We have written a lot here lately about podcasts and how radio stations can make the most of their digital products. What can you do to build an identity online that is about more than just replays of your on air product? How do you stand out in a VERY crowded space?
I will tell you something that dawned on me a couple of weeks ago and was crystalized for me over the weekend. You want to stand out in the podcasting space? Quit interviewing people. Every podcast is “an in-depth conversation” with someone that you’ve already heard an in-depth conversation with on a dozen other platforms.
Radio groups should always look at a podcast as a chance to do something that they could never put on the air. That could mean letting talented, compelling talkers have an unencumbered conversation that begins with the NFL Draft and ends up becoming about something entirely different like adopting a child. That could mean a deeply researched story with interviews and ambient sound to set the mood.
Turn on sports radio and you will usually hear an interview. Taking someone and giving them thirty minutes to talk about the home team’s coaching search instead of just ten minutes isn’t really anything new or different.
My wife and I have been building a little home gym in our basement. This weekend, I started putting together some equipment – a bench, a dumbbell rack, and a heavy bag stand. It took me about three hours on Saturday. During that time, I listened (or at least planned to listen) to three podcasts that really hammered this thought home for me.
First, after pushing it to the back of the cue over and over again, I finally started Grant Wahl’s American Prodigy: Freddy Adu. My soccer fandom is mostly just getting very patriotic every four years for the men’s and women’s World Cups and then forgetting the sport exists until the next World Cup outside of my son occasionally embarrassing me at FIFA on the Switch.
The podcast really gripped me though. It wasn’t so much a story about soccer that I was listening to. It was the human interest piece. How did this can’t miss prospect miss? How, at 31, do you live a normal life when most people hear your name and think about the hype around you when you were just 16? Those answers combined with interviews with people that played with Freddy or worked with some of his sponsors that could speak to how much hope was pinned on a teenager and how much business was done around him made American Prodigy hard to turn off.
I also listened to two episodes of The Right Time with Bomani Jones. Bo and I have been friends for a long time and I will always support anything he does. It helps that he is one of the most talented and interesting talkers in our business for sure, but honestly it is one of the three sports podcasts I listen to every week.
Bomani’s Tuesday podcast is him and his producer Gabe talking about the news of the day, telling personal stories, and taking listener phone calls about the designated topic. It is always fun. Thursdays, Bo brings in a guest. If it is an old friend like comedian Roy Wood Jr. or Slate’s Joel Anderson, they will do a lot of the same kind of storytelling. If it is a sports or rap legend though, Bo will usually do a good, in-depth interview.
Again, I want to reiterate that I love Bo, both as a talent and as a friend, but the fact is I get bored with the Thursday podcast real fast. Compared to the other two shows I had listened to while tightening screws with an Allen wrench, the podcast interview just did nothing for me.
Whenever a talent asks me for advice about a radio show I always start by reminding them that listeners are coming to the show because they value the talent. You don’t turn on Adam Schein everyday because you hope he’ll have a great guest. If you turn on Adam Schein everyday, it is because you like what it is that Adam Schein does. It doesn’t mean you don’t value the guest list. It means that you aren’t even thinking about the guest list if you don’t have any investment in the person leading the show.
Look, Bill Simmons, Ryen Russillo, Peter King, and Dan Le Batard are all really good at what they do. They have built loyal followings by being good interviewers, and that is fine. Their success is no less valid because of the style of show their podcast is.
I will point out though that all four of those hosts are on digital-specific platforms. They are not trying to think about how to create a podcast that is something unique compared to their other audio products. For radio stations, that is something that is always worth asking.
When your listeners think about sports talk or interviews, their minds usually go straight to radio. It’s how they are used to consuming you everyday. For most listeners, radio is where they have been going to get that content for most of their lives. If you want them to make the extra effort of going online, finding a podcast, subscribing to that podcast, and then listening to it each week, you have to give them something worth their time that exists only on that podcast.
We are talking about an extremely crowded market. Even the biggest names in digital audio are trying to find content every week. With so many of those shows relying on guests, how many of those episodes do you think are the exact same thing? Even if we narrow the field down to just the professionally produced and engineered shows, I bet the answer is still probably a lot.
Interview podcasts can be entertaining, but for that to be true, the interviewer him/herself has to be entertaining. Entertaining people can do so much more than just ask questions. Frankly, I wonder if just asking questions is a waste of their talents.
Here’s the truth about interview podcasts. They are easy to turn off. They don’t have a built in reason for listeners to keep coming back. In fact, it is so much easier for listeners to give up on interview podcasts because there is no through line, no guarantee of quality from episode to episode.
On radio, our success is built on developing a relationship with our listeners. Their loyalty comes from the confidence that you will provide the kind of content they are interested in. Building on that confidence in a way that listeners trust they can rely on you to entertain them with content that they aren’t used to coming to you for is a sign of true loyalty. Focus on the kind of digital content that does that instead of the digital content that is everywhere because it is the easiest to produce.
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.