Benjamin Franklin once said there are two things certain in life: death and taxes. I’d like to modify that quote by adding a third – a fascination with lists.
Since launching BSM, we’ve written thousands of pieces on personalities, news, strategy, ratings, and career advice. They’ve been well received, but pale in comparison to anything we’ve created involving lists. For four years straight our number one most read piece of content has been the BSM Top 20 in Sports Radio. The annual BSM Sports Radio Draft has also received strong support.
As proud as we are of those sports radio content specials and their ability to fuel discussion among sports media types, the amount of creative projects we’ve built around sports television has left much to be desired. So with an NBA Draft on the horizon, we began tossing ideas at the wall last month, and came up with an outline for a Sports TV Draft.
Since the NBA Draft features 30 picks per round, we thought it made sense to select the Top 30 shows of all-time. We focused on studio/live/produced shows because sitcoms, reality shows, and documentaries are different type of programs. We then created a document with 65 programs to choose from, figuring that some folks would likely want to add to it.
Next we had to decide who to include in the voting process. I thought it’d be fun to involve the nation’s top sports media writers and critics, media researchers, former TV executives, bloggers, and a few popular social media accounts, but wasn’t sure if we’d be able to drum up enough support to pull it off. To my surprise, most of the people I asked jumped in.
And that brings us to the actual draft.
Below you will see an image featuring our list of the Top 30 Sports TV Shows of All-Time as decided on by our voters. Underneath that image you’ll find a detailed explanation from each voter on what they liked about the show they selected. If you want to learn more about the shows, our voters or the companies they work for, we’ve made it easy for you. All you have to do is click the show name, company name or individual’s name and a new page will open up.
I want to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who participated in this project. Although lists are very subjective and determined by the order in which people select, this was fun to assemble, and we hope you enjoy reading it. With that in mind, here are the results of the 2019 BSM Sports TV Draft.
For the sports fan, SportsCenter was the equivalent of the advent of the internet. The fan had access to information and video like never before. It was THE must-watch studio show of generation X, and a sports fan’s dream come true.
NEVER before were fans able to get all the highlights, significant national news, analysis and discussion in an engaging manner, multiple times a day from hosts who would become icons in their own right. Every on-screen sports program since September of 1979 is a branch on the SportsCenter tree. Though the show might not have the significance it once had, SportsCenter has often been replicated, though never duplicated.
FOX NFL Sunday showed America that FOX would keep its promise – to present the NFL in a modern, fun, but reverent way. Under David Hill, Ed Goren and Scott Ackerson’s vision and guidance the credibility, chemistry and flow of the show opened a new era in live sports commentary and became the flagship of the FOX Sports Brand. The show was a paradigm shift operating on the assumption that most viewers were looking for something more than just information as they gathered to watch NFL games on Sunday.
The amazing collection of unique personalities at the desk added something unique for mainstream NFL fans thirsty for a show that could “sugarcoat the information pill” with a modern sensibility. JB, Terry, Howie and Jimmy were the “Guys you wanted to have a beer with at the bar and watch a game” and America embraced them. It was the beginning of a new era – one that saw FOX evolve on the back of FOX NFL Sunday into one the most important sports media brands in the world. Impressively, FOX NFL Sunday remains as relevant, entertaining and fun today as it was in 1994, and it’s endurance, legacy and continued impact make the case for its place as one of the important live studio shows in sports TV history.
PTI revolutionized the sports studio program with the Topic Sidebar, the running clock, the simple props, and the PA announcer with corrections. The personalities of Tony and Michael were non-traditional and irreverent and the program looked ahead as much as it reacted to stories in sports.
The show featuring probably the greatest studio analyst of all-time, Charles Barkley, at 4? Thank you very much. I considered ESPN’s College GameDay and, at its peak, NFL Primetime, with this pick, but Inside The NBA is so enjoyable for the basketball and non-basketball fan.
I’ve written many times over the years that I consider Inside The NBA the greatest sports studio show in history. If I had the No. 1 overall pick for this draft, it would have been an easy selection. But I am delighted to see that College GameDay remains on the board. This whole exercise is subjective but GameDay slots right behind Inside for me among all-time sports studio shows.
College football is best experienced in person, and GameDay has brought that experience into our homes for decades. As someone who lived for many years in New York City, GameDay allowed me to experience what it was like to be part of LSU football in Baton Rouge, Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and other places that were foreign yet fascinating to me. The on-air talent has always had intellect and chemistry; the show’s feature producers are the best in class. GameDay was also early among mainstream sports shows to highlight sports gambling info and has maintained a journalistic bent. It’s one of the best enterprises ESPN has done and I feel like I just got one of the steals of this draft.
I thought about picking a relic of a wholly different age in sports television here, but choosing This Week In Baseball would have been an overdraft based on nostalgia. So instead I made a sentimental pick with more recent relevance.
From 1987 to 2005, Chris Berman and Tom Jackson made ESPN’s NFL Primetime an entertaining and, in a time before our phones gave us every highlight in real time, a practically essential way to see every meaningful nightlight from the day’s NFL action. Primetime was marginalized when NBC got the Sunday night package in 2006. But it won’t be forgotten.
It’s almost unfair to pick this considering it encompasses live events, but the eight greatest words in the English language are when Scott Hanson says, “Seven hours of commercial-free football begin now.” Imagine reverting back to a world without it. If they ever try to put the genie back in that bottle, there will be torches and pitchforks in the streets.
“Speak for Yourself” with Jason Whitlock and Marcellus Wiley is my choice at #8. They’re both ex-football players, and have some of the best, if not the best, NFL debates in the business with a constant stream of current and former players weighing in. Among the show’s most interesting guests in my opinion are James Harrison, Terry Bradshaw and Michael Vick.
Long before it was commonplace for sportswriters to kibitz on camera, this groundbreaking syndicated show out of Chicago was a revelation in the mid-1980s, and begat several decades worth of copycats that have filled endless hours of cable TV time. Unlike their polished, better-dressed modern counterparts – who work on polished, better-appointed sets – these guys were rumpled, cigar-smoking throwbacks, offering among the first takes of countless ones to come.
I’m very happy with my selection of HBO Real Sports at #10. The standard bearer in sports journalism is closing in on 25 years of distinguished and culturally relevant work. Correspondents have come and gone and the show has undergone a few changes over the years but the quality and significance of their work continues to be must watch television for intellectually curious and thoughtful sports fans.
I haven’t missed an episode in more than a decade as the quality has never wavered nor has my interest in expanding my knowledge as a sports fan. Sure it often veers into serious and uncomfortable topics and controversy, but Real Sports has always had a rich and eclectic mix of topics, personalities, and stories which has always been appointment viewing for me every month. I’m delighted to use my pick on a show as impactful and unique as Real Sports.
Among the smartest sports programming on TV. It doesn’t matter whether Bob Ley or Jeremy Schaap or Kate Fagan hosts. The topics are timely, and the show has stood the test of time.
After SportsCenter, Outside the Lines and PTI it’s the longest-running daily show. As PTI’s lead-in it has consistently been one of ESPN’s best-performing studio shows. It’s also been a great vehicle for ESPN to showcase new talent from Michael Smith & Jemele Hill, Mina Kimes, Sarah Spain, and Ramona Shelburne to Bomani Jones & Pablo Torre. As far as I know it’s also the only sports studio show ever parodied on NBC’s “30 Rock” — I tip my hat to Aaron Solomon, Tony Reali & everyone involved with the show.
I don’t think it’s possible to overestimate the significance of what this show delivered during an era of black and white cathode ray tube TVs, 6 a.m. to midnight telecast schedules and filmed highlights that had to be delivered by airplanes rather than by satellite. It was like having an Olympics every Saturday, and it set the standard and the expectations for generations of broadcasters and viewers.
My pick was between “Garbage Time” and “The Dan Patrick Show” — either is a steal with the 14th selection. It is EXTREMELY rare in the relentlessly repetitive, failing-up world of sports television to find an actual new, unique voice. Katie Nolan was (and is) different than everyone else working in sports TV, something that was obvious from her very first show. Plus, it’s impossible not to admire any show this good that was essentially filmed in a closet.
As with NFL Primetime, Baseball Tonight used to be an absolute must watch for me. Much like many other highlight-centric shows it has lost significant value nowadays as highlights and updates are instantly available on social media. However, back when I was growing up in the 90s, it was absolutely an essential watch for any baseball junkie.
Most of the time, watching the show was my first exposure to any of the highlights from the day’s games. The show also holds personal sentimental value for me as I used to watch it every night with my dad as he would track his fantasy baseball players. We used to sing the lead in song together, which in my opinion, is as iconic as the SportsCenter lead in song 🎵 Da…Da Da Da…Da DA 🎵.
The fact of the matter in 2019 is that people care more about the drama and viral news than what is going on, on the court or on the field. While many shows try to sprinkle in TMZish type of stuff, only TMZ does it full time.
The NFL Today is arguably the most important studio show in sports television history. “In 1975 it introduced Americans to one of the most influential TV sports personalities in history, Brent Musburger. It was the first network studio show in history to include a woman, Phyllis George, an African-American, Irv Cross, and a professional handicapper, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, as fulltime on-air contributors.
It also played an early, pivotal role in popularizing the format which all NFL studio shows use today. In lieu of the NFL’s now-ubiquitous presence in the daily lives of Americans, it isn’t too much to say that the debut of The NFL Today with Musburger, George, Cross and Snyder represents a seminal moment in television history.
While it’s too early to call it one of the best sports TV shows of all-time, I’ll still go with High Noon here. Sports talk is dominated by fake debates and overheated opinions, but High Noon is an exception. Nothing seems staged or done for the sake of clicks and pageviews. Plus Jones and Torre have excellent chemistry.
Before every household in America had cable or satellite and you could see every sports highlight within seconds of it happening live on your phone, tablet or computer, there was only one way for someone like me, without cable, to see sports highlights every Sunday and that was on The George Michael Sports Machine. I recorded it every week on our VCR and I’d watch it again and again throughout the week. It was a show ahead of its time and the first sports show I religiously watched as a young sports fan.
The fact that ESPN was, at a certain point in time, willing to build a show around a chubby career researcher is all you need to know about why this show deserves a spot on this list. And even if Schwab never quite carried the show, his array of throwback jerseys and Stuart Scott’s attempts to inject energy and cachet into what today would be considered a live action version of Sporcle is forever endearing.
Since its 2007 launch, E:60 has been one of ESPN’s more impressive commitments to journalism and storytelling. The news-magazine show has had a number of timeslot and network moves, including the 2017 shift to its current Sunday morning slot, but its pieces have always managed to make an impact. The show has won 16 Sports Emmys, including “Outstanding Sports News/Feature Anthology” and “Outstanding Short Sports Documentary” (for “Identity : Deland McCullough’s Journey,” which is a very worthy winner) this year, plus nine Edward R. Murrow Awards, a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and much more.
E:60 has also shown a great ability to tell all sorts of stories, from pieces on kids facing incredible challenges (Josiah Viera, Owen Hawkins) to deep investigations of deaths of migrant workers building World Cup stadiums in Qatar. It continues to be one of the best things ESPN does.
This was the show where I truly learned something new about the game of football in a way that no other show could provide. The downfall was that ESPN never gave it a great timeslot but man if you watched it, you walked away more knowledgeable about the NFL than you were 30 minutes earlier. The way they broke down film and showed you the intricacies of the game was always unique and special. Ron Jaworski, Merril Hoge and Sal Palantonio were fantastic.
“Aaaaaaaaand good afternoon everybody! How are you today!” yelled the Mad Dog. It’s the New York radio show that kicked off the sports talk genre in our country starting in the 90’s. It was the show I grew up listening to on WFAN as they discussed the legendary sports moments of the 90’s and 00’s like the Yankees world championship runs (especially the memorable Freeway of Love 1996 playoff run), the Rangers in ‘94, the Knicks playoff runs in the 90’s and Chris’ hilarious rants against the SF Giants.
Mike and the Mad Dog were also there for the big events of our world like the OJ trial and verdict and 9/11. Each host has succeeded in their own separate ventures – Mike still popular in the afternoon in NY radio, Chris on SiriusXM and MLB Network – but there was special magic when the two joined together to talk sports in front of the YES Network cameras.
I figured Roy Firestone’s “Up Close” would be long gone before my 24th pick so I was pleasantly surprised to find it still available. My Plan B was to snag the Jim Rome franchise of shows – from “Talk2” in the early 90’s all the way to “The Jim Rome Show” today, spanning ESPN2, ESPN, Fox Sports, ESPN again, CBS Sports Net and a stop in there on Showtime.
Some quick history: “SportsLook” is the original title of the show that started in 1980 on the USA Network, then moved to ESPN as “Up Close,” with Firestone, a former sportscaster at the local CBS affiliate in L.A., as the host for 13 years. It was taped in L.A. so he had access to everyone coming and going. It was a simple premise: Firestone sits on the right, the guest is on the left, and they talk about all sorts of things about their sporting life. It relied on Firestone’s curiosity and research and what buttons to push.
Many tried to replicate the template to other shows with other hosts – there’s maybe no Bob Costas’ “On the Record” or even a version Rome was asked to launch with ESPN2 in the early 90’s. It all connects to the importance of Firestone creating a trustworthy space to show emotions – important especially with strong male athletes – knowing Firestone would calmly talk you through it and expose a side of yourself that wasn’t readily available in pre-social media times.
Growing up, I kept to a pretty strict schedule on Saturday mornings: eat a bowl of Rice Chex, watch some cartoons and tune into “This Week in Baseball.” Hosted by famed Yankees broadcaster Mel Allen, the mix of storytelling, music and crazy plays fueled my dreams of being the MVP of our neighborhood baseball game. And the show’s iconic theme song played like a soundtrack to summer. As Bill Simmons once put it, “My goosebumps just got goosebumps.”
In a world without DirecTV, Sunday Ticket and Red Zone, there were two shows every NFL fan had to watch for highlights and cool features: NFL PrimeTime on ESPN and Inside the NFL on HBO. Each week, Len Dawson and Nick Buoniconti (and later Cris Collinsworth) would recap the games from the week before and make picks for the upcoming week. One thing Inside the NFL had that NFL PrimeTime did not, since the show aired during the week and not immediately following games on Sunday, was footage of players and coaches mic’d up. These days, that doesn’t seem like a huge thing, but in the ‘80s, when the show was at its peak, it was must-see TV for football fans.
I’m taking The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, because it a) treats sports with the reverence it deserves, meaning very little, and b) the show has a rhythm and internal logic that’s its own. It’s an acquired taste, it has the feel of a club to which not everyone’s invited, and hard core sports fanatics must hate it because they’ll blow off the obvious big sports story of the day to talk about something Dan finds more interesting (and complaints are met with “You don’t get the show!”), but it’s about as entertaining as a radio show with cameras in the studio can be.
Once you get the running gags (the Hard Network Out, “How ‘bout THAT?,” the Kentucky Fraud Chickens, etc.), you’re hooked whether you want to be or not. And the hot take machine that is Stugotz works as a neat parody of all the other hit takers out there. I think this and Highly Questionable (a sports show that isn’t really about sports at all) should be a tandem since they, in combination, are a sports talk universe separate and apart from the rest of ESPN and sports media in general. Since I can only pick one, I’ll go with the radio show, but it’s a coin flip.
Obviously HQ isn’t for everyone. If you want serious sports talk, from people whose veins nearly burst every time an NBA player asks for a trade, you’ll be better served elsewhere. But for those who believe sports are inherently fun (and, in a sense, inherently absurd), it’s hard to beat Dan Le Batard, a rotating cast of amusing guest hosts and, most importantly, Papi – in all his rapping, wise-cracking, fake-hand shaking glory.
Dan Patrick has had one of the best sports radio shows in the country for years now. His show not only lands the most intriguing guests, but as the best interviewer in the business, Dan is able to get people to open up and create talking points around the industry. The show is fun and loose but can also get serious when needed.
Unlike most radio shows, the DP Show is actually better on television. The Man Cave leaves little doubt that Dan and the Danette’s are just five sports fans that we all want to hang and have a beer with.
With apologies to SportsCenter and Inside the NBA, if you are a 90’s kid, NBA Inside Stuff is the sports show of record. Honestly, this show should have been everyone’s first sign that they were just thinking differently at the NBA offices in New York. They created an all-access style show with interesting and fun content and rather than offer it in syndication or as part of their Sunday NBC package, they pair it with Saturday morning cartoons and market it to kids. It was a brilliant exercise in how to create lifelong fans!
Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas
“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”
Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.
The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.
It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.
For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.
Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.
But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.
I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.
Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.
Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.
Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.
Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.
You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.
Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.
Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media
“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”
Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.
As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.
As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.
I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.
But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.
Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.
I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.
Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.
These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.
If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.
I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.
Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure
“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”
If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.
When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.
Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.
It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.
In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.
I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.
We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.
Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.
This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.
Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.
Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.
I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.
For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.
That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.
But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.
Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.
How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.
The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.
Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.
Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.
You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.
I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.
Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.
One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.
Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.
It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.
Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?
I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.