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The Realities Of Radio Row

“Its an event that is bigger than music award shows for music stations and any other award type show.. It’s a week of content that if done right will make your station grow, stand-out and gain credibility.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Radio Row at the Super Bowl was a muted affair in 2020. That probably wasn’t what the NFL or Westwood One wanted, but with so many stations slashing budgets and pinching pennies, it wasn’t hard to find an empty table to sit down and catch up with friends from another market while inside the Miami Convention Center last week.

The question that a lot of companies are asking right now is “Is it worth it to be on location for the Super Bowl?”. For Chad Boeger and his staff at 810 WHB in Kansas City, the answer is almost always yes. The fact that the hometown Chiefs are playing in the big game this year is just an added bonus.

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“We had a terrific week of broadcasts this year.  This is our 22nd straight year of broadcasting live from Radio Row. We had our hosts and reporters with the Chiefs at the team hotel and broadcast all shows from the Miami Beach Convention Center (home of Radio Row).  

“The difference this year, is our coverage of the teams in the game. We balanced our coverage with an enormous amount of interviews and coverage of the Chiefs with the special Radio Row guests.”

Mike Gill of ESPN 97.3 South Jersey echoed that sentiment. Even without a home team in the game, his station thought being live on radio row was important because the Super Bowl is the hub of the American sports and pop culture universe for a week.

“There is news all over here from many sports, its not just football, its UFC, its entertainment, its one of the most relateble events in not only sports, but pop culture,” he told me in an email. “Its an event that is bigger than music award shows for music stations and any other award type show. It’s a week of content that if done right will make your station grow, stand-out and gain credibility.”

Everyone on radio row is chasing down former and current NFL stars. WWE’s The Big Show and his handlers were hounded by producers trying to get just five quick minutes. If you’re on in Atlantic City though, Gill says that anyone that can talk about the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers from a gambling perspective is just as important.

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“We discussed the impact of Sports Gambling with guys like Darren Rovell and Chad Millman of the Action Network. ESPN’s Doug Kezarian and Draft Kings CEO Jason Robins all discussed the game, sports gaming and betting in AC.”

The biggest setups on radio row were reserved for the biggest names in the sports media business. For the first time, ESPN Radio wasn’t isolated from other stations. Every show on the network’s 6a-6p lineup broadcast from a set on the convention center floor.

“By having all of our weekday shows on Radio Row, we were able to seamlessly provide sports fans with the flavor and pageantry of the biggest sporting event in the country,” ESPN Radio’s Senior Director of Programming and Operations, Justin Craig, told me. “Having everyone in the same location also allowed us to better utilize the guests and personalities that come through radio row more than anywhere else in Miami, in terms of concentrations. Perhaps the greatest benefit was the natural cross show conversations that took place as show units were prepping or wrapping their respective shows to create fluid and organic flow between shows, which creates a seamless connection point for our audience.”

Being on Radio Row also gave Craig a chance to meet and mingle with ESPN Radio affiliates from around the country. He said he got just as much out of visiting their sets as the local affiliates got out of venturing over to the ESPN Radio set.

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“One of the greatest benefits of having all of our shows in one place was being able to spend time with our partners. Sure, affiliates were more than welcome to come by our set but the real value was seeing what they were doing on radio row. Walking around, spending time learning from everyone there has such a tremendous long term benefit, that’s what I valued the most. Meeting producers and talent that you normally don’t get a chance to see on a regular basis, is the real bonus. When you’re sharing the same space, it only creates a better working environment.”

Fox Sports Radio was a little more spread out. The network had a huge stage right in the middle of Radio Row. It came complete with a rotating sign that found its way into other networks’ live shots.

Colin Cowherd wasn’t there though. Fox’s biggest radio star did his show on South Beach from an amazing set that allowed fans to hang out and watch some of football’s biggest names come by and chat about their careers and the upcoming game. The roomier set also allowed the TV simulcast of The Herd with Colin Cowherd to maintain the quality fans expect when the show is in its LA studio.

“We are constantly asked why we build such an elaborate Broadcast Center at the Super Bowl, the simple explanation is that we are a national sports network and our talent and shows are cleared on local affiliates all over the country,” Don Martin, Senior Vice President of Sports for Premier Networks and Fox Sports Radio, told me. “We put our best foot forward to show all the PD’s and GM’s in the building that we have the preeminent national sports talk lineup in the game today and we don’t cut corners. So when you need/ want a great show, think Fox Sports Radio first.”

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Any discussion of going to the Super Bowl tends to be a series of questions and answers to determine if it makes sense for a company or a station to invest the money. If you’re not aware, Entercom decided against letting stations from outside the home markets (the two teams in the game and the host city) broadcast from Miami.

“It’s such a great week of interviewing so many incredible people you never get to have on the rest of the year, if not ever again. Being on radio row isn’t always about the guests though,” one unnamed PD from within the company told me. “It’s bringing the atmosphere and experience to your listeners.”

He also said that it isn’t just content his station missed out on by not being in Miami. A sponsor that paid for a radio row advertising package agreed to keep their money with the station despite not being represented by any live shows in Miami. The PD told me, “they stayed on and sponsored our weekday coverage, but what we missed out on was the potential to tie in more clients in a variety of ways for the week.”

“I am not here to spend anybody else’s money or to tell them how to allocate their resources,” Martin said when I asked what he would say to big companies that chose not to send stations to Miami. “What I can say is the experience is like no other sporting event. The guest list is extensive and the branding for your station and networking can be invaluable.” 

He also offered an idea of what we could see those companies do in the future. “What I would recommend is that larger companies should pool their finances and have a presence feeding multiple markets. The Super Bowl speaks for itself.”

Jason Minnix hosts the afternoon show at ESPN San Antonio. He also sells for the station. Being on Radio Row for the Super Bowl is something his station’s clients count on every year.

“We talk about it with clients throughout the year but ramp up the efforts October-November when planning Q1 or their annuals,” he told me when I asked how far out they start selling Super Bowl sponsorships. “Our Super Bowl radio row sponsors do it every year in addition to what they normally do with us. We don’t give it away or bonus the Super Bowl.”

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Minnix knows in order to make the most money, you have to generate the most content. That’s why he plans more than just a radio show when heading to the Super Bowl. The station is constantly streaming content to Facebook Live. Interviews aren’t just recorded for the air. They also make their way to Instagram and YouTube. All of those platforms are somewhere else to put a sponsor’s message or logo.

“Work hard play hard,” Minnix says. “We get to radio row early in the morning and are there all day but at night, we certainly enjoy the Super Bowl city. It’s a fun week.”

“Obviously, when your hometown team makes the Super Bowl, it has a dramatic impact on your revenue,” Boeger told me when I asked what the Chiefs’ success had done for 810 WHB. “We sell our Radio Row coverage well in advance of knowing who will be in the Super Bowl. With the Chiefs in the game, we created a number of additional opportunities for our advertisers. It definitely has paid off for everyone.”

When I asked these folks why being on Radio Row mattered, many of them answered that it felt like a sort of responsibility. You’re job is to talk about the sports topics your listeners are interested in. What is more interesting to American sports fans than the game that we have built a pseudo-holiday around?

“We feel that after New York, and then the Eagles being in the Super Bowl in Minnesota, that this was going to be a part of our brand and who we are,” Mike Gill said of ESPN 97.3 South Jersey. “We are the No.1 show with men in the market, and this validates that. We are the Super Bowl station in Atlantic City, and being at the Radio Row is an extention of that, our listeners expect the coverage, its our duty to deliver it.”

The Entercom PD I spoke with isn’t pessimistic. He is sure he will get the chance to take his station back to Radio Row sooner than later. “I believe in the value of the week as far as content goes and the opportunity to make even more sponsorship money.”

Making money. It is the answer to every question about why a station or company does or does not send shows to the Super Bowl to be a part of Radio Row.

Maybe it is biased to end this column with a quote from Chad Boeger, who’s company Union Broadcasting is based in Kansas City. Of course he sees the value in being on Radio Row in a year when the team most of his listeners care about are the favorites to win the game.

Remember though that this wasn’t a spur of the moment decision for 810 WHB. The station has been on Radio Row for each of the last 22 Super Bowls.

“We all have budget constraints. I understand that. Everyone has to run a business. You need to determine what is most important to your business to be successful. Regardless of what teams are in the Super Bowl, we will continue to broadcast live from Radio Row. It’s important to our listeners, and our listeners come first. I believe great programming results in strong revenue performance.”

If you are a host or a programmer that wants to be at the Super Bowl next year, you have to be strategic in your pitch to your GM or corporate bosses. You need advertiser support. They need reasons and means by which to advertise. Radio Row has morphed into Media Row, so you need to shift your thinking. The more content you can produce, the more sales opportunities there are, and the more sales opportunities there are, the more likely you are to get your way.

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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