This is nearly an impossible list to compile as there are so many variables that go into a good guest spot. Do the hosts and the guests connect or have a previous connection? Is the guest entertaining and interesting on that day with that host or hosts? Is the guest topical for that market on that day and time slot. So with apologies, I’m listing my 16 favorite guests to listen to in sports radio:
#16: Steve Lavin, Fox Sports. The former UCLA and St. John’s basketball coach brings the personality and energy. He has the recent coaching experience that gives him added insight into today’s coaches and players as well as today’s college game. Smart, funny, entertaining, and tapped in.
#15: John Smoltz, Baseball Analyst. The former pitcher is pretty brilliant when it comes to baseball. Frankly, he notices a lot of the nuances in the game that other analysts either miss or aren’t looking for. I always feel smarter after hearing him on the radio.
#14: Tony Dungy, HOF Football Coach. I have a special place for Coach Dungy on my list. He would always take my calls from his time as Defensive Coordinator at Minnesota to his years as a head coach. Even in retirement he’s smart, insightful and doesn’t take himself too seriously.
#13 Bob Huggins, West Virginia Basketball Coach. Coach Huggins or “Huggy Bear” as he’s often known, can come off sounding like a total curmudgeon if you don’t get his dry, acerbic sense of humor. Once you do, he’s a laugh riot. Very self-deprecating and hilarious in replies to most questions. Knows his basketball too.
#12 Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN. It was a toss up here between Jeff and Stan Van Gundy. You can’t go wrong with either, I just find Jeff a tad more polished after more years in broadcasting. Jeff has a great knowledge of basketball and connects well with hosts.
#11 Cal Ripken, MLB Hall of Famer. Cal to me is like the conscience of baseball. He’s not preachy but in addition to his HOF Playing career, he and his brother Bill have built a veritable baseball empire with Ripken Baseball. When Cal says something about the game or a certain player it carries great weight. In addition, he’s an avid basketball fan so try to sneak in a question about the NCAA tournament or something happening in the NBA.
#10 Bill Walton, The legendary UCLA Center and Hippie is very opinionated and always entertaining. He has A LOT to say so make sure you give him time to say it.
#9 Jay Bilas, College Basketball Analyst. For much the same reason I like Smoltz, I enjoy hearing Bilas on the radio. Such great insight. He’s not afraid to challenge the consensus and have facts to back it up (He is a lawyer!). Like Smoltz, I feel smarter after a Jay Bilas interview.
#8 Ian Rapoport, NFL Network. The busiest man in the really busy business of being an NFL Insider. He is super connected. In a world that used to be owned by Mort, Schefter, and Jay Glazer, Rapoport is the king. Even after getting torched by 106.7 The Fan in DC’s Chad Dukes for dumping out of an interview to take a call from an NFL GM, he had the stones to come on the next day and take a beating.
#7 Mel Kiper, NFL Draft Guru. There tends to be a love/hate relationship out there with Mel Kiper, but understand this, he helped changed the game when it comes to the NFL Draft. Remember when it used to be a sleepy event in NYC with Commissioner Pete Rozelle writing the picks on a chalkboard? Now it’s such a giant event and his strong opinions on players helped build that. Today he still has strong opinion and you want him saying good things about the players your team picks.
#6 Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN College Football. Herbstreit is the star of ESPN’s iconic College Gameday Show and their lead analyst when news breaks. Oh and he’s a lead analyst on ESPN/ABC’s Saturday Night Football. He speaks with great authority and is not afraid to be critical of any team or coach-Even his alma mater, Ohio State. If you want to talk College Football, “Herbie” is your guy.
#5 Michael Wilbon, ESPN/PTI. Michael is an icon of the media world. ESPN has been using him a lot on the NBA but he knows everything and has a strong, well thought out opinion. I’ll never forget sitting next to him for the Cubs one game playoff in 1998, with the slow moving Steve Trachsel on the mound for the Cubs. Wilbon said, “He’s everything that’s wrong with baseball.” Smart, funny, opinionated, and prepared. Pretty good combination for a guest.
#4 Charles Barkley, Basketball Analyst. Once the “round mound of rebound,” Charles has made a career of being fun and entertaining. He knows the NBA game better than the college game, but he’s there to entertain us. He’s really, really funny as a guest and definitely doesn’t take himself too seriously.
#3 Jim Nantz, CBS Sports. The lead voice for CBS of the NFL, The Masters, and The NCAA Tournament is not a frequent sports radio guest. So when he is on, it’s normally with a host or hosts he has a great relationship with. First off, he has that incredible, recognizable voice, but as a guest he doesn’t take himself too seriously and can be playful. You’ll likely hear “Hello Friends” as he joins the show. Catch him with Mark Packer on SiriusXM and it’s a Home Run!
#2 Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs Head Coach. Much like the Coach I have for the top seed of this group, Pop can talk about anything. Basketball-certainly. What’s happening in the US with pop culture, politics, education, anything. He went out of his way to support Turner’s Craig Sager in his battle with cancer. Opinionated, unpredictable, and incredibly well read for an NBA coach.
#1 Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors Head Coach. Steve Kerr was a great guest as a player, especially on the Bulls championship teams. He’s funny, self-deprecating, smart and like Popovich he’s up on what’s going on in the world and willing to use his position to take a stand. Oh and he’s had the best team in basketball since he joined the Warriors, too!
Like I said, this was a nearly impossible list to make because so many good guests are left off. These are my 16. Depending on your market and what sports are hot there, the list will definitely change. Overall, you can’t go wrong with the list I have here. Thanks for reading!
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.