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Discovering New Talent

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This week I had the privilege of spending a few days in Bristol, CT at ESPN among some of the brightest minds in the sports radio industry. As usual there was a ton of conversation on ways to improve our business but one specific question jumped out to me and it’s something I have a strong passion for – discovering new talent. Everyone has their own ideas on how to find new blood and introduce tomorrow’s sports radio stars to local audiences but for me this is something that I believe is critical for every person who programs a radio station.

risksafeMore times than not when you look around the industry, stations are quick to take the safest approach possible and hire familiar names and voices to the market rather than introduce someone who requires more explanation. It makes sense most times because familiar names draw quicker reaction from local audiences and when you add advertising dollars into the conversation, it’s easier to sell something familiar than something foreign. What gets lost in that equation though is that sometimes the short-term gain is not as strong as a long-term one and usually it takes a mixture of market proven performers and new exciting personalities to give a radio station a fresh feel.

As a programmer, it’s not easy to tell your bosses, staff and listeners to wait for future success and look at the big picture. We live in a “win now” society where people focus more on the next day than they do on the next year. I remember growing up watching baseball and you’d hear about players spending 5-6 years in the minor leagues before being brought up to the major leagues. Today, once a player shows an ounce of potential, he’s rushed up to the grand stage.

In radio, it’s not much different. We seek broadcasters who can get on the air and make an immediate impact, even if that isn’t always realistic. In a world where ratings are critical to deciding how advertisers invest in your brand, it’s imperative that when you introduce new talent to the marketplace that it works. Sometimes you’ll get some time to let someone develop but usually the leash you’re provided is very short.

I’ve been fortunate twice during my career to build new stations and have a chance to develop people slowly and in each situation, we had success. Once that success is obtained though, it becomes much harder to do that because people become accustomed to success and fearful of losing it as a result of change, especially if it involves unfamiliar personalities.

scoutWhen I think about the role of a Program Director as it applies to scouting and discovering talent, I compare it to the role of a professional scout in the NFL or MLB. There are tons of roads to navigate and some will work and some won’t but you’ve got to always be looking and planning for the “what if” scenario. Part of that includes consistent evaluating of people inside the industry as well as keeping an eye on those who display potential while climbing up the ladder.

Last week the NY Times published a piece on Derek Jeter which covered how the Yankees Shortstop was discovered in 1991. I found myself thinking of the numerous scenarios that have unfolded in my own career that have led me to finding talented people and putting them on the road to have great success. Clearly they had to have the ability to get the job done but someone also had to recognize their talent, take a chance on hiring them and provide them with the tools, coaching and positive reinforcement necessary to help them.

In this piece, the scout (Dick Groch) talks about how he wasn’t even supposed to attend the camp where he discovered Jeter but yet when he watched him perform, he knew instantly that he had the tools that would translate to the highest level. In my business we call this “having an ear” or an “eye for talent“. There’s no way he could have known for sure that Derek Jeter would play 20 years in the big leagues, win 5 world titles and become a future hall of famer but his instincts told him this was a kid worth going to bat for. By doing so, the Yankees front office performed further evaluations and ultimately agreed with the reports and selected Derek when the chance to draft him was presented.

Colin Cowherd ESPN RadioWhen you think of sports radio, we don’t get an annual draft but there are plenty of Derek Jeter’s out there. One example comes immediately to mind. Scott Masteller was sharp enough to recognize Colin Cowherd’s talents in Portland and provide him with an opportunity to do local radio. Bruce Gilbert was smart enough to recognize what Scott saw and bring Colin to ESPN Radio. Obviously Colin had to be uniquely talented in order to earn those opportunities but even a great talented individual needs someone who’s willing to take a chance on him.

The problem I see sometimes in our business is that not everyone takes the time to look for new talent or take the risk of hiring someone unproven. Instead there’s a lot of people waiting for their doors to be knocked on or resumes and airchecks to show up in their emails and quite frankly, I don’t believe that you find the world’s best talent that way. Sure there will be some diamonds that come through the system that way but there are plenty of other options to exhaust as well. Unfortunately it’s much more dangerous to risk your own position on the unknown than it is to take the chance on someone who’s familiar.

If you watched the remake of the movie of “The Longest Yard” with Adam Sandler, there’s a scene (see video below) where Sandler goes to the basketball court to try and recruit Michael Irvin who’s seen as an intimidating guy and top notch athlete. When Sandler makes the comment “This guy must be quite the athlete huh“, Irvin responds with “You risked bringing your ass in the jungle because you know I am“. When I think of that scene, I can draw an easy parallel to sports radio because if you want to find great personalities, you’ve got to be willing to look in many different places. The great ones don’t usually apply through your company’s website, they expect you’ll find them when needs arise.

http://youtu.be/de2Rv5eijvA

I was talking with Chris “Hoss” Neupert who programs 101 ESPN in St. Louis (my former station) and this subject came up and he mentioned how former St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Brad Thompson has done a great job adjusting to the business and has become a strong personality on his station on his afternoon show. If Chris had waited for an application, resume or demo tape from Brad, he’d never have received one. It’s not like former St. Louis Cardinals players are sending in applications on a daily basis.

bradthompsonChris recognized Brad’s ability to communicate intelligently and passionately, explored a few conversations with him, gave him a few looks filling in and observed that Brad had an ability to do this job. Once he knew Brad was ready to move on from his baseball career and pursue a second career in the sports radio industry and a change took place inside his radio station, a move was made to bring him in. He’s since been rewarded by Brad’s show (which includes Randy Karraker and D’Marco Farr) being rated #1 in the St. Louis market in afternoon drive.

Speaking for myself, I’ve gone about things the same way. My job is to constantly be looking for talented people and think of how to best utilize them on my radio station if a future situation comes up. Major market audiences might not have been treated to the radio talents of Chris Duncan, Aubrey Huff, Eric Davis, Ric Bucher, Rick Venturi, Tony Softli, Zack McCrite, Meredith Marakovits, Rob Ellis, Guy Haberman or many others had I not been looking in various places to find good talent. This is something I take a lot of pride in and actively spend time doing. While I may miss from time to time, I never stop trying.

So when it comes to finding new talent, how does one do it? Where do you go to look? Is there some magical formula available to make it work? The answer of course is no but getting the job done is possible and yet it requires exploring a variety of possibilities. Let me share a few examples of ways I’ve done it that I think can help in the future and if you’re an on-air talent or aspiring broadcaster reading this, I encourage you to pay attention to this too because you never know when that call could be coming your way.

promotionDevelop From Within – Producers, Board Ops, Interns and others inside your building are going to spend more time learning the ins and outs of your product better than anyone else. Most times, guys reach a certain level in their careers and begin thinking about the next challenge. While some aren’t cut out to be on the air, some are and for those who possess a solid voice, good knowledge and a decent idea of what goes into doing a talk show after working on your key shows for a while, they certainly deserve consideration.

For example, in Seattle at 710 ESPN, Program Director and On-Air Host Mike Salk looks for producers who have an ability to help produce shows while also sharing a passion to do on-air work. He’ll reward them with some air time in lesser important time slots and that’s helpful for people having a chance to grow.

One of my current on-air personalities Zakariah spent six months interning for me and working on his delivery, hosting and update skills inside a production room before I gave him his first shot to hit the airwaves. I saw his passion and commitment to improve and I heard progress and he earned my trust to hit the air on a weekend shift and eventually do it consistently. He’s since gone on to host nights, weekends, weekday fill-ins and afternoon updates.

Businessman looking through binocularsSearch Other Markets – My current 10a-12p host Guy Haberman was doing afternoons in Fresno, CA when I first heard him. The market was small but provided a great opportunity for him to get reps and those reps helped him develop. When I had an opening on our night show pop up, I brought him in for an audition and he did a nice job and it was an easy decision to hire him. Had I not taken the time to listen to him though on my own (and have my APD Jeremiah Crowe do so too), he’d have never been brought in for an audition. Because I believe in scouting, we found ourselves a pretty great on-air host who people enjoy listening to.

It doesn’t always have to be smaller markets either. People who live 60-120 miles away from the big city typically aspire to make it to bigger markets but so do people in other markets. Sometimes there’s a personal connection to a certain city. Sometimes they see a certain city as a great move for their career and other times they’re drawn to your location because of positive feedback they’ve heard about your brand from people they like and respect in the business. I’ve lured guys to work for me due to all three of those scenarios. Regardless, I always keep an eye out on other markets and who performs in them and I try to form my own opinions on who has the style and attributes that fit well with my market.

Additionally, I’ll give my APD Jeremiah out of market listening assignments from time to time and I’ll do some myself too. First it’s helpful because sometimes you get ideas of other cool things people are doing on-air to create good radio. Secondly it’s positive because it allows you to discover who’s extremely talented. Third, it can teach you what you don’t like about certain styles or introduce you to others on a show/station that you might not have been familiar with.

I’ll add one last thing on this for on-air talents, be focused and approach your show with passion and enthusiasm each day. You have no idea who is listening to you or when they’re listening to you and if tomorrow you discovered that your worst segment was the one heard by someone who could have made you rich and successful for the rest of your life, are you going to be able to sleep at night? Probably not. You control your presentation and consistency and you owe it to yourself to make sure you’re on at all times. It can be the difference between landing a major opportunity or being quickly forgotten.

createCreating Promotions – In San Francisco I ran a contest called “Lucky Break” and in other markets similar promotions have been created to find undiscovered talent. These things work great sometimes and other times they don’t but I’ve always said that if American Idol hadn’t existed the entire music business would be without Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Daughtry, Carrie Underwood and Jennifer Hudson so what do you have to lose?

While those artists aren’t really my cup of tea, they’ve all sold tons of records and if they didn’t perform, the record label could have easily dropped them. Since then we’ve seen other shows become hits such as The Voice and X-Factor and they all had one thing in common, discovering new musical talent.

As it applies to the radio station, you can only benefit by doing this. You have the chance to discover a hidden gem but if that doesn’t happen, you can also cut bait with the winner quickly. It doesn’t exactly have to be done on the air either. The reward can be a one-day talk show, an update anchor shift, a podcast, a produced talk show inside a production room or something else. You’ll be amazed at how much response you get from local people who want to be part of what you do. If luck breaks your way, you’ll find a few new exciting voices to feature.

Take a second and look at how many TV shows today are doing this. Whether it’s Shark Tank, Top Chef, Dancing with the Stars, America’s Got Talent or any other similar program dominating television today, the need for great talent exists in all forms of business. If other outlets see value in looking for undiscovered talent, maybe it makes sense for you to do so too!

youtubeThe Power of YouTube – Voice talent Jim Cutler brought this up a few years ago at a Sports Radio conference I was at in Phoenix and he was dead on. First of all, YouTube allows people to get reps and develop their own following and that’s such a great advantage compared to what was available to people 10-20 years ago. If someone has passion, a unique style and an ability to speak, I’m a firm believer that it will stand out regardless of the forum.

When I was paying my dues and trying to get better at hosting talk shows, I had to work in a production room, host a weekly weekend shift or voice commercials just to get reps. The only thing you could do back then was perform play-by-play while playing a video game. Today, people have many more advantages to continue practicing and if they’re willing to put it on display for you to evaluate, why not look at it?

As an example, my current morning update anchor Anna Kagarakis on 95.7 The Game, had a number of local television videos on YouTube. When I had a need for a new anchor, I reviewed her work, watched it, liked her style and energy and reached out to chat. If I hadn’t utilized YouTube, she might not have wound up on my radio station.

An even more unlikely scenario was my discovery of Clayton Miller. I was looking for someone who does sports voices to contribute to my morning show and aside from Frank Caliendo (who’s brilliant but very busy), I knew it would be difficult to find someone who fit the bill. Thanks to YouTube, I landed on Clayton’s page and after laughing at a number of his impressions and running his work by a few of our guys, I reached out to him to discuss doing a few calls to see how things go. We’ve since used him on our morning show a bunch of times and had it not been for YouTube I would not be aware of him.

networkingNetworking – This industry has thousands of people in it and those who are good at it can recognize others who are good at it or on the right track to doing so. When I get a call, email or social media message from someone I know, respect and trust in the industry suggesting that I look at someone for possible future employment, I’ll usually follow up on it. I might not always hire the person and sometimes I may disagree with their evaluation but I will usually check into it. My belief is that a professional person is not going to risk their reputation to send me bad advice because they don’t want their own name soiled.

For those of you reading this who are pursuing opportunities, I encourage you to get to know PD’s other than when you’re pursuing them for a job. I also recommend chatting with other on-air talent, producers and anchors in the industry to pick their brains too. When you become familiar with people, it strengthens your views on them and if you’re going to move for a new job and work for certain people, I always believe it’s better to know what you’re getting into.

theboxExplore Unconventional Places – Look around the industry today and take a look at how many athletes perform on the air. I’ll bet you 90% of them didn’t apply for a job or show up at the radio station’s door requesting a few minutes with the PD. In most cases the PD paid attention to how the athlete spoke during their career and they got feedback from their own people, the athlete’s agent and gave the athlete a chance to come in, do a few shifts and see how things go.

Why do guys from the sports world matter? Because your audiences already know them and support them and if they have the ability to perform in this medium, they’re likely to command an instant audience. None of that matters though if you don’t keep an ear on them while they’re going through their careers.

Also to be considered is looking for people with unique and interesting backgrounds. For example, Joe Beningo on WFAN was a passionate caller from Saddle River, NJ who was given a chance to do a one time show on the station as a result of winning a contest. That led to him getting some formal training at Connecticut School of Broadcasting and doing a show on a small station in Elizabeth, NJ before WFAN offered him a chance to do overnights. He’s now hosting middays from 10a-1p and has been with WFAN for 20 years. If he doesn’t call the radio station, he’s never discovered.

If you look around our business today you’ll see guys like Jay Mohr who has a background in movies and comedy, Steve Gorman who plays music for the Black Crowes, Dave Dameshek who has done comedy writing and performing plus many other on-air personalities who have transitioned from other radio formats to the sports talk radio scene. Great talent can come from anywhere so whether you’re at the bar, a comedy club or listening to a radio station that doesn’t do sports, never close your mind or your ears to a different possibility.

To sum this up, we work in a business where change is frequent yet new options seem limited. To keep moving forward, we’ve got to keep hunting for great personalities because they are the number one reason why our format works. To suggest people aren’t interested in this line of work or that younger talented people aren’t out there is rubbish. They are but it requires more than waiting for the phone to ring or emails to appear in your inbox. The real question is, are you willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to find them?

Barrett Blogs

Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas

“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”

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Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.

The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.

It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.

For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.

Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.

But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.

I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.

Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.

Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.

Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.

Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.

Additional:

You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.

Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.

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Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media

“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”

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Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.

As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.

As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.

I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.

But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.

Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.

I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.

Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.

These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.

If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.

I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.

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Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure

“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”

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If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.

When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.

Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.

It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.

In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.

I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.

We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.

Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.

This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.

Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.

Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.

I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.

For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.

That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.

But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.

Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.

How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.

The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.

Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.

Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.

You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.

I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.

Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.

One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.

Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.

It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.

Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?

I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.

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