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What Happened to the Sound in Sports Radio?

Matt Fishman

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Thanks to SiriusXM and 670 The Score in Chicago I have the pleasure of listening to Cubs baseball whenever I’m in my car. Last weekend I heard an incredibly well done audio package which featured an interview with Cubs organist Gary Pressy. Pressy had recently celebrated his 2,500th game as the Cubs organist and is in his 31st year with the Cubs.


What struck me in listening wasn’t just Pressy’s love of the Cubs and his job, but that this was an incredibly well produced piece. It included Zach Zaidman’s interview with the Cubs organist and well placed sound including the infamous Mike Ditka rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” If you’re not familiar, Ditka was late in arriving to the booth for the tight window of the song and sang the song so fast that Gary Pressy was rushing to keep up. The piece folded in a number of fitting pieces of sound, thanks to audio engineer Dave Miska.

It made me think. What happened to the sound in sports radio? Where did it go? Tune into your local sports station or your favorite national show and you likely won’t hear much sound. Here’s what you will hear–station imaging over bumper music into hosts talking. You’ll also likely hear the lyrics of the bumper music. So the lyrics of the song are competing directly with the host(s) speaking. It makes for a very sloppy and uninspired audio presentation.

What’s crazy about that aspect is that with digital editing it has become easier than ever to create a longer music bed rather than having the lyrics of the song compete with the hosts. In my first job as an associate producer if you wanted to loop a music bed you had to edit one together on a reel to reel or have it on a looped cart (to you youngsters this was what we used to play audio on the air in the 20th Century.) This took a great deal of time and we had to grow some of our finger nails longer in order to pull apart any bad edits.

The music bed is just so basic. Where are the drops, movie clips, and the creative re-packaging of stuff that happened on that day’s show? On most shows, it just doesn’t exist. It’s not even a thought. Much of today’s sports radio producing is focused on guest booking, call screening, and hot takes. So where did the sound go? There are a few reasons you can’t find it. I delve into them here.

Staffing Cutbacks – On many sports stations across the country, the producer is like the Swiss Army knife of the show. In addition to booking guests, they screen phone calls, run the board, and are in charge of social media, show podcasts or audio posts as well as sports updates. With so many things happening at once, what producer has the time to think of creative sound ideas let alone the time and ability to focus to execute them? It naturally falls by the wayside.

Image result for radio producer

Overworked Production Directors — When production directors have to produce imaging for multiple stations as well as commercials for the sales department, they don’t have time to work on higher level production pieces. One of my favorite memories of working on a production piece was during the Dave Wannstedt era with the Bears. It was a parody song based on the Genesis song “The Lamb Lies down on Broadway.” Entitled “The Bears Lie down on Sunday” everything was set. There was just one problem. When Creative Director Tom Couch of the Score and WXRT cancelled out the lyrics of the song, the baseline disappeared as well. This is when working with a production wizard truly pays off. In the studios on the NW side of Chicago, Tom had a Casio keyboard. He played the baseline on his keyboard and the song was fixed and ready to be recorded. It was definitely radio magic.

Teaching how to use sound — Who is teaching producers and associate producers how to edit and incorporate sound into their shows? Just because editing software is everywhere and super easy to use, doesn’t mean the outcome will be better. Someone has to teach the newcomers and hold seasoned staff accountable for putting sound into the show. Fewer and fewer stations have a dedicated Executive Producer who can focus on this important responsibility.

In-Show Time — With extreme pressure on sales teams to meet their goals, sales inventory is everywhere. Listen to one hour of your favorite sports radio show. In addition to the recorded spots, there are a ton of live reads and everything from the guest hotline to the studio itself has at least a one line read associated with it. That leaves precious little time for the show itself, let alone any fun, creative production pieces.

In an era when sports radio (and radio in general) is trying to differentiate itself from all the other audio choices out there, it is essential to pay attention to the sound. Your station’s sound and overall production value is an important way to differentiate yourself. Remember that truly great radio is more than two hosts talking or interviewing a newsworthy guest. Pay attention to the sound and the listeners will take notice. 

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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