Like anyone that watched the AFC Championship Game this weekend, I was bombarded with ads for a reality show called Celebrity Big Brother. It’s just like the regular version of Big Brother, only now CBS has stocked the house with people you might have maybe heard of.
There’s one ad in particular that stood out to me. It lists all of the residents of the Big Brother and ends with some line like “and don’t forget the most famous house guest of all” as the camera zooms in on the back of a blonde man’s head. The man turns around and it’s Kato Kaelin and he says something like “remember me?” or “I’m back” or…you know what, it really doesn’t matter what he said.
Using a guy that was made famous for a day by a trial that happened almost 25 years ago as a selling point is hilariously out of touch. The more frustrating thing though is that it reminded me of something radio does far too often.
Now, let me be clear. I haven’t seen an episode of this season of Big Brother. I’ve never seen an episode of any season of Big Brother, but using the trailer alone, I can pick out three lessons that radio needs to learn from this show.
1. QUIT RECYCLING HOSTS
Recently I wrote about how the make up of your market is always changing. Old names aren’t always going to resonate with a town, but for some reason, whenever there is an opening on air, a lot of programmers’ first thought is someone that used to be on the competition’s airwaves.
I’ve seen Kato Kaelin tell his story. Anthony Scaramucci is in the Big Brother house this season too. I’ve heard him tell his story. There is nothing so intriguing about either of those guys that make me feel like I need to hear it again.
Before recycling local radio talent, a programmer needs to ask himself two big questions. The first is “why is this person available?”. Was he/she not a ratings winner? Is he/she a notorious pain in the ass to work with? If the person you are considering hiring was let go by a competitor, you need to find out why. You need to find out if their story is worth hearing again.
Sure, sometimes talented people are let go for budget reasons. Sometimes notorious pains in asses can be successful and available for the right price. Make sure the reason is something that makes your target worth the risk. Market familiarity shouldn’t trump all else when making a hire.
Next, ask yourself if the talent in question can do a relevant show in 2019. Sometimes stations want to skew younger. As a result older, well-established hosts can get blown out. That creates an opportunity for the competition to pick up someone with a following.
On paper, that’s great. Look at it this way though. A relevant host never gets too old. If an older talent is the victim of a PD that wants to “skew younger,” it means that the talent isn’t engaging his audience in a meaningful way these days.
2. MAYBE A FORMER COACH OR PLAYER ISN’T THAT BIG OF A DEAL
It’s not uncommon for sports radio stations to make deals with former players and coaches of the home team to come on each week and give their thoughts on the most recent news or game. WFNZ in Charlotte has a weekly segment with Steve Smith Sr. to talk about the Carolina Panthers. WDAE in Tampa does the same with Anthony Becht. Those guys are well respected, and well informed. They are worth a listener’s time.
My wife is 39 years old. She was in her early teens when Blossom was on TV. As I was researching the celebrities in the Big Brother house I discovered that Joey Lawrence, who was a teen heartthrob in his Blossom days was going to be a resident.
I told her that. She told me that she was in love with Joey Lawrence as a kid. I asked if that meant we were going to have to watch Big Brother and she responded “Why? I can look at the internet to see if he is still hot if I am ever wondering.”
Sometimes, admit it, we grab a name for the sake of having a name. It makes listeners say “Oh yeah, him!”. Maybe it makes them tune in. Maybe it doesn’t. Getting them to tune in is only half the job though. The ex-jock/coach also has to have enough personality to get the listeners to stay.
Joey Lawrence’s name made my wife go “oh yeah, him.” It wasn’t enough to move her to do anything else.
As a programmer, you have to listen for two things when it comes to big name guests. Are they entertaining and, does your audience see this expert’s knowledge and experience as unimpeachable?
No matter how big the name, it is only worth having an ex-jock or coach on with regularity if they are delivering on those two things. They have to do more than give listeners a history lesson on the sport and the team. A good guest is only good because he has strong opinions and makes the audience feel like listening to what he has to say is a good use of their time.
3. IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING RELEVANT?
The final thought I was left with after my deep dive into the world of Celebrity Big Brother was that I am not sure how relevant the show is anymore. The Bachelor does the week to week elimination stuff better. The Masked Singer is doing the “celebrities embarrassing themselves” thing better. Why do we need this show?
I have tremendous respect for Hubbard Broadcasting and the approach they took in rebranding ESPN 1500 in Minneapolis. That station was in need of a facelift, and the powers that be were smart enough to know that an AM station without any of the 4 major league play-by-play contracts was facing an uphill climb.
When the station rebranded as Skor North, the goal wasn’t to try and match what a competitor on FM that had the Vikings, Timberwolves, and Wild was doing. Hubbard decided that they would take the focus off of solely being an on air product. Skor North puts as much emphasis on podcasts, video, and writing as it does on any of its shows. That way it isn’t just one thing. Skor North has a very clear point of differentiation from its competition, and makes itself necessary for Minnesota sports fans by giving them original content everywhere.
The other part of being relevant is in the perception of your brand. The perception of CBS among most people my age is that nothing the network does (outside of sports and maybe the Grammys) is meant for us. Watch the NFL, SEC Football or the NCAA Tournament on the network, and what do you see during commercials?
There’s an ad for NCIS. There’s another one for Mom. The network has remakes of Hawaii Five-O and Magnum, PI, and shows named after every branch of law enforcement you’ve ever heard of.
In short, your dad loves CBS. CBS loves your dad. They don’t really need you.
Does your brand have broad appeal? Are your hosts considered honest when it comes to their criticism of the local teams? Does what they do inspire passion even in people that disagree with them?
Or is your brand seen as nothing but homers? Do your hosts refer to the local teams with the words “we” and “our” and steer clear of ever doing anything that might ruffle feathers? You may be quick to tell me that the latter approach has won you fans in the front offices of every local team, but I promise you no one in the market considers those kinds of shows “must listen” radio.
Big Brother became irrelevant, and it seemingly happened without CBS or the producers even realizing it. The “washed-up celebrities embarrassing themselves” model of reality TV has been done to death, and CBS isn’t offering much of a reason for you to want to see it done again.
I can’t promise that I am giving you a blueprint to stave off irrelevance here. All I can tell you is that when I look at Celebrity Big Brother, it isn’t a mystery how the game passed it by.
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.