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Is Sports Radio Ready For Its Future?

Jason Barrett




A few weeks ago I announced on this site my intentions to leave San Francisco as Program Director of 95.7 The Game in the upcoming months. After making that announcement, I had little desire to write. Some of that was due to being gone for a few business trips and some of it was due to needing to focus on some conversations about my future.

But then last week happened.

RISCTwo discussions in particular stuck with me and have had my mind racing for the past few days. First, I was in Dallas for the Radio Ink Sports Conference and during my time there I had the chance to moderate a panel which focused on the mind of millennial listeners. I was on stage with three college students. Two were 21-years old and the other was 26.

Over the course of 45 minutes, I hit all three students with a barrage of questions on their perceptions and interest in sports radio and I along with the rest of the room learned that they live in a different world where content is only king if it can be consumed quickly. If it requires sifting through your podcast to find it, waiting through a commercial break or needing to wait for a host to finish rambling off-topic, they’re gone. Even the big name guest means little if it doesn’t include a hook worth sticking around for.

In their words, Twitter and TV provide the result they desire and sports radio puts up too many road blocks to get what they want. In the case of television, they like the sidebar which tells them when certain stories will be covered and that allows them to use their time more efficiently while still getting what they desire from the program.

TwitterIn the case of Twitter, the information is out there immediately and can be consumed in a matter of seconds and they don’t have to wait for other stories or commercials to finish or for hosts to get back on track. They follow who they want, when they want and they get the information they desire quickly so they can alert their friends and look smart, informed and continue the conversation.

In each of their cases they were drawn to stories that revolved around drama and conflict and when I probed on why they start their day with Twitter and not with radio, they held up their phone and said it was where they check first. When they were reminded that sports radio stations were also on the same device and could also be listened to on the same device, they pointed out the flaws with radio’s apps and said that until the experience was comparable to other forms of media they wouldn’t be going that route.

boredIt wasn’t what many in the room wanted to hear but it was helpful because the only way we improve our products is to understand why the consumer does or doesn’t use our brand. It sounds cliche but we only get one chance to make a first impression and the 25-34 year old audience that awaits us in the next 5-10 years is very different and less likely to use our form of media. They get bored fast, they prefer audio on demand and they’re not loyal. We either serve them on their terms or we risk them not associating with our brand.

In the room I pointed out 4 key words to 4 key industries to make a point of what we could be facing if we don’t stay alert and ahead of the curve. Those 4 words were Music, Movies, Print and Phones. If you asked an executives of each of these industries 20 years ago about their future I’m sure many of them said they were well prepared to succeed. They learned fast though that if you don’t improvise and stay alert, you get knocked off.

Think about it, home phones and pay phones have been replaced by cell phones, social networking sites and app blockbustermessaging software. Video stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video have been replaced by your cable company, Hulu, YouTube and Netflix who serve your needs right inside your home. Music went from cassettes and CD’s to digital downloads, Youtube, Pandora, Spotify and iHeart and the newspaper has been replaced by the web and social media. You’re more likely today to find your next apartment or home on Craigslist or through a website than you used to do through a newspaper’s classified section.

While the panel I conducted with those three millennial college students was interesting and informative and made me think about where we’re headed as an industry in the future, there was a second conversation about the past that also stuck with me.

smulyanIf you haven’t had the chance, I highly recommend reading Fred Jacobs’ interview with Jeff Smulyan of Emmis. Jeff was the founding father of WFAN in New York City. While we all know how powerful The Fan is now and we see the boom that has happened to the sports radio format, there was a time when many thought Jeff was crazy to entertain a format around sports. Many of his closest friends and peers lost faith and trust in him and there were numerous times when the plug was nearly pulled on his experiment.

Two things Jeff said really struck me and I believe he’s 100% accurate on both accounts. The first was that it takes staying power to be successful. Too often people attempt things and if it doesn’t hit right away, they change it. This doesn’t mean everything deserves to last forever but if you truly believe in something or someone and have evidence to show that you’re making strides, you’ve got to stay the course and battle for what you believe in.

jobsThe second thing Jeff said that hit home was the quote “The world is never changed by doing the same things everybody else does. It just never is. It’s changed by doing what is different.” For someone like myself who loves Steve Jobs quotes and everything he stood for professionally, I felt the connection to that quote because once again there’s a lot of truth in it. If Jeff didn’t take the chance launching an all-sports station and absorbing the wrath from his bosses and everyone around him, this column may not exist and neither may our entire industry.

The ironic thing is that every year I head to various radio conferences, read numerous articles on our format and talk to numerous executives in our industry and there’s this plea to continue taking risks, trying new things and not following the same patterns. Yet we’re also the first to put up a stop sign and slow down our own momentum when we enter these murky waters.

The reality is that we all like to speak that language and sound bullish and smart but most people don’t like to do the unpopular thing especially when it puts their own body of work and future in question. Ask yourself this if you’re a programmer or talent, what is the one thing you want to do that you believe will make an impact on our industry but you’ve been hesitant to do it because of the fear of failure? Do you believe in it enough to bet your career on it?

nophoneWhen I launched 101 ESPN in St. Louis and 95.7 The Game in San Francisco I did so with the mentality that we’d start off by not taking phone calls and focus instead on providing a stronger content experience filled with more passion, opinion, insight, strong guests and entertaining banter between co-hosts. It wasn’t exactly the most earth shattering idea in the world but given that both markets had done sports talk forever and relied heavily on phone calls, the jury was out on whether or not I was taking the right approach.

While I love caller interaction myself and the passion of one’s voice over a text or tweet any day, I knew we had to create our own point of differentiation when establishing our brand. I also knew their was a difference in the caller entertainment value in places like NY, Philadelphia and Boston as compared to St. Louis and San Francisco.

focusgroupAfter the first year at one of my station’s, we conducted a focus group with a number of listeners. Many in the room were waiting to hear that we were missing the boat by not being caller driven and when the question came up and 35 out of 40 said they preferred the content and lack of calls they were surprised. After the session finished I was asked if the company should take the same approach in other markets. I said no because what worked in my current location wouldn’t necessarily work in another one. The main thing I wanted understood was that just because it wasn’t what we were all used to didn’t mean it couldn’t work.

As the years have passed, each of those stations take more calls but they do so with a stronger emphasis on content and directing the conversations with our audience. I’ve also pushed for the use of tweets and texts inside of content because while it may not be as entertaining as hearing the voice of a listener, it’s the way people interact today. They don’t care how they get through, just as long as they’re part of the show.

schefterIt’s no different than the way television has adapted their standards of video. 10 years ago you’d put on ESPN television and every guest was on camera. Today they’re equally as active with guests who appear by phone. Look at your local news and you’ll find video from viewers used to compliment a story whereas 10-20 years ago they’d never have touched it. The point has been made by the consumer, give me the content now and I’ll deal with less production value.

Let’s turn our attention though back to sports radio. How many stations do you turn on and hear a traffic report, weather report, stock report or time check? Are they really needed? We say we want to target younger demographics and have supported that position by shifting brands and content to the FM dial yet then we deliver benchmarks that are targeted to the upper end of the demo. Does that make sense?

reportsIn some locations maybe it does but I bet the radio station would go on just fine without them. I can’t recall ever hearing a 25-34 year old male get upset over not hearing a stock or weather report. The sales department may not like that because it’s change and those are extra opportunities to attach sponsors to but if you don’t provide a strong content experience to generate ratings (which also helps the sales team), you’re going to lose your audience’s interest.

As we look towards the future, what are some things that you think will change? What trends will be different? Who will innovate and lead the charge to make our format stronger? Social media is becoming the place to talk about sports just as sports talk radio became that destination the past 10 years after surpassing the print industry.

While I’m not Nostradamus, here are 10 things I think could take place in the future.

2LS1. Minority Voices Will Increase – The format is dominated now by white males 25-55 and I think there will be stronger balance over the next 10 years. We’ve already seen a number of female hosts begin to invade lineups and I expect you’ll see more Black and Hispanic talents on the air too. With many major market stations broadcasting to audiences which are more than 50% non-white, I think there’ll be a bigger push to reflect each market more fairly.

sc2. Sports Updates Will Be In Danger – While they’ve been a fixture in the format since its inception, I see them being eliminated or reduced in the future. In many markets there has already been a shift to having on-air hosts do them. I can see some stations adding branded team reports or created content pieces in breaks and I believe the anchor’s future role is going to revolve more around reporting, contributing to talk shows and through the involvement of social and digital media. The need for information and talented people won’t change but how the consumer gathers the information and where it’s presented will.

social3. Say Hello To Social Media Reporters/Video Content Generators – There will be a bigger shift to add people to help radio stations compete stronger in the social and digital space. Pushing out content messages is necessary but the demand to interact back will increase and stations will need to dedicate time and people to make sure it’s a part of their overall strategy. As television has required reporters now to capture their own video and shoot their own standups, radio will look to have multi-purpose people who can write, create video and interact socially. It’ll also be more valuable to station advertisers.

digital4. Digital Media & NTR Sales Will Increase – Buyers are spending more money on social, digital and event driven media and the measurements of digital are a lot easier to analyze and receive faster. The need to be stronger in this area will be important for sales teams to thrive and with advertisers demanding stronger ROI on their investments, radio companies will need more than a great brand and Nielsen ratings story to stay on buys. Text and Email databases, Social and Digital Media inclusion, Content associations, Phone App sponsorships and Events which generate immediate results will all be necessary.

atlradio5. Play by Play Radio Rights Deals Will Decrease – While the dollars continue to reach astronomical heights for television and certain radio markets continue to perform well with LIVE play-by-play, the fact of the matter is that most of the programming takes place at night and audiences are going to become even harder to reach through audio during off peak hours. They’ve also become costly and put many operators in the red and with a growing need inside the industry to show profitability, brands will look harder at the bottom line than the importance of being connected to local franchises. If deals do stay the same or increase, it won’t be without the radio station getting more control of inventory, exclusive categories and programming features and title sponsorship opportunities inside of the broadcast.

nflradio6. An Extension of Our Format Will Be Created – Sirius XM dove into the NFL space early on with its own branded channel and I believe you’ll see an all dedicated NFL channel or MLB channel on terrestrial radio over the next 5-10 years. Whether it’s on the local or network level is still foggy but the next wave of sports talk radio is going to come in the form of specific league content.

On-Demand7. On-Demand Content Will Become a Bigger Focus – Podcast One has done a really nice job acquiring popular celebrity personalities to host their own podcasts and I see sports radio doing more of this in the future. Whether it’s hiring players, coaches, agents, scouts or GM’s to create unique content, I think you’ll find more audio options available with higher profile people.

bonus8. Digital Bonus Incentives – How many operators ask talent to write, chat, tweet, create podcasts or provide additional video? What does the talent get for adding those responsibilities to their regular line of work? Usually nothing. When dollars start shifting digitally and certain talent start attracting stronger numbers online, on social and on video, you’ll find incentive programs created to make sure talent remain involved in helping these brands succeed beyond the over the air signal.

local9. Major Markets Will Go More Local – While national programming has its value in the marketplace, the reality is that local sports talk dominates in the ratings. Networks will be in good shape with digital dashboards, apps and partnerships that help their strategy of delivering audio to fans on multiple platforms but local operators will feel the need to put more focus on local shows with local personalities in order to help increase ratings and revenue.

jefffisher10. Weekly Guest Deals Will Become More Complex – Popular sports personalities, reporters, columnists, athletes, coaches, executives and owners have grown accustomed to appearing on local stations regularly in exchange for cash compensation. While these appearances have great branding value, they’re only 10-15 minutes in length and don’t deliver enough bang for the buck. I see radio operators getting more in the future or walking away from these deals. You may see certain guests and companies start doing deals in multiple markets to create better value for both sides and you’ll see these become more of a fixture in rights deals too. In some deals you may even see the weekly guest provide special hosting assignments to the station in addition to appearances, voiced commercials, signed merchandise and other unique experiences.

Which ones am I right about? Which ones am I wrong about? The future will tell the story. For now, we can debate it and each make our case for where we stand on each issue.

googleradioAside from the 10 I listed, I’m sure there will be others too and that’s a positive (Does Apple, Google or Pandora launch a sports talk network?). This format is nearly 30 years old which is still relatively young and with experience comes knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. If we want to grow and connect strongly with the next generation, we’ve got to keep challenging ourselves to make the format better and adapt to how they use our products.

The big question I have is, will the next Jeff Smulyan have the time, courage and support to launch the next big idea and see it reach its full potential? There’s a fine line between ratings and innovation and the best creations don’t happen overnight.

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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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