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The Sports Radio Dead Zone

Matt Fishman

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Historically, the period from the end of the NFL season until March Madness has been a ”Dead Zone” for sports radio stations. NFL and College Football are kings, and they bring big ratings, and give stations lots to dissect and discuss. Once the Super Bowl ends you’re practically starting a sports radio station from scratch.

Understanding that different markets have different strengths and weaknesses during this period, there are a number of strategies and ideas to help your station perform during this period.

Your Talent

The biggest challenge during this time period is talent that sees this as a dead period and does not give the show the same preparation, energy, and attention it gets during the football season–while the exact opposite is necessary.

An intuitive PD knows talent inside and out, what their hot buttons are, and ideas that will be dead on arrival. Talent must be part of the “Dead Zone” discussion. We all know that hosts are most enthusiastic about their own ideas or at least ideas that they think are their own! With that in mind, develop a station strategy for that month and communicate it to the talent and then the producers.

Strategy #1: Here We Are Now, Entertain Us

What can shows do from an entertainment standpoint? Guy topics, bits, games, etc. Emphasize the fun! People love to laugh and forget that it is winter or that they hate their job.

What are some ideas you’re hamstrung by during the football season? Proven favorites are organic weekly segments that develop from comments made by players and coaches. In Chicago we had “Who Ya Crappin’” for 25 years after then Bears Coach Mike Ditka uttered the now infamous phrase during his show on the Score in Chicago. It became a weekly and creative call-in segment about sports figures that had lied over the past week.

Similarly, at 610 Sports in Kansas City there was a Royals player who responded to Doug Franz’s question by saying, “It kinda chaps me that you would say that.” And boom—“It Chaps Me” was born. Listeners had a chance to get their current grievances off their chest.

Producers booking guests during the ”Dead Zone” should ask themselves, “What is the entertainment value of this guest?” There are some men and women who may not be the biggest names but are 100% hilarious. Recognize who they are. At the Score in Chicago, we had some hilarious guests (Patrick Reusse, Norman Chad, Hubert Mizell, George Michael) but perhaps the funniest, most ball-busting guest was local ABC Sports Anchor Mark Giangreco. It didn’t matter where the conversation would start, you just knew you’d be laughing for 15-20 minutes. 20 years later I’m still laughing at some of those memories.

Strategy #2: Special Coverage

There are a number of specialized sporting events happening during this ”Dead Zone” period that may not be for everyone, but events you can make a big deal about and cover in a way that reflects your station’s strengths and audience interest. Here’s a brief list:

Friday February 9-February 25th: Winter Olympics in PyeongChang

Sunday February 18th: Daytona 500

Various Mid-late February Reporting Dates:  MLB Spring Training

Tuesday February 27th-Monday March 5th: NFL Scouting Combine

Take these events one at a time. You know your audience. 

Winter Olympics in PyeongChang

To be honest, the Olympics are a struggle on sports radio. While the TV ratings are big and the promotion is huge, the Olympics resonate more with female viewers than male viewers. Additionally, outside of a major controversy or superstar performance, Olympics talk tends to fall flat on sports talk stations.

Tread carefully into this event. The Winter Olympics have a lot of events (Biathalon?) and the audience may have a hard time relating to them. From a news standpoint, carry Westwood One’s coverage of the Olympics. From a talk standpoint find the funniest, most entertaining person covering the Olympics and set up daily call-ins with him or her. What are the funny behind the scenes stories? What really goes on in the Olympic Village? Get someone who paints a picture but is truly funny. This will make your “Olympic Updates” must listens. NBC is sending SNL’s Leslie Jones for a reason.

The Daytona 500

NASCAR’s biggest event starts the season rather than ending it! It’s surprising in northern big cities how many NASCAR fans there are. This is a great time to give them some deserving coverage. Find the true NASCAR fans on staff and let them create programming plans for coverage of the race and the weeks leading up to it.

MLB Spring Training

This is a tough one to generalize about because each market is vastly different. Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Yankees along with some other teams, will eat up any news they can get from spring training. How do the young players look? What’s the injury situation? How will the new acquisitions fit in? Boots on the ground are needed to cover this one well. It can be a local reporter or if affordable and if you have the access, send your shows.

NFL Scouting Combine

What used to be a secretive event where rumors filled the day, is now a made for media event. Even better, for markets whose NFL teams struggled in 2017—this is where their hope for the future begins. Report on it, talk about it, have experts on from Indianapolis and start speculating about your team’s first round pick.

Conclusion

The point of any strategy during this period is to get outside of your comfort zone and bring the audience with you. Plan, communicate, execute and have fun!

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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