It’s been a dream offseason for sports radio in Jacksonville. Sure, the Jaguars had a lousy 1-15 record last year, which gave the franchise its 11th losing season in 12 years, but a new quarterback and head coach has created a content bonanza for on-air hosts unlike anytime the city has experienced before.
The big sell for hosts such as Mike Dempsey, host of Jaguars Today on 1010 XL, is hope. The hope that the combo of Trevor Lawrence and Urban Meyer can turn the team from worst to first.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of hope the past 12 years. There’s just been one winning season,” said Dempsey. “Having an accomplished collegiate coach helps, but Trevor Lawrence is the big prize, even more so than Urban Meyer. Jags fans have been laser focused on Trevor Lawrence coming to Jacksonville. So yeah it’s obviously been our #1 talking point. In terms of sports radio, it’s the best one you could’ve hoped for. Trevor Lawrence alone would’ve been great, but having Urban Meyer along with him has created the perfect storm.”
In every NFL market across the country, the biggest talking point leading up to next week’s draft is ‘what will each team do with their first round selection?’. Well, that’s the conversation everywhere except Jacksonville, where it’s a forgone conclusion that the team will select Lawrence 1st overall. With the suspense gone, you might think that could impact local interest since Jags fans already know the name that’s going to be on the card next Thursday. But so far, that hasn’t been the case.
“Well, that’s just about Trevor Lawrence, the Jags still have the 25th, 33rd, 45th and 65th picks in the draft,” said Dempsey. “For instance, Houston doesn’t pick until No. 67. The Jags have five picks ahead of them. There’s a lot of intrigue about what they’ll do with the 25th pick. I think it’s a unique circumstance, this is just one of those times where you know Trevor Lawrence is good. There really aren’t any articles out there suggesting they take someone else with the top pick. Nobody is playing around in the mock drafts.”
“The excitement level that he brings makes it easy. We can talk about Trevor Lawrence every day and we do. It never seems to get old. You had the Sports Illustrated story come out last week, so everyone’s trying to dig into psychological motivation, for how much he loves football and all this kind of stuff. There’s always topics to help pass the time. It’s something that’s been known for a while, yes, but it’s the most exciting thing that’s potentially happened to the Jacksonville Jaguars.”
What’s fascinating is that interest with the Jags hasn’t seen a major dip after 11 losing seasons in the past 12 years. It’s arguably helped content and ratings. Fans always have strong ideas on how to better run the organization. Whether the team is winning or losing, the local sports station’s airwaves are a perfect place to express that passion. If you lose that emotion, that’s when you run into trouble. But amidst the misfortunes, passion remains high in Jacksonville with the lone pro team in town. Creating content off of a losing team has not been difficult.
“I don’t think it’s that hard,” said Dempsey about creating content around a losing team. “I can always look at ways to improve the team or what they could have done differently. I think sports radio is easier when a team is bad, rather than when they’re good. It’s more fun when they’re good, don’t get me wrong, because the whole city is on fire, but people react more when they are unhappy. When things are going great, the phone lines don’t ring as much. Their reaction is to sit back and listen. People want to get on the phone and complain and tell you how they would fix things and I love that. As a sports radio host, you love that passion.”
Jaguars Today is a two-hour show every weekday from 10 a.m to noon EST that focuses exclusively on the Jags and the rest of the NFL. Dempsey, along with Tony Smith, provide a daily escape for the Jaguars fan that’s looking for smart, honest, and informed discussion on their team. But even though the NFL is a content giant, there are times when the biggest story in sports is outside of the shield. That can create a tricky situation. Does a show dedicated to football switch gears and address things that are happening in another league or sport, or continue serving what the audience expects?
“If it’s a major story that everyone in the sports world is talking about, we can touch on it for a few minutes,” Dempsey said. “It’s not like we’re going to get fired. We try not to stray, because we know the people that are coming to us feel like we are their NFL and Jaguars oasis, year round. You’d be surprised with how infrequently I feel like, man, I really wish I could get that in. You can always spin something that happens in other sports and make the equivalent to the NFL. As popular as the NFL is, it’s not an issue for content.”
I don’t think there’s a rule in sports radio where you can talk too much football. That’s why a football-centric show like Jaguars Today will continue to have a strong and loyal audience. The fact that Jags fans are underrated in the NFL when it comes to rowdiness only adds to it. It’s like a perfect ratings marriage, made even more special by a soon to be combo of a can’t-miss QB and national title winning head coach. Hope is once again the sell.
Dempsey loves what he does every day, regardless if Trevor Lawrence is the ultimate bust or the ultimate savior in Jacksonville. He’s patrolled the airwaves during a 1-15 season, as well as when the Jags were minutes away from a trip to the Super Bowl. Dempsey is confident, that, regardless of the outcome, the passion will always be there with the fan base, including outside of football season.
“I don’t know what the perception is around the league, but they’re a rabid bunch and they love talking about their team,” Dempsey said of Jacksonville football fans. “It just goes to show you the power of the NFL. Even a team that’s 1-15 and has had as many losing seasons as they’ve had in the past dozen years, it can dampen the enthusiasm but it can’t put it out. Jaguar fans are a passionate bunch. If nothing else comes across in this interview I hope that does. This is a much aligned fan base in terms of attendance and passion.”
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.