Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made an intriguing comment following the team’s 17-3 loss to the Chicago Bears. “We squandered that opportunity.” He was talking about the disappointment of losing to a flawed team that completed four measly passes. He could’ve applied the same thought to the opportunity he squandered during the week leading up to Sunday’s game.
Cam Newton finished the week without speaking to the media once, which is a violation of league rules. This triggered a lot of speculation. Jourdan Rodrigue, the same Charlotte Observer reporter who Newton made condescending comments towards on October 4th, returned to the beat. Did Cam skip his weekly media session because of her? Was he silently protesting Rodrigue’s presence? If so, does that make his apology the fakest thing since Marv Albert’s fake hair?
It might’ve been a coincidence that Newton skipped out on a scheduled media session during the same week that Rodrigue returned, but that doesn’t prevent speculation from taking place. Foresight is at a premium these days. Being aware of the way things look is just as important as being aware of the way things are.
The same holds true in sports talk radio. Perception and reality are kissing cousins. Depending on the mindset of certain people, they’re Siamese Twins. If a host says something that seems a certain way, well then it is that way in the minds of many listeners. It’s important to be direct, clear, and specific especially when talking about topics that have social or political ties.
It goes beyond hosts — perception and reality apply to an entire sports talk building. When I was programming a station in Fresno, I rocked a backwards hat each day. I know. I was that guy. It was a more relaxed building than others, but it was still a professional setting. I noticed that co-workers were extremely casual with me. Too casual. It was because of the image I was projecting — being chill to a fault and semi-professional wasn’t me at all, but that perception existed based on my clothes.
Another time, I had a tryout and interview with a Seattle station. Before flying out, I asked what they were looking for and how I should act. They told me they liked my style and to just be myself. For some reason, this caused my brain to think wearing jeans, an untucked button down, and Lugz would be an awesome idea. Not so much.
The station didn’t offer me a gig. I asked what I could do better on my next job interview. I’ll never forget what Owen Murphy told me, “Yeah, well dress better for starters.” I asked if he was serious, which further illustrates how clueless I was at the time. He said that it was a top-20 market and asked what I was thinking. I wasn’t. I’m not Daniel Craig from Bond movies, but I’ve made fashion strides since then.
Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young once shared a really interesting thought about perception and reality. On NFL Network’s “America’s Game,” he talked about losing to the Eagles 40-8 back in 1994. Young was benched during the game in favor of Elvis Grbac. When ole Elvis trotted into the huddle to replace him, that’s when Steve turned into Linda Blair from The Exorcist.
“The funny thing about the whole event, from my teammate’s standpoint was suddenly, I was this fiery leader,” Young said. “And I almost wanted to go home and throw up and think about, ‘Are you kiddin’ me? For all these years I’ve been out here battling and I had to yell at my coach and now you’re like ready to follow me?’ But it taught me the vital lesson in football — perception is reality. If you’re perceived to be something, you might as well be it, because that’s the truth in people’s minds.”
I completely agree that perception can become reality in people’s minds. I disagree with just being what people think you are. If people think you do drugs, should you just do them? No, but you should be aware of others getting the wrong indication based on your clothes, words, and behavior. You should guard against giving the wrong impression, instead of just becoming what you’re perceived to be.
My thought used to be that if someone evaluated me incorrectly, well that’s on them. Not completely. It’s not just on others drawing the wrong conclusion. It’s on you to avoid giving clues that play a role in them making a poor evaluation.
For example, I remember taking part in a meeting back when I programmed a station in Albany, NY. Co-workers were throwing around ideas for the station. “Hey, how ‘bout we broadcast live from the such & such event.” Many of the ideas wouldn’t work for one reason or another, so I channeled my inner Mike Singletary by saying, “Can’t do it.”
After the meeting, our adviser gave me some advice. He told me that people may get the wrong idea based on the way I was saying things. Instead of saying “can’t do it”, it’s much different to say something like, “That’s a great idea, John. I’d love to broadcast there, but there just isn’t a phone line available for us.”
At first I thought, “My goodness. These are grown men and I have to dance around their delicate little feelings? Should I toss out mani-pedi coupons to help them cope with my savage responses?” It wasn’t about that though. It was all about perception. It could’ve been perceived that I was gruff — not a good leader — that I was lazy or against doing something that would benefit the station. None of those things were true, but that could’ve been the perception because I didn’t provide any explanations.
In the business world, you need to be aware of the way things look, not just the way things are.
Cam Newton summed up the Panthers disappointing performance on Sunday by adding, “We will and have to be better.” The same applies to us. Regardless of your role in a sports talk building, there are always ways to improve. Ask yourself how you can avoid perception becoming reality. If you think of your clothes, words, and behavior as reality — not just perception, but the real truth in people’s minds — would that cause you to make any changes?
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.