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The Radio Show Rethinks How We Make Money

“Rethinking where advertising opportunities exist and how to take advantage of them is how the business of radio reinvents itself for the future.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Back in 2014, John Anderson attended the NAB Radio Show in Indianapolis. He saw advertising executives play to the room instead of giving useful information. He saw market managers bemoan the amount of time their staffs spent on social media. In short, Anderson spent three days at a conference that, from his point of view, wasn’t interested in the realities of radio in the 21st century, but instead wanted to create a safe space for old men that would rather deny the evolution of the way audiences use the medium and instead cling to business as usual.

I came away with the uncomfortable realization that the industry remains the purview of a bunch of old white guys wholly detached from reality and happy to keep things that way.

John Anderson, Radio Survivor

Fast forward five years to Dallas. There was still plenty of cheerleading going on last week, but what has changed is the way the NAB and those invited to participate in panels think about our listeners and advertisers.

As is always the case with industry events, there was a lot of focus on generating new advertising dollars at the NAB Radio Show this year. Each presenter and panel tackled this task in a different way, but at the heart of each presentation was a similar message: value your listeners’ time and don’t take their loyalty for granted.

On Wednesday, iHeartMedia CEO Bob Pittman shined in a panel featuring the CEO of the three largest companies in the industry. No one on stage poo pooed the popularity of podcasting. The message seemed to be not to view the rise of podcasting as the inevitable fall of radio.

Pittman’s message to the audience was to not let the experiences of those around them be their only reference point for the rest of the world. As an example, he asked how many people either own a Tesla or know someone who does. As nearly half the hands in the room shot up, he reminded us that in reality, only 2% of Americans fall into those categories.

David Field, CEO of Entercom, said there is no reason for radio to be threatened by podcasting. “Podcasters could be the gateway to advertisers seeing the sexiness of the spoken word,” he said. That comment came after Cumulus CEO Mary Brenner described radio companies’ need to evolve into “audio first entertainment companies.”

It is something I have believed about the sports format specifically for a long time. There are a lot of guys in their late-30s and early-40s that had probably never considered listening to any kind of talk radio before, but as they grow tired of the same classic rock songs they have been hearing their whole lives and turn to podcasts for entertainment, they discover that great storytelling and engaging debates and discussions are great companions for their commute or workday.

The 2019 NAB Radio Show wasn’t free of moments that made you go “what year does this guy think it is?”. I walked out of a panel on digital footprints that included a guy explaining the differences between Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. For the most part, the discussions of the impact the digital world has had on the radio industry were based in reality and offered potential solutions as opposed to pure doom and gloom.

Even the panel I walked out of observed that there are advertising dollars that used to go to print advertising that have nowhere to go right now. The way for radio to get them isn’t just better pitches. It is highlighting and expanding digital offerings in a way that forces clients to rethink what a radio advertising package entails.

Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster said that 10% of businesses in his home market of Baton Rouge, LA advertise on radio while 99% of them have a digital presence. He then added that everyone in the room should make their next hire a digital strategist if their company doesn’t already have one.

Charlotte Jones Anderson, who is not only Jerry’s daughter but also Chief Brand Officer and Executive Vice President of the Dallas Cowboys, gave a talk about brand building, and while All Access‘s Perry Michael Simon took to Twitter to sum up the disappointing nature of Jones Anderson’s presentation as a whole, she did say two things that stuck with me and I think make a lot of sense in the context of how the radio industry must exist in 2019 and beyond.

The first sentence that stood out was “what impact can every decision have on your brand image?”. The second was “let criticism keep you on your toes without pulling you off course.”

How stations and sales staff present their product to advertisers will either enforce or dispel negative stereotypes about not only the industry, but about the individual station as well. How stations react to hearing advertisers say that it doesn’t make sense to spend money or spend more money in radio will define the future of their business.

There was plenty of focus on what effect the on-air product has on advertising dollars as well. In a session about finding and coaching talent, Saga Communications Vice President of Programming Bob Lawrence compared a station’s brand to a committed relationship. “The only thing in life you experience like a brand is a marriage. You’re courting the listener.” It was a good reminder that talent can influence listeners’ spending decisions by valuing your role in their lives.

The most important session I went to was lead by Meagan Lazovick of Edison Research. Her presentation was about time spent listening with a focus on why people change the station or tune out from radio entirely.

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Lazovick’s presentation noted that radio’s TSL is falling on the whole, but radio is still what most people choose to listen to. She presented several reasons people said they change the station or switch from radio to a podcast or streaming music service.

66% of respondents to the survey agreed that “too many commercials” would be a reason to tune out. Lazovick’s solution didn’t stop at shorter commercial satopsets. She also proposed improving and rethinking what radio advertising is.

Lazovick proposed learning from podcasting and creating better, more compelling commercials. She also noted that radio advertising could benefit from stations and talent making their appreciation to advertisers known to listeners.

Rethinking where advertising opportunities exist and how to take advantage of them is how the business of radio reinvents itself for the future. None of us that attended the NAB Radio Show needed to hear the 93% usage rate to know that plenty of people are still listening to the radio. How to monetize those listeners and how to maintain and create revenue streams were what so many came to learn.

Dallas and the NAB were excellent hosts last week. While the hospitality and the facilities were top notch (the Hotel Anatole gym! Holy shit!) JB and I were there to learn what worked and what didn’t and what lessons we could bring to the 2020 BSM Summit in New York. I think we have a lot of good information to add to what we have already been working on for February.

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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