The Denver Broncos are on the clock. The envelope has been turned in to Roger Goodell. The commissioner takes the stage and announces, “With the 5th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select…”
Nobody has discussed who will become part of that sentence more than 104.3 The Fan in Denver. A station that focuses heavily on the Broncos, The Fan has been all-in on this year’s draft, with coverage that’s spanned all the way from The Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL to Josh Allen’s Pro Day in Laramie, WY.
At the center of that coverage, has been Darren McKee, co-host of The Drive with Big Al and D-Mac. Though the draft is always a big storyline in an NFL hungry city such as Denver, McKee realizes this year is different than most. Along with the Broncos owning a Top 5 pick for only the second time since 1992, the team has also been linked to having a strong interest in taking a quarterback. That, in itself, has created a large amount of interest among the fan base, which, in turn, has provided a big ratings opportunity for McKee, program director Armen Williams and the rest of the staff at The Fan.
But with draft day approaching this Thursday, what goes into getting the most out of, quite possibly, the biggest week of sports radio so far this year in Denver? In an exclusive interview with McKee, I asked that question and more to see just what to expect from the market leader during a crucial week.
TM: In this calendar year, would you say this is the biggest week for sports radio in Denver?
DM: That’s a good question. We just had our ratings come in for the month of March and free agency was huge for us. Huge. It was pretty rough after the end of the season, because not only were the Broncos bad this year, but they were bad early, meaning that there was plenty of time to realize how bad they were. It wasn’t like everyone was in up until the last minute, they were out of the playoffs for quite a while. But the intrigue was if they’d keep their coach (Vance Joseph). So after they kept their coach, and they were bad, they did let go of some of their assistant coaches, but nobody cares about that. So we definitely felt a dip. Then free agency came and the Broncos were on the chase for a quarterback, which pumped things back up for us. So, is this week going to be bigger than that? It’s a good question and I’ll be curious to see the results. It’s huge, I mean it’s gargantuan, but at the end of the day, I’ll have to look at the ratings afterwards to see if people really care more about this or if they cared more about free agency. All that being said, it’s hugely important to us and it’s a big, big deal.
TM: Your show is not one that’s centered on getting guests, but is this week different? Which guests are relevant during a time like this?
DM: We have some of our radio contributors in terms of news and information, such as guys like Troy Renck who works for Denver7. We may also reach out to people that develop story lines that we are pushing. For example, I’m big time on the Baker Mayfield wagon and I read that Alfred Breer of Sports Illustrated had a mock draft with Mayfield going to the Broncos. So I’ll probably push to get Breer on the show, something like that, because he’s going to help me out. Now, if it’s not my opinion and I see someone significant that mocked Bradley Chubb going to Broncos and we can track them down, then we may have that person on too. It’s not just my opinion that matters.
Other than that, the time for guests is kind of gone. Even on draft night, itself, we’ve learned that through experience. We’ll be out at a bar and every year we invite someone who was drafted the year before to be on with us. We had Shane Ray the year after he was drafted, we had Justin Simmons the year after he was taken and this year we have Chad Kelly. But we won’t talk to Chad Kelly once the draft gets going. We’ll have him on for maybe 10-15 minutes to touch base, but as soon as the draft starts, we won’t care about what Chad thinks, although, this year might be a little interesting if they take a quarterback with the first pick and he’s sitting right there. Guests to us, just aren’t that big of a deal. We have bought into the feedback that people are listening to our show to hear our opinion. Unless the guest can bring something significant to the table, we don’t feel a big need to add guests.
TM: You mentioned The Fan is having another huge watch party with the listeners this year. Where have you seen the benefit of having such a big event of draft night?
DM: You need to make a big deal about things that are a big deal, as much as possible. It creates an image that something big is going on. When we first did these draft parties, the setting was really great, but nobody was really that into it. It sort of blossomed throughout the years. For example, when Tim Tebow was drafted, Alfred (Williams) wasn’t even at the draft party. He was at the Broncos practice facility and Sandy Clough and I were out at a Buffalo Wild Wings. What we realized is that there was no reason to have Alfred at Dove Valley, or frankly anyone to be at Dove Valley. Nothing happens there until the draft is over when John Elway speaks, and we can just pod up that audio. So, the draft parties have become more of the show. Listen, the big man, Alfred, is a character. Just last year, the Broncos drafted Garrett Bolles in the first round and he walked off the broadcast for about five-straight minutes. Literally, he walked off the broadcast.
TM: What does your audience care about most when it comes to draft coverage?
DM: I’ve realized over the years it’s all about the first round. The more you can bring to the table for that first day, the better it is, because it’s what your audience values about. One of the biggest things I’ve learned in broadcasting is what not to do, what not to waste your time with. You have to just get to the point and focus on what your listeners care the most about. So when we get deeper in the draft, nobody really knows who these guys are in the 3rd, 4rd and 5th rounds. So are we really going to go that deep on the air, day after day and bring these guys up? For what purpose? To bring it up on a Saturday afternoon that you were right? I mean, who cares?
What you want to be is great leading up to the event. The draft is like a big game. Usually you have a game every week, but the draft is one time and you have months to get ready for it, so it’s really extraordinary. But after the draft is over, everything changes. It’s all about the hype leading up to it, and if the only thing people care about is the first round, then bang away at that as hard as possible.
TM: It seems the morning show of Mike Evans and Mark Schlereth, as well as your co-host, Big Al, adamantly disagree with your take on what the Broncos are going to do with the fifth pick. In terms of content, is that a dream scenario for your program director?
DM: Yes and no. I would say yes, to the degree that it creates different points of view, but I’d also say no, because each show still has to exist on its own. Ultimately in radio, it’s about capturing a listener for 15-20 minutes a day. That’s it. If the morning show says one thing about how dumb the afternoon show is, and then I tune into the afternoon show and they’re saying how dumb the morning show is, there’s naturally a back-and-forth there, right? There’s an anticipation to hear what each one is going to say. But, the yes and no part is if one of my shows is so negative about something and they’re saying how stupid the afternoon show is, or vice versa, it’s a little bit of a crap shoot because you could just be pushing people away. If they’re just telling you how moronic everybody is, why would I pay attention? If their opinion really doesn’t matter at all, then why should I listen to them?
I think you have to keep an interesting balance. You have to be critical of each other, while still being respectful of one another. But because I’ve been so strong on the quarterback situation, most of the shows are talking about me. I’m like, woah, it didn’t have to be that way. I mean, there could have been someone else at the station that was strongly pushing for a quarterback. Overall, I’m sure Armen is happy, but if I was him, I’d go to the others shows at some point and ask if it really is possible it could be a quarterback? Because that’s how strong quarterback talk generally is with talk shows. I’ll tell you this, it’s not pre-determined. We didn’t sit around and hash it all out to decide who is going to play what role. It definitely happened organically.
TM: Every Broncos fan in the market has an opinion on what they should do with the fifth pick. How do you handle phone calls during a week like this?
DM: To me, it’s all about pace. I’ll sort of judge it as it comes. Quickly, you know, boom, boom, give your take and move on. Often times, I’ll put them on hold after they give their take, because it’s easier for them to hear our response. A lot of times, I won’t even respond to what they said, I’ll just go to the next caller. It all depends on what segment you’re doing and how long the segment is. I’m not going to say I won’t use callers, but it just depends on what we’re talking about, how we’re talking about it and what I’m looking to get out of the callers.
TM: The draft is your main topic this week. But the Avalanche just went 6 games with the Predators in the NHL Playoffs and the Rockies just played a three-game set at home with the Cubs. How do you sort out this week with what people care about most, to what else is going on in town?
DM: About eight years ago, a company did a survey and they showed what people want to hear about, as well as what types of things they want to hear about. The top thing they wanted to hear about was the NFL and Broncos, along with entertaining talk and inside information. That’s all I needed to know. I saw that eight years ago and it hasn’t really changed. The Rockies were No. 2 on that list and the Avalanche and the Nuggets were way down, so it’s really not that complicated for me. Whenever when one of our other teams is on the front page, not the back page, the front page, okay, let’s go. We’ll take swings on social media saying we don’t talk enough hockey, and that’s fine. What I’ve found is people don’t want you to talk about your team, they want you to praise your team, they want you to be a cheerleader. We’ll touch on the Rockies a little bit this week and wrap up the Avalanche’s season, but if you’re not the Broncos, you better be front page news for us to really dive deep on you.
TM: The Fan doesn’t have a business relationship with the Broncos. How much does that help during a week like this?
DM: I love it. There is a feeling that if we had a partnership with them, we’d have better shows, everyone would sell, but I don’t think we’d have better shows. Maybe there’s a sales aspect that would be beneficial to the company, so I’m not going to say it isn’t important, it’s just not important to me. I have to be very focused on my show. For me, personally, I was thrilled that we never gained the rights to any of the teams and that we didn’t get a business relationship directly with the Broncos, because I think that’s a huge advantage. There are things that you hear on our show and radio station that you won’t hear at other places, because they have ties to the team. I think that makes us unique. What’s also great, is that the pro athletes on our station are older so they don’t have direct ties with the team. Even though they’re friendly with John Elway and other guys, they’re speaking their mind and I think it’s fantastic. I think listeners know it, hear it, and sense it, and when they want to hear real, honest opinions, they know where to come for it.
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.