I live in a transplant market. I moved to North Carolina’s Research Triangle in 2005. It took some time for me to understand the vibe of the area and what was important to local sports fans. I’m not talking about teams. I mean the moments.
Fourteen years later, and I am definitely not an expert. But when UNC fans start talking with disgust about Gerald Henderson, I know exactly what moment they are picturing in their heads. I was here for it. I did radio the next day and heard people calling the kid all kinds of names.
That Duke-Carolina game happened on March 4, 2007. We’re two months away from Henderson elbowing Tyler Hansbrough in the face and bloodying his nose being twelve years old. Kids that were in kindergarten when it happened will graduate high school this year.
John Kasay’s final kickoff in Super Bowl 38 sailed out of bounds over a year before I moved to North Carolina. To me, the biggest story of that game is Janet Jackson’s boob. To my friends that are Panthers fans, it is that penalty and how it gave the Patriots the field position they needed to set up a game winning field goal.
My point in telling you that isn’t to make my friend Lauren Brownlow’s eyeballs twitch with rage. It is to hammer home the point that watching Gerald Henderson break Tyler Hansbrough’s nose is a vivid memory and iconic moment in the Duke/UNC rivalry for me, but it might not be for the audience. Kasay’s kick sticks in the memories of Carolina Panthers fans the same way. It happened a year before I even knew I would be a North Carolinian. Sometimes, when talking about the Panthers, I have to be reminded that it happened at all.
This is a place where Lenovo, SAS, Glaxo Smith Kline, and Pfizer all have corporate headquarters. People move to and from Raleigh and Durham all the time. Imagine how many new people have come to the area since Henderson’s elbow connected with Psycho T’s face!
The challenge of doing any kind of radio, but particularly sports talk, in a transplant market is being inclusive to everyone listening. Of course you will always lead with the biggest news about the local teams, but it is important to occasionally step back and evaluate just what kind of connection the bulk of your audience has with those teams.
In a market like St. Louis, where such a large chunk of the population grew up there and has decided to stay there, you can talk about Ozzie Smith’s “Go crazy, folks!” moment to this day. There’s a chance your listeners were in the stadium with their dads, or watching that game at home and hearing Jack Buck’s iconic call.
Now think about a market like Miami. A host there cannot rely on that same level of connection to even the 2003 Marlins team that won the World Series. People move to and from that area too frequently. Do you think a guy that moved to Miami in say 2015 and is just a casual sports fan knows off the top of his head that the Marlins used to be anything other than a laughing stock? In that scenario, even a hardcore sports fan that didn’t live in the city at the time would have trouble understanding what that team and beating the Yankees meant to the area.
There is nothing wrong with over-explaining things. It actually makes the tent that is your show bigger. Hell, if you are on the air in a place like Washington, DC where the population seemingly completely turns over every other year, you could turn teaching new residents local sports history into a bit.
You’ll always have listeners that are hardcore, lifelong fans of the local teams. Maybe they act like there is some honor in giving hell to more casual fans or newer fans that haven’t suffered with the team enough in hardcores’ estimation.
Here’s the thing about those kinds of fans. You don’t have to win them over. They are P1s, not just for your station but for sports talk in general. They have opinions about how their team is covered. They have opinions about you. They are going to listen even if they hate your guts. Just ask Paul Finebaum. He built a pretty healthy following of people that wanted to murder him but didn’t want to miss a second of his show when he was working in Birmingham.
You don’t want to ignore the hardcore local fans and P1s in your audience, but your show cannot grow catering only to the group that will always be there. If you’re new to the market, turn your education into a bit that shows how wide open your show can and will be. If listeners are calling in telling you about the moments that ripped the hearts out of every fan in the area, listeners that weren’t in town for those moments are hearing that too and it is providing them context for how you talk about those teams and those moments in the future.
Some time last year I wrote a piece about ESPN taking its college football pregame show, College Gameday, to New York. There was a lot of pushback to the idea when it was first announced. I wrote that everyone that swore it wouldn’t work and that there would be no crowd there was operating under the assumption that it’s still the 18th century and no one ever moves away from the town they grew up in.
Remember that when you think about your audience. How many of them came to town for the same reason you did – a job opportunity? Did their new job require them to learn the ins and outs of the local teams? It doesn’t mean that if you are on the West Coast you need to devote whole segments to the Knicks, because a lot of people are from New York. It means that you can’t assume everyone listening in their car or office knows everything that you do.
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.