“Can you come down to my office for a meeting?”
It is a simple question with ominous implications. Not every meeting that begins with that sentence leads to you being laid off, but every time you get laid off, that sentence is how the conversation begins.
My heart truly goes out to all the now former iHeartMedia employees that heard those ten words last week. I know I am not alone in that sentiment, and trust me, I have been where those people are. I know my sentiment doesn’t do much to help them right now.
I have been laid off three times in my career, never “dislocated” though because I’ve never worked for iHeart. Each time I was scared, angry, and confused as I was escorted out of the building. I didn’t always think the people dropping the axe were the bad guys, but I also didn’t always realize that right away.
layoffs employee dislocations at iHeart clusters across the country were not just devastating for the employees themselves. They had a real “writing on the wall” feeling for the whole industry.
I thought it might help this week to talk to some of the people on the receiving end of the dreaded sentence “we’re moving in a different direction.” Some folks wanted to put their name on it. Others wished to remain anonymous as non-competes and severance continue to be negotiated.
There was a wide swath of reactions in the folks I talked to. Some were sad. Others remained positive. Most were both depending on what was being asked.
“My co-host, Jake [Querey], actually called me as I was on my way in asking if I was fired. I told him I hadn’t heard anything, but I got an alert that morning that the social media passwords for the stations had been changed,” Derek Schultz, the former afternoon co-host on iHeart’s Indianapolis sports talker Fox Sports 1260, told me in an email. “He had be asked to come in immediately and we had always joked that once you get that ‘come in immediately’ text, that means it’s over. My SVP and Market President are great guys, who handled the situation very well. I talked with them briefly at the station, was given time to grab some things (they offered to pack up everything else) and was escorted out.”
Despite being on the chopping block, Schultz says he was treated fairly and didn’t hold ill-will towards his bosses. “It was a difficult day for [my bosses] as well because we had three other people in our cluster, which isn’t very large when it comes to staff, get the boot as well. It wasn’t a local decision, so that left me with some shred of pride as I exited for the final time.”
Len Martez, who covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for iHeartMedia’s WDAE, told me that he is thankful for the professional growth he experienced as an iHeart employee. “Even though I walked through their doors with years of experience, I’ve had some quality work experiences at WDAE, from lead hosting shows, to one on one interviews with players, attending community events, not too mention the development of relationships with colleagues, media members & a major city sports radio audience.”
There are two moments that stand out as the most emotionally raw when this kind of thing happens. The first is that moment you realize that you have to let people know what happened. Family members, listeners, friends, they’re all going to have questions. The other moment comes the next morning when you don’t have anything to get ready for and for the first time you realize you have to figure out an answer to the questions “what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life?”.
“I knew the meeting was potentially bad so my mindset was somewhat prepared but you never want to hear the actual words. And I mention that because honestly other than a phone call with my former co-host I went on with my day, told myself I’m invoking my own 24 hour rule, before I address the layoff publicly,” Martez told me when I asked how he first reacted to being laid off.
“I told my wife, who works from home. She started to cry, which was easily the worst part of the whole day,” one host, who wished to remain anonymous, told me. “After that I just sort of zoned out for a little bit. After an hour or so I told the rest of my family, and then let the outside world know what had happened. I was so dazed the entire time that those first few hours feel like a blur.”
Shea Raftus, who was a producer with 97.3 the Game in Milwaukee told me that the toughest part of getting let go was losing an environment where he felt his career was nurtured.
“The hosts and producers I worked with such as Mike Heller, Scott Dolphin, Ted Davis, Jon Arias, Dan Needles, Dario Melendez and Armen Saryan were awesome to work with with. And that’s the sad part: You build all these shows, a chemistry with your hosts and growing following of listeners and boom it’s gone,” he said in an email. “It’s hard to get better at what you do and build your skills up when the plug gets pulled so quickly.”
So what comes next for some of these folks? I asked Raftus if he had a plan to preserve his mental health as he embarks on a new job search.
“The best thing for me right now is to head back home to Houston, which I’ll likely be doing here in a few weeks. I’ve got an incredibly close group of friends down there and being around the people I care about while hitting the reset button is definitely the best thing for my mental health. I would definitely like to stay in the industry as I really love producing, but everything is on the table at this point. If the best thing for me is to take a different but more stable career path that leads to a better and healthier lifestyle then so be it. If something in the sports radio industry comes up that’s a fit though I would love to keep producing.”
Schultz told me he took a day to digest everything before he started thinking about what comes next for him professionally. “After the first 24-hour period, I’ve spent some time each day talking to contacts and shaking trees to see if there are opportunities for me out there, both short-term and long-term. I’m grateful for 8 1/2 years at iHeart Indy and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, so that’s helped my mental health. I have the full support of a terrific family, friends, and colleagues, and annual passes to the Children’s Museum and Zoo for my three-year old, so I’m good.”
Seth Harp, program director and host for iHeart’s 97.3 the Game in Jacksonville (look at this beacon of creativity when it comes to station names!) feels good about his time at iHeart. “I’m proud of what we created in Jacksonville. The station is as strong as it’s ever been. We just completed the best back to back best months ratings wise in the entire decade. Very proud.”
That pride though doesn’t come without concern. When I asked Seth if he has thought about the possibility that he may never work in radio again, he is quick to answer.
“Of course. It’s a fragile business right now and has been for about a decade. I have been a part of two cluster sales in my career and have seen ‘irreplaceable’ people let go.”
It’s the reason that he is not messing around when it comes to his mental health. Seth Harp told me that he isn’t just thinking about how to prioritize it as some sort of abstract concept. He has an actual plan to work through.
“Your mind turns into a blender after something like this,” he says. “Balance is everything when you are in this situation. I employ the T.H.I.N.K method:
- Talk to the people that you love, love you, and that bring you happiness and joy
- Healthy Habits – Find one or two. Do it everyday. Structure while away from structure.
- Indooritis – Get out of the house or apartment. Accomplish something daily.
- No Second Guessing – Save that for your autobiography down the road.
- Kindness – Chances are people that are trying to help have great intentions. Thank them.”
“A handful of potential employers have already reached out, which is promising, but the prospect of shuffling through all of that and trying to pick out the situation that’s going to be the best for me and my young family is daunting,” said a host who chose not to give his name. “This has all been a massive wrench thrown into my life at the worst possible time. Thankfully, I have a significant other and a support system that have been beyond fantastic in cushioning the blow.”
Certainly some of you are reading that with a level of contempt or jealousy. How can that guy complain when it’s clear everything will work out fine for him?
Look, even if you were successful enough in your last role for other stations in the market to treat the news that you are suddenly available as a reason to put their best foot forward, being unemployed is never easy. Empathy and compassion is always more helpful than the alternative. Sports radio is a competitive business, for sure, but right now is a time we all need to be supporting each other and willing to listen when someone that needs it reaches out for help or to talk.
Bomani Jones of ESPN always said something interesting when Kyler Murray was trying to decide between reporting to spring training with the Oakland As or declaring for the NFL Draft. “If you can make millions of dollars doing literally anything other than playing football, do it. Don’t put yourself through what you don’t have to.”
That quote is about the physical toll football takes on the human body, but maybe you could replace the word “football” with the word “radio” in that quote and it works just as well. Now might be a good time to ask yourself “Can I be happy doing something else?”.
This is a highly competitive business. Most of us experience rejection or disappointment way more than we experience major wins. It doesn’t make you a failure or weak to decide that isn’t what you want out of you professional life.
If you’re reading this because you’re one of the people that just lost their job or you’re reading this because friends did and you don’t know how to help, know that I have been there before. My email address is below. You can always reach out for a sympathetic ear. I don’t know if I can do much more for you than just listen, but having gone through this myself a few times, I can tell you that one thing that helps a lot is having someone just listen and not try to offer answers.
It’s a scary time for a lot of people in this business, so if you’re a pray-er say a prayer. If you’re not, figure out a way to do something good for these folks. It’s easy and fair to point fingers at iHeart and say the company is ruining a great industry, but blame only gets you so far. Ask what you can do to help, and then follow through on whatever your friend, who is in a land of fear and confusion requests…within reason, of course.
Those of you that lost jobs are not alone. Make a plan. Work your contacts. Only an asshole wouldn’t be rooting for you right now or be willing to help.
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.