It’s an age-old question in sports broadcasting. What do I put on my radio demo tape to get a job?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. It depends on the sport you’re doing, the amount of actual broadcast tape you have and what job are you going for. Sounds complicated, but once you cut through it all, it will become a little clearer for you.
I find myself in this situation right now, sending out demo tapes for Major League Baseball jobs. For the first time in a few years, I am without a team to broadcast. It meant updating my website and putting together fresh tape from the 2020 season. I have a little bit of time to refine what I have on my tape and to try and understand what it is that PD’s and team broadcast directors are actually looking for.
The task of putting together a tape after a full-season of broadcasting, whatever sport you call, is a daunting one. You have so much material to work with, so how do you sift through it all? During the season, I find myself “starring” things in my scorebook during a game. I then will listen back to those innings I deemed “star worthy” and go from there. My star system doesn’t always include what I think might be my best stuff.
Let me explain.
I realize that big home runs and walk-off wins are a dime a dozen. I want to find other things that showcase my skills as a play-by-play announcer. Maybe something made us laugh, maybe I brought up a great piece of trivia and so on. Sometimes that “best inning” may not be the one to send.
How can we be certain what it is to send? Well, I enlisted a few expert decision makers in the industry, on the radio side and the team end of things to help share some insight on the process.
To illustrate my point, Mike Swanson, the Vice President of Communications & Broadcasting for the Kansas City Royals offers up what he wants you to send.
“For me personally? It’s not just sending what they think their best few innings of work was,” said Swanson. “Though time consuming, I really prefer entire games and a couple of them. I get a feel for entire game rhythm, the ups and downs of a team’s play,” he said.
Swanson says there are a variety of things that he’s listening for in a prospective broadcaster. “First and foremost an excitement in his voice that remains relatively constant throughout the game,” said Swanson. “If there is a dip in enthusiasm in a game, then how can I be convinced he can do it for 162 or more? Also, knowledge of the game and its lingo. Don’t go overboard with the cliches, try to have some originality and don’t impersonate other announcers, Lastly, let the game breathe a little. You’re not being paid by the word and you can allow the crowd or stadium ambient sound cover for some pauses in talking. Announcers that just go and go and go kind of wear me out.”
Mark Chernoff of WFAN in New York, who oversees the Yankees broadcasts on his own station and the Mets broadcast on sister station WCBS-AM has some specifics that he wants to hear too.
“Best to send an inning where something exciting happens but I also get to hear how the game is handled without exciting moments,” says Chernoff. “I’m also wanting to hear if the announcer has a sense of the field and situation (one out, two men on—first and third—score is tied, it’s the bottom of the fifth, etc.), Then want to hear if the announcer is able to follow the ball and what else is going on (ball rolls to the fence, one-man scores, one guy is on third, cut-off man throws to second, etc.). I will also look for some ‘banter’ either with the other announcer or how one handles things when solo.”
Makes sense doesn’t it?
The former Vice President for Communications with the Angels, Tim Mead, who now is the President of the Baseball Hall of Fame has heard countless tapes over the years.
“When I listen to the submissions, I think a good fan can, sans the radio or tv voice, call something exciting, and they may stumble a bit but you can get excited,” said Mead. “I wanted to listen to the 90 percent of the game where there wasn’t action. I didn’t just want to hear highlights, I wanted to hear an inning or two of that Tuesday night in the 3rd week in April, where it’s 10-0 and you just have to pull out your best stuff to entertain and get through the next seven innings because it’s 10-0 in the third. I really listen to that,”
He even told me, over the years, broadcasters have sent tapes with their team on the losing end to showcase what they can do in those situations.
So, the bottom line is this is a very subjective industry. Radio and TV in general are all about who is listening and what they might be listening for, right? How do you sift through it all? Chernoff has a bit of advice for you.
“When putting together a demo, always listen to it yourself and critique it. If you’re not happy with it, it’s doubtful who you’re sending it to will like it,” he said.
The other bit of advice is how the PD’s or broadcast directors want to receive your demo.
“In this world of links that’s how I prefer to receive the audio. Hell, I’ve got a computer that I’d have to get an adapter to use a CD or DVD,” Swanson told me. Chernoff agreed, “Send me a link that’s easy to receive so it doesn’t take up endless space on the computer.”
It’s a difficult task to produce your specific demo for your specific sport. That’s understood. Nobody said this was going to be easy. Mead says, it’s not easy for those listening either.
“What always popped out to me and I really believe this,” said Mead. “I don’t think anybody can anymore tell you why you didn’t get something as opposed to why you could or did. Especially when you listen to 130 (demos). When you make one decision over 130, I will tell you the baseball analytic guys will tell you that you missed a talented person in 129. You feel good about the hire, but there was somebody else out there.”
Hopefully armed with some new knowledge, you’ll head back to the drawing board and listen, really listen to what you’re putting out there. It could be the difference in getting that dream job or not.
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.