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How 97.1 The Fan Rethought What a Program Director Is

“I wouldn’t call it seamless. It definitely helped in our situation to have two guys that have the familiarity with the product and with each other. But they’re still two guys filling one role.”

Matt Fishman

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Nearly a year ago, The Fan in Columbus was looking for its next Program Director. They started by posting an ad for the position and talked to a number of candidates, but Vice President and General Manager, Todd Markiewicz took a second look at it and approached the opening from a different point of view. In December of 2018, Markiewicz split the programming position between two guys who had been a part of The Fan for years. I spoke to Todd about this “outside the box” thinking and how it looks nearly one year later.

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MATT FISHMAN: Where did the idea to split the PD position between two people come from and how did it come to fruition?

TODD MARKIEWICZ: When I started searching for a new Program Director, it became apparent to me that some candidates were really good on the operations side and some were really good on the content and imaging side. But it was really difficult to find somebody who was really that 50/50 creative and analytical brain that excelled at both of them. So I started thinking, “Why do we have to do it that way? What if we could do this?”

I always love the “what if” questions, especially in this day and age in media because I think we have to ask ourself those. So I was looking for who is really good on the content and imaging in the building or that I interviewed, and who is really good on the operations side.

I knew that the creative and content side and our ability to change and morph with where our industry is heading was going to be really important as we move forward. The best content and image guy I know, and I’ve worked in a lot of markets for a lot of companies in a lot of formats, was right there in our own building. That’s our afternoon personality, Mike Ricordati, who’s known as “Common Man” on the air. He’s built such a powerful voice in our market and a powerful platform. He’s done it because he’s a super smart radio geek. He loves it. He understands what you need to do on-air to deliver an audience. He proved that he could do that.

He and I had talked often. We’d go out for dinner and  just dream what we would do if we ran the station one day. This guy is right here in our building. I’m not adding body count and I’m tapping into the genius of his radio brain and I have to tell you he has done an amazing job. The metamorphosis of the radio station over the last year has been really fun to watch under his guidance and creativity. He’s done a phenomenal job just tightening the tone and texture of the station and giving it punch and giving it attitude. The other day when the ratings came out we are hearing from our clients and our listeners, “man, the station sounds great right now,” but they can’t put their finger on what that is. They don’t understand the details and nuances of the changes but they’ve all accumulated to create a sound that snaps, crackles and pops and almost has the feel of a classic rock station with its attitude and delivery. 

On the operational side, we had someone at the radio station who was great at it, who had done it for years and that’s Matt Erhard. Matt had left because he was frustrated with some things. Matt was very loved in the building and I had a tremendous amount of respect for Matt. I thought it was a great opportunity to fill that position with two (people) and use Mike who was internal and bring back Matt. The two of them together have done a fantastic job of working together, communicating and acting as two brains in one body. You can see the numbers, they kind of speak for themselves.

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(Writers note: It has been a HUGE year for The Fan in Columbus. Their continued rise in the ratings led IHeartRadio to give up on their Columbus sports station in February after only 2+ years trying to garner an audience. The October Nielsen numbers for The Fan in Columbus, Ohio are gigantic for a sports station. The Fan tied for first with a country station for Adults 25-54. Yes, you read that correctly–Adults–not just men!)

MF: Was there ever a time where there were some bumps in the road with the new arrangement or was it seamless? 

TM: I wouldn’t call it seamless. It definitely helped in our situation to have two guys that have the familiarity with the product and with each other. But they’re still two guys filling one role. We had to work through a lot of communication things. We’re still working through those at times. So that we don’t double up on effort and we’re all keeping each other in the loop.

We have to resist the temptation that because Matt (Erhard) decides to do something and he doesn’t think it is important for Mike (Ricordati) to know so he doesn’t share it with Mike. That’s where the disconnect can definitely happen and we struggled with that. I put it on those two guys to map out the role specifics and to outline the job duties. I wanted them to work on that together and there were actually some areas that overlapped. It was challenging at times. 

MF: So did Mike Ricordati have to go from being a host to managing his peers?

TM: This is just another distinction of the position. Mike really doesn’t want to as content/image guy manage them. He considers what he’s doing “coaching them” to understand the form and function of radio. As General Manager, I am still handling all the contractual and financial elements. Mike really wanted to keep that line of demarcation. He didn’t want to be that guy on-air, he’s a peer and also negotiating their contracts.

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MF: Everyone in radio always says they love collaboration but this sounds like a great collaboration coming to fruition.

TM: I think the key there, again, is that we had this unique situation where I knew these guys and I trust them. They knew each other and trust each other. We all know what we’re good at and we’re all willing to say “I’m not good at that.” When you sit in a room and figure that all out all of a sudden you have everyone managing to each other’s strengths, that’s a pretty powerful thing. It’s been a year and a half of consistent growth and I still think there is more room for us to grow. It was almost instantaneous within a three month period (of this move) that the ratings started to grow. 

MF:  Where specifically do you think The Fan has room for growth?

TM: All radio stations no matter what the format are so locked into their core demo and cater to the core demo and I get that, and we do that. I want to make that clear, we are not abandoning that. But we’ve seen growth and it’s intentional with shows that we’ve added and promos, our Fan store products, we’re trying to build a culture of listeners. We’re trying to build a brand that transcends the core demo. 

We knew we had to get younger. We had to attract more 18-34 year olds. I think any radio station worth its salt knows they have to find a way to do that these days. That’s where a lot of the tone and texture of the station is really catered to the 18-34 without alienating the 34-49 or 34-54 year olds. 

MF: After a great year for The Fan, what keeps you up at night? 

TM: I think more than anything as we move forward, we have to get better at our snackable content, our podcasting, and we have to continue to fine tune how we will deliver content via social media. We’re hiring a social media director which we’ve never had before. We’re spending money and putting resources into the positions that are going to dictate our future.

When so many stations are held under that “expense gun” I still believe that if you spend the money on the right positions, resources, and people that it will come back to you tenfold and I believe we have to grow our revenue in a different way. Stations are cutting and I think it hurts the industry as a whole. 

Despite being a long time sports radio PD, I love when people aren’t afraid to try something different. When the decision was made to split up the PD position at The Fan in Columbus, Ohio, Mike Ricordati became the station’s Director of Content and Strategy and Matt Erhard became Director of Operations. Congrats to Todd, Mike and Matt on a phenomenal year. 

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

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iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

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On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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