Creativity used to be a must in the radio business. It didn’t matter which department you worked in. If you worked in programming, your goal was to develop the most unique and interesting content. If you were in sales, you took big, interesting ideas to clients. If you were in promotions, you worked with concert venues, local teams, and maybe record labels to come up with prizes listeners would do anything to win.
Let’s focus on promotions today, because while people still love winning free crap from radio stations, what we give away and how we give it away is less interesting than ever. How many times have you heard the sentence “this is a national contest” run at the end of a promo advertising that listeners can win $1000 on their lunch break? Surely we can do better.
No one will ever bat an eye at big prizes. The cost of living in the United States was already exorbitant long before we started talking incessantly about gas prices and inflation. If you want to kick a listener a hundred bucks just for calling when they hear the phrase that pays, trust me, they won’t care how long it took you to come up with the idea.
I do think it is fair to ask what the long-term payoff is for the station though. Big cash prizes will certainly stick with your listeners, but you can’t give those amounts away with ease.
Next time you need a giveaway you can build a promotion around but don’t have the budget to give away something of monumental value, consider looking inward. This business is so unique and in the eyes of the people that do not work in radio, it is something between a playground and a dream. It costs nothing to give your listeners a little bit of what we do every day. Why not try it?
Creating unique experiences for listeners will create dedicated fans for you. Think about all of the cool promotions you have heard over the years.
It is something Ryan Hurley has done successfully many times before. Whether giving away in-studio experiences or exclusive virtual chats with station talent or other celebrities, the ESPN New York program director knows that those prizes make listeners feel good and create a sense of loyalty in them.
“They walk away feeling like part of the family, feeling like an insider,” he says. “Those intimate connections really help bring people back to the station on a regular basis, creating loyal listeners.”
93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh is giving the listener that wins the station’s bracket contest the chance to co-host with Poni and Mueller in afternoon drive. SiriusXM gave a fan the chance to call half an inning of MLB’s All-Star Futures Game. When the Covid-19 pandemic canceled plans for the Carolina Hurricanes’ outdoor game, the team’s flagship station, 99.9 The Fan gave two listeners the chance to play their own outdoor game of NHL 94 on the jumbotron at Raleigh’s Carter-Finley Stadium with afternoon hosts Joe Ovies and Joe Giglio.
“There is no question that giving the audience a chance to be up close and personal with a talent is the connective tissue for creating the greatest value of building a fan for life,” 99.9 The Fan program director Sammy Simpson told me. “As the old Chinese proverb says, tell me I forget, show me I may remember, involve me I understand.”
We’re always trying to build meaningful connections with the audience, right? Being able to interact through social media and texts made connections easier than ever to build, but in a certain sense, it also made them a little less meaningful. Our listeners assume we are always available to them now. They are more disappointed when a host doesn’t respond than excited when he or she does.
Meaning comes not from connection, but from experience. Game tickets and t-shirts are nice prizes, but what do they do for the station? Those are benefits that only go one way.
Let listeners compete to be a part of one of your shows, even just for a day, and you are creating memories for them with your branding all over it. Something like that may not guarantee you have created a P1, but it certainly gets you closer than a gift card from Buffalo Wild Wings does.
“Tangible memories and events are tangible to people like money,” Brad Carson, program director of Memphis’s 92.9 ESPN told me. “What do people do when they go meet a star? They take a picture and they post it on social media. They do the same thing with this. I’m not trying to say that we’re rock stars or anything, but we’re part of these people’s lives.”
No matter the business, there is nothing easier to give away inventory. It’s why some stores will only give you store credit when you make a return. No one wants to take money out of the cash register.
Giving away prizes based on experiences at the station costs you nothing. Rarely are there hoops to jump through or elements you are waiting to get in place. On top of that, you can give away the station in a myriad of different ways.
You can give away an hour in-studio with a listener’s favorite host. You can give away an ad campaign to a local business. You can give away the chance to keep stats during a game broadcast.
There are bigger ways to do it too. Look at 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. That station did a search to give a listener his or her own show and discovered Darryl “Guru” Johnson, who years later, is a lynchpin of the lineup. Every station in America is thinking about unique digital content they can offer. Why not do the same sort of search to find a podcast host?
Radio is the entertainment industry in the eyes of our listeners. A foot in the door is more valuable to many of them than a lot of the prizes you have lying around.
It is more valuable to you too. At some point, a thing just becomes something they choose to either get rid of or keep. Your station’s name and how that thing came into the listener’s life fades from memory.
The chance to be hands on with a hosts and brands the listener loves becomes a moment they reflect back on. If you provide a truly memorable experience, it is something that lives with them forever and they go to bat for you whenever they get the chance.
“The fans tune in every day to hear our hosts’ opinions, share their joy and feel their pain,” Danny Zederman, program director of ESPN 1000 in Chicago told me. “There is a connection. Anytime we can bring a fan closer to his/her favorite talent we can create a memory for that fan that will have a lasting effect.”
Being in a studio and being close to the action is our everyday. We can lose sight of the fact that this is a pretty cool world to have a foot in. Start giving listeners a chance to be part of that world and you will be reminded just how cool and valuable it is.
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.