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Would Programmers Hire Sports Radio’s DeShaun Watson?

“I talked to five program directors. I offered them all anonymity to answer a simple question.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Peter Aiken/Getty Images

No criminal charges made it easy for teams to justify their pursuits of DeShaun Watson. The newest Cleveland Brown still faces civil lawsuits from 22 women accusing him of sexual misconduct. All we have to go on is the fact that a grand jury chose not to indict. Whether that means he is innocent or there simply was not enough evidence to press charges is irrelevant. No charges means no charges.

That is the legal standing. With those civil suits still open, we can’t say that DeShaun Watson has been completely cleared. He isn’t the first NFL player to be accused of mistreating women and he won’t be the last. But, here are the Cleveland Browns betting their mortgage on a 22-team parlay that this will all blow over.

Professional football and radio are two very different worlds. One thing they have in common is that if you have talent and can make a difference in winning whatever game it is you are playing, there is someone willing to weigh the pros and cons of hiring you.

I talked to five program directors. I offered them all anonymity to answer a simple question. This is a competitive business and there are few sure things anymore in radio. If you had the chance to hire someone with the same upside and same baggage as DeShaun Watson, what kind of answers would you need before you made your decision?

Some were clear that even charges were too much of a red flag to risk their brand’s reputation on. 

“I would need him to be cleared of the allegations,” one told me. “I personally wouldn’t be comfortable paying and standing behind someone who has that kind and that many allegations. Twenty two? WAY too much smoke.”

Okay, let’s forget the 22. Let’s just say the guy had a history.

“I want to put my head on the pillow at night,” the same programmer answered. “You don’t have to be a Saint, but that’s a bridge too far for me.”

A different PD told me that as soon as the issue comes up, he would start asking questions. He would want to know how his staff felt, how advertisers felt, even how his wife felt. Those answers would be important, but that wouldn’t be the end of his process.

“I think my most important thing would be the conversation with the man to see if there was any remorse whatsoever and see if he understands the severity of the situation,” this PD said. “At the end of the day I don’t think I would be comfortable pulling the trigger.”

Two of the people I talked to said it isn’t even a conversation they would be interested in having. Their bars would be too high to think they could realistically be cleared.

“I’d stay away unless I was completely convinced there would be no other incidents,” said one.

Another said not only could he not see himself wanting to bring someone with that kind of baggage onto his staff. He couldn’t see anyone in the industry being willing to justify hiring someone that you would constantly have to defend or make excuses for.

“Our talent has a constant and indelible connection to our communities,” he said. “There has to be a comfort and trust level there to make that work. That’s a completely different dynamic than an athlete playing for 60 minutes on 17 Sundays a year.”

Okay, I will give this PD that. Being an on-air presence five-days-a-week for fifty weeks each year is very different than “60 minutes on 17 Sundays a year.” But let’s not pretend this idea is so farfetched. People hire assholes all the time. Sometimes it comes after asking a lot of questions and getting the right answers and good information. Other times it is as simple as hiring the asshole is what whoever was doing the hiring wanted to do.

Right now, you are probably thinking of someone that did something terrible or said something racist on air that got a second chance. Maybe they even got a third. This happens in our industry.

There was only one person that I talked to that I walked away thinking they would be genuinely open-minded when presented with a situation like this. It didn’t mean that this PD gave me the impression that he would be a definite yes. He just seemed more open to the idea that someone with tremendous history and potential could be worth it.

“At the end of the day, talent always wins and I’ve always believed in second chances,” he said, “but if you’re going to lose key advertisers and also key members of your team, you’ll need to honestly evaluate if the risk is worth the potential reward.”

So now, let’s say whether the PDs want the guy or not, he has been hired. Maybe their boss thinks there is just too much money to be made to take a moral stand. I asked everyone if that were the case and the guy was going to be on your air, how would you want him to handle the accusations and charges against him?

It is easy to say that doing anything short of not at all acknowledging them is a mistake, but we live in the age of Google and Twitter and email. All of those digital tools make it very easy for someone else to control your story if you don’t do it yourself. So what is your plan?

“I’d want them to be willing to address it to the extent that they can legally,” said the PD I thought may actually be open to hiring this hypothetical broadcast DeShaun Watson. “Other than that, you have to simply move on. If this talent ends up ultimately being very successful, most people will forget about what happened in the past. People have short memories and in general love a ‘redemption story’. There’s a long list of athletes and celebrities who have rehabbed their images and flipped the script on the court of public opinion.”

The first PD likened his approach to the way Craig Carton addressed his return to WFAN. He noted that the charges were not at all similar, but WFAN and Carton didn’t try to run away from the issues they knew people wanted to talk about. 

“I don’t think you can avoid his past. It’d be disingenuous and insulting to the listeners. I’d want him to publicly address it immediately.”

One PD I talked to had trouble settling on an answer. His initial thought was that of course you would want to get in front of the story, but maybe the answer isn’t that easy.

“On one hand I would want him to address it and ensure everyone that’s not who he is and that he will show and prove that he is worthy of the spot, and then on the other hand if you bring attention to it, then it’s back in the headlines,” he said.

Unfortunately, rarely are PDs judged on whether or not they do the right thing. Maybe a better way to say it is that the right thing for a PD to do may not always be the thing that is easiest to live with. After all, these jobs are about winning ratings battles and generating revenue. If an asshole can do that better than a guy that would never hurt a fly, you cannot simply dismiss the asshole without putting yourself at some risk.

Personally, I wouldn’t bet on it, but maybe that one PD is right. Maybe there is no way a programmer or GM in radio even has to do this much math when presented with a candidate with tremendous upside and just as much baggage. I would like to live in that world if you are dealing with someone accused of doing the things DeShaun Watson is as often as he is accused of doing them. 

That’s not even about morality. That is about never feeling like you are safe. That is ultimately the choice the Browns have made. If it nets them an annual spot in the playoffs and even one AFC title, maybe the Haslem family and Kevin Stefanski will be comfortable with ever really be sure their franchise QB isn’t about to blow everything up for someone he met on Instagram.

All it takes is that happening one time and everyone loses their reputation and most of them lose their jobs. Is that a risk you can live with if you are pulling down radio thousands and not NFL millions?

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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