There’s a big difference in a radio host versus a radio talent! The former is mostly a title, encompassing a few particular fundamental skills. The latter is what makes us artistic audio professionals. And if we indeed are pros, then we have an obligation to our listenership to routinely demonstrate such aptitude and to not so readily share that responsibility with guests.
I’ve been taught, that as talent, we are the heartbeat of the show. We’re the ones that have built the rapport and earned the trust of our listenership, while aiding in the advancement of the station or network’s brand. Do we compromise our reputations by exposing the psyche and loyalty of our listenership to too many outside voices and opinions? Have we become imbalanced in this approach? I, like many of you, believe we have.
Last month I read a tweet from a PD who boasts 20+ years of experience in the role, for whom I once worked. His post encapsulated what I had been noticing myself as of late. There seems to be an overwhelming amount of guest appearances on sports radio today. The tweet read, “…seems like there’s a guest on every segment,” and “…it’s bad and lazy radio.”
I am by no means suggesting there can’t be significant up-side in adding guests to a rundown for the sake of specific appointment listening. Hell, I got my start in this business as a guest! No way can I honorably omit that value now. I am merely trying to understand why guests appear to be excessively utilized? And, what is the real motivation to booking guests with this much regularity?
My overarching concern is that programmers and talent alike, are falling for the contemporary thought, that “celebrity” validates content. Sports fans are just supposed to accept that because a name is recognizable that somehow automatically legitimizes us as hosts or our programming? I believe today’s sports fan to be much more aware and content conscious than that!
Fact is, a lot of “notable” guests aren’t really good for business, and can occasionally harm ratings and billing. In my experience, most guests bring good intentions, and I am sincerely appreciative of their time. However, just because you’re a contact in my phone and we may have good banter off-air, does not necessarily mean I want you on my show. I’ve learned to separate the information from the presentation.
I am however, more apt to give some leeway here to hosts who fly solo. Especially, in the dog days of summer (been there several times myself). It can be absolutely brutal trying to find fresh angles or storylines when nothing is happening or when we only have a modest amount of fresh material to get through that day. To me, that’s what separates the average talent from the really good talent.
The other side to solo hosts booking guests more regularly, is to simply satisfy the innately human urge to interact with other people. It can get very lonely hearing yourself speak to yourself for hours while sitting in that glass box, I remind you! Yet, I remain of the opinion, even the solo hosts have to ask if the guest is adding value or simply providing an intermission by just filling-time?
Is there really a payoff for the listener in booking multiple guests in an hour, or one for every hour? What happened to allowing an interview to breathe; for our sakes and the listeners?
I’m not quite sure why a two-person, or certainly a three-person, crew would rely heavily on guest booking. From my vantage point, there’s rarely enough time to get all the thoughts and opinions on the table from the daily hosts, let alone adding multiple outside voices.
To that point, visitors to our show aren’t obligated to an entire segment either. If they have a unique perspective or personal association that adds value to the structure of the conversation; I welcome the appearance. That said, it’s probably wise for the host to quickly get to the point and get out of the interview, as to afford adequate time for reaction to what was said.
Lastly, I don’t understand why some hosts go to all the necessary lengths to confirm guests, only to never play the audio again? If I trust a contact and respect them enough to come on my show, then chances are I’m playing that sound back later in the same show, or another day in the week. Quality sound is quality sound. The entire audience didn’t hear it live, and those that did, may desire to hear it again if it’s compelling enough.
Admittedly, I am still learning new stuff about our craft, and I have the utmost respect for those of you who are afforded access to the microphone daily. Hosting a sports talk show during these unprecedented times is a challenge like nothing else in media! Consistently providing entertaining and engaging audio is an inexact science our fans hold us accountable to every day. Yet, this is the business we’ve chosen, and I believe it to be our duty to intensely consider WHO and WHY, prior to overwhelming our audience with outside perspectives.
I absolutely have booked my fair share of guests in the past, and likely will in the future. However, I refuse to negate the essence of our art form by simply living-off the low hanging fruit. I willingly accept these challenges, given our position as sports media talent. We are the captains of the on-air ship; all other parties are simply along for the ride. Be encouraged, and plot wisely my friends.
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.