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Things Are Going Better Than Joel Blank Ever Anticipated

“It’s certainly been a good time to do sports radio in Houston, because there have been so many topics that carried you through what our normal dead times are.”

Tyler McComas

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Houston has seen a lot of change over the past 14 months. James Harden was traded in January 2020, Carlos Correa signed with the Twins in free agency this week, and Deshaun Watson is heading to Cleveland. You could argue the three-biggest faces in the Houston sports scene from just 18 months ago are no longer in town. 

Change has also taken place at ESPN Houston in 2021. Most notably with the daily lineup. Joel Blank has been a long-time voice on the station and was admittedly nervous when he found out he was getting a new co-host. But he also knows that change is inevitable in radio. As changes were happening on his show, and during other time slots around him, Blank embraced the new future at the station. 

“I think like anything in life, change gets people on their heels a little bit and they start questioning everything,” said Blank. “But I think overall what we’ve seen is that we’ve got a really, really good group of people that have all found their niche. Everyone is in the right spot and we all truly get along.

“In the past, shows were kind of an island. Every show was their own thing and there was no overriding theme for the station and no marketing targeted to our demographic. It was basically, hey, you have your time slot, you do your thing. Now, we have everyone on the same page and everybody has each other’s backs and it’s been really fun to see the development of the shows and the new talent.”

When Blank was told his new co-host would be Jeremy Branham, he was very familiar with the name but the two didn’t really know each other on a personal level. That was the immediate hurdle for The Killer Bs, who are on the air weekdays from noon to 3 on ESPN Houston. But the two experienced broadcasters figured it out. And maybe even quicker than most people would have guessed. 

“I think it’s going better than I could have ever anticipated because I was apprehensive,” Blank said. “Not because Jeremy wasn’t good, but because we didn’t know each other. We lived in parallel universes where we were both doing sports and working for teams, but we rarely crossed paths. Suddenly, we were thrown together and told, hey, make this work. So for that reason alone, you have doubts on how quickly it’s going to come together and what kind of chemistry you’re going to have. It’s just been everything I could have wished for. For a long time on our station, combativeness is what everybody came here for. Now it’s taking a turn to where we can have a passionate discussion but in the next segment we can be on the same page and talking about a totally different topic.”

It’s incredibly comforting for a new host at the station to be welcomed by someone who’s been a longtime voice. Blank has made it a point to be friendly to all the talent on the team. 

“Joel has been through a ton when it comes to changes he has dealt with since the pandemic hit,” said Cody Stoots, co-host of The Wheelhouse at ESPN Houston. “One thing I know about Joel is if you have his back, Joel has your back. He will go to bat for his people, even when some of them are new to him. Joel’s passion for his teammates is fun to experience, especially when he’s comfortable enough with you to start giving you a hard time!”

“Joel does a great job at bringing true passion and unfiltered opinions to every show he hosts,” said Jake Asman, co-host of The Wheelhouse on ESPN Houston. “You can tell that he truly cares about the subject matter and doesn’t fake anything to his audience. It’s been great to work with Joel and be his teammate the last four years.”

It seems like all the major storylines that have come out of Houston the past two years have included some level of controversy. Sure, the Astros made a run at another World Series title last year, but the national storyline seemed to still be about the cheating scandal that rocked baseball. Then, there were the uncomfortable conversations about Deshaun Watson and all of the allegations against him. 

Those times are behind Houston sports fans. Especially when it comes to Watson and the Texans. For the first time in a while, it seems like the overall conversation can move toward football and building the roster back up. But even with that being said, Blank wasn’t complaining about consistently discussing all the drama with the Astros and Texans. 

“It’s certainly been a good time to do sports radio in Houston, because there have been so many topics that carried you through what our normal dead times are,” Blank said. “I think from a Texans perspective, I’ve said this all along, the Deshaun Watson situation was a black cloud that until he was traded, wouldn’t go away. But every black cloud provides shade and that shade is Jack Easterby. He’s still there and people are still bothered by it. I think it’s opened people’s minds that the rebuild can finally start. You can take a deep breath now and say, let’s just concentrate on football.”

Houston is a major market. The city has an NFL, NBA and MLB team, amongst other sports entities. But at ESPN Houston, there’s probably more of a different vibe on the sales side than what you would experience at other sports radio stations in large markets. The station believes in relationships with clients. Not that most major market radio stations don’t, but Blank was told when he joined the station his personal relationships with clients would go a long way towards his success. 

“Lance Zierlein, who does our morning show, gave me some advice when I left the Rockets and I came to do sports radio,” Blank said. “He said, you’re going to absolutely kill it, but the one thing you have to know when it comes to clients is, you have to treat them like they’re your friend and you have to develop a relationship so that you are friends. Because friends have a hard time saying no and walking away from friends. So therefore, the better relationship you can develop, and the more you can carry the torch for your friends, the more your friends will stay by your side through thick and thin.

“He’s been so spot on with that. So many of my clients are my friends and so many of my friends come back to me and say, hey, we’re seeing results because you speak from the heart and believe in us, therefore your listeners believe in you, and we’re seeing them come through the doors.”

The Killer Bs have a catchy new slogan when it comes to the Texans. “Embrace the Suck”. At some point, it feels like Blank and Branham will eventually put that on a t-shirt. That’s the main storyline moving forward: the after-effects of the Watson trade and what the franchise does moving forward. 

What’s not a major storyline is another deep NCAA Tournament run from the Houston Cougars. Thursday night, UH will take on No. 1 seed Arizona to move on to the Elite 8. No, the Cougars aren’t a blueblood hoops program, but they’re one of the more successful programs in the past five years, which includes a trip to last year’s Final Four. Yet, another run isn’t moving the needle much in the Houston market. 

“It’s crazy. Kelvin Sampson and I go way back,” Blank said. “We worked together for the Rockets. Jeremy is the play-by-play voice of the Cougars. It’s almost frustrating because Jeremy and I are both basketball guys at heart but the city’s just not that fired up about college basketball. It never has been. I think when the Cougars make these runs, they’re kind of blips. The number 1 story for us has been Deshaun Watson and the 1B story is Carlos Correa.”

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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