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How a Brand With Promise Missed The Mark In Detroit

Jason Barrett

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The competitor in all of us wants to believe that by working harder and smarter than our competition we’ll gain an edge and ultimately succeed. We tell ourselves that with time, creativity and perseverance, we can gain the audience’s respect, outperform expectations, and give our employers the evidence they need to invest further in the development of our brand and people.

While those beliefs may be pure and the intentions of many may be noble, there are times in the radio business where brands are defeated before they hit the airwaves. Without full support, trust, vision, and patience from your company, you can’t win. The radio station can have talent, desire, a bright programmer, and people with a strong community connection, but none of that matters if your corporate bosses aren’t in it for the long haul.

For the staff of Detroit Sports 105.1 they learned that lesson last week. Greater Media Detroit may have been optimistic when they chose to explore the sports format in August 2013, but their strategy and commitment to unseat market leader 97.1 The Ticket was fractured. As a result, they’ve dropped the format in a great sports city in less than three years.

What makes this particular decision sting even more is that it should never have happened. Greater Media went through these exact same challenges and struggles in Philadelphia and should have learned from those experiences. Unfortunately they didn’t.

I have a personal connection to this story because I was hired to program what is now known as ‘97.5 The Fanatic’ in Philadelphia. Originally the brand was positioned as ‘SportsTalk 950’ and it launched in October 2005 without a Programmer. I was added four and a half months later and when I arrived, it was clear that the brand lacked an identity, talent, and vision.

I remember driving on Broad Street during my first Friday night in town, listening as one of our hosts opened his show with the line “Hey There, Hi There, Ho There”. That seemed so out of sync with the way I heard local people talking. That was followed up by the host announcing a ticket giveaway to see ‘Tickle Me Elmo’ at the Wells Fargo Center. This wasn’t his fault at all. He was just reading the information he had been told to deliver.

When the show hit its first commercial break, promos aired highlighting the brand as the ‘good guys of Philadelphia sports’ and the home for ‘great debate without the hate’. Given that the city had just held a parade where 10,000 people showed up to celebrate the city not winning a championship for more than two decades this once again seemed like the wrong way to reach people.

The brand at that time also relied on national programs to make an impression. We carried Fox Sports Radio in the morning, Tony Bruno’s Sporting News radio show in the midday, and Jim Rome’s Premiere Radio Networks show from Noon to 3. It wasn’t until 3pm when the radio station offered local content. National shows were heavily promoted in the liners, promos, and sports updates, and our attention to detail was so thin that one of our contributors who voiced sports minute’s on the radio station called Jim Rome – ‘Jim Ro-May’. That mistake wound up on the air.

It was a mess and I knew that it was going to take a lot of time and work to undo the damage that had already been done. Making matters worse was the fact that our brand name was the equivalent of white bread. Not Wonder Bread, Home Pride or Country Classic, just plain old white bread.

The station name ‘SportsTalk 950’ lacked buzz. It didn’t set us apart from our competitor. It didn’t sound like a brand name local fans would talk about in a bar or at a game with their friends. It simply screamed “If you don’t like WIP, please check us out”.

Given how emotionally charged Philadelphia sports fans are for their local teams and local sports radio personalities, it probably doesn’t shock you that they didn’t respond favorably to what we offered. The messaging wasn’t in tune with their passions, neither was the majority of our programming, and the strategy was flawed from the start. It wasn’t that the marketplace couldn’t sustain two great sports brands, or that local fans weren’t hungry for more sports talk. They just weren’t going to invest their time in a brand that didn’t meet their needs.

We had some talented people in that building (Joe DeCamara, Jody McDonald, Harry Mayes, Rob Ellis, Brian Seltzer, John Fullam, Paul Blake, Mike McMonagle). Some of them are still a part of the brand today. Where ‘The Fanatic’ now sits versus where it was then is a night and day difference and Matt Nahigian deserves a lot of credit for the job he’s done building the radio station. Equally deserving of praise is John Fullam and the corporate team at Greater Media because they were patient, made adjustments, invested more, and learned from their mistakes.

Which leads me back to Detroit. If the company had these examples to learn from, how did they misread the signs? There were too many similarities between the two stations except in Philadelphia they stuck it out. In Detroit they cut bait. Take a look.

  • Detroit Sports 105.1 bailed on two Programmers (Jason Dixon and Dave Shore) in less than three years. In Philadelphia, myself and Gregg Henson both exited the brand before it had been on the air for three years.
  • The brand name’s in both cities were bland. Detroit Sports 105.1 rang hollow because the radio station didn’t serve enough Detroit sports talk to its audience until two years after launching. SportsTalk 950 went thru the same challenges in Philadelphia.
  • Both stations relied heavily on national sports programming and didn’t make major adjustments until nearly two years after operating in the format.
  • Neither station hit the airwaves with rights to a local professional sports franchise.
  • Each station faced a strong competitor with deep market heritage in a city where local sports conversation is important.

The danger signs may be easy to see to those on the outside but usually there are reasons why things happen. Whether it’s needing to ramp up sales efforts, keeping expenses low so bigger investments can be made to secure local play by play deals or strengthening relationships with network partners. Those things are all part of running a business. Unfortunately, the local audience, advertising community, local teams, other local market personalities, and the radio station’s own staff, don’t take a wait and see approach. They judge the radio station by the way it initially presents itself.

Sean Baligian, who joined Detroit Sports 105.1 to host the midday program in October 2015, and was moved months later into mornings, confirmed to the Detroit Free Press that the issues were seen and felt internally. “Detroiters want Detroit.” said Baligian. “I don’t think the station did a real good job of giving them Detroit from 6a to 6p and certainly not on the weekend. When you think about it, for the 34 months that the station existed, 30 of those months had a national morning show, quite frankly, a New York-based show. I just don’t think that’s a good business model. I think by the time they learned that, it was probably too late.”

There were two advantages that Greater Media Detroit had that the Philadelphia operation didn’t. First, they launched on FM, and secondly, they hit the airwaves in afternoon drive with one of the market’s most popular personalities Drew Lane. Lane may have not been the typical sports talk radio host but he produced solid ratings and brought awareness to the brand. None the less, he wasn’t re-signed two years into the relationship.

Morning host Tom Mazawey told the Detroit Free Press “Drew Lane was our linchpin. We built the station around him, and then they told him, ‘We want you to change your show after 30 years in the business,’ or whatever he’s been at it. We were fourth in the ratings among 25- to 54-year-old males with Drew as our lead. People loved him. Advertisers were lining up to sign up with him. Once they pulled him, that was the last straw.”

Greater Media did make an attempt to land the Lions and Tigers. Those efforts didn’t produce the results that they had hoped for. Had one of those deals been secured, this is probably a different story. In the Detroit Free Press article, Mazawey shared how poorly the Tigers conducted themselves during negotiations with the radio station, and that certainly can make a company question if the effort and commitment to the format are worth it.

It may be frustrating but these things happen in negotiations frequently. I was with 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and we had interest in landing the rights to the Warriors and 49ers but neither situation worked out. Although we were initially disappointed, that didn’t deter us from making investments to further grow the brand. Play by Play certainly offers a lot of cume, marketing and revenue opportunities but it can also be a loss leader. That’s why most sports brands evaluate their business performance M-F 6a-7p.

In the end, Detroit sports radio listeners are left with one less listening option. A number of talented radio people are on the sidelines looking for their next opportunity. And Greater Media is left with a blemish on its record operating the sports format in Detroit.

I don’t believe for a second that two great sports brands can’t produce results or that the same type of spirited competition that exists in Philadelphia can’t be duplicated in Detroit. I just wish Greater Media had learned from their past experiences and been a little more patient.

Instead they chose to cut their losses and move on. I respect their decision to do what’s best for business. We can all point fingers and criticize but we’re not the ones losing millions of dollars annually. If it were your bank account that was shrinking on a regular basis, I’m sure you’d have a very different opinion.

That said, if you’re going to enter this format and have success in it, you have to be willing to commit from the start, take your bumps, and understand that it’s a long term play. Especially in a market where you’re up against a ratings juggernaut like 97.1 The Ticket. Greater Media decided that battle wasn’t worth staying in so now they’ve left the door open for another group to try their luck. That’s something I believe could’ve been prevented had they stayed the course and utilized a different strategy.

Barrett Blogs

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

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

Jason Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barrett Blogs

Julie Talbott to Receive The Jeff Smulyan Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“The best leaders are the ones who empower their people, work with their talent, and study situations to determine where room for growth exists.”

Jason Barrett

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Each year at the BSM Summit, we take time to recognize some of the true difference makers in the sports media industry. It’s become a special part of the event, and it reminds everyone in the room of what’s possible if you do your job well and create impact.

Four awards in total are presented over the two-day event thanks to our friends at Premiere Networks. Each award has a different focus.

The Jeff Smulyan Award is presented to a radio industry executive who has led by example, taken risks, produced results, and made a significant difference for the sports radio business. The Mark Chernoff Award is given to sports radio’s top programmer. The Mike and the Mad Dog Award is presented to the top local sports radio show in America. And The Champions Award along with a financial contribution from BSM is given to an industry member who has used their platform to make a difference for others.

Since we began taking the Summit live in 2019, Mitch Rosen and Rick Radzik have been recognized as winners of the Mark Chernoff Award. Adam Schefter and the team of Keith Murphy and Andy Fales have been recipients of the Champions Award. And the top rated combination of Mike Felger and Tony Massarotti received the first ever Mike and the Mad Dog Award at the 2022 BSM Summit in NYC.

Which brings us to the Jeff Smulyan Award.

A number of top notch executives have joined us to accept this honor over the years. It started in Los Angeles with Kraig Kitchin, continued in New York City with Dan Mason, and then Traug Keller took home the honor during our last show, which also took place in the big apple.

As we looked to 2023, the goal was to identify someone who’s been active in growing their company’s footprint across the sports radio industry. Equally important was someone who has the full confidence and trust of their people, a track record of delivering results, and has uncovered new business opportunities to lead their company forward.

After a brief conversation, Jeff and I knew exactly who the right person was.

It is my honor to announce and congratulate Julie Talbott, President of Premiere Networks on being named our recipient of the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. Julie will be present in Los Angeles at the Founders Club at the Galen Center at USC to accept the honor at the 2023 BSM Summit on March 21-22, 2023.

“I’m humbled and honored to receive this award – especially with Jeff Smulyan’s name associated with it. I’ve been a fan of his throughout the years” shared Julie Talbott. “Premiere Networks and FOX Sports Radio are dedicated to delivering the best multiplatform sports audio content the industry has to offer, and this award truly recognizes the amazing efforts of our entire team, who I couldn’t be more proud of.  Thanks to Jason Barrett and BSM for this incredible honor.” 

“I have known Julie for many, many years and our industry doesn’t have a better ambassador than her” added Jeff Smulyan. “She has worked tirelessly to build Premiere into a remarkable enterprise and she has made legions of friends and admirers along the way. She is so deserving of this award and I couldn’t be happier that my friend, Julie Talbott is the winner of the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. Nothing makes me happier than to present it to her this March at USC!” 

“FOX Sports Radio’s growth under Julie’s watchful eye has been impressive, but when combined with Premiere’s performance and reach, and seizing opportunities in the digital space by launching strong brands such as The Volume, in partnership with Colin Cowherd, you start to see how she’s put her magical touch on the industry,” explained BSM President Jason Barrett. “The best leaders are the ones who empower their people, work with their talent, and study situations to determine where room for growth exists, and few have the respect, trust, and confidence of their people better than Julie Talbott.”

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Barrett Blogs

Omaha Productions, The Volume, Dirty Mo Media and Silver Tribe Media to Appear at the 2023 BSM Summit

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is five months away but the process to build sports media’s annual industry event continues. We’ve already announced 11 participants for our next show including Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome and Joy Taylor, but by the time this show takes place, attendees can expect to hear from 50-60 people as the agenda becomes action packed.

I do want to share one thing for those inquiring about speaking. Though I appreciate the interest, I’m selective in who we feature on stage because it’s important to keep the show fresh and full of actionable content. There are tons of smart people in this industry but I can’t accommodate everyone. I try to create sessions that benefit radio, digital and television executives, programmers, general managers, talent, agents, salespeople, production staff, etc. and to do that, we’ve got to cover a lot of different subjects over a two-day span. My goal is to send folks home with ideas and information to improve their brands, while providing a space for groups and individuals to meet since it opens the door to additional business. We’ve been fortunate to have good support and participation over our past four events, and I’m expecting this one to be even bigger and better.

Before I announce the latest additions to our speaker lineup, I want to thank Premiere Networks for their continued support of the Summit. They’ve been wonderful partners for years, and I appreciate them joining us to create the annual Awards ceremony. It is always a hit with attendees. More to come soon on this year’s honorees.

I’d also like to thank Harker Research for returning as a partner of the event, and MRN Radio for signing on as a new partner. Harker has sponsored all of our live events, and MRN has been in attendance for those shows. Having their support makes a difference. They join Premiere Networks, Stone Voiceovers and Core Image Studio as Summit partners. If you haven’t secured a sponsorship but would like to be, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com. She can update you on what we still have available.

As far as the content is concerned, I’m excited to announce a very cool session we’re adding which will include involvement from Omaha Productions, The Volume, Dirty Mo Media, and Silver Tribe Media.

Everywhere you look these days, athletes are taking more control of their own messaging. They’re also more interested in content creation and are investing in people to help build today and tomorrow’s sports media empires. Whether it’s been Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or broadcasters such as Colin Cowherd, Bill Simmons, Dave Portnoy and Pat McAfee, the era of personality-led audio networks has arrived. This session will examine where we are, where we’re going, what’s been learned, and how it will affect change across traditional media moving forward.

Jack Rose of Silver Tribe Media will moderate the session. Joining him on stage will be Logan Swaim, Head of Content at The Volume. Richelle Markazene, Head of Audio for Omaha Productions, and Mike Davis, President and Executive Producer of Dirty Mo Media. Each of these folks have great insight and experience with leading personality-built brands, and Jack’s understanding of the media landscape through his work with Michael Klein’s company make him an ideal fit to guide the conversation. This is a session that traditional media folks are going to want to be present for.

If you haven’t purchased a ticket or booked your hotel room, don’t wait until the last minute. Everything you need to be in attendance for the Summit is available at BSMSummit.com. We are excited to host the show at The Founders Club at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California. This is a great location and the biggest room we’ve run our conference in yet. I’m hoping to see you there.

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