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Not Sticking to Sports with Connor Happer

Tyler McComas

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Off-topic conversations on sports radio shows continue to be a growing trend. Whether it’s ranking the best breakfast foods, sharing a story about your uncle who had too much Jack Daniels in his eggnog at Christmas, or even discussing the best vacation spots in the United States, both hosts and listeners alike have come around to the idea that shows can be more than just about hard-hitting sports talk.

Sure, there’s always going to be #StickToSports guy, but relating to your audience and letting them take a look into your daily life is sometimes more powerful than breaking down a football game that’s four months away. Simply put, if it’s done correctly, there’s a place in sports radio for fun off-topic conversations.

Outside of NBA free agency, the news cycle in sports is kind of dull at this point in the calendar. Unless you’re hosting a show that’s in a heavy MLB market, this is probably the toughest time of the year to come up with strong content on a daily basis. That’s where off-topic content can be key.

While listenership may be down during the summer, there is something you can do to draw people back in. Discussing broader topics that most can relate to, have an opinion on, share on social media, and weigh in on thru either the phone or text line allows your show to be interactive around things more interesting than the day’s news and that can make a difference.

Like, everything else in sports radio, off-topic conversations have to be presented and done the right way. The shining example of that in our industry, has been 1310 The Ticket in Dallas. Hilarious bits and off-the-cuff moments have been a huge part of the station’s success and prove, when done correctly, off-topic conversations can help a station thrive.

Another good example is Fox Sports Radio morning host Clay Travis, and his love of incorporating an ‘Animal Thunder Dome’ conversation into his show. It’s fun, it makes you think, and most importantly, he keeps it entertaining. It seems that national hosts are more likely to stick to talking solely about sports, but Travis’ willingness to go outside the box has greatly benefited Outkick the Show.

Connor Happer is a proponent of using off-topic conversations on his show ‘Happer and Stephens’ on 93.7 the ticket in Lincoln, Nebraska. Aside from breaking down the upcoming season of Husker football, topics can be hard to come by during the summer months in Lincoln. That’s where Happer and his co-host, Tom Stephens, like to use their time to show off their personalities. What they lack in local content in the summer is made up for with fun, off-topic conversations that make the audience laugh. It’s a recipe that can work in any market at any time of the calendar. 

But will off-topic conversations continue to grow in the sports radio format? What’s the biggest no-no when trying to steer away from sports? Happer shared his opinions on a subject matter that most hosts find themselves pondering during the summer months. 

TM: How does your show approach off-topic conversations? 

CH: We really just mix it in when the timing feels right. Most of the time, it’s just little stuff while going back into breaks. If I was going to put a percentage on it, I’d say we do it around 20 percent of the time, it’s just a way to have fun and show some personality to the listener. 

TM: Would you like to see more off-topic conversations on sports radio and do you think that happens? 

CH: I think if you can find something that’s off-topic and not about sports that you’re passionate about, the listeners can feel it. They can hear it. I think any time we get a chance to do that and get out of our comfort zone it help us. I mean, I’m definitely not against it in any way. I find that when I listen to other sports radio shows, those are the more interesting conversations that end up happening. 

TM: In your market (Lincoln, Nebr.) there’s no MLB team around and the news cycle is slow. Is this the time of the year you’re heaviest on off-topic conversations? 

CH: Definitely. Yeah, more so now than any other time. If there’s something in sports that we normally don’t talk about, like the NBA with its current free agency we don’t get a chance to talk about that sport a lot during football season because we’re talking Huskers, so I would even consider that off-topic. But yeah, summertime, we do things differently around here because the news cycle isn’t very strong. We’ve hit the wall a little bit with a lack of news, so we’re really hitting the off-topic stuff, for sure. 

TM: If the news cycle in a certain market was so dry that nothing felt relevant, would you frown upon someone during an entire show centered on off-topic conversations? 

CH: You know, I don’t think it’s my style. I wouldn’t frown upon it, that’s for sure. Our afternoon guy, Brett Kane, he tends to get a little more outside the box, but he’s really good at it and it leads to interesting conversations. It’s not necessarily my shows identity to do a whole day on off-topic, but I absolutely wouldn’t frown upon it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It keeps people entertained, as far as I’m concerned. 

TM: This football season is unique because of the arrival of Scott Frost, but once football season hits, will you eliminate all off-topic conversations from the show? 

CH: No, I don’t think so. We still try to break it up a little. Our market demands the best football talk, but I feel that if you have enough hard-hitting football talk, it’s good to break it up. I find that it helps keep the hosts fresh, not just the listeners. It keeps them entertained and us engaged, so we’re not falling into the trap of saying the same thing every day. We’ll keep it around during the season. 

TM: What’s the best off-topic stuff you’ve seen that’s really been a hit? 

CH: We have a younger and older dynamic on our show. My co-host Tom is 52 years old, so it’s interesting with that age gap. If we find something that will appeal to the younger crowd and not so much the older crowd, or vice versa, we give each other a hard time. I think we get into it about food a lot, then there comes jokes about being a picky eater. I think you get a little more personal when it comes to things like that, which shines the light on who we want to be, which is just us. 

TM: Do you feel like you see a ton of off-topic responses from listeners on the text line, Twitter, etc.? 

CH: Absolutely, there’s no doubt about it. We get normal feedback on everyday things like Husker football and basketball, but people always have an opinion on some weird food preference that we might have and they feel they have to chime in. I’ve actually found that we get people that text in only about that stuff, and it’s the only time they ever interactive with the show. Maybe they’re only there for that reason? But this time of year, we always get great reaction from off-topic stuff, we read it and it works out. 

TM: Are there any big no-no’s when brining up off-topic stuff?

CH: I think there’s a time and place for most things. We barely got into political stuff that revolves around sports. I think different time slots will treat these differently, but sex and topic like that, you just have to be careful with kids being in the car. There’s a certain time of the day where that works and certain times where it doesn’t. You just have to be cognizant of that kind of stuff. Don’t take it too far, I don’t think you want to push a conversation that doesn’t have any legs, especially if it’s off-topic. If you got everything out, then there’s no need to go any further. 

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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