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The Pros and Cons of Booking Guests

Jason Barrett




Booking guests is an exhausting process which can often challenge and frustrate sports radio producers. Some people love the thrill of the chase and some do not but most agree that when a high profile name appears on a talk show and provides good content, it can make a huge difference. It has also shown to pay dividends for radio stations when it comes to delivering ratings.

During my career I’ve been fortunate to be strong in this department and what I’ve learned is that persistence pays off and thinking big and planning ahead are critical to your success. While at ESPN Radio, I’d sometimes book 48 guests over the span of three six-hour shows and it was intense. Booking 48 guests didn’t mean we had a good show, it just simply meant we booked a lot of people.

wilsongottliebNow for that particular show (GameNight), the format was built around capturing quick post-game conversations and interviews with people all over the country on the biggest sports stories of the day and that’s a lot different than a weekday talk show where the focus is on topic building, connecting with listeners and conducting conversations with people who fit the stories we care most about.

The reason I was able to handle the workload of guest booking on GameNight had a lot to do with my mindset. I spent my first  years in this business working in a smaller market where I had to scratch and claw for every guest I got and I learned fast that if you want big things to happen you better be prepared to out-work and out-think people. Nobody cares about the challenges you have in front of you, only the results you deliver.

Jason On The MicBack then I hosted my own daily talk show about an hour north of NYC and I knew that I would be measured against every station in NYC so if I didn’t have big things in place then I stood no chance. I’d drive to Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Nets, Knicks and Rangers games and personally talk to people before and after games to build relationships. I’d also call team hotels, team PR people, agents, family members, memorabilia dealers, other media members throughout the country and anyone else who I thought could help me with landing people on my talk show.

When you’re in the producers chair, your host is looking to you each day to help them with enhancing the content experience for the audience. Telling a host that they should talk about the local baseball game from the night before is the equivalent of telling them that you know the sun is yellow. It means nothing and is going to be filed away in the filing cabinet of useless bullshit.

danpatrickcharliesheenHowever, I’ve yet to see a host walk in and hear that a well recognized athlete/coach/media personality has been booked for the show and they’re not excited. From local personalities to a high profile talent such as Dan Patrick, they all get excited when they walk in and know you’ve lined something up they perceive to be strong and it makes them feel even more confident in you as a producer.

Instantly their wheels start spinning with what questions they should ask, what subjects will generate the biggest reaction out of the audience and what possible material from the conversation will lead to further promotion for the show after it’s over.

If you’re really good at looking ahead, you can come up with tons of possible guest ideas to advance a story and help your show. Case in point, 8 years ago when I first worked in St. Louis I created The Guests Bible. This was a 16-page document with a list of current St. Louis athletes, former St. Louis athletes and analysts from all sports in different cities throughout the country.

I’d tell my producers to use the information in a timely fashion but to always be looking at it and thinking of when it could come into play and benefit them. If anyone on the list was booked and not good on-air I’d encourage them to alert one another so we don’t make the mistake of booking them again.

ithinkicanI believe so much of what gets accomplished with booking guests starts and ends with your attitude and ability to strategically game plan for success. Anyone can have a ton of numbers but they only matter if you know your contact list and if you’ve got the ability to think fast and use them when they matter.

Being persistent and recognizing the benefit a great guest can provide your show also plays a vital role. Too many people are beaten before they start because they view the responsibility as annoying or frustrating and they hate to have to chase people but whether you enjoy it or not, it gets your hosts and your audience excited and it’s up to you to come thru.

preachingRather than listen to me preach about it though, I’ve reached out to three people I know in the industry to pick their brains on how they view guests and their importance in talk shows and what they’ve done to help land them on their respective program.

What I think is interesting is that all three of these guys have worked in different markets and they each have a different approach and philosophy on why guests do/don’t matter. I hope you’ll find their responses as helpful and informative as I did.

Today’s featured experts are as follows:

  • Ben Boyd – Executive Producer – KMOX in St. Louis
  • Jonathan Libbey – Producer – 95.7 The Game in San Francisco
  • Bernard Bokenyi – Former PD/Producer – 750 The Game/1080 The Fan in Portland; WKNR in Cleveland; Sporting News Radio

prod-libvernonHow much do you love booking guests for your shows? Why or why not?

Libbey: When it works out, I love it! Especially when you land a big fish and you know how much time and effort went into it. The frustration comes when you hit a dry spell, or nothing seems to being going your way. But those periods ebb and flow and you can learn how to mitigate the tougher times as much as possible.

BoydBooking guests can be very rewarding but also very distressing. There is nothing better than landing a huge guest, but it is a what have you done for me lately business. You can’t sit back and enjoy your work for long because you have to book your next show. 

BokenyiFor me personally there is WAY too much of an emphasis put on booking “BIG NAME” guests on shows. There was no enjoyment for me efforting the big names as very rarely did you have results on them. Too often guests are viewed as a necessity to make great radio and that is not the case. You have to put way too much time into it and even when you book some athletes, the interview is awful as they don’t care to be spending the time. I would rather spend time developing unique content and focus on guests that will be good on air, no matter what walk of life they come from.

prod-boydmayweatherHow many calls, e-mails and texts do you send out on a daily/weekly basis in order to land great guests for your shows?

Boyd: I prefer to email and text people whenever possible instead of calling so they can read my pitch about coming on instead of just saying no or hanging up before hearing why they should join us. Whether I call or email though really depends on how far in advance I reach out to them. It’s hard to quantify how many times I reach out to people per day/week because it’s really a non-stop process because there is always another show coming up the next day/week.

Libbey: Depending how many guests I need for the upcoming week and how much I am able to look further down the road, I know I’ll roughly need to get out at least 7-8 requests per 1 guest spot I need to fill. More if I am aiming for guests I have no contact info on / haven’t had on before.

BokenyiI would send out well over 100 messages a week between emails, phone calls and other methods. You have to find multiple ways to connect to people. Twitter had yet to take off when I was booking guests but now that is another method of reaching out to people. You can’t just leave it at a phone call or two for a specific guest. Do they have a family member you can track down? Can you connect with that family member? Does the athlete have a charitable organization or foundation? There are so many ways you can make connections.

prod-bernardcalineodWhen pursuing A-List guests for your show, what are some of the avenues you explore to try and book someone?

Bokenyi: For current players/coaches, the first route will always be PR or the SID. As noted above, finding foundations is a great way to get an interview. You can go the agent route but from my experience, the results there are scarce. If you can’t get anywhere with PR, I would look at personal web pages, foundations, charities and social media. Something as simples as “Kobe Bryant Charity” as a Google search can get you plenty of options to look at. Find out what they’ve been involved with. For retired players/coaches, things are much easier. You can follow a lot of the same methods. Another route to look at is books. A-List guests will do media tours for books and that can be a great route to pursue. Get on mailing lists, the more the merrier. Any sports agency, publishing house, PR firm and beyond.

Libbey: Look for outlets who have interviewed the guest I want, and see if they can offer me insight into how they got them. i.e. is there another producer out there who has already done the leg work who I can get in contact with to help me? Look at the guest’s personal twitter, facebook, website, business, foundation, or charity for contact info or for something they might want to promote. Look for business / endorsement  partnerships the guest has that they could be persuaded to come on to promote. Any other reasons they may be interested in publicity? (upcoming events, charities, autograph signings, products)

BoydPublicists, Team PR people, Agents, previous coaches, media in the local market

prod-libreddickWhat are the biggest benefits of landing top flight guests on your show? 

Libbey: It energizes everyone associated with the show. It can drive excitement and energy for an entire day or even more, among producer, hosts, audience, execs, and others. It can deliver more of an impact than almost anything else the show can do. It can drive tune-ins, but also create buzz that makes people want to tune in. It also builds a lasting sense of importance, relevance, and cache for the show.

Boyd: One of the biggest benefits is the reputation your show can get — listeners who want to hear big guests will tune into your show. It also helps your relationship with your host because of how much pride your host has in his/her show. You are helping them to put out the best product they can, and they know you are working hard and want to be the best. Big time guests can boost the reputation of your station and yourself, and obviously can increase your ratings if you are able to publicize the appearance.

BokenyiI always wanted to challenge talent to be engaging and have fun and landing a quality interview can do that very effectively. In this day and age of digital media, the on-air interview is just the first step. That audio now lives forever through podcasting and social media. Get legs out of the interview. Make sure that it’s available for download as soon as possible. First of all you can encode audio to have PPM available for a window of time which can help with ratings. Second, you want people to know what they missed and to keep seeking it out. If somebody is not able to listen to your show live but can through podcast, what’s the difference? Yes you want to promote content, but keep in mind people have jobs, lives, commitments and your schedule does not always fit in to their lives. Allow them to fit your content into their lives and you will find success. 

prod-boydriceOnce a guest is booked, what else do you do as a Producer to take advantage of the opportunity?

BoydI like to promote guests on Facebook, Twitter, online message boards, etc. It is great if you can get a pro team to tweet out the appearance by their player, and it is always nice when a guest retweets your tweet to their followers.

Libbey: Publicize it as much as possible via on-air mentions, twitter, facebook, text alerts, etc. Try to generate as much buzz going into it as possible. Make sure hosts and producer are on the same page with what we want the spot to sound like and what we want it to deliver. Publicize and re-purpose any relevant clips from the interview on twitter, facebook, on-air, or via distribution to other pertinent persons / outlets.

BokenyiThe bottom line with guest booking is to know your hosts. Some are good at handling the young athlete that doesn’t really want to talk. Others have different strengths. To me, any interview you book must add something of depth to the show. There are plenty of A-list guests that won’t add depth if the interview itself is not engaging. The only time you should ever send out a press release on an interview is when it is regarding a hot topic that is current and will truly get people to say “WOW”. Test it out around the office. Grab a sales rep, intern, production person, traffic or promotions staffer. See if they give the reaction to something you want ESPN to get. You have to pick and choose however because you don’t want to overdo it. 

prod-bernardhulkHow often do you work in advance on guest booking? What’s your strategy when it comes to booking ahead?

Bokenyi: You have to always look at the upcoming opponents and games. For athletes and coaches, that is the only way to go, especially in season. You always however want to have a stable of interviews you are working on that are not necessarily time sensitive so you can have things to supplement what you are doing on a daily/weekly basis. During football season, you have to work at least a month ahead for your planning purposes. Depending on the guest, you may have to work even farther out. For example, if you want Richard Sherman during the 49ers/Seahawks week, you sure as heck better have been working on it for six months to make it happen during the week of the game.

Libbey: The day-to-day grind of short-term guest booking takes up the majority of the time, but I always want to have at least some long-term ideas / requests in the works. Always have some targets that are “evergreen” because they are relevant no matter what time of year. And also look ahead to upcoming games / series and target guests that are very difficult to get but would deliver a huge impact. When free(er) time presents itself, working ahead usually pays off, though it may take a long time for benefits to materialize.

BoydI always try to book ahead. I think most guests like when they are booked in advance instead of feeling like last minute additions. I always see what events are coming up on the calendar and try to reach out to people a few days to a week in advance. 

prod-libharrisonWhat is the biggest misconception of having a big rolodex or e-mail distribution list?

Libbey: That having a phone number or contact info for a guest means you can easily book that guest. The farther up the guest ladder you go, the less people want to be contacted directly. It’s a great feeling to get the direct number for a big fish, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will ever let you book them directly. You will still probably have to go through proper channels to get them to agree to come on. )But in a push-comes-to-shove or breaking news situation, it can come in extremely handy.)

BoydPeople think if you have everyone’s number, you will have no problem getting great guests, but it doesn’t matter what numbers you have if you can’t get people to respond. The biggest benefit to having a big rolodex is for breaking news. Big name guests are typically easier to get on when there is breaking news or when there is a big event like Hall of Fame inductions. 

Bokenyi: The term rolodex is a joke. In 2001, I worked at Sporting News Radio when we had Barry Bonds on. He originally called on his agent’s cell phone but the connection dropped. We had caller ID and I grabbed the first phone number. When the call cut off he called back from a different number, his personal cell phone. So as a good producer I grabbed that number. I now had Barry Bonds’ cell phone as a part of my “rolodex”. I gave the number to all of the guest booking crew so I could boost my ego and get a few “that a boys” from everyone. A few months later, a fellow producer tried to call Bobby Bonds and of course made the mistake of calling Barry. Needless to say he was a little unpleasant. The phone was on speaker and I heard the exact result of having Barry Bonds’ cell phone in your rolodex. Bonds managed to get about ten F-Bombs in during 20 seconds or so. Needless to say that phone number was changed within minutes. Point of the story – having a rolodex is silly antiquated thinking from years gone by. What you NEED is the ability to get the guest booked. Many current players, not even A-listers will tell PR that they got called directly so if you’re going to call someone directly, you better be sure it won’t jeopardize relationships that your station has.  

prod-boydjamesWhat advice do you want to pass along on guest booking to fellow producers who struggle at it or to someone who’s breaking into the industry and looking to learn it?

BoydThere are many different avenues of tracking someone down. I see too many interns/producers give up too easily when trying to find someone. Keep reaching out to other people who can help you connect. You can find out so much information online about friends/family members/high school or college coaches, and those people are usually willing to help set something up.

Libbey: Persistence is huge, don’t let yourself get discouraged, working ahead is your best friend, and creativity is massively beneficial. Creativity with guest ideas and also in terms of abstract / unconventional ways to contact people. Save the contact info of every person you ever have on or who helps you in any way. Don’t get lazy, always stay in the mindset of challenging yourself to keep expanding your rolodex and getting on people you’ve never had before. Build contacts with other producers and always be open to trading info with them, and in that way you can essentially double / triple your rolodex.

Bokenyi: Learn patience quickly! While you are working hard on big name guests, you have to find other content on a daily basis that will enhance your show. Being a producer is SO MUCH more than booking guests. That is just one part of the equation. You will have days when you land two great interviews in a day because it just works that way sometimes. You then may go weeks before your next A-list interview. To me, booking guests should be about 10% or so of what makes a good show. Now I know there will be plenty that disagree with me on that, but I speak from experience. As a young producer, find out more about your talent than the audience knows and find ways to get that out of them on the air. Push their buttons and be confident. Always do it with a smile and you will succeed.

The Key Takeaways:

  • Be persistent and be patient
  • Be active with a ton of requests and follow up
  • Know your contact list and use it in a timely fashion
  • Podcast and promote the interview even after it’s over
  • Know your hosts and what type of guests fit them best
  • Whether it’s annoying or frustrating, recognize its value to helping your show
  • Explore various avenues to book guests; there are tons of ways to book people
  • Don’t book people who just fill up segments, make the segment opportunities count

You can correspond with our three featured experts by reaching out to them on Twitter. Make sure to add @BenjaminHBoyd @BernardBokenyi and @Jlib21.

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Barrett Blogs

ESPN Has Made It Clear, Radio Is Not a Priority

“What’s unfolding now at the worldwide leader is disheartening because it could have been avoided.”

Jason Barrett




This is not a column I wanted to write. For years, I’ve expressed how much better the industry is when ESPN Radio is healthy. I’ve maintained friendships at the network, the company has supported our BSM Summit, and I reflect fondly on the few years I spent working there earlier in my career. It was a special place to work and I learned a lot about becoming a pro in Bristol.

But this ESPN Radio is not the one that I and many others were fortunate to be a part of under Bruce Gilbert. It is not the one that Traug Keller, Scott Masteller, and other radio-first believers oversaw. This current version lacks radio instincts, focus, passion, and care. That may be an opinion that folks in Bristol, New York, and Los Angeles offices don’t want to hear but the decisions made in recent years make it difficult to see it any other way.

ESPN Radio used to obsess over serving the sports fan, its radio affiliates, and network advertising partners. But serving the company’s television and digital interests is what matters most now. Relationships with radio operators have changed, interest in operating local markets has decreased, and though I’m sure some will defend the network’s interest in satisfying advertising partners, it’s hard to do that a day after the entire national audio sales team was gutted. Thankfully Good Karma Brands is passionate about the audio business and helping their sales efforts. If they weren’t involved, who would be leading the charge in Bristol?

I didn’t start this week planning to drop a truth bomb but as I sat here on Tuesday and fielded text after text and call after call, I couldn’t help but be disappointed and upset. This network has been a staple of the industry for over thirty years. Yet in less than ten it feels they’re closer to turning off the lights than celebrating success. That should not happen when you have the partnerships, history, and talent that ESPN has.

What saddens me is that it didn’t have to reach this point. ESPN Radio had chances to sell in the past to outside parties. They declined. Folks inside of Disney felt the network was worth more. Well, how’s that looking now? If the company wasn’t going to commit to doing it the right way, and was just going to cut its way to the bottom, why stand in the way of others who’d pay to save it? It’s eerily similar to what just happened with Buzzfeed News. The company thought it was better than it was, and within a few years, the whole thing crumbled.

If this were the first time the network looked bad, I’d go easier on them. I understand the business, and sometimes brands or companies make mistakes or have to make difficult choices. It’s why I didn’t bury the network when Mike and Mike ended. Though I knew replacing their stability in mornings would be tough, I felt the network had earned enough clout over the prior years to be given the benefit of the doubt with a new show/lineup. I also applauded the company for replacing Zubin with Max, defended paying Stephen A. Smith top dollar, and supported GetUp! when it was popular to predict the show’s funeral.

But how can leadership in Bristol expect radio operators to trust their decision making at this point? I’ve talked to network executives privately and publicly about these issues for years, and have been told repeatedly that the radio business matters to them and becoming more consistent was a priority. At some point though the actions need to match the words. Unfortunately the only consistency taking place is change, and it often isn’t for the better.

I’ve lost count of the phone calls, texts, emails and direct messages I’ve fielded from PDs, executives, market managers, and ad agency professionals who’ve asked ‘should I be doing business with this network? Can you help me rebrand and redesign my radio station without ESPN Radio?‘ Yesterday alone I took five calls including from two who have expiring deals coming up. Think they’re in a rush to extend a partnership given what’s going on?

If you turn back the clock, some will say that things began to go in the wrong direction when Bruce Gilbert and Dan Patrick left. Though those were big losses, there was still a lot of confidence across the industry in ESPN Radio after they left. The early signs of issues at the network really started in 2014. That’s when Scott Masteller and Scott Shapiro departed. Masteller went on to program WBAL in Baltimore, and Shapiro teamed up with Don Martin to strengthen FOX Sports Radio.

Fast forward to 2020, and the heart and soul of the network, Traug Keller retired. Traug had more in the tank when he signed off, and when I talked to him prior to his exit, he denied being forced out or having concerns about the future direction of the network. Those who know Traug, know that’s he’s a class act and not one to air dirty laundry. But I also know he’s smart. As I look back now, I can’t help but wonder if he knew the ship was headed for an iceberg. I have no doubt that the network would be in better shape today if he were still there.

After Traug’s exit, a year later, Tim McCarthy was let go in New York. The network even cut ties with longtime voice talents Jim and Dawn Cutler, though they stayed on the company’s top stations in NY and LA.

Though I hated to see all of them go because they were good at their jobs and valuable to the network, the one that made a little more sense was Tim’s exit because that had more to do with Good Karma taking over in New York. Tim has since landed with the Broadcasters Foundation of America, and Vinny DiMarco is now leading 98.7 ESPN NY, and I’m a fan of both men.

But now here we are in 2023, and once again, the folks being shown the door are the people who dedicated their lives to radio. Among the casualties, Scott McCarthy, the network’s SVP of Audio, Pete Gianesini, Senior Director of Digital Audio, Louise Cornetta, Digital Audio Program Director, and two good local sports radio programmers, Ryan Hurley at 98.7 ESPN NY, and Amanda Brown at ESPN LA 710. All of them good, talented people with track records of success in the format. I struggle to explain how ESPN Radio is better today without them.

By the way, I haven’t even touched the talent department yet. But let’s go there next.

In less than eight years, ESPN Radio’s morning show has featured Mike & Mike, Golic & Wingo (Mike Golic Jr. and Jason Fitz were added as contributing voices), Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin, and Keyshawn, JWill and Max. Middays have included Colin Cowherd, Dan Le Batard and Stugotz, Scott Van Pelt, Ryen Russillo, Danny Kanell, Will Cain, Mike Greenberg, Jason Fitz, Stephen A. Smith, Bart & Hahn, and Fitz and Harry Douglas. Afternoons have been a combination of Le Batard and Stugotz, Bomani Jones, Jalen & Jacoby, Golic Jr. & Chiney, Canty & Golic Jr. & Canty and Carlin. I could run down the changes at night too, but you get the picture.

As a former programmer and current consultant, I know that radio is a relationship listen and investment. You can’t build an audience and attract sponsor support for talent and shows if the product constantly changes. Most PDs or executives who make this many changes during a short period of time, usually aren’t around very long. Yet ESPN has allowed this to continue, which leaves me to question how much they value their radio network.

Look, I’m sure this is a tough week for those in management at ESPN. Having to tell folks they’re not being retained and watch friends say goodbye is a crummy part of the job. I’m sure some have even fought to try and avoid this bloodbath. But when the news comes down from up above that 7,000 jobs are being eliminated, it’s not a question of whether or not people are talented and valuable, it’s simply about the bottom line. I feel for the folks at ESPN who have to deliver the bad news this week but also for those who are staying and now have limited support around them to make a difference.

By decimating the radio department there are now bigger questions to be answered by Jimmy, Burke, Dave, Norby and the rest of the management team. How much does ESPN value the radio business and the stations they’re in business with? If most of the people who’ve built relationships with local stations are gone, talented programmers are being ousted, talent changes happen far too frequently, and the company becomes less involved in local markets, why is anyone to believe this space matters to ESPN? What exactly are stations gaining from partnerships besides the use of four letters and the opportunity to air play by play events?

The network expects these stations to provide them with inventory, rights fees, branding, promotion, and clearance of certain programs so isn’t it fair of stations to have expectations of the network too? Don’t radio network partners deserve consistent quality programming, relationships with managers who prioritize audio, and less negative PR?

Most who I talk to about this situation believe the network’s glory days are gone. That’s fine. Just because this isn’t the ESPN Radio of 2005 doesn’t mean it can’t be great. The product exists now to primarily serve mid to small market operators who can’t afford local content, major market stations who don’t want to spend on evening and overnight shows, and company owned stations that can be utilized to promote the company’s digital and television content. ESPN does gain value for their radio shows on TV and podcast platforms, but those benefit the company much more than their radio partners.

The general feeling in industry circles is that FOX Sports Radio now delivers the best national radio product, CBS Sports Radio has better consistency but similar east coast content issues, and others don’t have strong enough brand recognition or content to justify a change. If sports betting continues to gain mainstream acceptance and bring cash into the marketplace, that could help outlets like VSiN, BetQL, and SportsGrid gain greater traction. If Outkick gets more aggressive with offering content to local markets, especially in the south and Midwest, that could be another interesting option.

The bigger question is whether there’s enough audience, revenue, and excitement for national content in today’s sports radio space. If most major markets are focused on local, is there enough out there in rural America to keep networks excited?

I do know that just ten years ago CBS Radio entered the space because they saw value in it. NBC Sports Radio leaped in too. FOX Sports Radio went all-in for Colin Cowherd, and ESPN Radio was healthy. Even SiriusXM continues to expand its national offerings, and three sports betting networks saw value in pursuing national distribution. It’s hard to convince me that there isn’t financial upside for national sports radio brands in today’s media environment. It may not be a big ratings play but from a business standpoint there is value.

What’s unfolding now at the worldwide leader is disheartening because it could have been avoided. Instead, brands have been damaged, relationships changed, jobs lost, and questions raised about future viability.

If the world’s leading sports operator values radio, they’ll prioritize restoring confidence across the industry. A good start would be putting people in place who champion radio’s future, and make decisions that best serve the radio brands carrying their product. If they can’t do that, then maybe it’s time to step aside, and let someone else try. I know a few groups who’d be happy to take a shot at restoring the network’s pride.

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Barrett Blogs

Radio Must Bring Back The Fun

“The promotions you’re creating are not producing massive recall across the format, national media attention or revenues that change the fate of your next quarter.”

Jason Barrett




Five and a half days in Las Vegas can feel like an eternity. Especially when you’re in town for business not pleasure. But though I’d rather sleep in my own bed, eat at home, and avoid walking from convention hall to convention hall, I’m glad I made the trip because the NAB Show delivered. 

Many media members have attended this event over the years, and it’s easy to come up with reasons not to attend. Budgets are tight, you can’t afford to be out of the office, or you think it isn’t beneficial. That’s where I’ll take exception. If you can’t find something of value at a five-day event that exists to serve broadcasters and brands, that’s on you, not the conference.  

Over the past few days, I did what many do and took necessary business meetings at Encore, but I also listened to speakers offer valuable insights on artificial intelligence, marketing, programming, technology, dashboard connectivity, the future of AM radio, and more. All of these are subjects that should matter to media professionals. Having Brett Goldstein (Ted Lasso star Roy Kent) on hand to talk about content creation was an added bonus. 

As I spent my final hour inside the North Hall on Wednesday, I couldn’t help but think about how large this event is, what goes into creating it, and how many different industries and brands are represented at it. What the NAB does to make this event possible for sixty-five thousand plus is amazing, and I commend all involved because it truly is informative, and it helps bring together business leaders and brands to help move our industry forward. 

There were many takeaways from the conference sessions, but one in particular stood out. I thought Mike McVay’s session with J.D. Crowley and Paul Suchman of Audacy was excellent. Crowley’s insights on listener choice, distribution, and personalization were spot on, and I was very impressed with Suchman’s feedback on some of the behavior testing Audacy has done to learn how consumers respond to different types of content and messaging.

Crowley’s final message about people in the audio industry needing to be proud of the business they’re in was easy for me to relate to because I feel similarly. This is a great business to be in. I get tired of hearing folks in and out of the industry tear it down. So much attention gets placed on who exceeded revenue goals, what a brand’s ratings were, and what a company’s stock price is, losing sight of the more important part, our brands, personalities, and content, and the way they’re received by those who consume it.

Additionally, I was honored to speak about the growth of BSM and BNM. Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Pierre Bouvard of Cumulus Media treated folks to information on advertising and in-car data, and Erica Farber, Tim Bronsil, and Mary DelGrande did a nice job guiding multiple business conversations. I also enjoyed stopping by the Veritone booth and learning about their products and staff. My only regret, I missed Buzz Knight’s session with Nielsen’s new audio team due to a business meeting running long. Thankfully Inside Radio put together a detailed recap of what was discussed. 

But what I want to draw attention to most is something Dan Mason said on stage during his acceptance speech when receiving the Lowry Mays Award at the Broadcasters Foundation of America breakfast. It’s something I raised at last month’s BSM Summit. 

After sharing how local is a key differentiator in helping radio stand apart from other forms of media, and reminding everyone about the importance of longevity, Mason said that radio has to get back to having fun. He shared a story of a promotion he was part of in the 1970’s that wouldn’t fly today. It was a short people’s convention that included six-ounce drinks, pigs in a blanket, and strawberry shortcake. The event put his radio station on NBC Nightly News, and created a ton of buzz.  

Just because that type of event wouldn’t work in 2023, doesn’t mean others can’t. We have got to create special events that produce national attention, local market interest, and fear of missing out spending. This is what radio is supposed to be exceptional at yet it doesn’t happen enough.  

At our Summit in LA, I asked three PD’s to share with me the one promotion in sports radio today that they viewed as a killer event. It wasn’t an easy one to answer. In fact, two referenced WIP’s Wing Bowl, which ended in 2018. Had I asked five or six other PD’s, they’d have likely been in the same boat, struggling to name three or four killer events. 

I mentioned how the Mandy Awards at 710 ESPN in Los Angeles stood out, but this format should be able to deliver more than one standout promotion. I realize there are stations doing promotional events, and if they’re helping you produce revenue, great. I’m not telling you to abandon that strategy. But I will challenge you if you try to tell me sports radio’s report card on promotions in 2023 is superb. It is not.

One gentleman I listened to during the week who was attending a session shared one reason why this is the case. He was asked about creating ideas and said ‘we use a committee to brainstorm and find that sometimes the best ideas come from different departments, in fact, our last successful event was the idea of our engineer.’ 

I’m all for collaboration, and if you’re creating events that satisfy your goals, continue doing it. I’m not here to rain on your parade. But let me share an opinion some may view as unpopular. If the best ideas in your organization are coming from departments other than programming, you have a problem.

The program director and talent are supposed to be the people you turn to for leadership, ideas, passion, creativity, and execution. They’re supposed to be able to think of things that others can’t. Do you think Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino would turn over the direction of their next film to others inside their companies? Imagine the focus of Ted Lasso’s next episode being decided by someone other than Jason Sudeikis, Brett Goldstein, and the rest of their writing team. You’d be wasting the talent of your best storytellers.

Radio companies pay premium dollars for elite programmers and hosts because they’re supposed to be able to bring things to life that only exists inside their brains. If your HR or engineering department are creating the station’s best promotions, you don’t have enough creativity coming from your programming team. That could be due to having a PD who lacks ideas and vision or it could be the result of the way your creative process is structured.

One of the things I enjoyed most as a PD was coming up with ideas that created buzz, ratings, and revenue. My job was to think and execute BIG, and whether it was Lucky Break in San Francisco, Stand For Stan at 101 ESPN in St. Louis, the Golden Ticket at 590 The Fan in St. Louis, the 20 in 20 tour or Goodbye Roast at 95.7 The Game or the Gridiron Gala in both cities, we produced buzz, grew ratings, and made money. If we did something and it failed, that was ok. I’d rather swing and miss than be afraid to try. I took that responsibility seriously, and feel that when you’re making calls by committee, you’re not allowing your best people to do what they’re best suited to do. 

Case in point, I attended Boomer & Gio Live in Jersey City, NJ a few weeks ago. It was a fun event with a lot of different things going on. WFAN’s PD Spike Eskin worked the event on stage, and if you recall, the station made national news when Jets GM Joe Douglas said that Aaron Rodgers would end up in New York. There were multiple sales activations included throughout the show, and much of the fun content that took place on stage came from the creators. Because the FAN crew were allowed to do what they do best, the station produced a successful event. Had that been an ‘all departments contribute’ approach, it’d have not been the same show. 

What Dan Mason said in Las Vegas was accurate. Radio has to get back to having fun but it also has to be unafraid to take risks. I fear that we worry so much about the ‘what ifs’ and the potential noise on social media that we’re killing creativity, and the next big idea.

If I asked you to list five GREAT sports radio promotions today, could you? And I’m not talking about golf tournaments, charitable bowling events, host debates or bar remotes. If I ask this same question in five years and we’re in the same spot, that’s going to say a lot about where we are as an industry. We have to excite ourselves, our listeners, and our advertisers because when we showcase our creativity in a way that no other medium can, we make a statement, which results in increased attention, and financial investment.  

Some of that creative spirit is still alive. You see it in Boston with WEEI’s Jimmy Fund Telethon, and if you attended the Michael Kay Show 20-year anniversary special or Barstool’s Upfront, you saw what great planning, and execution looks like. But I also remember The Fanatic’s Celebrity Week, The Millen Man March in Detroit, Ticketfest in Dallas, Wing Bowl in Philadelphia, and 790 The Zone in Atlanta becoming a national sensation by creating multiple home run events.

I don’t believe enough brands today create events that deliver meaningful impact. Yet they’re needed. When done right, brands ascend to a different level. Sports radio has too many sharp, creative minds to not be creating the biggest and most successful promotions in all of media. If you work in programming and your station isn’t producing promotions that generate recall across the format, national media attention or revenues that change the fate of your next quarter, it’s time to step up your game. If you don’t, the interns, street team, and receptionist may soon be deciding the future direction of your brand’s promotional strategy.

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Reflecting on the 2023 BSM Summit

“Barrett Media president Jason Barrett reflects on last week’s BSM Summit in Los Angeles.”

Jason Barrett




One of the best parts about the world of sports is that every season ends with one team being crowned champion. It doesn’t exactly work that way managing a media company, even though we invest the same amount of time leading up to the BSM Summit, our equivalent of the Super Bowl or WrestleMania.

Having had a few days to recover and reflect after last week’s Summit in Los Angeles, I know that what we did last week was special. I’m a perfectionist and have a hard time patting myself on the back because I know there’s plenty we can do better, but last week, we hit a homerun. The venues at USC were perfect, the signage was spectacular, the tech ran well, the speakers were awesome, the crowd was great, and the sponsorship support was outstanding. It’s the first time I’ve walked away from an event and felt we accomplished what we set out to do. If time allows, check out Garrett Searight’s piece on some of the key takeaways from the show.

In 2018, Mitch Rosen invited me to utilize his space at Audacy Chicago to take a shot at trying to execute an event for PDs. Now here we are five years later with a few hundred people joining us from all across the industry. It’s pretty incredible. We’re only successful because a lot of people have come together to make sure we are. Without the speakers, sponsors, and staff around me stepping up to get things done, I’d just be a guy with an idea incapable of executing it.

In the next week or so we’ll be sharing video clips from the show on the BSM social media pages. I’m also planning to make full sessions available via on-demand for free for those who attended the show in California. If you didn’t come to the event and want to watch it online, it will be available for a small fee. Stay tuned for further details.

What matters most to me with the Summit is that folks in the room get something out of it. I thought many of our speakers delivered a ton of value this year, and there were a few WOW moments along the way as well. Colin and Rome were outstanding as expected, and Jay Glazer and Al Michaels’ speeches had everyone hanging on their next words. I thought the Shawn Michaels and Jack Rose led sessions were outside the box and well received, and I was beyond impressed by Joy Taylor, Mina Kimes, and Amanda Brown. We used 14 hours in that room to explore issues dealing with management, research, technology, programming, talent and social media, so it gave everyone a little bit of everything, which was the goal.

We did have a little bit of friction on stage during the Aircheck on Campus session, which wasn’t a bad thing. Personalities and programmers have passionate conversations inside the office every day. Rob, Mark and Scott just happened to have one on stage. All three are smart, talented, and willing to be candid. I thought that was healthy for the room.

I know networking is important at these type of events and there was plenty of opportunity for folks to do that. I look at it like this, if you can get face time with others, meet your heroes or folks you admire and pick up some ideas and insight in the process to elevate your business, that should justify it being worthy of a few days out of the office.

As crazy as it may sound, I step away from each of these events asking my team ‘is that the last one?’ I know I can create and execute a great conference, and I enjoy doing it, but I also don’t want to invest eight months of time building a show that becomes predictable and stale. It’s why I change speakers and topics frequently. This year’s lineup was phenomenal, and I’m so pleased with who we featured on stage and had in the room, but the competitor in me will also look back and say ‘Bill Simmons, Ice Cube and Lincoln Riley Should’ve Been On Stage Too!


If we do host an event in 2024, it will take place in either Boston, Chicago, Dallas or New York. You can cast your vote on

I want to thank everyone who stopped me last week to share how much they enjoy this event. That support means a lot. I think Good Karma Brands broke a record with 20+ employees in attendance, and iHeart was also well represented, which was great to see. I was also excited to have 15-20 college students in the room. The more we can educate the next generation, the better it is for all of us. I also was thrilled to learn a few of our partners and attendees made time to arrange further business conversations. If two groups can help each other, that’s what it’s all about.

But as much as I love my radio brothers and sisters, I’ve noticed more folks showing up the past two years from areas outside of sports radio. That’s both exhilarating and concerning. This year we had folks in the room from WWE, Amazon, The Volume, Omaha Productions, Dirty Mo Media, Barstool Sports, Spotify, Blue Wire, Locked On, BetRivers, Bleav, etc.. I hope that trend continues because sports media is a lot larger of a business than sports radio. As I told the room, we’re not in the radio business, television business, audio or video business, we are in the content business. That covers a lot more ground for brands than focusing on one specific platform.

I’ve been on cloud nine for a few days because overall, this went as well as I could ask for. If there’s one thing I’d like to make better it’s that I hear from a lot of folks throughout the year who say they want to learn, meet new people and give themselves a competitive edge yet when an event exists that can help them do that, they’re not in the room. Some of my radio friends didn’t come because they weren’t asked to speak. Others said they couldn’t make it because their company wouldn’t cover the costs. A few said they thought the Summit was only for programming people not managers or sellers.

First, growing and selling an audience should matter to everyone not just programmers and hosts. GM’s and Sales Managers can gain a lot at this show. So can advertisers and agencies. I’m hoping to change that in the future. Second, I can’t tell you whether or not to prioritize attending but groups outside of radio are passionate about sports audio and video, and they’re finding ways to be in the room. At some point, you have to decide if investing in knowledge, ideas and relationships matters to you and your business. Your employer isn’t going to cover everything you want to do so especially when the economy isn’t strong. Sometimes you have to invest time and resources in yourself.

Many of you reading this website know my track record in the radio industry. I built my career in radio. My passion for the business remains strong. I consult brands all across the country, and root for the industry’s success. It’s why I sink my heart and soul into this event and share all that I do over two days because I want to help people grow their businesses.

But it is strange that over the course of four live events I’ve still not had one current radio CEO sit down for an in-depth sports media business conversation. It’d be one thing if they were pitched and I turned them down but that’s not the case. I’ve had great conversations and support outside of radio from Jimmy Pitaro, Eric Shanks, Erika Ayers, and John Skipper. Jeff Smulyan has been a huge supporter taking part in our awards ceremony, and we’ve had high ranking TV executives in the room watching the show. Maybe things will change in 2024 but whether they do or don’t, I’m going to focus on helping brands and individuals who gain value from this two day event, and continue challenging this industry to think and act differently.


Now that the 2023 BSM Summit is over, my focus shifts to supporting my clients and gearing up for a massive challenge, hosting our first BNM Summit for news media professionals. The conference will take place in Nashville, TV on September 13-14 at Vanderbilt University. I’ll be announcing the first group of speakers in April after the NAB. Tickets will go on sale at that time too.

I know it won’t be easy but I tend to do my best work when I’m out of my comfort zone. This is a space I have passion for and feel I can add something to so there’s only one thing left to do, get to work, and put together the news media equivalent of what we just created for sports media professionals last week in Los Angeles. That may be a tall order but if anyone is ready to meet the challenge head on, yours truly is certainly up to the task.

Thanks again for a spectacular time in Los Angeles. Onward and upward we go!

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