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Radio’s Illness Is Its Public Perception

Jason Barrett

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To borrow a line from Clark Griswold, “Where’s The Tylenol?” If you’ve invested time reading the headlines about the radio business lately, chances are you need it. Week after week, publications flood the marketplace with stories about flat to declining revenues, career instability, and mergers and sales, while industry officials strike back by touting radio’s position as the number one reach medium.

If you’re a young person thinking about entering the radio business, a veteran wrestling with the decision of whether or not to stay involved in it, or an advertiser wondering if placing your dollars in the industry remains a sound investment, you’re likely going to proceed with caution. The overwhelming feeling is that the industry is going to hell in a hand basket, and what’s sad, is that much of this sounds a lot worse than it is.

But do you know who’s fault it is that this has become the public’s perception of our business? It’s ours.

Step back for a minute and think about why you chose to pursue working in radio. For many, they heard a song on the radio, the voice of a talk show host or a comedic bit on the air and it struck a chord with them. The more time they spent consuming the station’s content and hearing how much fun everyone was having, the more they wanted to be part of it.

For others, they might have been drawn to radio after attending a station event, reading about it online, meeting someone in the field, hearing about a contest, watching someone speak, or simply by luck.

Regardless of where you first connected, once you got involved, you stayed involved, because it was fun and brought people together. You felt proud to call yourself an employee of the radio station and you took pride in the performance of the company.

This is the bond that radio produces that is different from other mediums. Television doesn’t provide the same level of intimacy. Neither does the print industry. Social media may create conversations on public platforms, but the human touch and personal connection is different.

But how often do we hear about the positive benefits our business provides? Where are the headlines on the amazing content being produced? Or the special connections and unique experiences being created by our radio stations? How often do we highlight the success stories of our gifted personalities who make our brands meaningful to local and national audiences?

For one reason or another, the daily conversation on our business has become centered around ratings, sales, quarterly earnings, and satisfying shareholders, and less on the reasons why radio is and will always be cool.

I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to beat the drum until we make this part of our business better – if you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and once they control the narrative you won’t like the results.

I hear industry people complain about the things that are said, written and presented about brands and companies, but I don’t see a ton of action being taken to highlight the many positives. Brand managers, marketing directors, personalities and producers share just as much of a responsibility to spread the message about the amazing work they’re doing as a CEO and Market Manager of a company has to sell their story to advertisers, investors and employees.

And I’m not just talking about promoting yourself on your own social media accounts. That just reinforces your positives with those who already know what you do. How about those who have no idea of your success? I can point out the way the industry is presented across multiple publications, and you may agree, but if you never provide a press release, success story or audio sample of something you created, then how is anyone else supposed to give you credit?

People don’t choose to work in this industry because they want to learn more about layoffs, mergers, stock prices, shareholders, consolidation, sales, bankruptcy, and corporate restructuring. Yet these are the words right now that are shaping the image of our business. Do any of them give off a positive vibe and make the industry sound cool to you? Do they give you hope for where the business is headed? Would you take your own money and invest it in an industry that presents its own story this way?

We are losing sight of what our business is, does and represents. And it’s a crying shame. There are way too many great things happening for us to be projecting this public image of a bunch of lost souls heading towards their own funeral.

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that the radio business has illnesses and limited remedies. I’m not suggesting we should sweep under the carpet the realities of what many of our broadcast companies are dealing with. But pardon my french, do you know who doesn’t give a shit about the majority of these issues? The audiences we cater to.

If we continue to carry dark clouds above our heads, and act as if we’re on the verge of the apocalypse, audiences will eventually trade in their time with us for others who provide a more uplifting experience. How exactly does that benefit us?

This is even more true with advertisers. Relationships may help a brand navigate thru treacherous terrain, but if a company is frequently connected to negative stories about layoffs, poor ratings, underachieving sales, and failing stock prices, clients and agencies are going to pause before parting ways with their money. They read the trades and news media even more than our audience. When gloom and doom surrounds a business, it becomes harder to place your faith in it.

Understand this, while we’re busy expressing our displeasure, disappointment, frustration and concern about the current state of our industry, do you know who isn’t doing that? Apple, Spotify, Pandora, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter. Coincidentally, the majority of those companies are trending upward.

Whether you see it or not, they are all competitors. As radio shares one depressing story after another, these media companies are pushing innovation, content, fun and connection. They are chasing the same ad dollars that we are, and they’re gaining a hell of a lot more of them than anyone else. Quarter after quarter they’re enjoying massive growth, while the radio business pushes the message of “flat is the new up.”

I don’t claim to have all of the answers on how to remedy the radio industry’s PR problem but I think a good starting point is to draw attention to the many great things being created on a daily basis.

We conduct powerful interviews. Creative promos are written, produced and presented. Entertaining bits and benchmarks are featured and elicit emotion and reactions out of our audiences. Memorable content has big promotional value and is share worthy.

We also use our airwaves to help listeners and companies during times of struggle. We rally our communities around local causes and events. We excite our listeners by developing contests that offer them once in a lifetime experiences. Even play-by-play broadcasts create a bond between the audience and the radio station because of the shared interest in supporting the home team.

All of the items I just mentioned, have the potential to be newsworthy. We do them daily and fail to recognize their promotional value. It’s easy to seek promotional support when your ratings increase, a high profile talent signs a new contract, or your station breaks news or generates a controversial on-air response from a guest. But showcasing your brand beyond your own social media accounts and email databases requires taking additional steps.

When you create a promotion or contest, do you alert anyone besides your audience and staff? As someone who has promoted them many times for brands on this website, I can tell you that I often have to dig for them, rather than be made aware of them. I may take the extra step to help a sports station highlight something cool they’re doing but guess who isn’t? The rest of the trades and news media.

How often do you pass along creative promos or on-air bits to showcase your station’s entertainment value? Have you alerted media outlets about some of the ways your talent have gone above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of the audience? Maybe even invited an outlet to tag along and cover the story?

When was the last time you shared an audio clip of a talent telling a personal story on the air? Case in point, Mike Valenti delivered a moving on-air commentary three weeks ago on 97.1 The Ticket after his partner Terry Foster announced his retirement. I included it in a piece I wrote, but had I not looked for it, it’d never have been promoted outside of Detroit.

And that’s not a knock on The Ticket. It simply shows how something we do daily, and take for granted as being newsworthy, can actually have larger promotional value if the trades and news outlets are notified. I’d much rather have seen stories the next day in Radio Ink, Inside Radio, All Access and Talkers highlighting Valenti’s heart felt monologue to his partner than being subjected to another industry piece on revenue declines and budget cuts.

And before you bring it up, I understand that we have no control over which stories get featured in the trades and no guarantee that ink would have been given to Valenti’s commentary. Maybe I’m being too optimistic but I have confidence in those outlets because at their core they care about the success of radio.

It’s also been my observation over the years that when outlets are notified of something positive or powerful happening on a local or national radio station, they’re more than willing to help share that story. They’re not going to take the bait on everything you throw in front of them, but they’re more than fair in providing coverage. When you combine excellence with persistence it often leads to increased visibility.

There are many skeptics questioning the viability of radio. I am not one of them. I love this business and all that it entails, and believe that many of the solutions are inside of our own walls. However, we can do a much better job of changing the message about our brands, content, people and industry.

If you made it to Las Vegas for the NAB Show, then you saw how high the enthusiasm was for the future of media. Radio wasn’t as present as I’d have liked it to be, but each room was filled with people wanting to learn more about podcasting, content strategy, the future of the dashboard, the industry’s projected growth, and other areas of our business.

Then there was Fred Jacob’s TechSurvey 13 which included responses from more than fifty thousand people. Many of these participants share a passion, love and interest in our brands and programs, and 90% said they’re listening to either the same or more AM/FM radio than they had in the past. That’s remarkable. Especially when you consider how media consumption has shifted in recent years.

These same people have begun purchasing the Amazon Alexa or Google Home. One in 10 now own one and 36 million are projected to use a smart speaker by the end of 2017. You can expect that number to grow even more if Apple invades the space as many expect.

Why is that important? Because voice technology is making it even easier for people to listen to radio/audio. Automakers want it present inside the vehicle, and because of its simplicity, the use of it is increasing radio’s ability to stay connected to its audience inside the home. That’s an area that radio has struggled to penetrate in recent years.

We’re also seeing people invest more time with stations and their personalities by listening to on-demand audio and original podcasts. According to Edison Research, 42 million are listening weekly to podcasts, and that’s double from where things stood just 4 years ago.

These are all signs that illustrate how healthy the radio/audio business is. But if you spent a week looking at the way the industry is presented in public spaces you’d lose sight of that.

The fight to monetize and measure our brands and companies better is never ending. This is a competitive industry and operators have every right to demand improvement and profitability. But let’s not forget why audiences come to us in the first place, and take more control of the image we’re projecting about our business. If we don’t, we may be measuring and monetizing a lot less in the future.

Barrett Blogs

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

Jason Barrett

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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

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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!

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