Podcasting and digital content are as hot as they’ve ever been. You could probably say the same for the Locked On Podcast Network, which produces more than 180 podcasts, covering the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, and major college sports teams. In terms of networks that have fully immersed themselves in the podcast space, Locked On is one the best when it comes to sports. It’s been a very successful model that enjoyed a 48-percent year-over-year growth and registered an audience of over 115 million listens and views in 2021. Times are good right now for Locked On.
But recently, the creator of Locked On, David Locke, who also serves as the radio voice for the Utah Jazz, saw a quicker and more aggressive path for growth. Locke and his team wanted to go all-in on two markets, and hire talent that could bring compelling and unique content to fans in those cities.
The move combines the podcast world and the digital world, bringing daily content centered around Minnesota and Atlanta sports. If a fan in Minneapolis prefers podcasts, there are two shows a day that are released on the Locked On Sports Minnesota podcast and YouTube pages. If a fan in Atlanta prefers digital video on YouTube, the Locked On Sports Atlanta page has multiple videos per day covering the Falcons, Braves, Hawks, Bulldogs, Yellow Jackets and the SEC.
“The thing about sports talk and what makes it so great, you’ve got entertainment, information and passion,” said Locke. “We’re doing post-casts, which are 10-minute postgame shows after every game in Minneapolis, and for the Braves and Falcons in Atlanta. I think that’s our passion we’re touching on there. I also think it was just a natural expansion. We have this incredible foundation and listener base with our team shows, and this seemed like a natural translation to the next spot.”
The expansion of the network with Locked On Sports Minnesota and Locked on Sports Atlanta is already showing a lot of momentum. But creating these brands took a lot of time, ideas, and the willingness to invest in multiple people in each market. The thing is, you don’t just make the decision to expand without a well-thought-out plan. Locke and his team first had to identify which markets they wanted to tap into. After speaking with a consultant, Locke decided Minneapolis and Atlanta were the best two sports to expand into first.
“Minneapolis is a unique market, because it’s been at the forefront of digital innovation with multiple other groups,” said Locke. “KFAN is a sportstalk beast that has done incredible, amazing work and has built up the sports audience there in a strongly provincial sports town. Atlanta is kind of a contrast, right? It’s the melting pot of several different markets. I feel like it’s the southern hub. It did have the unique circumstance of a particularly large amount of talent.”
Mark Zinno is one of the talents in Atlanta that Locke found and wanted to bring on. An Atlanta sports radio veteran, Zinno brings instant credibility to Locked On Sports Atlanta. But as familiar of a face and voice as he may be, the success of the Locked On Network was one of the biggest reasons why he wanted to jump into the new digital venture.
“I decided to join Locked On Sports Atlanta because it was a recognizable national platform and of course, the opportunity to be back behind the mic every single day,” said Zinno. “Plus, combined with the success of my Hazard Ground podcast, this was another opportunity to dive deeper into the digital audio space. Locked On was the first real company to be part of the digital audio space on a by-market basis. I’m so glad they’ve chosen to make a great sports city like Atlanta part of their footprint.”
Zinno isn’t the only talented host that’s been hired at Locked On Sports Atlanta. He has an entire team around him that has experience in the digital space.
“Tenitra Batiste is a rising star and I think the same about Jarvis Davis,” said Locke. “Jon Chuckery has done a great job there and was available because of the uniqueness with his night show. I think we’ve built a great lineup and have a unique marketplace that has a vibrant city with a lot of really good sports talk but a lot of recent turnover. We had a really good consultant that told us Atlanta was loaded with talent.”
All talent, be it in Atlanta or Minnesota, is brand new to the network, outside of Sam Ekstrom, who is the executive producer in Minneapolis. At one point, he hosted Locked On Vikings. Everyone had the familiarity of Locked On, but now they’re fully immersed in the network.
A huge development for Locked On was the integration of TEGNA in January of 2021. With TEGNA wanting to expand its footprint in sports, Locked On was the perfect platform to help it expand in the digital space.
“In both of those markets, there’s a massive TEGNA TV station,” said Locke. “You’ve got KARE in Minneapolis and 11 Alive in Atlanta that are powerhouses stations. One of our hosts in Minneapolis is Reggie Wilson who’s the lead sports anchor. And then Reg Chapman and Maria Martin are stars that we hope to integrate them as much as we can. TEGNA’s powerhouse TV stations matter a great deal in those marketplaces.”
It seems as though Locked On is in a great position to take another giant step. Consider that the brand already has several hosts with built-in followings that can serve as experts on each team in the market. That means the talent covering the teams in Minneapolis and Atlanta will extend past the crew that was initially hired.
“We’re seeing a rise with people in the car listening,” said Locke. “It’s audio and video that’s available to you all the time. The beauty of on-demand is the power of it. You’re going to see it become more and more a part of people’s listening habits. I really think it’s going to be listening through different mechanisms than they’ve been used to listening.”
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.