Michael Savage isn’t the kind of guy that I would usually write nice things about. First, he’s a conservative talk radio host. It is the job in this industry that requires the absolute least amount of creativity and/or effort. Also, as the son of an immigrant, a guy that shouts things like “Read my lips: no new immigrants!” into a mic can kiss the hairiest part of my ass.
Now, let me pivot to the thesis of today’s column, which is mostly me saying something nice about Michael Savage. He was profiled by the New York Times last week. The point of the piece, written by Jeremy W. Peters, seemed to be “isn’t it weird that this guy won’t give Donald Trump credit for everything when that’s what his audience tells him they want him to do?”.
The more sports talk radio I listen to the more I am surprised by the number of hosts that don’t realize their opinions and topic selection don’t have to be influenced by phone calls, texts, or Twitter. Those people may be our listeners, but they are a very, very small percentage of our listeners. As a host or executive producer, your obligation isn’t to them. It is to the larger slice of the pie.
That larger slice of the pie is coming to you to be entertained and informed. You deliver that by focusing on the topics most relevant to your market and delivering the opinions that will evoke a reaction from the majority of your listeners. They don’t have to agree with you or even like what you’re saying. You just can’t bore them.
In the New York Times profile, Savage’s audience is painted as blindly loyal to the president. Savage, who was one of the first national media hosts to support the reality TV star in his 2016 presidential bid, has expressed not just reservations, but disappointment in the first two and a half years of the Trump era.
“To too many people he’s not a human being, he’s a demigod,” Mr. Savage said one afternoon after wrapping up a broadcast from his home studio, which sits on a hilltop overlooking San Francisco Bay. This especially includes his colleagues in the conservative media, he said. “It’s embarrassing to listen to some of these people.”Jeremy W. Peters, The New York Times
Scoffing at the suggestion that he was playing with fire by criticizing the man he once hailed as the “Winston Churchill of our time,” Mr. Savage posed a rhetorical question: “I’m going to get up every morning and do nothing but say how great he is?”
Savage expresses the same frustration I have any time I hear a host refer to a local team as “we” or bends over backwards to explain how the layman missed all the good development that happened in a 100-loss baseball season.
Your job isn’t to be a cheerleader. Your job is to be interesting, and because you can’t see the skimpy outfits, there is nothing interesting about a cheerleader on the radio.
Another common misstep is trying to cater to the loudest voice. Every market has sports fans that are passionate about something that doesn’t have a major local following. For instance, the other day I was returning from a road trip and heard a caller get on air that wanted to know why the host wouldn’t talk about the Stanley Cup Finals. Rather than say “because we’re in a Southeastern city that doesn’t even have an NHL team,” the host apologized for not talking about the event more and agreed that there should be more local hockey fans. That opinion, the host said, came from getting a text the day before that said something similar.
“Yeah, that was me,” the caller said.
There is a simple lesson here. The loudest mouth is still only a single voice.
It’s impossible to do a show built on telling your audience only what it wants to hear. Your audience is made up of a lot of different people. When it comes to anything beyond the front page, there’s no consensus on what they all want to hear.
Listener interaction is a staple of most talk shows no matter the format. Just remember that it isn’t a necessity. Bringing phone calls, texts, and Tweets to the air only makes sense if it makes your show better. It may run counterintuitive to your way of thinking, but the truth is that when it comes to listener interaction, you don’t owe the caller or texter anything. If someone is going to pick up his or her phone with the intention of getting on air, he or she owes you good content. It’s why every Paul Finebaum caller has a schtick.
You can’t entertain your audience if you are trying to appease your callers. Surely you’ve seen or heard the stat that in your entire career only 2% of the people that listen to you will ever be motivated enough to pick up a phone and call. Maybe that number has risen as we have added texts and Tweets to the listeners’ options, but the fact is that the number still represents a very small sample of the total listeners.
Michael Savage and his audience probably agree on way more than they disagree, but Savage is comfortable with that disagreement. He doesn’t see a need to compromise where he and the listeners don’t see eye to eye. I still think the guy is an old, xenophobic doofus, but I admit that a lot sports talk hosts can learn from the way he prioritizes his responsibility to entertain the wider audience over the need to be liked by the most vocal subset.
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.