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Show Prep Only Works If It Works For You

“An old college professor of mine once told me being prepared is half the victory. I think he was conservative with that number.”

Tyler McComas

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How many times have you had the following exchange: 

Stranger: So what do you do for a living?

You: I do a sports radio show. I’m on every weekday from 2-6 p.m. 

Stranger: Wow! You only work four hours a day? That must be really nice!

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Oh, if they only knew, right? 

There’s nothing glamorous about spending three hours a day prepping for a show. Especially during this time of the year when content can be hard to come by. But how much or how well a person, or an entire show, preps can usually dictate how successful a show is going to be. If you don’t believe me, take it from someone like Ben Franklin who once said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Each host has their own unique of how they prep for a show. Jim Costa of 1130 AM WDFN The Fan in Detroit and ESPN 96.1 in Grand Rapids likes to start prepping in studio at least three hours before his show. In Houston, Sean Pendergast of Sports Radio 610 preps in his “Main Street office” which is a Dunkin Donuts near NRG Stadium, where he drinks coffee, eats breakfast and even chats with the staff, as well as the occasional listener since they know he preps there. Then, there’s Marc Ryan who’s the assistant PD and host at ESPNUpstate that prefers to prep inside his office at the station. 

To put it simply, prepping for a show is like most things in sports radio. There’s not necessarily a right or a wrong way to do it, you just have to find the method that works best for you. 

“Everything is prep, right?” said Costa. “If it’s watching games the night before, scanning news on Twitter, like I love to check Twitter during commercial breaks to see what people are saying. I like to look for interesting things said by reporters or even an interesting stat that’s shared to bookmark for the next day. But even the next morning I go to all the major newspapers and websites in Detroit just to make sure I didn’t miss an angle or a hook that we should be talking about on the show.

“In our pre-show, it’s not just, ‘okay, here’s the story.’ We want the hook. Where is the jumping off point that leads to a compelling conversation? I’ll look for anything that can give me that, even if the maintenance guy in the building makes a comment about the Detroit Tigers that I think I can do something with, I don’t care where the idea comes from, I think you have to be wired in the way that everything can be turned into content.”

Great show prep doesn’t start and end with the two hours you do before the opening intro. It means you’re scanning throughout the evening trying to find stories, clips, stats and quotes for the next day. I prefer to screenshot anything I find useful after the show, so that it’s there the next morning for reference. Another popular method is to copy links in the notes app on the iPhone, whereas others use the ‘like’ button on Twitter as bookmarks for tweets they find compelling enough to discuss on their next show. Whatever you do, great prep means you’re constantly searching. 

“Even as you’re calling right now, I’m kind of doing prep,” said Ryan. “I’m watching and listening to different shows, not so I can copy their topics but I’m watching and looking at what they’re doing, because a lot of what I hear spawns ideas about what would work in my own market.”

Where did Ryan learn to prep? Who shaped his attitudes about listening to other shows in a way that benefits his own?

“I was really fortunate to be mentored by the former executive producer of The Herd and the former executive producer of the Dan Patrick Show. Those guys helped me learn how to prep in a better and more effective way, as well as how to better develop topics. They taught me how to come up with clearer and more concise thoughts, rather than just being all over the place like I had been before that mentorship.”

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Costa added to that. 

“You do sports and you do non-sports. You kind of use an open-mind in your life and think, can I use that on the show? Bookmarking something, I put things in my notes on my phone or message our group. You can’t just prep three hours before the show, really, it’s constant. There’s nothing like going into a show knowing I have two or three really good jumping off points. When you get to the summer, we’ve all been there, you’re saying, ‘Oh boy! What are we going to find today?’ That’s why if you always keep yourself in prep mode you can come into each day with something so you’re not scrambling.”

Pen and paper is still as effective as ever. I even prefer a notebook to outline the show, just so I can quickly look back at a stat, quote or a note that I’m referring back to from a few days prior. However, more and more hosts are trending towards Google Docs as a way to prep and share their rundown with everyone on the show. Pendergast and Costa use it before every show, but it’s not always a hard script that has to be stuck to at all times. 

“I would liken it to a trip where you have an itinerary,” said Costa. “You’re not going to stick to it like its mandatory, if a topic hits, we’ll stay on it. But we definitely lay out and decide what we’re leading with and when we’re re-cycling it back. I put everything on a Google Doc and I put in teases, audio we have, sponsors reads and when I’m done I email it to everyone on the show.”

Anyone that’s ever had a co-host realizes the fine line you have to walk at times when prepping for the show. For instance, in Costa’s case, he may want to tell his partner that he’s going to bring up how he thinks this Detroit Tigers season can be a success, but he also doesn’t want to spoil the natural reaction he wants to get on the air. So naturally, there becomes a unique balance of keeping your co-host informed without revealing what your main points are going to be. 

“We always say we don’t want to do the show before the show,” said Costa “You build up trust, because if I had never done a show with Drew, I go, I want to do that. Here’s how the Tigers’ season can be a success. He may look at me and say there’s no way we can do 15 minutes on that. But if I tell him I have something really good and I’ll save it for the show, that trust kind of lets it be enough. But if there’s other topics where he goes, hey man, where you at on that? Don’t give me your whole opinion, but if it’s one of those either/or, don’t give me any more than that so I can act surprised on air and act in the moment.”

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The goal of this piece isn’t to try and change your pre-show routine, it’s to show and give a few ideas of how other successful show hosts around the country choose to prep for their shows.

Sometimes, logistics make it hard to sit in a conference room before the show and map everything out. Still, some hosts have that option and prefer not to do it. The key is to find what’s best for all parties and stick with it. If you can only make a 15-minute pre-show phone call happen, so be it. But make sure you and your co-host develop a habit of doing it every single day. 

An old college professor of mine once told me being prepared is half the victory. I think he was conservative with that number.

Being prepared is everything in this business. Show me a great host and I’ll show you one that knows what it takes to successfully prep each and every day. But as important as working hard is, it’s also important to be receptive to other ideas from members of the show. That includes your producers. Trust them, be honest with each other and value their input. 

“We’re kind of spoiled being syndicated, because I have a producer in Detroit,” said Costa. “He sends all of us a morning email of a number of stories to just look over and consider for the show. Our producer in Grand Rapids is wired a little bit different, he’ll see a story and immediately throw it in our group chat. Both styles really work and help. But I do ask my producer if a certain topic is going to work. They know what they’re doing and I value the opinion of everyone on the show.”

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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