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Sports Radio Executives Are Cautiously Optimistic About ESPN Radio’s New Lineup

Demetri Ravanos

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Most of us spent the past two weeks looking at the new ESPN Radio lineup that will take over on August 17th, thinking about what was not there. Tributes to Mike Golic Sr., who has been in morning drive for the network for the last 22 years, poured in from every imaginable outlet, this one included.

There were a number of folks outside of Bristol that either didn’t have time to mourn Senior’s looming departure, or did and had to move on very quickly. Leaders of local ESPN affiliates around the country had to look at the new lineup and figure out what it would mean for their stations.

I wanted honest answers when I asked folks “how do you feel about the new lineup,” so I offered everyone anonymity. Hooray for not having to (in the words of Herm Edwards) “put ya name on it!”.

Everyone on the programming side took me up on the offer. On the business side, the people I spoke with either wanted their name attached to their comments or they simply didn’t want to participate.

So much has been made of the new morning show, which will feature Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams with SportsCenter anchor Zubin Mehenti steering the ship. The departure of a known quantity like Golic Sr, who has hosted in that slot with three different partners, has raised concerns for so many.

“From a listener’s standpoint, it’s always interesting when you have a long time show and then one part of the duo leaves and one part stays,” one PD in the Southeast told me, addressing the rumors that Trey Wingo had expressed a desire to leave radio in the fall. “I always thought it was a tough ask to try and re-create what he and Mike Greenberg had before with a whole new crew. How could the network ask him to do it again so quickly?”

A PD in the Midwest says he sees the good and the bad in the new trio. He praised the injection of diversity into a prime day part, but did have questions about the readiness of the individuals chosen.

Matthew Kingsley (@3kingsley) | Twitter

“Two of the three hosts have never really done the daily morning radio grind. I will say Keyshawn and Jay can be highly entertaining when teed up the right way, so the pressure will be on Zubin to navigate topics and push the right emotional buttons.”

One person that was willing to go on the record was Brian Maloney, the Vice President of Radio at Capitol Broadcasting in Raleigh, NC. The cluster’s sports talker, 99.9 The Fan, saw major success in morning drive with Mike & Mike and still did fairly well with Golic & Wingo. Maloney says that he is less nervous now than he was the last time ESPN Radio made a major change in morning drive.

“We were nervous with the Golic-Wingo change – it worked out great. They ended up dominating our core audience,” Maloney told me in an email. “So, I’m very optimistic about the launch of the new morning show with the new cast members – and we’re partial to Jay Williams given his ties to Duke and the market. Timing is perfect. Sports are back, launching a new show – let’s go. I’m sure people will over analyze this move – as with any – history has shown us. I’m more than confident the show will perform quite well for us!”

Joe O’Neill is another station leader that expressed optimism about the morning show. Being in Albuquerque though, his station, 101.7 The Team, will run the new morning show on a two hour delay. He is very excited about what follows though.

“The remaining schedule that runs in ‘prime’ is loaded with heavyweights and it is particularly nice to see the return of Greeny.”

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O’Neill’s excitement about the mid-day lineup was echoed by every single person I spoke with. One PD out West shared O’Neill’s excitement to see Mike Greenberg back on ESPN Radio. He added that Max Kellerman, who hasn’t done a lot of national radio, is still the kind of well-known quantity that will give his station “good star power” to matchup with the local FOX Sports Radio affiliate.

A host on the East Coast, who has the entire national lineup leading into his local show agrees that the star power matters.

“I actually think the Greenberg and Kellerman additions help the middle of the day. They’re both experienced, and good to really good radio guys.”

Beyond the individual talent in mid days, what drew everyone’s attention was three two-hour long shows. The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz is cut down to run from 10a-noon on the East Coast. Mike Greenberg’s show will follow and air until 2 pm when Kellerman takes over from 2p-4p.

For so long, the practice in national radio has been to have mid-days filled by two three hour shows. On the local level it is usually one four how show. A PD in the Southeast told me it is beyond time to shake those models up.

“I think it’s an interesting approach actually, and I’m very interested to see how it does. That is an idea that has piqued my curiosity for some time, just given how the audience behaves now.”

“Honestly, the only reason radio stations run 3- and 4-hour shows is because of budget,” said a PD in the Midwest. He expects that three shorter shows can deliver more compelling content than two longer shows. “Hosts cannot possibly throw fastballs for 4 hours. It’s not a realistic expectation.”

When asked to point out anything specifically they were worried about with the new lineup, most PD’s said it was too early to panic. Outside of the morning show, there is enough tested star power to satisfy local leaders’ minds. Plus, most stations that will carry the full day time line up do a local show in afternoon drive.

That isn’t true for everyone though. That PD I spoke with out West was nervous about the new afternoon show with Chiney Ogwumike and Mike Golic Jr., and the revival of Spain and Fitz in the early evening.

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“I would’ve flipped Chiney & Mike Golic Jr. into the slot which will be occupied by the Spain and Fitz reboot, he said in an email. “GoJo has a good energy that I think can play off well for an audience listening later in the day/night. And it provides a great starting slot for Chiney Ogwumike, who is spun right into a valuable radio time slot with very little experience.

“Jason Fitz deserved an opportunity to continue to lead a show, and he’ll lose that taking somewhat of a back seat to Sarah Spain. Plus, as it currently sits, Spain and Company has been inconsistent in creating content that relates to the sports radio listener, exposed a bit more by the current pandemic.”

The big question everyone has, no matter their position in the industry is “will this new lineup make me money?”. Boy, is it a strange time to ask that question about anything.

Both Maloney and O’Neill were optimistic though. It may not be easy to get people to spend money right now, but O’Neill says having something new to show advertisers gives his sales staff a reason to pick up the phone and chat with established clients and maybe even introduce themselves to a few new ones.

“I’ve always felt that the best definition of sales is the ‘transfer of enthusiasm,'” he said. “Having the new lineup will be beneficial regarding sales because it’s gives us a reason to communicate the latest changes at ESPN Radio and explain the philosophy of why they went with the changes they did.”

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Maloney thinks there is reason to think his station’s clients will be very receptive to the changes, because the Covid-19 Pandemic have forced them to go through changes too.

“Every business has had time to reflect, regroup, and reorganize, and sports radio is no different. Business owners and those that run a business know more than ever that reinventing is essential. If a business hasn’t adjusted or run a different play yet, I’d be very concerned about that business.”

He says the two things he would tell clients about the new morning show are that 99.9 The Fan has a history of performing in morning drive with ESPN Radio’s nationally syndicated morning show, and the new hosts were handpicked by ESPN, which he understandably refers to as “the biggest brand of sports in the world.”

“Combine those two elements with insane, pent up demand for sports and we have an explosive fresh, new start in a format that we know delivers the most passionate and responsive listeners,” Maloney told me. “Along with the new ESPN morning show on our station, we have added new imaging pieces, digital pieces and re-adjusted our line-up. This is a perfect time to change and begin anew in a very new climate.  I hope our industry takes advantage of this pause in sports to reinvent their stations.”

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Although no one came right out and said “we’re screwed,” I definitely received opinions that ran the gamut from pure optimism to genuine concern for morning drive. Overall, there does seem to be something of a “wait and see approach.”

The real pressure here is on ESPN. Local station partners are not just looking for big names. The network has seen SO MUCH change over the last five years. It has to prove to local stations that not only has it built its new lineup to perform, but that it has also been built to last for an extended period of time.

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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