I have been thinking for the last three days about how exactly I wanted to write about Chris Vernon and his Masters update. If you are a sports fan and have spent even a second on social media since Thursday, you have heard the phrase “Thass whass goin’ on at Uh Gussah!” followed by the obligatory “brrrip brrrip!”.
The versions we got on Thursday and Friday, recapping rounds one and two, were admittedly way too long, but hear me out. The bit just might be perfect.
Back in ye olden days of radio, what was the only goal of content? It was to be memorable. If what you did was memorable, people would want to hear it again. They would want to make sure their friends heard it. String together enough memorable bits, conversations and interviews and you could create an army of fans that would go out and evangelize for you. Pick out any shock jock from the 80s and 90s. That was the formula for all of them.
Fast forward to 2022, and “be memorable” has morphed a bit. Now, the goal for content is to be shareable. Memorable is just part of the equation, and that is where Chris Vernon got things so right.
My relationship with golf is very similar to my relationship with video games. When people ask if I golf, my answer is always that I will, but I’m probably not the right guy to ask. If they insist, I tell them that the only way they are going to enjoy this is if we treat it as something we do because we’re hanging out. Literally any expectations beyond that, and I am not the guy you want to play with.
It’s not just playing golf either. Just like with video games, while it isn’t my thing, I understand why golf is fun for those that are playing, but I will never get what is fun about watching someone else play.
So to say that my interest in The Masters was low is probably overstating my interest in The Masters.
Chris Vernon and his crew, which included a bumblebee, a dog, and a walrus, put on a show. His rapping and their dancing oozed fun. I don’t care what the leaderboard standings were and I loved it. People that lived and died with Tiger Woods’s place on the leaderboard loved it too. It didn’t matter how you felt about golf, cheap pimento cheese sandwiches or the color green. We were all in on the joke.
Sports radio could use some inherent silliness from time to time, and Vernon delivers on the regular. That’s not to say he is always silly, but there is a reason that so many people in Memphis followed him when he left radio to create exclusively digital content. He can recognize a situation that is ripe for parody and plan out how to make the most of it.
Remember, this is the same guy that, according to SEC Network’s Spencer Hall, brought an accordion to SEC Media Days for years, because Nick Saban told him in an interview that he had taken lessons when he was a kid. My understanding is that Alabama’s sports information staff would routinely steer the coach away from Vernon’s set up after that.
The Masters has its devotees. I don’t get why, but it does. That is undeniable.
What I do understand is why there is a legion of fans that wait for April to hear Chris Vernon drop his latest Masters Update. For so many of us, it is the real “tradition unlike any other”. He has been dropping them since 2017.
Vernon found a clever way to localize a national event. It sounds right. The beat and the delivery is a perfect recreation of Three Six Mafia, 8 Ball and MJG. It sounds like the city that chants “Whoop that trick!” as a rallying cry for its NBA franchise.
He created a style perfect for haters and devotees to enjoy equally. The gold chains under a green jacket are something Augusta National members would recoil at. It’s something the rest of us, even the ones that pine to be members, can laugh along with.
Every second of the videos the group created is absurd. Who is the joke on? Does it matter? It is just funny, and that is why we want to share it. That is why the video gets shared all over the internet and referenced on SportsCenter Sunday morning.
Funny, memorable, shareable. That is the formula for creative content in 2022. Chris Vernon nailed it with his Masters Updates. Smart hosts, producers and programmers can’t recreate it verbatim, but they can study why the bit works so well year after year.
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.