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Schein, Tierney, Gray & Carlin Still Driven to Create, Improve and Evolve

“We all have the same goal. We want radio to thrive. We realize how much potential this industry still has to give.”

Brandon Contes

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The BSM Summit is coming up on February 26-27, and the two day conference presents a great opportunity for the sports radio industry to share, collaborate and even steal ideas from other minds. Who better to steal from than the talent themselves, the people who are implementing new ideas on a daily basis?

On-air hosts are naturally creative and engaging. It’s what makes them successful and worthy of learning from. Creativity is a big part of staying fresh and introducing new ideas to help one grow. Engaging people helps create additional listening, whether it’s to a radio show or a speaker at a conference. Whenever you’re learning, it’s helpful to have a creative, engaging teacher.

I spoke to Maggie Gray from WFAN, Chris Carlin of 98.7 ESPN New York, SiriusXM’s Adam Schein and Brandon Tierney from CBS Sports Radio about the BSM Summit and their abilities to share ideas and industry knowledge. Four successful sports media members, each with passion for the industry and a desire to see it grow.

Brandon Contes: You’ll be speaking in two weeks at the BSM Summit, a conference which brings together a large number of industry people, especially programming executives. How important do you think it is to have talent involved in helping advance that initiative, because let’s face it, you guys are engaging personalities, and when you speak people listen.

Maggie Gray: We all have the same goal. We want radio to thrive and we realize how much potential this industry still has to give especially from the on-air side. You feel the connection you have with the audience. Keeping that connection, finding new audiences and keeping radio relevant, keeping radio part of peoples’ everyday lives, no matter if you’re on the talent side, executive, agent – we all have the same goal, serve the audience and grow the audience.

This is what we do. We entertain people. We also get a charge out of doing things in front of a live audience because for the most part we’re in a studio looking at each other. It’s great to get in front of people in the industry to talk about the future of radio. Most of us are in this business we’re radio geeks, so we all have this love for radio and audio. Getting in a room with people who share that is great.

Chris Carlin: My constant thought is to get better and when you get that level of talent in one room it’s invaluable because we don’t get exposed enough to how others think about the industry, their shows and how they attack them. I’m a guy that wants to attack his weaknesses as a talk show host and get better every day. Stealing ideas from people is not the worst thing in the world [Laughs] and when you assemble these minds in this environment to exchange ideas, it’s going to give you an opportunity to get better.

Adam Schein: I think the entire experience is going to be amazing. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve seen clips from the previous Summits and every time I watched, I learned something. The healthy exchange of ideas, how people execute and prepare, what works in different markets in sports radio in 2020 to capture people’s attention. It’s a great opportunity.

I saw clips of Colin Cowherd and Jim Rome last year and I look forward to exchanging my ideas and visions of how I execute everyday on Schein on Sports and what goes into the show, how I prepare for it. And I look forward to listening to other people, to hear how they go about their business. I’ve had this circled on my calendar for awhile now.

Brandon Tierney: It’s a great way to exchange ideas, network, build our individual brands and champion what I believe is the most intimate, absolute best medium of them all, radio and audio content.

It’s great to see different talents with different styles from different networks on the same stage simultaneously. You get an interesting cross section and exchanging of ideas, a unique template if you will. It grows our business, and it’s advantageous to everybody, not just people who program stations, but those who are deeply entrenched and mid-career. The goal is to evolve and be proactive, and from my point of view, my goal is to be better tomorrow than I was today. When you get in a room like this, you increase your chances to do that.

BC: Creativity is essential for a talent to be successful. So too is having the opportunity to collaborate. That can have a great impact on building chemistry and a great show. How important is it for people to be around others to expand their thinking?

MG: I truly believe there are no stupid questions. One of my favorite things about the job are the brainstorming sessions before our show. We call it the spitball. I love that part. I love the collaboration of ideas because you just don’t know what’s going to hit. Someone can say a word or half of an idea and then it goes from there and turns into something great. I think the more collaboration you can get the better a show is going to be.

CC: You have to take swings. It’s funny, I’m driven by a fear of failure to begin with, but when it comes to being on-air, I’m not afraid to fail. You have to be willing to evolve and take chances. There have been plenty of times where I’ve done something on-air and it didn’t work. You can tell if something needs to be tweaked or if it’s never going to work. If you’re just doing a show and talking about sports, you have to find ways to separate yourself. You have to figure out how to do something different. I want to be the guy that gives you the aspect or idea of a story that you haven’t thought about yet. Different has to be good and so does taking chances.

AS: You always want your show to be fresh, and have creative ideas provided. You try to surround yourself with incredibly bright and creative people. I love talking about the product of radio. I always like discussing ideas of what works and what fits my personality and speaking with people at SiriusXM like Steve Cohen, Eric Spitz, Steve Torre, Bill Zimmerman and Jason Dixon who is amazing when it comes to feedback and different things to try. Positive reinforcement can also go a long way, ‘this works, keep doing it!’ Those are the kinds of things that resonate and I always enjoy talking about the product, I’m a junkie for that stuff.

BC: How do you see the role of a program director? Do you want them to serve as a coach and mentor or focus on business and what time to run a contest?

AS: You always want a program director who is the ultimate sounding board. Someone you can talk to about the show, about an interview, idea, someone you can talk about life with. Being a coach and mentor in addition to everything else. I’m lucky to have that on a lot of levels at SiriusXM. We have great people and great radio people and that’s vital to our success.

Eric Spitz years ago changed my life and shaped how I do a radio show with the POKE scale on how to judge every show. Passion, Opinion, Knowledge, Entertainment and you can’t lose sight of all four in terms of criteria for a daily show. And to me, entertainment’s at the top of the charts. Being able to tell a story, keeping people engaged, it’s all part of the deal and something I take pride in.

BT: The best program directors are equal parts professional manager or coach, but also psychologist. The best talents truly care about what we put out there, and what we attach our name to for public consumption. I don’t care who you are or how good you think you are, there’s vulnerability that comes with that. The presence of somebody who knows the business, but also knows what works and what doesn’t work, you need an honest assessment. It doesn’t help anybody to just keep saying ‘great show.’

Not every show is great, not every segment is great, not every interview is effective. Some things are poorly constructed and some things are grand slams. If something doesn’t sound right or is short of the talent’s potential, they need to call you out on that. And some PD’s are married to the company more than the talent and that’s understandable, but you want to know if something takes a sideways turn, that the PD still has your back.

BC: How helpful was having a program director that was already on-air in the same market, like Spike Eskin in Philly?

CC: Having worked with Spike for just a year, I love how he thinks and I trust his instincts. I’m getting acquainted with Ryan Hurley now at ESPN and I really like talking about show philosophies with him and listening to the way he thinks.

Spike fascinated me from the first time I met him because we have the same goals, but he thinks differently than I do and gives an invaluable perspective. Eric Spitz has been that way for me in my career too. I’m always open to people who think differently because I can potentially learn from them. Constantly getting different ideas is exciting.

BC: What’s one area of weakness in the sports radio industry that you think needs to be addressed?

MG: Finding new audiences. Think about the NFL or NBA, they’re never satisfied even though they have massive audiences. I think radio stations should be the same way. There’s always a new set of ears to go after and keeping that aggressive growth mindset helps all of us. Still be true to your core audience, but find that future audience, become part of their lives and be 360 about it. It’s so important for radio stations to be where their audience is. It’s not just radio and the person in the car, it’s about being part of their everyday lives, being available online and streaming to make sure they don’t have to go searching for you.

CC: I’m still trying to figure out where we’re going to fit in the future in the digital space. Smart speakers have been a major advance, but I want to know what others think about the slice of the pie that sports media and entertainment has moving into the future. As an industry we may have had 65% of that pie before, it’s gone down a little bit and how do we get that back? It’s difficult, but not impossible and I want to know what other people think about it. I heard 15-20 years ago radio is dying, we may have taken some hits, but it’s still around, it’s still popular and it still makes waves.

AS: I think there is a wonderful place for callers in sports radio and I know there are a lot of differing opinions on that. I’m a big believer in using callers wisely in sports talk radio. Going back to when sports radio was invented, WFAN, 1987, two-way sports talk. I think a lot of places have completely lost sight of that. There’s a way for me as a solo host to be passionate, opinionated, knowledgeable, entertaining, have my own show while implementing callers that make the show better, make me better, make for entertainment. Producers and call-screening is a big part of it. I know not everyone in the industry thinks the same way which is healthy, but I’m adamant that phone calls are a big part of sports talk radio.

You have to be able to attract great telephone calls, it’s a skill. If you do it right, it enhances the nature of a sports radio show.

BT: The challenge is always growing the medium in a forward direction. Major League Baseball’s obstacle is pace of play and appealing to a younger generation and they’ve worked on addressing that. In basketball, you see the evolution of the three-point shot as the sport grows. In golf, pace of play has also permeated the conversation.

We can’t look at radio and just say there are a few national networks doing well, there are a few elite local programs doing well, it has to be bigger than that. It needs to be bigger than just CBS, ESPN, FOX, or SiriusXM. It has to be bigger than just WFAN, WEEI, KNBR or The Ticket in Dallas. It needs a true vision and there can’t be complacency because it’s evolving quickly. You need smart people to lead it in the right direction, more importantly you need passionate people.

Adam Schein, Brandon Tierney, Chris Carlin and Maggie Gray will be appearing at the 2020 BSM Summit on February 26-27 in New York City. For tickets visit BSMSummit.com.

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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