Everyone called him crazy. Program directors strongly advised him not to do it. Why would anyone ever try to cover college football recruiting on the radio?
Nobody else was doing it. It had never been done before. There’s no market for it. Nobody cares about it. It’s not good radio.
Those were just a few things that Bill King heard when he decided he wanted to be the first to talk recruiting on his show. Though everyone told him not to, King saw an opportunity that most didn’t. What he knew, is that college football recruiting was going to eventually be a big part of how we cover the sport. He was right. And the payoff was huge success and national notoriety.
When King was in college in the early 80’s, sports radio really wasn’t a thing. Not only didn’t it exist, but even if it did, King likely wouldn’t have been interested in pursuing it as a career. In fact, he never took one media class in college. His focus was on biochemistry. Going to medical school was the real prize, but he chose to sit out a year of school after graduating. Naturally, that led King to having to find a new job to make ends meet.
You can’t always choose your co-workers. King found that out when he realized he was the young guy amidst a whole lot of older adults in the building. They had their system during the day. The radio was always cranked up on political radio, something King instantly disliked. However, being the new guy, he had no choice but to work through it.
WLAC in Nashville was the station he was hearing every day at work, a 50,000 watt signal that boomed all across the southeast. Finally, a sports show arrived at the station and it aired when King was still at work. He became interested in it right away, maybe even more than he suspected he would. Sure, he thought the hosts weren’t up to standard, even though he didn’t have the qualifications to have that opinion, but the show struck him enough to call the station for an internship. He had never considered sports radio as a job, but here he was, about to make the most important decision of his professional career.
King didn’t even know if he would be good at sports radio, he just wanted to try it. After going into the station and asking for an opportunity, he was told he’d receive a call.
He didn’t for 6 long months.
All the while, King pondered if to call the station and ask him for an update. Finally, scared to death, he did. WLAC needed someone to come in on Saturdays. No, not to be behind the mic, but to do errands and chores for the regular host that was in on weekends. King didn’t care. He was in the building. That’s all he needed.
One of the many things that makes King so identifiable now, is the big, booming voice he has. It’s unmistakable and instantly recognizable. But early in this radio career, he was told it was going to be a hindrance. People even went as far to say that it was going to be the reason he would never find himself behind a mic. King didn’t have any sort of background in radio, so he had no idea if they were right or not. How could he? Once again, they were wrong.
Years later, Sirius would tell him how much they loved his voice.
King started off just like every other young broadcaster in the business. He read baseball scores, mundane baseball lists, talked pro sports and more. At the time, he didn’t care. He just wanted to be on the air and was finally getting the opportunity to do so. His 5-8 p.m. show on WLAC bled into 26 different states, which started to get him a whole lot of notoriety across the country. The only problem, was that he was faking that he enjoyed other sports besides college football. He really didn’t. In fact, he cut out the NFL altogether in the early 90’s, wanting to focus way more on the college game that he had a much deeper love for.
Every person living has regrets in life, either personally or professionally. Everyone has a moment or two where they wish they would have chosen a different option. The important thing is can you point back to several good decisions you made? Well, Bill King can.
Today, he’s happy he walked into the radio station for an internship. He’s happy he chose to cover college football recruiting when everybody else said it wasn’t smart. He’s happy he chose to cover the sport he ultimately cares about the most. A lot of good things have happened to the guy that never thought about doing sports radio in college.
King is still going strong, covering college football on a daily basis at WNSR in Nashville where he recently celebrated his 30th year in the industry (Congrats, Bill!). Previously, he was with Sirius XM from 2005 to 2014. He’s another example that to be successful, you don’t have to attend an esteemed university or have an extensive radio background out of college. All you need is the passion to be great. King has that and it’s just another reason why he became the best in covering college sports on the radio.
TM: We always talk about coaching trees, but you have a lot of people that have formally been under you to go on and do big things. Is that cool to see so many people work under to go on and succeed, such as Braden Gall, Chris Childers and Jeff Thurn, to just name a few?
BK: Yeah, I mean I think my role there is probably a little overrated. I never sat down to someone and said I’d take them under my wing and that I would get them there, I think these guys are just really talented and made it all on their own. If I had something to do with it just by setting an example, then so be it. But I think my role there is more circumstantial and not so much some guru that gave them all they keys (laughs). Flat out, I just think those guys are really talented, I think I’m fortunate that we were associated with each other.
TM: What was the decision to tie to ultimately tie yourself so closely to college football?
BK: I’d say during the 80’s, and I’m an ’84 college graduate, I became very attached to college football and very bored with the NFL. Probably, in the early 90’s, I quit watching the NFL altogether. Other than running into different rooms where it’s on, I never see it.
I just love the Saturday feel and the energy and I’m not sure why that happened. It wasn’t a decision, it’s just where my mind went. I let myself freely go and became enamored with the Saturday game and the energy behind it. You start early and finish late. The time period that cable came about with the opportunity to watch more and more games every week, that’s when I got into radio.
During that time, Florida State and Miami had it going, Alabama won a national title in ’92, Steve Spurrier was just getting started at Florida, all these things were happening and it became incredibly encompassing to me. I just went that direction.
TM: Is Nashville the ideal place for you to do the style of show that you want to do?
BK: It is for me. I think that data may say that Birmingham, though that area isn’t as big or booming like Nashville, but you can make the same argument with Birmingham and Atlanta. Atlanta, to me, is really more of a pro sports town. You’ve got to remember, I’m from Nashville, so in my mind it’s here.
TM: What about on Monday’s during college football season? You’re covering the entire sport as well as a specific region of the country, how do you determine what the big topics are?
BK: I don’t know that I have a process. But I have a couple rules on Monday, one I don’t ever schedule guests. It’s just me and the audience, that’s it. I want it to be free-thinking, free-flowing, I want different opinions and diversity. But Tyler, I swear, I don’t go in there with a note or a script or anything else. The mic is on and I go. It’s a blank canvas and we paint it however we’re going to paint it. That’s how I like it.
TM: Though you want everyone to come for college football, what about when the Nashville Predators are in the Stanley Cup? Are you still all college football?
BK: They only thing local about my show, is that I’m here. The topics are never associated with a local situation. I respect the pro teams here but we don’t spend any time on them. I want to be different. Every town, pretty much has every show and every show is the same drum beat. The hosts are different, everyone has their own style, voices and personalities, but the topics are the same thing. I don’t want to do that show.
I left that style many, many years ago. I don’t think I can do that show, because I don’t think I can fake liking those topics. Right now, this town is going crazy about the Titans and the local shows are spending all their time on them. You know what? More power to them. Good things are happening to the team and it’s a good franchise, same with the Predators. I just can’t fake like I enjoy it every day. I just want to do my own thing and be different.
TM: What do you look for when you schedule a guest? What do you want them to bring to the show?
BK: I want them to have a PHD in the topic. I want you to own it. I’ll be able to tell if you own it or not. And frankly, sometimes we give people a shot, and with all due respect, they don’t own it, you can tell.
Not only do you need to own it, but you need to sound good doing it. There’s an art form there, where you may know it, but you can’t verbalize it. I need someone that can do it all. That’s another reason why I don’t really care if you’re in the business or not. It’s not a prerequisite, the best Alabama guy I’ve ever had on, is a guy that works at The University of Kentucky. He owns the Alabama topic as well as anyone that I have on about any other topic.
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.