining why they should do more or less of something during the show.

At first, many personalities will resist the feedback because they’re prideful and insecure and hate being judged. But when they walk away and think about what you said, they’ll appreciate it, respect it, and look to improve because every great performer wants to earn the trust, respect and support of the person they work for.

Some companies value coaching and the impact it has on their people. Others do not. Neither is right or wrong but a strong performance benefits every single company and individual. You can focus on helping your company make money, and that may be the ultimate measure of your brand’s success, but if you really want to laugh all the way to the bank, do yourself a favor and invest some time in your talent. After all, they’ll be the ones most responsible for your audience listening, your advertisers calling, and your sales budget being exceeded.

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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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