The BSM Top 20s are generators. They generate clicks, comments, and conversation in our industry. Every year, JB reaches out to dozens of PDs and executives to generate those lists.
I thought it might be fun this year to add a new twist and let talent get in on the conversation. Everyday a new Top 20 is released, I will turn to a few talents in those same categories with a simple question: If you had a vote, who would be #1 on your ballot?
The state of Pennsylvania dominated the PD lists this year, with Spike Eskin of 94 WIP in Philadelphia taking home the top honor for major markets and Jim Graci of 93.7 the Fan in Pittsburgh placing first amongst his peers in mid markets. That was what the executives chose. Now it is time to ask the talent what they think.
JORGE SEDANO – ESPN LOS ANGELES
I have worked (and currently work) with a lot of great programmers over my two decades in sports radio. Most days, being a programmer is a thankless position. There are a lot of different personalities to manage on a staff. You need to get buy in from the talent, producers, other managers and the support staff. Few have connected and garnered the respect of the talent and staffs they manage like ESPN Radio’s Amanda Gifford.
When she managed me directly (circa 2013-16), the staff was loaded with a list of talent that is too long to list here. The common thread was she was widely respected by everyone, from the part time board op to the biggest stars on the network.
There is a reason she has climbed to the heights she’s reached in the industry. Obviously, Amanda has strong convictions and opinions on what makes an individual or a show better. However, she is a great listener and is willing to collaborate with the talent on how to get the best out of their respective shows. People value being heard and having input on the products they touch on a daily basis. She gets that and it’s part of what makes her the best at what she does.
JOSH INNES – ESPN 97.5 (HOUSTON)
I’ve had the great fortune of working for some of the most amazing Program Directors in this format. I worked for legendary programmer Andy Bloom at WIP in Philly. Andy is currently doing other things, but he would no doubt be one of your top 3 programmers on this list. I currently work for a great young programmer in AJ Hoffman who is building something great in Houston.
That said, the guy who gave me my major market break is the guy who should sit at the top of your list of top current programmers in sports radio. That person is Gavin Spittle.
In 2009, Gavin was faced with a situation that many would have viewed as a demotion. He was sent from 105.3 in Dallas, a 100,000 watt blowtorch, home of the Dallas Cowboys, to a 5,000 watt AM Station in Houston. Over the next 4 years, he took Sports Radio 610, a terribly rated radio station and elevated it to a consistent Top 10 finisher in the market. He and his staff flattened the competition. Houston sports radio has never recovered from his exit.
In 2014, Gavin got the call to go back to Dallas to resurrect the very station that sent him off 4 years earlier. His job was to challenge the legendary Ticket for ratings supremacy. He has done just that. The amazing part is he has done this with many of the pieces that were in place when he took over.
Gavin’s guidance has certainly elongated the careers of many personalities.
Gavin listens to talent. He respects talent. He is willing to be the butt of the joke. He makes you better. He’s a friend. He is the best Sports Radio PD in America.
MARK ZINNO – FORMERLY 92.9 THE GAME & XTRA 106.3 (ATLANTA), 105.7 THE FAN (BALTIMORE)
Chris Kinard has been a top programmer for over a decade now in one of the most challenging and diverse markets in the country. Consistently battling the news/political/talk format(s), especially over the last four years, and managing to keep the station’s ratings top 10 across the board speaks volumes to his ability to understand a changing landscape as well grow the audience of The Fan. Sometimes it’s easy to overlook DC as a sports talk city due to its politics-centric persona, but any four-sport town has the challenge of grabbing a wide array of listeners/fans and the balancing act managing the talent to “play the hits” is something that not every programmer in three/two-sport markets has to deal with. Chris strikes a great balance of managing his talent to ensure maximum reach to as many fans as possible and really develops the station brand on many fronts.
Speaking of which, Chris’s ability as a brand manager can’t be underscored. He has grown the station profile through many successful events and promotions over the years, surpassing his sports talk competition at every level. Chris continues to be one the most talented and unique programmers in the country. He welcomes challenges and continually exceeds expectations with original and distinctive ideas.
SETH HARP – ESPN 98.1 (GAINESVILLE, FL)
It’s Andy Roth at The Fan in Cleveland. The station is the sports heartbeat for the city and her fans. The imaging, the shows, the hosts, the topics and the social media are all woven together. You can tell there is a plan and it’s being executed on a daily basis. Attention to detail that is Top 10 and even Top 5 market quality. Andy is sports radio’s version of a franchise Quarterback.
NICK KAYAL – 104.5 THE ZONE (NASHVILLE), 92.9 THE GAME (ATLANTA)
Terry Foxx is a winning Program Director. Terry was involved in giving me an opportunity in Atlanta at 92.9 The Game and hired me on my birthday in 2020. Terry started The Fan in Pittsburgh as well as The Game in Atlanta and now has inherited WFNZ in Charlotte.
Terry is a no non-sense kind of guy. Come in, do your job, keep your head down and work hard. I believe he’s one of the better programmers in the business today.
As the week rolls on, we will dive into every single list that JB puts out. That means next up is stations. Stay tuned!
By the way, just because I didn’t reach out to you to contribute doesn’t mean you can’t have a say. Who do you think the best program director in sports talk radio is? Feel free to add your comment below.
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.