I have been on both sides of the host/producer relationship. Before making the switch to talk formats in 2012, I spent 6 years doing a rock morning show, where hosts are usually required to be their own producers.
These experiences have taught me a lot about not only what makes me a good producer, but what qualities I look for in the person that is producing a show I host. Look, many hosts and PDs have different ideas about what they are looking for in the guy behind the glass, but there are three qualities that every great producer must have.
It’s usually only the hosts’ names that appear in the title of the show, but as a producer, it is your show too. You need to be able to walk in each day believing that you’re a vital part of the team. You need to know that the hosts on the other side of the glass are your equals, not your bosses. They may have a certain sound in mind or an idea of how they want a conversation to flow, but you have to be able to say “let’s tweak this and the bit will sound better” or “this topic isn’t working, we need to flesh it out more before it goes on air.” Think of yourself as the show’s personal program director.
You’re aware of what P1s are right? You should be. In radio, P1s are the ones who pay the bills. Well, remember that you are the ultimate P1. Your host may be the show’s voice, but you are the show’s ears. And if your ears are bored after a topic has entered its 10th minute of conversation, you need to be able to tell the host it’s time to pull the plug. Be reasonable, of course. If you’re bored because you don’t like golf and your host is spending 10 minutes on an amazing Masters finish, that’s on you. You want to jump in when it has become clear the host has said all he has to say on a topic and is now just going in circles.
Repeat after me.
“There’s no guest I can’t book.”
“There’s no topic that is off limits.”
“It’s not my job to be a yes man.”
Every good producer needs to bring topics to show prep sessions. Every good producer needs to feel free to add to the show’s daily rundown.
Is your rolodex lacking the big names you might find in Todd Fritz’s or Ray Necci’s cell phone? Well, do you think those numbers came with their phones?
Of course not. Those guys had to work to establish the kinds of relationships that allow them to book whoever they want for Dan Patrick or the Mikes. And if you work in a station with multiple local shows, there are plenty of people (other producers, your PD, the various hosts) that have contacts that you don’t. Just ask for their help. Even if you’re shy by nature or worried that someone gave you a number they shouldn’t have, the worst the person on the other end of the phone can do is hang up.
The single most important thing about drive is to remember that your job never stops. That doesn’t mean you don’t get a personal life. It means the show prep for tomorrow starts the second today’s show is over.
What can we bring back with a new twist for tomorrow? Is there a good evergreen topic we didn’t get to today that we should hang on to? Who is playing tonight? Who can we get on to talk about what the outcome will mean? Answering those questions early gives you the chance to make contingency plans and avoid having to scramble at the last minute if everything doesn’t go as planned.
There is no quality more important in a good producer than creativity. If your host looks at you and says “what do you think we should do with (insert topic here)” and you respond with “I don’t know,” then you’re just a button pusher. I can teach a chimp to push buttons. Hell, they make toy birds that can push buttons. It’s what got Homer Simpson in trouble.
Being creative means knowing how to do two things very well. First, it means you possess the ability to make a topic that has drug on for three or four days feel fresh each day. That may mean one day you have a guest and the next day you take calls, but better than that would be to say to yourself “We’ve been talking about (insert topic here) for three days now. What would I do with this story if I were on a wacky morning zoo show?”
Laugh or sneer all you want. The fact is if you can write a genuinely funny bit or find someone that can perform a quality parody song, that stuff has a place on sports radio. Funny is funny and funny is welcomed everywhere.
The other thing creative producers do well is contribute to the conversation. That may mean an on-air pop-in with a relevant stat that can take the conversation in an interesting new direction or a snide comment. But consider that there are ways to contribute to the conversation without cracking a mic. What audio is at your disposal? What can you do with that sound? Playing the call of the buzzer-beater that clinched a big upset is one thing, but if you plan ahead and put a montage together that shows the home crowd’s enthusiasm slowly fading as the road team pulls closer and closer and then hits that shot, that shuts them up completely.
There are people who will say that “You’re either creative or you’re not.” “You’re either motivated or you’re not.” “You either have confidence or you don’t.” And those people will follow up these sentences with “I can’t just give those qualities to you.”
They’re right about not being able to hand those qualities to you, but you can learn self-confidence. You can challenge yourself to be more driven. You are creative. You just have to make yourself more comfortable with pitching the unexpected.
I will always encourage sports radio programmers to look to the world of rock or pop radio for a good producer, because those guys tend to come in not expecting to just be button pushers. Anyone can grow their list of contacts. If you want to find someone that can help your host and show grow, look for someone who is fearless, and not afraid of a stern talking to. Those people are who they are because they possess self-confidence, drive and creativity and they let those qualities guide their work.
Demetri Ravanos has worked as a Host and Executive Producer for a number of stations including 620 The Buzz, SB Nation Radio, 96 Rock, 106.9 The Point, Radio 96.1 and ESPN Columbia. You can follow him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos. To reach him by email click here.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.