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The Secret Weapon That Took The Next Round to The Next Level

“Anyone can look at numbers on a screen and decipher if they are rising or dropping, but why are they doing that? I am a firm believer that you can’t answer that by just knowing your talent. You have to know your audience better.”

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The JOX Roundtable was routinely in the top 5 of the BSM Top 20. That came to an end this year when Ryan Brown, Jim Dunaway, and Lance Taylor decided to not only leave JOX 94.5 in Birmingham, but leave radio entirely. They have re-emerged as a digital powerhouse called The Next Round.

How did the show achieve the kind of success it is enjoying now? It wasn’t as simple as bringing every single listener from terrestrial radio with them. It was about making the right hires so that they could deliver the right content over and over again.

In a guest column for BSM, host Ryan Brown explains why it is more important than ever to know all you can about your audience. The show’s three hosts and producer Sean “Rockstar” Heninger deliver the content, but they have found a secret weapon that helps them build on their success every single day.

Enjoy!

Demetri Ravanos


Albert Einstein famously said, “Information is not knowledge.” Anyone who has worked in big corporate media probably has a variation of that quote. When I worked in radio, mine was: “Thank God we don’t get daily ratings like TV. I can’t imagine what crazy decisions most radio managers would make with that information.” I had the required experience to make that judgment. I worked for more than 20 years in radio and was in TV for most of those years, as well. I saw hundreds of those decisions made regularly.

For those that don’t know my background, I co-host The Next Round on a multimedia platform, a project I was part of launching last June with my co-hosts, Jim Dunaway, Lance Taylor and Sean “Rockstar” Heninger. Our daily show is available on more than a dozen different platforms. Radio isn’t one of them.

Sports radio hosts move on to The Next Round - HooverSun.com

Until June 16, 2021 we were the JOX Roundtable on WJOX-FM in Birmingham. WJOX is a heritage, well-known sports radio behemoth. It was easy to know our audience on that signal. The station was time-tested and well defined.

Who is your audience? This is an extremely important question for anyone in any form of media. I have been forced to ponder the answer to that question many different times, never more than June of 2021 when we launched a venture not many have undertaken. Sure, there are the Dan Lebatards and Pat McAfees of the world, but I am not certain of any group who has completely left local radio and tried to do a show on as many limitless platforms as possible, yet still remain local. Outkick 360 initially did so, but their plan was always to build back to some terrestrial radio.

When we chose to depart WJOX, we were faced with a new version of this question: Would a show similar to what we’ve been producing for more than a decade on terrestrial radio be suited for the exact same audience if we offered it exclusively on a digital platform? The short answer we found is: not exactly.

Finding that answer was not easy but the information was invaluable. We’ve found the average consumer of our product to be much younger, less male dominant and more national than our radio audience.

Any outlet needs a way to find its audience, our solution to that is Jon Lunceford. We are show hosts, Lunceford is a number and computer whiz. In our world, you desperately need both. We went from the world of average quarter-hour shares to impressions, subscriptions, downloads and views. It was a different world, one Lunceford knew and we did not.

Jon Lunceford (@jlunce) / Twitter

As an added bonus, Lunceford has a history on the air both at 97.3 The Zone and WJOX in Birmingham. It is truly invaluable having someone who understands your audience and knows what makes a quality show, as well. It is not hyperbole to say we literally could not have made the jump we did without Jon Lunceford.

Now, back to my original fear. How scary is it knowing your audience on a daily basis?

Well, now we do and I’d have it no other way. I’ve never worked in a PPM market so my best-case scenario was knowing what my average audience was one to three months after that audience actually existed. Helpful information, information we were judged heavily on, but far from perfect information. Now, thanks to Lunceford, we can know how many people are listening to any given second of the live show. We can know how many people have downloaded an hour in any given time frame. We know how many people listen and/or subscribe to any of our various distribution platforms and an incredible amount of demographic information about those people.

So, what was I so afraid of? I was fortunate enough to never work for a manager in radio that would have made rash decisions on daily or weekly ratings but I have a ton of friends in the business that do. Knowing your audience as well as you can is incredibly important. It is the only way you can give them what they truly want, which brings me to my two pieces of advice.

First, get yourself a Jon Lunceford. Anyone can look at numbers on a screen and decipher if they are rising or dropping, but why are they doing that? I am a firm believer that you can’t answer that by just knowing your talent. You have to know your audience better. Any successful form of media will only be as successful as the person that knows the analytics. Our group had a 20-year track record of massive success in radio but we would’ve never made it in our new world without Jon Lunceford.

Second, once you know your audience, give them what they want. That really shouldn’t be revelatory but for many, it will be. I’ve seen many hosts who self indulge by talking about things they love that aren’t remotely interesting to 95% of their audience. Just because you love it and have a passion for it, doesn’t mean your audience does. That won’t change no matter how passionate a host is.

I’ve heard sports radio and TV people say some variation of this: “If our audience knows we love it, they’ll listen to us talk about it.” That may not be the pinnacle of arrogance but you can certainly see the summit from there.

What we do isn’t exactly brain surgery but there is an art to it. While I agree you can’t be a prisoner to the analytics, you have to embrace them. Before you can embrace them, you have to know them. Social media loves to tell you to “find someone that looks at you the way…” If you want a show to flourish, find someone that looks at your numbers the way Jon Lunceford looks at ours. 

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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