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Producers Can Make a World of Difference

Demetri Ravanos

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Today’s column begins with a story from my short run in news talk radio. I was hosting the morning show at Talk Radio 850 in Raleigh. My producer was a guy named Jason Kong, who to this day remains one of my very best friends. Jason was presented with an opportunity to take over as general manager of the ACC Sports Journal, a magazine our parent company owned. There was no doubt he was going to be leaving the show.

Jason and I worked well together because we got each other’s senses of humor. We made time to hang out outside of the office. Most importantly, we knew we could trust each other to hold up our side of the equation. Our personal relationship predated our professional relationship, and I knew I could rely on him to make my ideas sound better and to show up with ideas of his own.

When I met with my PD to discuss the next step and how we replace Jason he told me “We’ll just promote one of the part timers. Don’t worry about it.” It was such a misunderstanding of what the show needed. The show’s new executive producer was a good guy that was eager to learn, but it brought the show to a screeching halt, because he wasn’t properly trained before getting the promotion.

He wasn’t creative off air. He didn’t know how to hold a conversation on air. The show suffered because our PD didn’t view the producer’s role as being at least as important as the host’s. This guy was good at hitting hard outs and firing the traffic bumper. Those were his sole qualifications for running my show.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately in the wake of BSM’s various top 20 lists, as I have received texts from friends in the industry asking “How did ___ not make the list? He’s the future of the format!”. It’s great that we look at young hosts and can recognize if they’ve got “it” and it’s great that PD’s invest time in turning a young guy that’s got it into a great broadcaster.

But is that enough?

In order to secure a prosperous future for sports radio, we have to nurture young producers and make sure anyone we put behind a board is properly trained. Honestly, this is more important than recognizing talent in young hosts.

A producer shapes a show’s identity. The producer chooses the show’s soundtrack (both music and production elements) and thus sets the tone for what is to come. Is the show fun or even funny? Sure, a charismatic host is going to play a role in that, but the drops a producer chooses and the timing with which he interjects those drops or a comment is just as important.

We also have to make sure that producers are confident when they step behind a board. Recently I filled in for a friend and he texted me the night before to “take it easy” on his producer. That was discouraging to say the least.

I am not someone that yells at producers. I used to be a producer myself. I understand that they have a lot going on behind the glass, but like any other human, I can get frustrated when my success depends on the competency of another. It doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence to have someone essentially imply that the producer you’re going to be working with cannot be trusted.

A producer needs to have the confidence to know that even if one segment is a disaster, the show isn’t lost. Producers are the last line of defense. They’re the ones making the call on when to wrap a segment or if a show rundown needs to be shuffled, so we need to empower them to challenge their host when necessary.

Our format also puts a lot of emphasis on a producer’s rolodex. This idea is a little misguided in my opinion, but let’s take a long, hard look at how this jives with the idea that if you can press buttons on a board you can also run a show.

It goes back to confidence, right? We deal with egos a lot in this business. A producer has to be ready to have his own ego kicked around a bit and get back up again, because when it comes to booking guests, or even getting your ideas on air, it’s not just about knowing you’ll hear the word “no” a lot. It’s about being able to change minds.

Finally, consider the power flow of an on air product. In sports radio, the daily product is the result of the efforts of two people: the host and the producer. Is the power flow a 50/50 split? Well, sort of, but think about this. How much can a good host do to elevate an untrained producer?

Not much, right? The producer actually has way more power over the day-to-day success of the show. If you have a host that is still coming along, a good producer is still capable of elevating the overall product through production elements and good guest booking.

Now let’s switch levels. A good host can absolutely be dragged down by a bad producer. Imagine you took Colin Cowherd out of his regular surroundings and paired him for just one day with a guy that is good at running a board for minor league baseball games, but that’s it. Do you think Colin’s takes would hit as hard or his opinions be as quotable if he is having to work around misfired elements or staring at an emotionless blank slate? Even a host who builds his show largely around monologues can be thrown off if his producer isn’t properly engaged.

So to secure the future of sports radio we have to put a focus on producers. I don’t mean to diminish the role of a good host. Obviously that is really important. But the attention we give producers has fallen to the point that a former PD recently told me that even in major markets he had trouble finding producers that were ready to hit the ground running.

It seems like the days of kids coming out of school wanting to be producers is over, and look, that is okay. Someone that wants to eventually be a host can still make for a really good producer. We just have to do a better job of showing them that this is a legit stepping stone whether it be to hosting or programming. Ryan Haney at WJOX in Birmingham, Tony DiGiacomo at WFNZ in Charlotte, Chris Kinard at WJFK in DC, these are all examples of guys that used the skills they amassed as a producer to climb the programming ladder.

If programmers truly care about the sound of their station, and I know most of them do, they need to take the same interest in the people behind the board that they do in the people behind the mic. Training producers to understand how to listen to their own show and the role they play in the station accomplishing its goals empowers them. Empowered people are more engaged and engaged people are better able to learn and grow. If every program director approached their producers this way, we wouldn’t have to scratch our heads in wonder at the lack of quality candidates whenever an opening is posted.

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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