If there’s ever a day when Peter Burns has to search for motivation, he never has to look too far.
Normally, all he has to do is look directly down at his rundown sheet where ‘dream job’ is the first thing written down each day. Though it may sound cliché, those two words are a daily reminder of the obstacles he’s had to overcome, the people who have helped him through it and how lucky he is to be in the spot he’s in today.
But even if that doesn’t work, there’s one word that will always fix Burns’ self-doubt or lack of motivation almost instantly. That one word just so happens to be a name.
Jessica Ghawi was a 24-year-old aspiring sports journalist in Denver, before her life was tragically taken in the Aurora, Colorado shooting in July of 2012 that left 12 dead and 70 wounded. Her future in the business was bright, mostly due to her relentless attitude towards chasing her dream in sports. That passion rubbed off on everyone she encountered, including Burns, who befriended her while working in San Antonio.
The two quickly formed an incredible bond and respect for another. So much so, that when Burns chased down an opportunity in Denver, Ghawi couldn’t help but follow her role model to chase new opportunities. Soon after, she was already making a name for herself in the market. Any challenge that came her way, she took it on with an intensity that inspired everyone around her. Greatness in sports media wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ for Ghawi, it was only a matter of ‘when.’
Burns will never forget the phone call he got the next morning when he learned the news of what happened at the movie theatre. Someone he deeply cared about and respected was suddenly gone. There was sadness. There was anger. But ultimately, what prevailed, was the emotion of attacking every single day just like she would.
“It’s just one of those things, where anytime that I’m like, I shouldn’t do this or I shouldn’t go for the show, or I’m starting to feel nervous, I think of her,” Burns said. “Because she would care and always seize the day. Every time I get a little bit of a snag, I think of her being like, ‘hey, get your butt in shape. Knock it off and go kill this.’ It helps me put the pedal to the metal and get things done. I keep her ashes in my studio and it’s a small reminder I have every single day, like, man, we’re blessed to be doing what we’re doing and don’t half-ass it.”
Nearly eight years have passed since the tragedy, but her memory hasn’t faded one bit. Burns will be the first to say that whatever great things he accomplishes in the business, he’ll always owe at least a piece of it to his friend Jessi. That includes his current gig at the SEC Network.
Today, that’s where you can find him, living in Charlotte and doing extensive work as a studio anchor and radio host for the SEC Network, amongst other things. This week, he even has the opportunity to host The Dan Le Batard Show with Katie George while the normal crew is off on vacation.
Joining the SEC Network is truly Burns’ dream job, because of his deep passion for the conference. SEC football was part of his upbringing, so the fit comes naturally for both he and the network. Being able to cover the sport you grew up loving the most is why Burns feels like he never has to work.
“It’s funny, because I went on a bunch of interviews with ESPN when I first got signed by an agency,” Burns said. “I probably went on eight interviews there, from SportsCenter to Around the Horn, Pardon the Interruption, all that stuff. I thought I killed every single interview I had, except for the one with SEC Network. I was bummed because I’m such an SEC guy. That’s the one I got a callback from after the audition.
“It’s been part of my upbringing so it was just such a natural fit. Even when I moved to Denver I was covering the Avalanche as well as the Rockies. I’m not a huge hockey fan and I just wasn’t a diehard National League fan as much as I used to be, so I had to work for that. I don’t have to work for the knowledge of the SEC because I follow every single storyline. And that’s not just football. I hope that’s what it sounds like over the air, like a kid being in a candy store.”
That’s a far cry from the guy who was working in oil and gas in south Texas, where he first realized he had to get into sports radio. Or even the guy who was fired from 760 The Ticket in San Antonio, for, self admittedly, having a bad attitude inside the building on far too much of a regular basis. But sometimes, getting knocked down can be a person’s biggest remedy. Getting fired did just that for his career.
“You don’t know what you have until you lose it,” Burns said. “I realized as hard as I had worked to get to that job at 760 The Ticket in San Antonio I had taken it for granted. I just thought I had made it I didn’t have to work as hard anymore. It wasn’t until I had that reality check of, hey, why are you acting like this? It got out of hand to the point where I deserve to be fired.
“Instead of blaming everybody I looked at myself and said, all right, you’ve got to fix this. If you fix it, and you work hard, you can try and get this gig back again. There’s no way I’d be doing what I do now unless I’d been fired. It took me understanding that, how great of a job it is, to never want to lose it again. I know when I say it, it sounds weird and cliché, but it affected me so deeply.”
Unfortunately, with the current Covid-19 pandemic and the effect it’s had on sports radio, there’s many talented hosts who have found themselves out of a job. So, as someone who’s experienced that feeling, what’s the best way to try and get back on your feet in this business?
“Really try to understand, as good of ideas as you have right now, they all need to be profitable,” Burns said. “What I mean by that, is attacking it from the business sense. Anytime I try to get a show pitched, instead of just pitching the show, I’d always write down why this company is wanting to do this. I had to come up with three reasons why that person would say yes, before I would even pitch. So I would always start with, how someone can make money off this idea, whether it be sponsors or how it could be syndicated. My advice is almost to learn more the business aspect of things. If you can sell radio advertising, you can almost do anything. It’s hard to sell an invisible product and that was the best experience I ever got.”
Hopefully, Burns is through with the toughest trials of his career. But it’s also those same challenges that have made him into the professional he is today. He’ll never let a day go by without being thankful for the life and career he has. He’s not making not that mistake again, nor would Jessi let him.
“For all my show notes, the first thing I do is put the date and I write ‘dream job’,” said Burns. “The next thing I do, I have a radio clock that’s inside the studio in my house and next to it, it just says 10,000. What it is, is a reminder that if I didn’t want to wake up and do this job, there’s 10,000 other people that would say, I’ll do it in a heartbeat. It’s always a reminder to kind of keep me in the grind of doing sports talk radio for six days a week and to realize how lucky I am, because there’s 10,000 other people that would do my job tomorrow.”
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.