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Listening, Entertaining and Grinding At The Center of Mark Schlereth’s Success

“I have a couple of different radio philosophies that I think just work. Ultimately I’m the one that turns on the mic so I’ve got to be comfortable with it. And it’s got to be authentic and entertaining.”

Brian Noe

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There are three core ingredients that fuel Mark Schlereth’s success in broadcasting — grinding, listening, and teamwork. He’s a worker. Mark prepares by breaking down NFL film so he has the answers to the test. He also listens. It’s one of the most overlooked skills in broadcasting, but Mark knows that listening is mandatory in order to actually have a real conversation. Finally, the three-time Super Bowl champ fully understands the importance of team. That goes a long way in broadcasting. Mark knows that it’s not just about him; it’s also about his on-air partner and what the listeners want to hear.

Mark is having a blast calling NFL games and doing his morning show on 104.3 The Fan in Denver. He oozes enthusiasm and passion for his gigs. We cover a lot of ground in our chat below. Mark talks about how Jim Lampley played a significant role in his career. He mentions a piece of advice from Colin Cowherd that resonated with him. Mark has an interesting reaction to receiving criticism from Dan Le Batard. He also talks about acting, consulting, and even uses the word extemporaneous. I was impressed because it’s three syllables longer than 95 percent of the words I use. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: Being from Alaska, what players or teams did you grow up rooting for?

Mark Schlereth: I grew up being a big football fan and rooting for the Steelers. That was my introduction. Funny enough when you grow up in Alaska, the Sunday morning game kicked off at like 7 a.m. It was kind of pre church. I’d get up early on Sunday mornings and pretty much every Sunday was the Steelers game; that’s the game we got. Then in the afternoons it was a Cowboy game. I’d watch the Steelers before we went to the church service. I just grew up watching Terry Bradshaw, Stallworth, Swann, Harris, Bleier, “Mean” Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, and Jack Lambert. Those were my guys. I fell in love with professional football and the Steelers.

The funny thing is years ago when I was still with ESPN, I’m walking through the lobby in Arizona, and Mel Blount is standing in the lobby of the media hotel. I’m walking with Trey Wingo and I’m like, oh my God, that’s Mel Blount, that’s Mel Blount. I’m such a big Steeler fan, right? I’m trying to act cool, but I’m literally like fanboying out. Mel Blount is every bit of 6’4, 270 and looked good. Mel Blount is a huge man. And he’s not fat; he’s just a thick dude. So I’m trying not to geek out. We walk by and I’m like let’s just not saying anything. He looks over and goes, “Hey, Mark. Hey, Trey. How are you guys doing?” I walk over and say hey big man, it’s really good to meet you. I’m a huge Steeler fan, blah blah blah. Meanwhile deep down inside I’m like (singing) Mel Blount knows my name. I’m trying to act so cool on the outside but deep down inside, man, I was freaked out because that’s your childhood hero.

I’m a huge Steeler fan. In fact my dad took me to one of the last games that Bradshaw played in. We stayed at their hotel and just stood in the lobby and got autographs. I became that guy as a kid standing in the lobby that all the Steelers wanted to talk to because I grew up in Alaska and they all wanted to come up and fish. I got to talk to all of my childhood heroes. It was just a phenomenal experience for me. When the Seahawks came into existence in ‘76, that was really the team that Alaska adopted. It was the closest in proximity but I just remained an ardent Steelers fan.

BN: When you think about your media career, did you ever think you’d be doing what you’ve done?

MS: Funny enough, when I first retired, I thought I would take two years off and then figure it out. I got done and literally within two weeks my wife was like if you don’t find something to do, we’re getting divorced because you’re driving me crazy. I just like to have work. I like to be busy. I like to be in the yard. I’m just constantly working. I probably spend two hours a day watching film and studying formations and defensive fronts and how defensive fronts tie to secondary and coverage. I just kind of geek out on it. I always have something that I’m trying to do. I like being busy. My wife was like you need to find something to do.

I actually did an interview with HBO. It was Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Jim Lampley came out to the house to interview me. They were doing a segment on injuries and all of the stuff you have to put up with as a player. We did this whole interview and it was great. Lampley was awesome. It was a great three hours or whatever we spent chopping it up. You know how they have the little sit-down interview after the piece runs that they taped. Bryant Gumbel was like so what’s Mark going to do now? And Jim Lampley goes, I have no idea what he’s going to do, but he should get into broadcasting because the guy can speak.

I’m not kidding you — I had no agent or anything — literally my phone rang 10 minutes after that aired on HBO. It was an agent that said ‘hey man, I can get you work’. So I was like all right, what the heck. I already had a deal with FOX to go do an NFL Europe game. He got me that. Then three days later I was on a plane to Bristol. I literally auditioned for a half hour, had lunch and they hired me. It was just that fast. I put in 16 years there in studio.

BN: Before Lampley said that about you, were you even interested in doing media?

MS: I really hadn’t thought about it. I had done a lot of public speaking — a lot of corporate motivational speaking and other stuff. I traveled around from grade schools to high schools to junior high schools, and always had a flair for it. I always enjoyed getting up and entertaining. That part was easy. I did a lot of radio here like my last couple of years playing in the offseason and just had a blast doing it. At the time it was Dave Logan and Scott Hastings. I just really enjoyed that part of it. But I really didn’t have a plan. It was one of those things where I was just blessed to have some things fall into my lap, and also to realize that I couldn’t sit still. I just had to be doing something. I thought that after 12 years of playing and all the surgeries and everything else, I thought I could just chill. There’s just no way I could have done it.

BN: What was your most challenging role where you might have sat there and thought ‘I don’t actually know what I’m doing yet’?

MS: Yeah, the funniest thing was my first show; I went out for a show in July — at that point NFL Live only did Mondays in the offseason. We have our production meetings. Then they’re like come back at six for makeup. I’m like all right. I get back over there. We go down to the studio and I have no idea what I’m doing; I have no clue. We’re all sitting in our spots and the producer says ‘how are you doing’? Great, everything is good. Okay, we’re going to go into the A segment here; after the host tees you up, make your comments to camera one. I was like okay, there’s camera one, I see camera one. Okay I’m good. Then they’re like all right 10 seconds to live TV, good luck. And that was it, man. At that point we were just doing live TV.

Frankly you learn things over time. Initially I was trying to script things out. Eventually you figure out what works for you. For me it was to just listen. My thing is I’m always going to be prepared. I am the son of Herb Schlereth. That son of a bitch works like nobody I’ve ever met in my entire life. I have picked up that wonderful trait from my father. I’m going to grind. Then ultimately my big thing was I might put down one word on a rundown that I want to get to, but I’ve just found the best thing to do is listen. Somebody may say something that you completely disagree with or that changes your whole train of thought. You’ve got to be willing to be extemporaneous and make it work. That’s one of the things that I’ve always done is I’m going to sit down here and I’m going to listen to you, and to you, and to you. Then we’re going to have a conversation. That to me makes it the most organic and the most real. That’s how I’ve always approached it.

BN: At The Fan you went from Armen Williams, who is highly thought of in the industry, to a first-time PD in Raj [Sharan]. What was that transition like for you?

MS: It was great. Armen and I are very close friends and so are Raj and I. Ultimately the one thing that has remained the same — I mean pretty much everything has remained the same — but the thing that really has remained the same is kind of the open door policy. There were things that Armen and I disagreed on when we started together. I have a couple of different radio philosophies that I think just work. Ultimately I’m the one that turns on the mic so I’ve got to be comfortable with it. And it’s got to be authentic. My biggest thing with Armen and with Raj has been it’s got to be fun and it’s got to be entertaining.

I learned a couple of valuable lessons when I was working at ESPN with Colin Cowherd who I think does an incredible job. One of the things that Colin said to me years ago was my show is called The Herd, it’s not called the caller or the texter, it’s The Herd. It really resonated with me. I learned this from Colin; I won’t put a guest on if the guest isn’t more entertaining than I am, or if the guest doesn’t have a bigger name than me. Why would I bring somebody on and bog down the show if that guy doesn’t have great information or doesn’t have huge name value?

Content is important, but if I’m on at 6:15 in the morning, 90 percent of the people driving to work are going to a job they really don’t like. It’s my opportunity and honestly it’s my responsibility to entertain them. I always think about it this way; I want somebody to be at work as they’re putting together their 100th widget and they’re like, that dude just made me laugh or that dude’s an idiot. I think that’s important. We’ll have good content. When we’re talking football, there’s nobody that can talk football with our show. But it’s got to be fun and it’s got to be entertaining. It’s got to be something to me that everybody feels like they get to be a part of. That’s just kind of how I believe in radio.

Radio can be the funnest thing you do and it also can be the biggest pain in the ass of anything you do. If you have the right format and you have the right partner. And I do, Mike Evans — I’ve worked with Greenberg, I’ve worked with Colin Cowherd, I’ve worked with some of the great radio people in the history of this profession — there is nobody better at running a show than Mike Evans. The guy is phenomenal. He just knows how to run the show and push my buttons and does not let me get away with anything. He challenges me on a consistent basis. It’s a great fit. It’s the reason we’ve been so successful.

BN: How did Mike earn your respect?

MS: Well first and foremost from day one there was a camaraderie and connection, a mutual respect. We had a lot of the same philosophical points when it came to how to do a radio show. Ultimately one of the things I said to Mike on the first day we worked together, I said your job is to run the show so I can run around in it. When it comes to doing a show, Mike has zero ego. He’s not worried about getting his shine. He’s not worried about getting enough airtime. He looks at it truly like my job is to set my partner up and let my partner run.

The thing I respect about him is he has an opinion. There are so many times I say to him, have you not learned anything over all of these years doing radio with me? You still don’t know anything about football. I’ll just bust his balls and he’ll come right back at me with stuff. There’s been this mutual give and take. That’s the other thing; nobody at the end of the day has hurt feelings. We challenge each other, but we’re doing a show. There is no animosity and nobody is getting hurt feelings. If I tell you you’re an idiot and you have no clue what you’re talking about, he’ll come right back at me and challenge me on things. I’ll try to explain how it actually works versus the way he thinks it works. We get into it that way. At the end of the day it’s authentic, it’s real, and we have a blast doing it.

BN: Could you work with someone who got hurt feelings easily?

MS: No, I grew up in a locker room. I played at the University of Idaho. My guys, I meet with them every year. I’m going next month to our Vandal reunion; it’s like year 24 in a row. Ten to 15 of us get together and they are the wittiest, smartest, most sarcastic people on the face of the planet. It was kill or be killed. You better learn how to survive; otherwise you’re going to get destroyed. And that’s how we operated. That’s just how guys show love to one another. I would have no patience for somebody who can’t handle that type of atmosphere. That’s just the way I’ve grown up. That’s the way I approached adulthood through high school football, and college football, and in the pros. That’s just the way a locker room works. I would have a really hard time if I had to be careful about hurting somebody’s feelings.

BN: [Laughs] Sure. The Man 101 bits are hilarious. What do you think about Dan Le Batard taking shots at those bits of yours?

MS: Dan Le Batard, I don’t care, he can do whatever he wants. If that helps his show, great. It’s always funny because anytime I put a Man 101 up there, I see a bunch of people tagging Le Batard. [Laughs] But whatever, it doesn’t affect me. It’s kind of the old lions don’t concern themselves with the opinions of sheep. I don’t care. My hobby is landscaping. It’s what I do. I’m constantly in my yard working. I’m competitive. I’ll let all my neighbors know you’re getting your ass kicked in yard care right now. I’ve occasionally left notes on my neighbor’s doors from my lawn to their lawn. Like are you okay, you look sick over here. Things are great on my side. I’m a gracious loser but I’m a terrible winner. I’ll let you know about it. But Le Batard can do whatever he wants. I honestly, I’ve done his show once or twice, I don’t have a relationship with a guy, I don’t really know the guy. But whatever floats their boat is fine with me. If it gives me more views and more likes and more people watching my stuff, then that’s great.

BN: How did you get into consulting for various NFL teams?

MS: Teams have enough respect for what I do as a broadcaster and what I did as a player that I’ve had the opportunity to consult for a couple of different teams. I’ve just enjoyed the heck out of that. It’s like coaching. It still keeps you really tied into the game. That part has been really fun for me to just kind of sit and pick on the philosophes. It’s funny; I was with a team two weeks ago. They wanted to talk to me about running the ball better. I said to this particular team, I go everybody says they want to run it better, but are you actually going to commit to running it better? I go I don’t know what it is with you play callers but you guys are funny to me. You’ll run it three times and net two yards per attempt, and you’ll be like aww fuck it, we can’t run the ball. But you’ll throw six incompletions in a row, and you’ll keep throwing the damn thing. I go I don’t fuckin’ understand any of you guys. [Laughs] Like what is that? This particular coach just started laughing. He goes it is so true.

BN: How did the acting stuff come about and do you see yourself doing more of it in the future? 

MS: I do it if people ask me to do it. I know my strengths and weaknesses. I understand staying in my lane and being a football guy. I enjoy doing that. I’m not trying to become an actor. So I really don’t give a rip. If something like Ballers comes up, then great. I have a blast doing it. It’s fun. It’s one of those things that’s challenging because I know that’s not my wheelhouse. The Guiding Light stuff came up just because the guy who was the casting director was a big ESPN fan. He just liked me on TV. So he said hey will you come up and audition? I did and they booked me. I went on a two-year run for a recurring role. My big joke is that show was on air for 72 years, it took me two years to get it knocked off air. It was a soap opera on radio and then 50 years on television and I got it cancelled. But yeah if the opportunity came, I certainly would do it.

BN: When you look to the future do you have any goals or anything specific in mind that you would like to experience?

MS: Not really. I love doing games so much and being part of a team. That to me is what makes it exciting. Calling a game, there’s so much that goes into it. There’s so much work, so much preparation that goes into it. The coolest part is you get to be with the team. I love being part of a team. It intrigues me. That everybody has to sacrifice for one another for our team and our broadcast to be good. It’s very much the same way it was when I was playing. I’m a Christian and love Jesus; what’s the first thing Jesus did? When he started his ministry he got 12 guys together. He got his disciples and collected his team. I’m just a big believer in sacrificing and leaning on one another and working together. Every Thursday I get on a plane and I just am so excited to go be together. I love it. My dad told me something when I was a little kid, find something you love to do and you’ll never have to go to work. Shoot, I’m 55 years old. All I’ve been doing is playing and talking about football my entire adult life.

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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