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What To Do When You’re Working Without Ratings

Tyler McComas

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Last week, our leader, Jason Barrett, shared the summer ratings book for 17 different markets across the country. Those numbers are always fun and interesting to look at, but there are hosts in several smaller markets that don’t have the luxury of numbers to back up their performance. Though some may see it as a major obstacle, many hosts, such as myself and others you have read about on this website, are currently at stations that don’t subscribe to ratings. 

The reasons for stations across the country electing not to subscribe to ratings can range anywhere from a lack of budget to not believing in the system. Hard evidence can prove very useful for station managers and the sales staff, but sometimes the cost outweighs the actual reward. 

At my current employer, The Sports Talk Network in Norman, OK, management uses online numbers to help calculate traffic throughout the various hours of the day. That’s one way of overcoming the obstacle of not subscribing to Nielsen. The other, is figuring out a sales strategy to overcome not being able to share your number with a potential client. Sometimes, a client can demand to see the numbers before they even consider buying your product, but as Perry Spencer, a member of the sales staff at The Sports Talk Network, says, relationships can fix everything. 

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TM: From the sales side, have you ever experienced any obstacles not having ratings?

PS: Yes and no. Sales, a lot of what it’s going to be, is about the relationships you make. I think the key thing is, when you don’t have ratings, it’s all about how you form your relationships with your potential clients. That’s how you go around it and make due when you don’t have ratings. You have to establish good relationships and if you can do that, you can usually overcome not having ratings. 

TM: So, do you think selling off relationships, versus selling off ratings, creates more longevity with the client?

PS: Absolutely. We have a great retention rate at our station because of that. That’s how we sell, especially considering the community we’re in. Relationships go a long ways and if you have them, you’re always going to be able to talk to your clients and present them with the best info you have and what would work best for them. You can’t beat having good relationships in this business. 

TM: Say you’ve already established those good relationships, and for whatever reason, the station decided to subscribe to ratings, and they’re good. How much would that help?

PS: Ratings are always going to help any radio station. You can see that in the sales. But if you have both of those, then maybe as a sales person, you don’t have to be as good. Having all those things together, just makes it that much of an easier buy for the potential client. But again, having good relationships with the ratings is always going to be the easiest way to sell in this business.

Nick Cattles is a host that’s experienced both sides. He’s been in a situation where the station has had no ratings, but he’s now in a spot where his current employer subscribes to Nielsen. The host of the Nick Cattles Show from 3-6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 94.1 in Virginia Beach, Cattles offered up how a host can overcome the obstacles of having no ratings. 

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TM: Up to the point you finally got them, what was the decision before to not subscribe to ratings?

NC: Well, it was a management decision. I think they had been thinking about it for a while, and it just came down to a business decision. They had to decide whether it was justifiable to pay what Nielsen had been asking for, and what they had been paying up until that point. I think once the contracts started to come to an end, the decision was made and I know that I was pulled into the office and told that it was going to be happening.

The idea of it, was strictly financial, and there was a lack of belief in the system, in terms of how the information was collected. It was around that time, people started to feel like the Nielsen ratings were being doctored. There was a system (Voltair), which if you paid for it, could help your station boost the volume to pick up more listeners. There was a lot of engineer talk at that time about how significant Nielsen was to begin with and how much it was costing. There was also the conversation on whether or not you could survive in radio without the ratings. I was on the outside looking in, but that’s what I gathered. There wasn’t a strong belief in the system and the price was steep.

TM: How did you track listenership without ratings? Was it just a feel? Online numbers? How could you tell if people were actually listening?

NC: It’s funny, I went through that a little bit, and then I left and went back. Right before I left to go back to Boston, there wasn’t a lot of information. I think certain people in the building might have had their ways to figure it out, but as a show, you weren’t told much of anything. It was really difficult. As a host, we want tangible results. You just want proof that what you’re doing is the right thing. That was the major challenge, figuring out on a daily basis if what you’re doing is right or not.

In those instances, you have to trust your instincts, education in the business and your ability to be on top of everything and not miss anything. You better trust some of the old school stuff you were taught, like teasing segments, how to string together segments, going hour-to-hour, all those things that I learned as a producer and then as a host.

I think the only thing that was actually tangible was when we’d go to station events or a bar on a Sunday to have a remote, and people would come up to me during the appearance. There was nothing you could look at and say, this is where we are and this is where we were a year ago. There was just no information at our fingertips. At times, it definitely felt like you were blindfolded and throwing a dart. But you had to inevitably say to yourself that you trusted yourself and the show. 

Part of what I would do, is lean on other people. I would send segments to people and they would listen and get back to me talk about them. I leaned on some people that had a long history of providing good radio and I kind of just asked, “hey, here’s what we did on our show, what do you think?” I did that all the time, but it meant so much more when we weren’t getting ratings to try and guide myself where I wanted to go. It’s difficult without those numbers to know that what you’re putting out is well-received by the audience. 

At Double T 97.3 in Lubbock, Texas, program director Jamie Lent monitors the numbers, but admits it isn’t the end-all for the station. What’s interesting, as you’ll read below, is that Lent is constantly monitoring what music stations are doing, as well. 

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“We don’t live and die with ratings, but we do pay attention to them,” said Lent. “We don’t just focus on our competition right now in the Sports Talk radio category, but also pay attention to the music formats as well to see what our core audience listens to most. So, we basically pay attention and compare ourselves to other music stations in the market to see how we stack up to them ratings wise.”

As you see, there are many ways to get around the obstacle of not having ratings. The key, is being able to think outside the box. No, it may not be an ideal situation, but if everyone at the station from the hosts, sales staff and management can come up with a successful plan and execute it, success in the market without ratings is a very achievable goal. 

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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