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Shan Shariff Is Learning To Lighten Up

“You can be really talented, you can be really funny, but you’ve got to pick the right topics to talk about.”

Brian Noe

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Shan Shariff has been in attack mode since day one. Before the sports radio host landed in Dallas morning drive 11 years ago, he wanted to be a play-by-play broadcaster. Shariff scalped a ticket with a friend to go see the Spurs and Nets in the 2003 NBA Finals. He used a tape recorder to record himself doing play-by-play of the game. Shariff used the dubbed audio underneath the game footage as his resume tape, which helped him land a job doing color commentating for the CBA’s Rockford Lightning.

From there the American University grad became the sports director at an ESPN affiliate in his hometown. Shariff is from Cambridge, a town along the eastern shore of Maryland. While hosting his own sports radio show, he also interned in Baltimore and later in D.C. All of that hard work helped Shariff land a gig in Kansas City. A successful stint in KC eventually led to a major market opportunity in Dallas.

How many people do you know that would go to an NBA Finals game and record themselves doing play-by-play? How many people do you know that would intern at bigger stations while also being employed as a sports director? The guy is a bulldog.

The interesting twist with Shariff is that although he’s hardwired to be dead serious about sports radio, he’s learned to loosen up and have fun on the air. We also chat about the best and worst parts of hosting in Dallas, butting heads with Ed Werder, and the only rule Jerry Jones has while granting interviews. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: What’s one of the more off-the-wall things you did early in your career to try to get established?

Shan Shariff: I flew out to Bristol to take a tour of ESPN with my mom. My whole plan the entire time was, I’m going to sneak into Bruce Gilbert’s office who was running the radio and hired Colin Cowherd and was in charge of Mike and Mike. I’m like I’m going to slide in here and impress him and sit down and be like I’m your next hire. Because at 20 you think you can do any effing thing in the entire world. You think you’re ready.

I snuck past security in Bristol on the tour, snuck into the office and Bruce Gilbert had just taken the job at 980 in D.C. for Dan Snyder. I’m like dammit. Scott Masteller I believe was the one who had taken his spot. I gave him the whole pitch like I’m here, this is fate, I’m sitting right in front of you, I’m sure no one else in the world has ever thought of this, this creativity. Because you’re supposed to do that with your cover letters and your resume tapes. I’m showing up here. I’m your next hire here in Bristol. And Scott did not hire me. [Laughs] It took a little while longer than I had hoped, but that was part of my grand plan in order to sneak in to ESPN Radio to get hired.

BN: Looking back at your career, what’s something that you should’ve done differently?

SS: It was probably a major mistake early in my radio career in Dallas when I was just trying to be myself, and be honest, and genuine. I let it be known that I was a Washington fan. I sang “Hail To The Redskins” to Jerry Jones after RGIII’s debut. There are listeners who never forgot that, never forgave that. That was a really dumb PR move.

I found at least for me getting older, my die-hard love of my sports teams kind of went away and Dan Snyder in D.C. really made that easier. I left rooting for Washington a long time ago and I root for Cowboys success because it’s better for us and the radio station.

I’m also kind of viewed as the more serious one on the show. Let’s get to the topics. I took broadcasting classes and had an agent and paid for the broadcasting seminars. I really wanted to be a student of it in terms of interviews and resetting and getting to the point of the topic and keeping it on the path. I was probably a little bit too serious with that where my producer and my co-host had been in DFW forever and there’s a lot more light-hearted radio here.

I’m used to D.C. and Baltimore and even when I was in Kansas City for a year. It’s like hey man, it’s a sports show. I would say I’m not going to apologize for talking about sports but that was probably a mistake. It took me too long to lighten up and joke around and get more personal every single day for four and a half hours.

BN: What are the best and worst things about hosting a show in Dallas?

SS: I think it has to fit your sports loves. I’m football first and NFL first. In Dallas, it’s Cowboys obviously. If you’re going to rank it: it’s Cowboys, Cowboys, NFL, then college football, and now it’s kind of morphed over to the Rangers, then the Mavericks, then the Stars. I’m not the biggest hockey fan, so that fits me in the pecking order. I love that I can talk as much football as I want, as much Cowboys as I want.

I know it sounds corny and cheesy but being on the Dallas Cowboys flagship and hosting a morning show and hosting the draft for them on the Dallas Cowboys Radio Network, that’s a big honor for me. I used to think I want a national show, I want to be on FOX Sports Radio or I want to be on ESPN and then you look up every Tuesday afternoon and your name is on ESPN anyway because Jerry Jones puts you there. You are national basically if you are on the Dallas Cowboys station. Getting the head coach access every single week. Getting Jerry, that would probably be the best part.

Bruce Gilbert took a major chance on me because of the success I had in Kansas City and probably because I stalked him and let him know I could make it work and adjust no matter what. These people in Dallas, for the most part, have accepted me and overlooked the early Washington root for them days and my more brash, aggressive, non-laid-back style. I would say those are the best things about hosting in DFW.

In terms of the worst, I mean early on for me it was a struggle thinking that me talking about my laundry machine blowing up could be half a segment, or a full segment. Troy Aikman called this a winner’s town so it can be tough if you’re not on fire, then you’re running out of some sports topics. The Rangers and Mavericks right now are playing on Bally Sports Network. Bally has had their issues throughout the country in terms of broadcasting their games. We’ve got like 50 percent of the freakin’ metroplex that can’t watch the games. It makes it hard, right?

First off the Rangers have sucked, so you’re talking about a sorry baseball team in a bandwagon town who likes winners. I like to call it LA Light where you have to have something going on. You have to give me a reason. You got things to do here. You’ve got people to see. It’s not Ohio. It’s not Pittsburgh where it’s going to be more diehard sports. You got to give me a reason to watch.

The Rangers haven’t done it. Fifty percent of the people can’t watch the Rangers. Same thing with the Mavericks. Then as I said the Stars, this isn’t a major hockey area so that can be a real challenge around here, which is why we need the Cowboys to give us some non-stop drama all the time, which they do.

BN: I know it depends on the town, but what would your advice be to a sports radio host who’s been drilled: don’t waste time, get to the topic, tease, all that stuff, but sometimes digressing and talking about your weekend badminton game is great. How would you go about telling someone how to feel that out?

SS: Well that’s a great question. Like you prefaced it, I think it matters on the town. If I was going to come here and start over from day one in Dallas, I would say let’s make it 75-25 sports to other. Some might say 70-30. The Ticket might go even heavier than that on the opposite side. I don’t know how it is in Boston. I don’t know how it is in New York.

I heard Mike Francesa the other day say we talk sports, we’re a sports show. But people want to connect. The thing I tell younger broadcasters is obviously work hard, be on top of your shit, and you’ve got to connect with likability and relatability.

If you have a 10-minute segment and you can do a seven-minute sports topic and throw in a great, worthy, three-minute off-topic from sports addition to that segment, then go ahead and do that. That would kind of be a 70-30 mix, 75-25. But learn the market and know the town. One of the guys on the station when I first moved here said here’s a Dallas Cowboy history book. You better know who Tom Landry is, you better know Bob Lilly, you better know Harvey Martin, you better know Drew Pearson because you make one mistake like that around here and you could be screwed. 

Learn the town, ask your boss, and you also have to be funny if you’re going to do that. Know what you’re talented in. If you’re a tremendous storyteller, tell more stories. If your life is chaotic and hectic and you’re willing to open up with it about your dating life or about how wasted you get on the weekends, go ahead and do that, but I would ask your boss the formula and what type of town it is.

BN: Do you ever have a plan with the non-sports stuff where you’re like okay, I could go with falling down while bowling this weekend, or I could talk about the stale sandwich I ate at Subway. What’s your process for picking topics that you think will connect best?

SS: A lot of this in my opinion, it’s about judgment. You can be really talented, you can be really funny, but you’ve got to pick the right topics to talk about. You have to know when to go back to the topic. That’s part of the training in terms of play the hits.

What’s your TSL? How often are people tuning in? How often are people tuning out? Then you’ve got to judge if this is a funny enough story. My co-host, RJ, thinks every effing thing he does is funny. He could sit there talking about blowing his nose and that should be half a segment. Well, what’s relatable? What can connect that everyone’s going to talk about? 

Daylight saving was a perfect example. Last week we were complaining about how it sucked that all of a sudden the clock changes. I’ve got a two-year-old. I’ve got to readjust his schedule. It’s awful. Then bam, the political world is talking about passing a Daylight Saving Time change and what’s going to happen with that. We brought it back up again. Everybody can relate to it. I can sit here and talk about how my life is different because of my kid, how all of a sudden dinner time is here, I’ve got to go to sleep it feels like a lot earlier. That’s an example of deciding when something is kind of relatable that everyone can identify with and you can tell your own personal story.

BN: When you’re interviewing Jerry Jones, are there any do’s and don’ts?

SS: Well, we obviously have a relationship with the Cowboys. We’re their flagship. The only rule there’s ever been there with Jerry is don’t get personal. Don’t make it personal. I’m not going to make jokes or comments about Jerry’s looks. It took 10 years for people to finally understand this, we have freedom with the Cowboys to talk about them and sensitive topics that other cities and other teams don’t grant their media, I don’t believe.

Jerry Jones had this story come out a couple of weeks ago about his PR guy that we all worked with for a decade, many people longer, in a voyeurism scandal. Allegedly taking photos of cheerleaders and up the dress of his own daughter. We never got one message about that.

Now, if we stepped over the line and made a joke or said something that you and your buddies may laugh at behind the scenes, maybe we’d get a phone call on that and I think we should. There is a line there. Jerry may have a daughter out there; that just came out. Never got a phone call. Never got a warning because Jerry Jones knows that 99 percent of the time all publicity is good publicity. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. That’s the only rule that there’s ever been with Jerry, don’t make it personal.

One time we got a phone call from Dalrymple the PR guy. After Jerry was on we were doing a follow-up recap and we said do you think he was lying? Was that a lie? Calling him a liar in that instance came across a little bit too personal. They weren’t thrilled about that but other than that, man, I can’t tell you other instances.

If we talk about sensitive issues like Kaepernick, the anthem, COVID, Jerry will let us usually have like a three-week span where we can ask whatever we want. Maybe the suggestion might be like hey, if there’s not another major development in this story, can you ask him about the Salvation Army or other work that he’s doing? Those are the only things that I can remember.

He knows the tough questions are coming. We have to ask the tough questions and I think people now realize that we’re no mouthpiece for the Cowboys because Jerry Jones allows us to say what we want.

BN: You locked horns with Ed Werder recently. What was the general reaction to that?  

SS: General reaction was I would say 98 percent support from our listeners. I like to fight, debate, argue, it’s part of the reason I went into this. Ed had been taking some subtle shots throughout the year about our access to Jerry and other media members not having the same access because Jerry wasn’t talking as much to reporters after games because of COVID. It wasn’t even my show, it was the show after me. I was listening to the interview.

I’ll be the first one to call myself out, our guys out, but if you question the questions that are being asked and act like we’re lobbing up softballs because of the relationship, I take issue with that. That’s why I got really pissed off at Ed.

I didn’t say anything the first few times he did it throughout the year because this is Ed Werder. I grew up watching Ed Werder. He’s been a Cowboy authority. I respect his work and his reports, but man, there’s only so many times I can let you go after the guys that I work with, man. Then we got to get into it. I got a ton of support from the listeners on that, thankfully.

BN: The Ticket recently won a Marconi for Sports Station of the Year and The Musers won a Marconi for Major Market Personality of the Year. What’s it like to go up against that station and a popular morning show when you’re in the same slot?

SS: Well it’s not fun. [Laughs] I was in Kansas City going up against WHB 810. We were the upstart 610. It was me and Nick Wright, Bob Fescoe, my buddy Mark Carman, Robert Ford was on the Royals coverage, he’s now the voice of the Astros, Jeff Passan was our baseball insider. We had a squad. We were hungry. We had a chip on our shoulder and we had a lot of success. 

There were times where I would beat Soren Petro, who was a major powerhouse on the station. I thought when I went to Dallas it’d be the same exact thing. I didn’t care that it was The Ticket. I didn’t care that it was The Musers. Again, I’m however old I was 12 years ago coming off great success. I’m like I might be the youngest morning show or drive-time host in the country in a top-five market. I’m feeling myself.

Then you realize the longevity and the success that they’ve had. It’s been a more challenging fight than I was anticipating, but you’ve got to acknowledge achievements and give respect where it’s due. I still view anyone that’s not on my airwaves as the enemy. I still have that mentality. But they’ve had their reputation I guess for a reason. 

I think they were able to benefit greatly from kind of starting sports radio around here and being one of the first stations throughout the country. Then being here at the beginning of the Cowboys run. One of the things you learn the most from them is longevity and how important that is in terms of keeping your lineup together. Those have been some of the experiences without giving too many compliments because I would never do that.

BN: [Laughs] What’s your reaction to 103.3 going away?

SS: [Waves] Bye. See ya later. That’s some of my Werder bitterness. Tim Cowlishaw decided to chime in so I guess he couldn’t save it with his show on there.

But in all seriousness, it’s kind of a sign of the times a little bit in terms of what’s happening with radio, with sports radio. I’m glad that we outlasted them. You don’t want to see people that you know lose their jobs but in the grand scheme of things, hey one less competitor, so see you later and good luck in the future.

BN: Ideally for your future, what would you want it to look like — you’re still young — what would you like to experience and accomplish?

SS: I would like to get even better ratings in Dallas. I’d like to consistently be number one over The Musers and The Ticket. That hasn’t happened during my overall run here. You’ve got to recognize the facts are the facts. I’d like to have even more consistent success at the top. Then obviously some stability. There are contract questions at this point in time because of COVID and advertising cutbacks. 

A lot of this is luck too. I need the Cowboys to go on a damn run. I need them to get into a conference title game. The most prime city probably during my 10 years here, the glory place to be in sports talk radio was Boston. If you have that Patriots run I think it’s going to be pretty hard for you not to crush it in terms of your sports radio, sports TV success. You’ve seen it with EEI and you’ve seen it with The Sports Hub, which is putting up stupid monster numbers.

My number one wish would be for someone to go — preferably the Cowboys because it’s a football town first — go on a hot run kind of like the Rangers did back-to-back years with their World Series appearances.

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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