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The Value of Active Listening

Demetri Ravanos

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Pablo Torre and Bomani Jones were supposed to have their new TV show in January. Then some things got in the way for ESPN and it was supposed to be April. April came and went and still no new show for Bo and Pablo. 

Finally last week, High Noon (9AM Pacific) made its debut. Reactions from fans were mixed, as they always are any time someone tries something new and different in the world of sports commentary. I, for one, liked the grainy western camera effect and the soundtrack that invoked visions of a duel on the streets of a ghost town. I thought it separated that show from others cut from similar cloth. Still, I can see how the seemingly random bells can be distracting.

I had Tweet Deck up while watching the first episode, so I could see reaction to it in real time. I noticed a trend amongst sports radio hosts. Everyone was commenting on the camera that was trained on the member of the hosting duo that wasn’t talking.

Bomani and Pablo might just change the way we think about sports debate, and it won’t be because of anything they said. It will be because they took time to not say anything and taught the audience and the medium the value of active listening.

I heard the comedian Jim Norton on a podcast once talking about how bad he was at acting. He described his process as standing in front of his acting partner and just watching their mouth move until it was his turn to blurt out the words he memorized. If I remember right, he said the way he thinks in a scene is “Not my turn. Not my turn. Not my turn. GO!”.

It’s a funny way to describe acting and it feels like sometimes that describes sports debate shows too. Have you ever been stuck in a radio partnership like that? I cannot say I have, so I don’t have a ton of personal experience to draw from here, but it sounds like it would be hell.

Radio is purely an auditory medium. TV hosts have the advantage of making faces or wild hand gestures to show the audience their dismay for the point their colleague is making. In radio, it is so important that we have the right comeback. You can’t have the right comeback if you aren’t fully engaged in a conversation.

The “Not my turn. Not my turn. Not my turn. GO!” model is such a detriment to good radio. It is fine to have points you want to make in an argument, but you have to assess how those points will make their optimal impact on the listeners.

Let’s say you and I are having a debate about the NBA Draft. You believe that Phoenix should hang on to the top pick, because they are so far from being competitive that to trade it for a superstar would make no sense. Before you can make that point though, you have to listen to me say that basketball is a sport where one great player can change your fortunes and doesn’t it make sense to use the pick to acquire a proven great player rather than select someone you think could be great someday?

How would you counter my argument? Would you wait for me to stop talking and then blurt out “The Suns are so bad. Why would they bring in a super star right now?” or would you listen to what I have to say and then use my argument to transition into your point? “One great player can change your fortunes? This team is in Golden State’s division. Ask LeBron James how one great player does against Golden State. Phoenix is so far away from being a playoff team that bringing in a star would maybe make them good enough to be the 8 seed in the West. It makes sense to use the pick on Marvin Bagley or DeAndre Ayton and develop those guys. By the time they hit their peak, the Warriors will be falling off and Phoenix will be poised to strike.”

If you’ve read my stuff before, you know that I don’t see a ton of value in listener calls. The audience that tunes into your show, for the most part, doesn’t care what other listeners think. They want to hear your opinions. If your actively listening to your callers and not just watching a clock looking for the right time to cut them off though, those calls can be a conduit to your opinions.

It’s example time again!

Let’s say you’re talking about the Eagles being disinvited from the White House. It doesn’t matter what side of the issue you’re on or what you think of player protests in this example. A caller gets on the air to vehemently disagree with you and calls you an idiot. What value is there to the larger audience in either shouting him down or hanging up on him? Remember, the vast vast vast majority of them are coming into this thing on your side. Listen to what the caller says so you can then take it apart.

Be reasonable about it of course. You don’t want him going off on a tangent. You can cut him loose after he makes his point.

Arguing for sport is what we do sometimes in talk radio, and that’s fine so long as you genuinely believe your points and can back them up. If you are arguing for sport though it’s safe to assume you want to win. Wins don’t come from shouting louder than your opponent. They come from entertaining the audience.

Actively listening to what the person sitting across from you or waiting on the phone is saying will make your responses better. If a listener is hearing two thoughtful and engaged voices arguing an issue, they are much less likely to be turned off by the argument.

You don’t have to like or agree with Pablo Torre and Bomani Jones to get something out of High Noon. Pay attention to their rapport and the way they respond to the things the other is saying that they find absurd. If sports radio takes anything away from High Noon, it should be a lesson in the value of active listening.

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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