Show prep looks a lot different for Jeff Cavanaugh than it did six months ago. Last year, while hosting at 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, he spent more time dreading preparing and filling his five-hour show than he spent enjoying it. It wasn’t a fun realization, but Cavanaugh knew feeling that way about his job was a huge problem. So instead of just pressing along and being unhappy, he did something about it.
On February 16th, Cavanaugh sent out a tweet that shocked many of his listeners. He announced he was leaving GBag Nation on The Fan in Dallas after 11 years. He explained his decision by admitting he didn’t have the same love for doing the show each day. It was a statement that revealed just how much he was struggling with the day-to-day grind of doing a five-hour radio show.
The official announcement came in mid-February, but the decision had been brewing for several months. Cavanaugh left without having another radio station or gig to fall back on.
“I would say it had been building for at least a year,” said Cavanaugh. “It’s a combination of things, the way that I left, I was friends with everybody. I don’t know how common it is to put in a two weeks notice and work the two weeks. I feel like normally in radio they just kick you off. But I knew it had just ground me down.
“Five hours a day and we were allowed to go off the sports page, but like anybody else, it needs to be mostly about sports. I just got to the point where I was trying to fill segments. Instead of doing something good, energizing, interesting, it just felt like work. And we’re lucky enough in our line of business that it doesn’t feel like work. For a long time, it didn’t. But it became a thing where I didn’t look forward to work and I knew I had built enough to do it another way if I wanted to.
“Like anybody I think there was an element of, when you get an offer from your company for your next contract, and you see what it’s going to look like, I did not think it reflected the value that I had and I let that be known. But I didn’t make that an issue on the way out, because money wasn’t going to fix it. Was there an element of disagreement on value? Yeah. I felt I was more valuable than they were showing me. That was probably the final little tipping point, where it was like, ‘ok, I’ll prove it. I’ll do it myself. I’ll build it.”
So Cavanaugh set out to bet on himself. He still writes about the Dallas Cowboys for The Athletic, Cowboys.com and D Magazine, but now he’s talking about sports on YouTube.
Looking back now it’s almost fate he decided to take his career in the direction he did. That’s because his introduction to talking about sports in the digital space happened by accident.
“It was accidental,” Cavanaugh said. “Like a lot of companies in radio, they came to the realization how important digital was and they wanted their on-air hosts to contribute with video. And it was like, ok, the file that I’m going to send is too big to email, so how am I going to do this? The answer for me was, I’ll upload it to a YouTube page and then send it. So they would post it on their own and get views for the website and all of a sudden I keep seeing subscriber numbers go up, and it said, ‘hey, do you want to turn on monetization? You’ve reached the level for that. It ended up being something that was good for them and for me.”
It’s easier said than done to leave a radio station, bet on yourself and become your own boss. Amongst many other things, you have to build an audience and know how to monetize your content. But if you can do those things, this may be the best time ever to try. Cavanaugh is a great example of that.
“I won’t close the door on radio if somebody agrees with what I think that job looks like for me,” Cavanaugh said. “I wouldn’t close the door on that, but I think the digital world, there’s so many ways to monetize it. You have to build a following first, but once you do, you can do that. You can do this without going into work. You can do this without a boss, between YouTube and Twitch and then you upload the audio to podcast formats and then you sell sponsorships. There’s a lot out there that can be done without working for somebody else.”
Cavanaugh’s new journey is only a few months old, but has he found the happiness he was looking for? He thinks he’s getting there.
Prep work isn’t dreaded anymore. In fact, prep work sometimes means asking his followers on Twitter what they care to hear about. He’ll comb through his responses and decide what would suit the audience best. It’s a brilliant way to go about selecting content.
“I don’t spend more than 20-30 minutes prepping anymore. It’s just the way my brain works too, because that’s the way I believe in doing it. I don’t script anything. I never have. Even with bits or a Jerry Jones impersonation. I don’t edit the stuff I do on YouTube either. I am very much a, what’s going on in your brain right now? Just say it. Just do it. It doesn’t have to be that I’m trying to prove something to you about this topic or that I have a strong opinion on this topic. It’s almost a podcast form. That’s more for me.”
There was a realization that struck Cavanaugh shortly after he left the station. Initially, he thought he’d be live on YouTube from 7-8 pm every night. Why? That’s when his old competitor, The Ticket in Dallas, was off the air. That way, he could more easily get guests from the station without competing with their local programming.
But then it hit him. His initial plan ran counter to why he left The Fan. He was leaving one structured format and creating his own.
“Within a week I said, no, that’s not what I quit for,” Cavanaugh said. “So no schedule, I record whenever I want and sometimes I do one thing a day, sometimes two or three a day, sometimes nothing. I have no structure to it and I like that.”
To be able to say what you want, when you want, however many times a day you want, is a dream scenario for any broadcaster. Also, it allows him to do a show with whoever he wants. Before, that wasn’t possible. Now, Cavanaugh dictates everything.
“Bob Sturm is a guy who, for my money, is one of the three best Cowboys resources on the planet,” Cavanaugh said. “I include myself in that category and I include my former co-worker Bryan Broaddus. But I want to be able to broadcast with them. I think that’s cool for the listeners. You can’t do that when you work in the same town for other stations. It’s not allowed. I want to do a show with my buddy Dane Brugler at The Athletic, because I think he’s the best NFL Draft resource on the planet. The Athletic and our former parent company Audacy don’t have an agreement and therefore we can’t have The Athletic people on. I want to be able to talk to who I want, when I want.”
I logged on to one of Cavanaugh’s YouTube shows earlier this week. Before he could even recount what Jerry Jones said earlier in the day, comments were pouring in on the live chat. I was incredibly impressed and took notice of how he interacted with all the comments. Instantly I thought, yeah, this is what he’s made for. And judging by the number of subscribers, I’m not the only one. As of last check, Cavanaugh has built a following to the tune of 29,700.
But what has Cavanaugh learned about developing a personal relationship with his viewers?
“It’s less about the sports content than it is about real life,” Cavanaugh said. “I forgot what the story was in sports, but it was something I decided to talk about on the air. It became emotional and it was where I almost involuntarily became a spokesman for all mental health topics, which is kind of weird but I’m totally down for it, because being an open book is way easier than playing a character. That’s where I learned the connection. People connected to me the last few years way more than the guy who started in radio eleven and a half years ago and hadn’t really figured himself out yet. It happened by accident and being a real person. Not by sports.”
So what’s Cavanaugh going to do today? Well, whatever he feels like. Same thing for tomorrow and the day after that. He left a world with complete structure and now has none. And that’s how he likes it.
But there’s no hard feelings towards The Fan. In fact, he says he’s close friends with a lot of the people in the building. But it is important to note that he was a talent doing five hours of radio a day and left because he lost the energy and passion. What can the industry do to make sure more instances of this don’t continue to happen?
“Ultimately, it’s nearly impossible,” Cavanaugh said. “Gavin (Spittle, the station’s program director) is a friend of mine and I left with no hard feelings toward him, the station or the team. It’s hard because it’s a company. It’s not like Gavin can unilaterally say, ‘You know what? You’re right. Here’s what you deserve and here’s what we’re going to do.’
“For instance, our parent company was in Philadelphia and they don’t know how I am. So I can say I’m worth this and my boss can agree with me, but if you want to really make something happen, you would be willing to have to go to war with someone that doesn’t even know who you are. It’s a hard part of the industry. Honestly, they might have viewed it as a positive when I left, because whoever replaces me, will do it for less.
“The goal is to win, not to save money. If I were a PD, my thing would be to hire creative, talented people and do the best you can to ensure they enjoy the structure they’re working in. And then get out of the way. That’s how you win.”
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.