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Howard Simon Just Wants To See Somebody Win

“I can’t stand losing. I’m tired of it.”

Tyler McComas

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The people of Buffalo are tired of losing. The Music City Miracle, 47 Wide Right, No Goal, those are just a few of the agonizing moments that have kept the Bills from winning a Super Bowl and the Sabres from a Stanley Cup. But there’s a belief in sports radio that the teams you cover need to be either really good or really bad, since both create storylines. It’s the mediocre seasons that causes the fans and listeners to lose interest. 

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But not every show host believes in that theory. Howard Simon, co-host of Howard and Jeremy on WGR 550 in Buffalo is one of those that doesn’t. Much like his listeners, he’s tired of losing. Though the rest of the country might look at Buffalo affectionately with all the sports misery they’ve suffered, a 17-year playoff drought for the Bills doesn’t equal a giant payoff for local sports radio. 

“I really don’t know who says that,” said Simon. “If it’s a sports talk show host I’d love to meet them because I can’t stand losing. I’m tired of it. I kind of kid here, but maybe Boston sports talk show hosts are bored? I have no idea. I would much rather talk about winning teams. The early 90s around here with the Bills were fantastic. 

“Nobody wanted to talk about a playoff drought from 2000 to 2017. We got tired of it and we got tired of being reminded about it. We got tired of bringing it up every year at training camp. Coaches and GM’s getting fired every three years, quarterbacks changing, that sucks. Sure it gives us great shows and quarterback discussions are always fascinating when there’s a controversy, but no, I don’t think it bonded anyone together. If anything we get tweets every now and then from people who feel sorry for us because we have to talk about the Bills and Sabres. I kind of look at us as therapeutic, like a communal psychiatrist. We’re just like a bartender. You go to the bar, you get a drink and you spell your woes to them about how bad your teams are. We allow people to vent and cheer. If you need someone to be with you in your time of need as a sports fan, we’re there. Because we’re going through all the sports stuff with them.”

Simon has been with WGR since 2004, which serves as the flagship for both the Bills and Sabres. In this Q&A we cover if Bills fans are as crazy on the radio as they seem on the internet, how the station handles training camp and a whole lot more. 

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TM: So you’re the flagship of the Bills. Obviously, the recent past hasn’t been easy for this team. Are you able to accurately describe the pain that fans are feeling and be critical about decisions made by ownership on the air? 

HS: If you’re wondering if we’re given a directive to go easy because were the flagship, no. In fact, quite honestly, there’s been more bad than good here. During the Bills’ drought, if we thought a coach was bad, we said they should fire him. If we thought a GM was bad, we said they should fire him. If they had a draft pick we didn’t like, we’d be outspoken about it. We just always speak our opinion.

That’s the nice thing about our bosses, they’ve never once said to us that we can’t say things because were the flagship and our contract is almost up. Last year‘s hockey season was one of the worst in franchise history, so we’re not going on the air to sugarcoat that. We said the coach should be fired and he was. If the team is really bad, we’ll say they’re bad. Fans are smart and they see through that stuff. It comes down to credibility and you have to have it at the end of the day.

TM: So when the Sabres are bad, I’m going to guess you find yourself going deeper on the Bills earlier than normal. When that’s the case, is it tougher to keep it fresh since you don’t have a hockey team to steal the big stories of the day during the winter?

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HS: Well, yes, but the good news is we’ve had a lot of practice. There’s been plenty of hockey seasons that crapped out January 1st or February 1st. The thing I think around here, and this is getting back to how passionate people are around here about football, it’s become a 12 month a year thing. More than any other sport, as soon as you get done with the season you start talking about the combine in February. Right after that, you talk about the free agency period. Right after that, you dive into a month and a half of NFL Draft. After that, you dive into rookie minicamp, OTA‘s and mandatory camps. So usually there’s always something to talk about with football. It’s not really hard for us, if the Sabres are playing well, that’s great. But if not we have to get a little creative.

TM: Is there a third-biggest team in town? 

HS: Honestly there’s no clear-cut answer. It really is a Bills and Sabres town. We don’t consider ourselves a satellite Toronto market. I guess if you want to pick baseball there’s more Yankees fans in Buffalo than any other Major League Baseball team. From a basketball standpoint it’s a mixed bag. This would not be considered a secondary Raptors market. It’s very Bills NFL and Sabres NHL centric.

TM: Bills Mafia videos during tailgates have really taken a life of their own. Does that craziness shine through on the call line?

HS: I grew up in New York so I listened to New York talk radio when I was growing up. I worked in Toledo and listened to Detroit talk radio when I was there, so in terms of craziness, I don’t think anybody would top New York or even Philadelphia. I think the fans here are mostly like other fans, they are very passionate. Maybe it’s a little bit different here because we’re talking about a city that has two major professional teams as opposed to New York City having eight, Philadelphia having at least one in every single pro league, Boston has a bunch, but there’s no MLB or NBA team here. So maybe the fever is a little higher.

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Maybe the intensity and pressure is a little greater on the Bills and Sabres because you don’t have a third and fourth professional team to help you out if you’re struggling. In terms of the people that are calling our station, you get your occasional crazy caller but I think that happens in every talk market in the country. People aren’t calling us as they’re jumping into a table. They’re passionate fans and I think they enjoy the crazy fans label they get but it’s not like crackpot is calling all the time.

TM: With Bills training camp being in Pittsford, New York (A little over an hour from Buffalo) how are your shows covering training camp? 

HS: We have a Bills beat reporter and he’s also the sideline reporter on the broadcast, so he’s out here. When the Bills are there, he’s out there. As far as the shows, it depends what their practice schedule is. If they’re practicing in the afternoon, the afternoon show will do their show live from camp. We have seven shows here from camp. Seven morning practices during the week so we’re here for those seven shows.

TM: Though it may cost money and a few more resources, how important is it for your station to be on-site during those opportunities? 

HS: Yeah I like it, I really do. I can only speak for me but I like seeing practice. Our beat reporter is great and now with Twitter and the Internet you can read reports from every single media person or blog member who’s out here. But I just think it sounds really good. If a fan is listening and the morning show comes on and they say, “hey, good morning we’re at Bills Training Camp,” it just sounds good. I think that always sounds appealing to the fan. We’re out where the stories are.

When we’re out here, we get players on as well as national media guests that are here. It’s very active and I feel more connected when we’re out at training camp. It’s just cool and beneficial to say, hey, here’s what the offensive line looks like today, or here’s what Josh Allen look like today. Things like that, Cole Beasley look very good today. Ed Oliver is knocking offensive lineman over. It just sounds good.

TM: Being in western New York and on the border in Canada, is Buffalo a really unique place to do sports radio, in terms of, yeah, you’re in New York but the teams in NYC are six hours away? 

HS: Yeah we’re around 400 miles away from New York City. It’s funny, I think sometimes when players get drafted by Buffalo teams they think they’re in a suburb of New York City. Then they get here and realize it’s this far away and don’t realize it. In terms of location, I like it and think it’s a good location.

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You have the teams here, but in terms of what’s around us, Cleveland is three hours away, Pittsburgh is 3 1/2 hours away, Toronto is two hours, we’re in an area where there’s a lot of other professional teams and cities around us. That might also be a reason why we have a mishmash in the fan base, because there are so many cities within reach that you can be attached to their teams.

TM: Speaking of players being mistaken where Buffalo is, has there been anyone more famous than Marshawn Lynch for doing that? What was the fan reaction to that? 

HS: He’s not the only one. I can’t give you any names off the top of my head but it seems like it’s happened to more football players than hockey players. There have been plenty of rookies that come here, and when you talk to them, they were planning on going to see a Broadway Show or even to hangout in Manhattan. You then have to explain to them that they can, but it’s an hour plane flight. Marshawn is probably the highest profile guy to do it, but he’s far from the only one that’s made that mistake.

TM: The Bills are No. 1 and rest of the NFL storylines are No. 2 at this point in the year for you. So does that leave any room to talk college football? Does there need to be a guy like Khalil Mack playing for the University of Buffalo for you to even mention them? 

HS: We have not talked a lot of college football, because, quite honestly, for most of UB’s 20-ish years at the FBS level they’ve struggled. As it turns out, yeah, Khalil Mack made people more aware of UB but they need to win more games. Our college football talk is more geared towards watching guys who we think we’re going to be talking about come NFL Draft talk. Like, when we knew the Bills were going to draft a quarterback two years ago, we went all in every weekend watching Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen. I’ll watch college football because I’m a big fan, but our conversations tend to sway more to “hey, the Bills need a wide receiver and you’ll never guess which one I watched this weekend.” We still incorporate college football talk into Bills talk.

TM: You’ve been around the market for several years so you must like the area and your gig. But what do you like most about doing sports radio in Buffalo? 

HS: (Laughs) It’s a bad time to ask that question, we’ve been in a real bad stretch. I’ve been a sports fan for over 40 years so I like talking about sports and watching the games, as well as talking other people about it too. It’s really cool to connect with the fans. Having been here for 30 years it’s a great place to live and it’s a great fan base. The sports fans are really good, they’re knowledgeable and passionate. They can be critical when they need to be, but they’re not over the edge crazy. It’s a fan base that I think really appreciates the work we put in and the product we put out.

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Honestly I think we enjoy doing the show because we realize how much people enjoy listening to the station. The one thing I would say, I would just love to see someone win around here because the fans have put up with a lot of really rough years of football and hockey. No Stanley Cup. No Lombardi Trophy. They really do deserve it here and I hope to live to see the day when someone wins a championship. If that happens the city would go absolutely crazy.

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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