Being the executive producer of a show comes with a lot of duties. There is the prep. There are the drops that need to be deployed at just the right moment. There are guests to book. Before you enter your booth and take a seat behind the board, you have already put in more than a full day’s work.
Once you are in the booth though, there is plenty more to do. All of those duties mentioned in the previous paragraph are important. You owe the hosts you work with your very best. That’s how you can guarantee they are set up for success, and after all, that is the primary function of the producer.
A producer that is truly giving his or her very best has an obligation to be the show’s single most engaged listener. I call the position “the show’s ultimate P1.” He or she is the listener that not only hangs on the host’s every word. He or she is the only listener in the market with the ability to influence what is being said or talked about.
It isn’t a job that can be done passively. I asked two friends in the producer’s role how they handle the aspect of the job that is all about living in the moment. How much do they trust their host(s) to know how to deliver quality content and how much do they step in to steer the ship?
“We have long 20 minute segments and a conversation we thought would take off doesn’t, so I won’t wait the full 20 minutes to let it run out,” says ESPN Radio’s Evan Wilner. The producer of Keyshawn, JWill and Zubin told me that working with three hosts and extended segments means he has to always think on his feet and make snap decisions about how the conversation is unfolding.
“If something isn’t working I’ll give the hosts a billboard and play a production montage to help us transition to a new topic so that the show can continue to move at a good pace. That’s why listening is so important because this could work both ways. If we had one topic planned for 20 minutes because we think it will be a great discussion and it doesn’t, we need something to move to or if something that was planned for two 10 minute discussions and the first one is takes off, we won’t just change to something else just because it’s in the rundown, we’ll let the hosts keep going.”
Alec Campbell produces the Adam Gold Show, which airs across North Carolina, but originates from 99.9 the Fan in Raleigh. For him, thinking about how the listeners are best served is part of building your show clock.
“My boy Los Medina down in ATL once told me ‘make the clock work for you,'” he says. “I know when we have the most listeners and we’ve customized our clock to that. Adam and I have a general show format that we think works so we already know how we’re going to execute the topics of the day in different segments.”
Being the ultimate P1 for KJZ doesn’t mean Wilner thinks he is the only listener that gets a say. In a time when so many shows have decided to eschew phone calls, Wilner says they are helpful for him to know where the audience’s pulse is on a topic.
“I’m not one who believes because people are calling everyone is listening,” he told me. “But I do believe that if our phone lines light up then we must be doing something that people find interesting and adding callers opinions is worth changing a rundown for when the callers are adding to the conversation or making us think of something differently than we may have before.”
Wilner also sees part of his job as making the conversation sound natural. That isn’t always easy. What conversation with your buddies includes pausing for sound clips? How often do you stop a discussion of homemade steak rubs for a quick word from Progressive?
It just doesn’t happen in real life. Wilner doesn’t expect guys trying to have as natural a conversation as possible to think that way. That is why as producer, he does a lot of butting in that the listener will never hear.
“I’m a big believer that the billboard needs to fit into the conversation as much as possible so I will be very vocal in the talent IFB to read the billboards at certain times so they fit into the show naturally. For example if we are talking about Game 2 of the NBA Finals and it airs that night on ESPN Radio with a billboard attached to the game, I will make sure the billboard is done within the conversation of the game instead of a random spot in the rundown where we might be talking baseball instead of the NBA.”
Campbell told me that he is trying to keep the listeners’ attention for as long as possible. That is why he needs the sound of the show to change regularly.
“We know that we have to keep things moving more than ever today so most segments are generated to be fast paced because we know we need to jostle the listeners attention every few minutes. This is done by changing subjects and using production elements like sound bites, drops and effects. I think sound and production are a really important part of jostling the attention. We try to use as much of that as possible every day.”
When you are a producer that focuses on pace and making the most out of shorter segments, it can affect the way you feel about all kinds of content. Campbell says he doesn’t value guests the way he used to because he has a particular pace he wants to maintain. Not every big name can help he and Adam Gold accomplish what they are trying to.
“I’d rather use a sound bite from something somebody said and form a segment around it than have a guest. That way we can intro the topic for a couple minutes, play the sound bite, and then react to the soundbite all in a pretty succinct fashion. Before you know it we’ve jostled you three times. Boom. Segment.”
Producer is one of those “ain’t no rest for the wicked” kind of positions It can be very easy to feel like you never have the opportunity to turn off. You’ll be convinced that every second you aren’t thinking about the show is a second you have wasted and can’t get back. With that kind of schedule and mentality, I asked Wilner what is the best way a host can show a producer his or her appreciation.
“There is nothing better than when a hosts recognizes you on air and says ‘this point our producer Evan put in the rundown or brought up during the show is really interesting’ but I know that’s not going to happen all the time. So for the me the best way to show recognition is honestly just mentioning something in your rundown or using a stat you provided to support an argument,” he answers. “Even if I am the only one who knows that the information I’m providing is helping I think that’s showing recognition. They don’t always have to say my name or credit me for something I provided for them, just using it is good with me.”
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.