It’s certainly the call no one ever wants to get. An employee of yours, the co-host of your afternoon show was in a fatal car accident. The staff at your station and frankly your cluster all know each other and it’s shocking. This isn’t fiction. This is real life.
Last week, Iowa sports radio host, Gantry “Wolfgang” Miller was killed after being struck by a semi trailer. Miller co-hosted The Drive with Wolfgang and Steen on 1700 The Champ in Des Moines. According to state police, Miller was stopped on the shoulder of Interstate 80 and was fatally hit by the passing semi-truck after exiting his 1996 Ford Explorer. Miller died at the scene of the accident which is still under investigation.
First, I want to tell you about Gantry “Wolfgang” Miller. He worked very hard to get to where he was. Cumulus/Des Moines Operations Manager Chad Taylor elaborates:
“He (Wolfgang) worked extremely hard to finally get his shot at his own show. He was always a guest on other sports talk radio shows, podcasts etc. He did a Saturday show first and then in December 2018 he got his shot to host his own show with Gary (Steen) Steenblock. Wolfgang was one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. He was in love with sports talk radio and really worked hard to separate himself from the pack. He was funny, self-deprecating, original, loud, outspoken, real…all the things programmers dream of in a talent.”
Anyone who has been in radio knows someone like Wolfgang. Someone who works, works, works, including nights, weekends, holidays, whatever it takes to get a shot. In December of last year he finally got it – co-host of The Drive with Wolfgang and Steen on 1700 The Champ in Des Moines, Iowa.
I reached out to Cumulus/Des Moines Operations Manager Chad Taylor to gain some insight on how he handled the tragedy with his employees. I hope you never find yourself dealing with this type of situation, but if it were to happen inside your building, his management tips could be helpful.
Matt: As operations manager of the entire cluster, what did you see as your responsibilities when you heard the news?
Chad: To make sure the staff and most importantly his co-host heard the news from me (and not social media). It was also very important that we were respectful to his family and made sure to include them in any press releases/messaging on-air. I’m fiercely protective of the team here and wanted to ensure they had a safe outlet to grieve and honor Wolfgang in the way he deserved.
Matt: At what point do you focus on the difficult task of replacing him on your afternoon show?
Chad: We will start the search immediately and of course include the family every step of the way. Most importantly it will be Steen who will give us the best feedback on who should join the show in the future.
It’s crucial that we find somebody that has chemistry with Steen and understands the mission of the show. What made Wolfgang and Steen successful was they were polar opposites who weren’t afraid to live their lives on the air. They gave their opinions and held their ground with each other.
Matt: What advice would you give another PD/OM when dealing with a death in their radio family?
Chad: To make sure and be sensitive to the entire team. Not everybody deals with tragedy in the same way. Be open, transparent, honest, respectful and caring. This was so unexpected and it still doesn’t feel real to a lot of people in the building. Wolfgang was a bigger than life personality. It’s hard to lose somebody like that.
After talking with Chad, I had a few questions for Wolfgang’s 1700 The Champ co-host Steen about the loss of his partner.
Matt: Where were you when you heard the news?
Steen: I was in the Dominican on spring break with my senior son and my wife when my wife received the phone call. She called me over to hear the news. It was devastating losing someone so young who I was enjoying working with so much.
Matt: Were you the one who had to tell the audience?
Steen: Luckily I was not the one who had to announce to the audience what had happened. It was probably a blessing I had a few days to grieve privately before I had to come back and figure out what to do next.
Matt: How are you holding up?
Steen: I’m doing much better. It was nice to get back and receiving the support that was coming from the community, my radio family, and my own family.
The most at ease that I had felt was when I finally got to see Wolfgang’s family and talk with them. We had the services yesterday and got to see all the love for him and listen to everyone tell stories about him.
Matt: At what point do you have to start looking for a new on-air partner and what challenges does that present?
Steen: We have to start looking for someone to come in and work ‘The Drive’ with me but I find it hard to believe we can ever duplicate or match what Wolfgang and I had. We hit it off the first day we met and never looked back. We had fun, fought like brothers on issues, had major disagreements but always brought it right back to the love and respect we had for each other.
He would want this show to go on and his family has made that clear to the station as well. I look forward to whoever we find knowing I will always have Wolfgang in my heart and on my mind. Local sports and Iowa teams will always be our main concern as well as talking music, movies, and the stories around us.
I appreciate Chad and Steen talking with me during this very difficult time for the station and the entire Des Moines cluster. It’s something you never want to have to deal with, but if you are faced with a death in your radio family, you have some strong advice here on how to handle 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.