If I say the word “luxury,” the average Joe may think of a yacht or a five-star hotel. If you’re in radio, the word “luxury” elicits thoughts of one thing – stability.
Stability is exactly what ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 enjoyed with its afternoon drive show. Fred Faour and AJ Hoffman hosted The Blitz for more than a decade. But that stability ended in July, when Hoffman left the Houston station for a new opportunity in Las Vegas.
“We could count on them to do great radio for us for over ten years,” station owner David Gow told me. “And so it was a bit of a surprise when AJ came in and said that he had this really exciting opportunity. It was right in his wheelhouse and he had the chance to move to Las Vegas and be part of the growth in gambling content. So, yes, it was a surprise.”
When change is required, some allow the pressure of the moment to cause them to panic. But that isn’t what Gow did. Sure, there’s always some trepidation when dealing with “what comes next,” but David chose to think big. He had a chance to take a brand with great history in its market and inject new life into it.
He started thinking about the next chapter of ESPN 97.5 and 92.5, and what it needed to look and sound like. It’s what convinced him the time was right to build an entirely new afternoon show.
To make the idea a reality, Gow started first by looking inside his building. He was fortunate to have a talented fast rising star in Jake Asman who he was able to move over from SportsMap Radio, which he also owns. The next part of the process included bringing in Texas native Brad Kellner, who had been part of the afternoon show on 104.9 The Horn in Austin, and adding Houston sports radio veteran Cody Stoots who had previously hosted for SportsRadio 610 and Gow Media’s sports brands. The new program would be built around three hosts, all with different backgrounds, each under the age of forty.
Though youth may be a great building block, Gow says that it was the individual talents, not just their ages that give him confidence in what they can create for the station moving forward.
“With those guys, we’re picking up three personalities who will be very strong in radio. They are formatically tight, and they are deeply knowledgeable about sports, especially the Houston teams,” Gow said. “In addition to being strong in radio, they are very digitally savvy. They do a great job of taking the content that they create and pushing it out over all the different platforms. Obviously that means Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but also YouTube. These guys are content creators who will reach audiences in many different ways.”
The new afternoon show has been titled ‘The Wheelhouse’. It’ll launch on Monday August 16 at 3pm. The program will be given four hours per day to make its mark on the local sports radio audience.
Giving an established brand new life doesn’t end though with changing just one day part. Gow also looked at his midday schedule and recognized an opportunity to strengthen the hour by hour programming, while creating a new sound for Joel Blank’s program, the former Rockets broadcaster who has been with the station for several years now.
To create a new identity, Gow and his team decided to bring in Jeremy Branham as Blank’s new partner. The move puts Blank in position to become an even stronger igniter with his opinions while putting the responsibilities of the ins and outs on Branham’s plate, something he’s very skilled at executing.
“Jeremy’s a real pro. He’s the voice of the University of Houston. He is very savvy about topic selection and understands how to run a show. We think pairing him with Joel will help us create a very strong show from Noon to 3, one that has the potential to be one of the best shows in Houston.”
Blank and Branham’s new show will be called ‘The Killer B’s’, playing off each of the host’s last name’s and a popular term among Houston Astros fans during the Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran years. Joel and Jeremy, just like ‘The Wheelhouse’, will also hit the air on the 16th.
The next chapter for ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 is all about connecting with the city’s most passionate sports fans. Gow insists that the station is “committed to local shows and local programing” and though most of the attention right now will land on the two new shows, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 still boasts some of the most familiar and successful talents in the market in Lance Zierlein, John Granato, and Charlie Pallilo. Former afternoon co-host Fred Faour will also continue with the station in a newly created position as the brand’s Sports Betting Analyst.
An important part of the station’s growth moving forward will depend on forming stronger relationships with city’s local teams, media members, and sports fans. Gow says that he and his staff are committed to continuing to build those connections in order to bring fans the content they want and expect.
Though local will still be the focus, Gow knows that there are also certain benefits that come along with being an ESPN affiliate. It’s a partnership he intends to take full advantage of.
“One of the great things about the ESPN brand is that we can bring high profile national voices and perspectives on our airwaves to talk about our local teams. We look forward to voicing our own local opinions, but we also want to include those national voices in local conversations when sports news warrants it.”
Change is never easy. But sometimes circumstances make it a necessity. In this case, a career opportunity for AJ Hoffman made David Gow rethink the present and future of ESPN 97.5 and 92.5. It led the brand to four new voices, and two new shows with a lot of talent and promise, which the Houston sports radio audience will have a chance to judge for themselves starting Monday August 16th.
But writing a new chapter isn’t always easy and long-term successes don’t get measured on Day 1 reactions. There was a time when Houston listeners wondered if The Blitz would work out. Over a decade later, those questions have been answered. Now it’s up to The Wheelhouse and The Killer B’s to make sure that the station’s next chapter is as exciting as the last.
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.