If you never get out of your comfort zone in the sports radio business, you’re always going to limit yourself as a broadcaster. Whether it’s testing yourself by doing a solo show, dipping your toe on the sales side or even taking a job in a market you’re unfamiliar with, the best in the business are the ones that have put themselves in unfamiliar territory.
Evan Cohen got out of his comfort zone at 22 years old, even though it took some words of wisdom from his father. Since he was a 9-year-old kid in New York, sports radio was all he ever wanted to do.
Soon after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Good Karma Brands offered Cohen a position in West Palm Beach, FL. The plan for Good Karma, was to start a sports radio station in the largest market in the country that didn’t have an all-sports talk station dedicated to the market. West Palm Beach is a Top 50 market in the United States, but in 2003, it was completely untapped when it came to sports talk radio.
At such a young age, Cohen was getting the unique opportunity to be a part of the startup strategy, but it wasn’t the way he envisioned. Though Cohen was getting a 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily shift to host on the air, that wasn’t his main job. His key responsibility was to get sales for the new station, because the company needed everyone to do everything to get the new venture lifted off the ground. He was even told that if he wasn’t successful on the sales side, he wouldn’t have the daily show he coveted so much.
Cohen didn’t have the desire to be on the sales side. So much so, that he called his dad and asked if he should even take the gig. His father, as parents so often do, gave him the exact advice he needed to hear. “So you’re 22 years old, this is all you’ve ever wanted to do your entire life, someone is giving you the opportunity to run all sides of the only industry you’ve ever wanted to be in and you want to say no that?”
Fast forward 16 years to present day as Cohen is preparing to present new and innovative ideas at the BSM Summit next week in Los Angeles. He’s there, because getting out of his comfort zone like he did at 22 years old, has made him a very respected professional in the industry. Along with Traug Keller of ESPN, Norm Pattiz of Podcast One, Matt Kramer of CAA Sports and Kelli Hurley of Westwood One, Cohen will be on a panel discussing audio’s path to digital dollars. It’s an important discussion to have for the future of the business, but also one that can generate another income source for both the station and its talents.
“I believe we can’t ignore that we are lucky enough to be in an industry where people want to listen to our content and support our content,” said Cohen. “There are other ways of adding dollars to the station’s bottom line, but maybe as important, to the content producer’s bottom line. In other words, hosts, producers and other members of a show are usually paid in two ways: A salary and live reads. Very few content talk-driven radio stations pay their talent three ways. In a subscription based site, you’re actually not only giving back to the fans, but we’re actually giving back in a third way to our talent and producers who are getting paid extra off this with the assumption that people are listening to their stuff.”
What host or producer wouldn’t be open to a third way of gaining income? Especially if it means putting more of your content out for fans to enjoy. But would people subscribe and listen to even more original content produced by a station? Cohen thinks the answer is yes.
“We know the people are listening to the stuff, because this is what most of our fans requested when we asked them what more you want of us and what more we can do for you,” continued Cohen. “By actually just giving the fans exactly what they want and charging a minimal fee for it, everyone is winning. Fans win, because they get more of our content. The station wins because it’s another revenue stream and the talent and producers win because they’re gaining extra money.”
But it isn’t just about adding dollars in other pockets for Cohen. He sees opportunities, as well.
“I think it’s not only finding the digital dollars. I look at it as finding opportunities, because opportunities can lead to dollars.”
Much like Jim Graci in last week’s column, Cohen isn’t there to just give new ideas. He’s there to learn, too. Years of experience in the industry has taught him to continually learn more and more about how to improve his product. Cohen sees the BSM Summit as the perfect place to do that.
“I’m really excited for it and I’m really thankful to Good Karma Brands for realizing how important this is and allowing me to go to represent the company and using company dollars to send me,” he said. “I think attending is going to be wonderful because this is not a summit centered on ‘how do you come up with a good topic?’ Or ‘how do you get in and out of breaks?’ This is literally something that I think all of us will find ourselves leaving and saying, ‘I didn’t realize that. I didn’t know that could be done.’
“We’ll leave there knowing we need to talk to a particular person because they have insight that I don’t have and we don’t have. The summit will serve as an information-providing and networking event for people in the sports media business to exchange ideas. It’s certainly valuable and something I’m very much looking forward to.”
With such a high-profile guest list, how can one pick just one person they’re most excited to hear form at the BSM Summit? It’s virtually impossible. But for some, including Cohen, it may be about meeting and hearing from the people you’ve never met before.
“I’m really just looking forward to hearing from everyone,” said Cohen. “I’m not dumb enough to think that I know everything. There’s not really one person specifically, because there’s so many big names. I’m actually really excited to hear from the people that I don’t know. I want to know from the people I don’t know that have earned their way into this summit, how they got there and what they’ve done to make it for themselves.”
Cohen is still thankful to this day that his dad didn’t let him stray away from an unbelievable opportunity at 22 years old. Because of that, he grew not only as a host, producer and a reporter, but also on the business side, an area he never knew he’d be interested in.
That experience will undoubtedly shine through at the BSM Summit next week. If you’re on the podium next week sitting alongside Jason Barrett, odds are pretty high you’ve done a lot of good things in the industry. Cohen is no exception.
“Expect to work in the middle of nowhere. Expect to not necessarily have the hours that you dream of. If you’re willing to do that and work hard at it, it seems like, in this profession, you have a better chance of making it if you don’t worry about time, money or age. If you’re willing to be open-minded to those things, you can make it.”
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.