When you work with a guy for over thirty years, you get used to the consistency, but you have to know the conversation is coming. At some point, one of you will turn to the other and say that it’s over.
That is how I met Jay Davis. When Chris Baker told him he was ready to step down as Program Director of 98.1 The Sports Animal in Oklahoma City and retire, I reached out about the job.
Obviously, I am still working with JB and not in the middle of the country. While it didn’t work out the way I hoped though, Jay and I stayed in touch and remain friendly.
I wanted to feature him this season in our Meet the Market Managers columns, presented by Point-to-Point Marketing, because of that monumental shift he and his building are dealing with right now.
In this conversation, we discuss what happens in the moments after Baker made his announcement, how this political spending season could be different than in the past, and why his stations are have never had trouble finding good people when there is an opening.
Demetri Ravanos: The Sports Animal is experiencing its first change in literal decades. So let’s set the staff side for a second. How do you adjust to working with someone new when for so long you knew what you were dealing with? With Chris Baker, you guys had a good relationship that worked for a long time.
Jay Davis: Yeah, we’ve been very lucky here. Chris started with us in the early nineties. I got here in the late eighties, but he was a rock. Not only did he oversee The Sports Animal, but for many of those years, he was an operations manager. So his imprint is on our success here or at least a large part of it. He certainly deserves full credit.
He was great. I loved him as a coworker, but also personally, he’s a personal friend of mine and just a great guy. Enjoying his retirement is well-deserved.
The person who took his place, Robert Mueller, a guy we call ‘Cisco’, had worked for our company also for ten or fifteen years, and then he left us for six years to try some other things that he was wanting to do in the business. But again, he had been around our stations for many, many, many, many years, so he already had built-in credibility with the people on air, our sellers, and our clients.
There were a number of very, very talented candidates that we visited with for that job, as you know. In the end, he made the most sense for it in terms of just being able to come in with knowledge. There was zero learning curve. I mean, he could literally just hit the ground running on all these different fronts. So yeah, we’ve been very fortunate to have what could have been a very difficult transition be a pretty easy one.
DR: So one of the things that you and I talked about during that time was sort of the parochialism or perceived parochialism of Oklahoma City. Is Robert’s experience, not just in Cumulus but in a market like this one, a necessary thing? Does that familiarity and knowledge translate in the decisions a programmer makes in parochial market?
JD: Obviously, if somebody knows the market, it helps and he does know the market, our stations, our personalities, and our presentation. The Sports Animal is such a big radio station in town. It could have been an earthquake with Chris leaving. Instead, it’s just been more just of a transition. And it’s been a good one. We were lucky.
DR: So that day that it becomes public that Chris is going to retire and it’s found out in the building, are the air and sales staffs immediately coming to you with their ideas of what sort of knowledge or qualities the next PD needs to have?
JD: Chris was obviously so well-liked inside the building. I was happy for him. There’s no doubt about that. As you would imagine though, it was a two-fold thing.
It’s just like, “Oh, what the hell are we going to do? What’s that next?” Because he’s such a mainstay and a big part of what we do and all of our decision-making. Of course, there was an anxiety that came along with that.
The timing was something else. Cisco had been reaching out to me in the months prior to that just to say “hey, if you ever have something in Oklahoma City…” He was just looking to come back home. We just got lucky in terms of the timing of it all.
I was ready to tell people “Hey, listen, don’t worry, guys, we got to plan here. We’re not in as big of trouble as you might think.” We didn’t have that interim for too long where we had to worry or have client fears or sales fears or on-air staff fears. We were able to quickly soothe that tension.
DR: So it’s 2022 and one of the issues that I think every radio group around the country is talking about this year is obviously political spending. And I wonder, with you guys being in a pretty solidly red state, how does that affect spending in a state with so many assumed victories? Do you see less of a windfall than you could somewhere that is more competitive during these years?
JD: Oh, there’s probably some truth in that, but you know, at the same time, there’s still issue ads that are that could be meaningful. Listen, no one is counting it in the bank anymore. We’ve seen in the last two or three years, what you thought might have happened politically doesn’t happen.
We’re just now kind of getting into some of those ads. We’re receiving some dollars on the political front and expect to get more. So no, I don’t think so. But again, it’s such a crazy situation now. I mean, people are going to really want to spend to make sure their person wins because you can’t ever count on it.
DR: What about the way the changing media landscape affects that spending? With the pandemic, suddenly Netflix and Hulu and Disney Plus and all of these streaming TV services become every day parts of our lives and not luxuries anymore. Could you foresee more candidates spending on radio because it still has a widespread penetration that maybe traditional TV is losing?
JD: Yeah. I’d like to think that that’s true and that that could happen, and I do think you’ll see a little bit of a shift that way. Television has obviously been the traditional way that they have gone about it, but as it continues to be challenged in that way you mentioned, it certainly leaves it open for radio to maybe get a little bit better share than we’ve had in the past, especially with the stronger, more powerful, wider-reaching signals that that that would be able to provide both a frequency and a reach.
You know, in a candidate’s mind, it will just kind of come down to cost to some degree. I think people are going to continue to do TV no matter what because that’s all they’ve known. But to your point, I do think that we will see a little bit more headed our direction in this cycle, and hopefully in the coming months and years.
DR: So you guys have chosen not to pursue either Oklahoma or Oklahoma State as a play-by-play partner. Why has staying neutral in that way been the right play for The Sports Animal?
JD: Well, you know, those rights fees don’t come cheap. Listen, don’t get me wrong. We’re in the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State business.
We’re the flagship station for the Oklahoma City Thunder. So, you know, having both of those might be a hard thing to pull off just due to the commitments that come along with them.
Even if we’re not the rights partner per se for OU or Oklahoma State, we certainly are in the business of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State football. That’s what we do most on air. It’s something that I guess could always be considered whenever those rights come up, but they are expensive and you do have to weigh the value against the cost and make your decisions from there.
DR: In the sports format, Cumulus seems to have a lot of stations in markets your size and in your situation that are doing very, very well. There’s JOX in Birmingham and The Zone in Nashville. I mean, these non-major market stations where sports fandom traditionally was built on college sports and now pro sports is a relatively new thing.
Do you look at any of those stations as either a role model or a partner, someone that you want to be part of an information-sharing relationship with to help The Sports Animal evolve and grow?
JD: We do, yeah. I’ve had conversations with both Birmingham and Knoxville. Even The Ticket down in Dallas is a brand we look to, although they’re obviously a monster. But you know, we’re kind of a monster in our town.
We’re open to any and every idea that our infrastructure gives us access to obviously. We’re encouraged to reach out to other markets if they’re doing some things that we need to be doing. They’ve reached out to us as well. We are very lucky to have some very, very good support stations in our community of stations.
DR: How are you going about recruiting for jobs that are not on-air jobs right now? Sales, promotion, whatever? What is the best way for the broadcast business to reach young jobseekers?
JD: Well, again, I’ve been at these radio stations since 1989, and we’ve got very strong, very well-branded radio stations in the market. The Sports Animal is just omnipresent in Oklahoma City. The Cat is a heritage rocker that is just awesome. It is a great, great radio station and has been around for 45 years.
We get our share of people just wanting to put their foot in the door on-air, on the sales side, just to get into radio period. We haven’t seen, with the obvious exception of COVID, how that affected everybody else. In terms of calls or resumes we stay pretty in demand. We’re just lucky that way.
We’ve had these great radio stations for a long time and we’ve kept our top talent on the air. So we’ve been very consistent with what our presentation sounds like, looks like, etc. I think people see it as destination employment.
DR: I was thinking about this watching the NBA Finals last night. Crypto companies, whether it’s coins or exchanges, are spending a lot right now in terms of sports marketing, both on TV and live sponsorships. How about radio? Is that sector seeing growth for you?
JD: Well, we have not seen that yet. Now, that may come to Oklahoma later than it might come to New York or L.A. or someplace larger. I’m not sure. But we have not yet seen that. But again, this business is growing and expanding in so many different ways with, you know, with the advent of how important digital is becoming into our sales process and into what we’re doing for our clients. So, you know, any of these things, such as what you’re talking about or I’m sure destined to be here sooner than later.
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.