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How I Find The Perfect Talent

Ryan Maguire explains what he has learned the traits of his ideal talent are after 30 years of trying to assemble station lineups

Ryan Maguire

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30 years.

9 different markets.

12 different stations.

7 different companies.

No photo description available.

Sports media is what I’ve spent the bulk of my life doing, and it’s been a passion project.  I’ve had a plethora of bucket list experiences.  However, the best part of my journey has been the opportunity to discover and mentor so many different talents.  I’ve been fortunate to work with many unique individuals who are, to this day, enjoying success on national or major market stages.  

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at many conferences with both aspiring professionals, and seasoned veterans, of our industry.  Once we’re done comparing thoughts on our fantasy football rosters or talking about how our favorite teams are doing…the discussion inevitably shifts to one question:

WHAT KIND OF TALENT DO YOU LOOK FOR?

Having spent almost my entire career as a Program Director/Content Manager, I’ve developed a set of criteria for the kind of individuals I’d want to hire.  As the sports media landscape (and media landscape in general) has changed, my take on this question has morphed along with it.

So, for my first Barrett Sports Media piece, I thought I’d give everyone a snapshot of what my ideal talent would be like.  

If I could create a sports-talk talent for 2021 that we could win with, they would have the following traits.  Who knows, maybe this can be Elon Musk’s next pet project…right after he builds that Starbucks on Mars and pushes Dogecoin to $1.

THEY CAN TELL ME SOMETHING THAT I DON’T KNOW OR HAVEN’T HEARD

Go channel surfing on any given day and you’re likely to hear many of the same things being said over and over and over.

It’s nauseating.

Woman in toilet | The Pulse

The world is SATURDATED with sports media.  Now more than ever, standing out is at a premium.

I want to hire a person that tells me something I don’t know or haven’t heard someplace else.  

Working in Chicago (as I do) the hot button topic this week was the Bears drafting of Ohio State QB Justin Fields.  Everyone had a take on it.  The people that stood out the most were the ones that gave me a reason for it being either good or bad that I hadn’t heard.  Maybe it was a story from his playing days or a stat that I wasn’t aware of.  Finding unique perspectives on the stories of the day are rare and difficult to come by.  

THEY HAVE LED AND CONTINUE TO LEAD INTERESTING LIVES.

If your life’s work is your only hobby, you probably aren’t going to be ideal for me.

If you want to make it in this business, you must be an interesting person.  People who have had many different life experiences (regardless of age) tend to be people that I look for.  I want someone who is perpetually curious and has used that curiosity to explore what the world has to offer. These are the kind of people that draw an audience.  You feel compelled to listen to them. 

One of the first things I do when I interview a talent candidate is to find out just how interesting they are.  It can be a complicated process.

The one thing you NEVER want to do, is put people on the spot by asking things like:

“So, tell me a bit about yourself.”

“What’s the best concert you ever went to?”

“Tell me about the most amazing experience you had in the business.”

Those types of things are rarely top-of-mind and candidates often struggle to give you answers.

I’ve learned to get people to open up to me by opening up to them first.   For example, I started one job interview by casually telling the candidate about a new bourbon that I had sampled at a dinner the previous night.  The candidate then went into how they had toured the Jack Daniel’s distillery once and how amazing the experience was.  I then segued into telling them about my last trip to Lexington and we started comparing cities we had visited and our perspectives on each locale.  In about fifteen minutes of casual conversation, I found out exactly what I wanted to know.  

THEY CAN TALK THE TALK OF GAMBLING.

This criterion is one of the newest additions for me.  

As we slog towards the inevitability of sports gambling being legal in all fifty states, the prerequisite for a successful sports-talk show host needs to include knowing the ins and outs of handicapping…at least at the basic level.

Yes, gambling is a vice, but it’s one that the ideal sports-talk talent should partake in responsibly.  Why?  Well, because every other sports fan is, and you must know your audience.

Over $21 billion was wagered in sports handicapping in the US in 2020.  Yes, the same 2020 that saw the nation’s economy ravaged by the COVID induced recession.  The advent of app-based gaming in states where it’s legal has made throwing pocket change on parlays as easy as tapping 1-2-3.  

Leaning Online Sports Betting: How to Bet On a Football Game

The new revenue stream of sports gambling is a lifeline to sports media outlets who saw advertising vanish into thin air over the last 2 years.  Any talent I would hire would have to embrace it and help me make money.

THEY AREN’T AN ASSHOLE

Let’s face it. The media, as an industry, gave safe harbor to a lot of scumbags over the years.

Second, third, fourth, and FIFTH chances were given to people simply because they were good at their jobs.  

No matter what corner of the building you worked in, if your ratings were good and/or you were bringing in money, you could essentially do whatever you wanted.

I remember one co-worker, who knew I was gay, once called me a ‘c***sucker’ in full earshot of other colleagues.  As offended as I was, I knew that talking to my boss or HR about it would be a road to nowhere because of how much money this person was bringing into the building.  So, I just laughed it off and walked away.

Those days, thankfully, are coming to an end.  It’s just a shame that so many people had to endure what they did over the years.

I’ve always maintained that being great at what you do, in ANY walk of life, doesn’t give you license to be an asshole.  Our industry is no exception.  Anyone can have a bad day.  Ask anyone that’s worked with me and they’ve probably seen a few of mine.  That behavior can’t be the norm and the stress of being an on-air performer can no longer be used as an excuse.

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No one wants to work with someone who lacks basic social skills.  If you’re generally aloof or unpleasant to be around…there isn’t a place for you on my team, no matter how good you are.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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