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Building Your Station From Scratch

Matt Fishman

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Last week I was lucky enough to visit the finest music venue I’ve ever seen–The Anthem in Washington, DC.

It was like someone built the perfect music venue from scratch. The 57,000 square foot venue cost $60 Million and by the look of things it was totally worth it. The venue is just a little over a year old and has already hosted the Foo Fighters, superstar DJ Zedd, folk rockers The Head and The Heart, Bob Dylan, and Morrissey. The sight lines are amazing in the venue which can hold 6000 fans. My wife and I went to a packed show headlined by Death Cab for Cutie. I never had to wait for the bathroom and there were bars everywhere with great food as well.

It got me thinking. What if you were to build your sports radio station from scratch? What would

that look like? Below are the questions I would ponder when putting together a sports radio station from scratch.

1. Who is the best talent for the station? 

Look around your market and find the most entertaining people who can talk about sports. These could be sportswriters, bartenders, TV announcers, former players or none of the above. In Chicago, Mike North ran a hot dog stand before rising to fame on The Score, while JT the Brick started as a caller to the Jim Rome show. Like the sports you cover, if you can identify, recruit and develop talent you’ll be a winner. 

2. Do we want to live and local 24/7 or partner with a national network or networks? 

There are more networks to choose from than ever before: ESPN, Fox Sports Radio, SB Nation Radio, CBS Sports Radio, and NBC Sports Radio. 

3. What local and national play-by-play rights do you want? What local play-by-play rights do want to avoid? 

Think about it. I would look at the team(s) in your town that get ratings and would be great to brand your station around. This depends entirely on your market. Sometimes in 2-team markets, one team is a big winner and the other, not so much. The Cubs and the Giants dominate Chicago and the Bay Area respectively. NFL teams tend to be a great anchor for the station. Most of the games are on Sunday and they give you a great branding opportunity. The strength of NHL, NBA and College teams vary wildly by market. 

4. What do you call the station?  Is it on AM/FM or both? 

It does seem like the majority of sports stations are called “The Fan.” Other variations include The Score, The Ticket, The Ump, or The Game. Maybe there’s something local that you can play off of while creating the name. While AM vs. FM depends on the market, the prevailing winds say you want to be on FM if you can. 

5. What is your content? 

Determine if you want to take calls, have a lot of guests or somewhere in between.  If there’s one team that dominates your market, you need to figure out how you’re going to cover it. This team will dominate the airwaves during the season and the off-season. Think Dallas Cowboys!

6. Where is the station located?

This may not be as important as it once was, but anything you can do to make it cool and interactive will help. Look at all the stations that have big studios for special shows with a studio audience. 

7. What does the rest of your staff look like? 

You may have hired great hosts, but you need to think about producers, update anchors/reporters, digital people to make your website and social media engagements rock. Also, who gathers the sound to make sure your station is more than just two people talking to each other? 

8. Who is the imaging voice of the station? 

The imaging voice is something that Program Directors obsess about (at least I do!) Should it be someone local whose voice evokes sports in your town—think Jack Buck back in the day in St. Louis? Maybe you want an established sports imaging guy who voices stations across the country like the great Jim Cutler. Think hard

9.  What is your digital footprint?

In the 21st Century this is supremely important. Your website needs to look fresh and up to date and your station needs to be engaged in social media. Podcasts are a must. Think about whether you want to create them or let them develop organically based on the interests of your talent. 

10. What is your special programming?

If there is someone who would be great to host or be a part of a weekly show—sign them. When I was in Chicago we had Mike Ditka host a show once a week and later Walter Payton. In Kansas City, Dante Hall was our man. You know the legends in your town—make it happen!

It is very rare that you get to start a sports station from scratch. But even if you don’t have that opportunity these are great questions to ask yourself on a regular basis. You can find out how close you are to your perfect sports station. 

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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