Shaping The Sound of a Great Sports Radio Station
I’ve written a few times over the past year about the importance of quality imaging and production for sports radio stations, and it’s a subject that I am passionate about and believe deserves attention.
During the past few weeks I’ve had my ear on sports radio stations all across the country. The one thing I hear taking place in multiple places (that I’m not sure is necessarily a good thing) is a lack of creativity and simplification of messaging. Promos, ID’s and liners which include actualities, funny clips, and big sounds are being reduced in favor of simple short pieces with little activity behind them.
I understand that there are certain expectations for particular brands, and there’s value in keeping things simple. I’m not here to tell you that following the rules and reinforcing a brand’s identity doesn’t have its place. It certainly does. But does that mean that we can’t attempt to find newer ways to add some flavor and create additional excitement for our brands?
In a time where audio consumption is more splintered than ever, and numerous media brands are taking risks to attract larger audiences, is the answer to building bonds with an audience to stifle the creativity of some radio’s best thinkers?
One of the most overlooked and undervalued positions in sports radio is the Imaging Director. A good one can bring an energy to your brand that connects with your talent and audience. A bad one can absolutely crush you and make your brand feel old, stale, and unimportant. Find yourself a great one, and your audience will be speaking the language of the brand without even recognizing it.
If I’ve learned one thing from running brands, conducting research, and interacting with listeners, it’s that great imaging does connect. Sports is fun, and anytime you’re not in content, and have a chance to re-establish that power of fun, it’s important to do so.
As a programmer, I always believed that it was my responsibility to foster an environment which allowed people to be creative. Developing a relationship and understanding with the Imaging Director is critical, because the way they bring the brand to life through your speakers is going to be a reflection of the way you communicate your vision to them.
Let’s be honest, people who work in this industry don’t do it because of the fame and fortune it provides. Sure there are some personalities who are the exception to the rule, but most of the supporting cast behind the scenes choose this line of work because they love it, connect to it, and appreciate the opportunity to have a platform which allows them to showcase their creativity. They walk through the door each day hoping to create something that inspires people, and when it registers with the audience, that’s the cherry on top of the sundae.
The beauty of imaging is that there are no set guidelines for how to do it. We all have opinions about what we perceive to be cool and effective, but what I think we can all agree on is that there’s a stronger chance of an audience remembering your brand, and forming an emotional bond with it, if you make the station sound fun, alive and creative, instead of plain and simple.
It’s a grind sometimes to manage a brand, run a show, and give time and attention to each department, but as challenging as it may be, spending time on your writing, presentation, and which items to highlight, is too important to dismiss. When done right, it can grow your ratings. Done poorly, it can damage your growth.
We lose sight at times of the amount of influence we have on the audience. If you can make a listener think and feel a certain way about your brand and personalities, they’ll remember it and store it deep inside their subconscious. If there’s no call to action beyond reinforcing the radio station’s dial position, brand name, and slogan, then you’re less likely to receive the extra benefits that are available.
As far as promos are concerned, there are many different categories you can use to resonate with your listeners. Some of those options include:
- Appointment promos (pieces that highlight when a guest or feature can be heard)
- Topical promos (pieces that promote content/storylines being discussed on the station)
- Play-By-Play promos (pieces that promote/sell the next local/national game on your air)
- Talent/Show promos (pieces from the talent/show that promote when the program airs)
- Branding promos (pieces that reinforce the brand & why it’s unique in a fun/serious way)
There are other categories too but the ones listed above usually get the most attention.
What you choose to feature most, depends on what your station’s best assets are, and what connects to the vision for the brand. If you don’t carry play by play for example, then game promos are going to be less important. Instead you’ll be more inclined to push your on-air talent, brand identity, station events, and the other offerings your station provides.
If your station though has the rights to three or four sports teams, you’re going to likely drive that messaging home because live play by play delivers strong ratings and a positive brand association, and it’d be silly not to take advantage of it.
I could spend all day explaining the value of imaging, and how it can benefit a radio station, but rather than listen to me pontificate, I thought it’d be helpful to get the perspectives of a few great Imaging Directors. Each of these guys has had a direct influence on brands that operate in Top 5 markets, and some of their work can be heard nationally too.
- Dan Levy – Imaging Director of 89 WLS in Chicago
- Mike Brownsher – Imaging Director of ESPN New York 98.7FM
- Jeff Schmidt – Imaging Director of 95.7 The Game and 98.5 K-FOX in San Francisco
- Chris Morales – VP/Head of Creative & Imaging for Yahoo Sports Radio. Imaging and Creative consulting for KSPN/Los Angeles, KFNC/Houston & KGOW, KKFN/Denver, KHTK/Sacramento.
Q: How important do you believe it is to be a great writer in order to be a great imaging/production director?
Schmidt: The best imaging directors are a triple threat; great writers, producers and VO actor/artists. Writing is vital but it also comes down to what we’re writing about. If we’re promoting crap, great writing is little more than a disguise, and listeners will sniff it out and repay us with indifference.
Brownsher: It’s certainly important, but it’s not the end all be all, and it doesn’t mean your stuff will sound great if you are a great writer. We’re in the audio business. You still need to make sure your stuff SOUNDS great. If you’re not the best writer (I certainly don’t think I am), find other people on the floor, and get them to help with the process. The product will be better for it.
Levy: Writing is 90% of the job. You can’t do production without a clear and concise way of communicating your message. With production, it’s commercials and marketing. With imaging, it’s about the station brand and marketing. So, being a great writer and knowing your audience, it all plays hand and hand.
Morales: In today’s busy world, often being a “great writer” means being an impactful writer who can make the message cut through with a “less is more” approach. Also, us radio people have a tendency of trying to be too cute at times, without really defining what the singular message is for a piece of imaging/production. We need to ask ourselves “would a listener really get what we are saying“?
Q: How do you keep your personal interests and personality/style in line with the brand’s approach when creating liners and promo material?
Brownsher: For me, it’s been fairly easy to align with the ESPN brand. I’ve been listening to ESPN Radio roughly since its inception, so that has helped. When I started in New York, I assumed I’d be able to be edgier with my writing in our promos but that wasn’t the case. I had to remember that there was a much larger audience listening to ESPN New York as compared to where I had worked before. That meant I had to check myself a bit and figure out how to best reflect the brand.
Levy: It always helps to try and get a job that matches your style and your personality. I know in real life, it’s not always the case to be able to pick a station that can do that (we often take the gigs we can get) but knowing your boss, sharing similar philosophies and an understanding of where they are coming from, makes it easier to find a way to connect with the listener, both emotionally and creatively.
Morales: Sports Radio is the big tent of all that encompasses a guy’s life. Creating a brand is all about creating the fun and sizzle around the “Sports Radio” base. If you have talent that doesn’t embrace movies/music/tv/pop culture on the air, then it is hard pressed to create imaging and branding that involves your personality/style because most great imagers live and breathe anything creative. I think so many imagers out there sometimes want to force their passions into imaging because it is their opportunity to “be on air”.
Much like in a music format, imaging is made to make the station sound hotter than what it is and create a brand that encompases the full presentation of the station. We have to think the same in sports radio. This is a format, not sports. We are here to make our talent shine and seem bigger than life, which means it is vital to know their personal interests, their style, music, etc. That creates imaging that they will play off of when doing show opens, rejoins, etc. The station imaging/branding then needs to be a collection of the talent’s image. Imaging to sports or PBP can be useful but does that really create an image that carries your M-F 6a-7p brand?
Schmidt: In 20 years of radio imaging, the best circumstances have always been a collaboration with programming where we set the course and tone of the stationality. Often times it falls in line with my personal tastes which are fairly broad, but it’s always about making sure the imaging serves the needs of That Station, in That Market, at That Time.
Q: When you’re writing a promo, what is it that you’re hoping it does for the audience?
Levy: Anytime I produce something, I look to execute 3 basic elements.
A) Connect with the listener. Each market, area and region you’re in, connect with them. If it’s crappy weather, use it to relate. If you’re in a big city, use things that people feel such as frustrations with bikers, cabbies, sports teams and things of that nature. That’s the best way to get your listener to perk up and pay attention.
B) Make sure your message has a call to action. If it’s a spot, you want people to get up and buy that car or drink that beer. For imaging, you want them to stay tuned to a certain show, sporting event, download an app or whatever you are promoting for the station.
C) Let them know where they heard it. Make sure the brand is highlighted so people know exactly what it is and how to get more of it.
Morales: Make the listener feel something. Maybe it’s emotion for a piece about “living and breathing the NFL” with highlights, game sound, and NFL Films music. Maybe it’s laughter from a montage promo of the talent being off the wall. Maybe it’s anger from people talking about a loss from last night. The key is for that promo to pull them in, and make them engage for a moment, and feel something.
Schmidt: Some promos are really just announcements in which you want to make sure a piece of information is clearly communicated. If you want listeners to take a specific action it’s best to keep it as clear, clean and concise as possible.
Other pieces are about image building, and this is where I hope to draw on the emotional connection fans already have with their team/players/hosts etc. Those emotions are available and transferable to your brand if you’re careful and respectful with it.
Brownsher: I go into writing/producing promos assuming that the listener isn’t going to listen or hear it. People are busy and doing things when listening to radio, so my hope is that I’ll actually grab them and create some type of emotional connection to the promo.
Q: How do you decide what type of music, actualities and SFX to use in your imaging, promos, liners, etc.? Is it more in line with the audience’s tastes or your own?
Morales: I’m a big user of music. Sometimes spanning multiple genres, but using it to tell the story that I’m trying to accomplish. Andrew Ashwood, my mentor at FOX Sports Radio, used to call imaging the blank canvas, and the music, drops, effects, VO, highlights, were the paint strokes of colors making the final work of art.
Every piece is different. Some can be quick with multiple SFX from a library like Alien Imaging FX, that is fast moving and sounds like something from a CHR/Rock station. Then another promo can have just a song and VO, depending on the message. I love NFL Game sound. When I started 12 years ago, you could only find it on Inside the NFL every week. Now, NFL Network has Sound FX and makes it easy. That behind the scenes audio is full of passion and energy which helps bring a football promo to life. I try to work in my own tastes, but I think about the audience at every step. A piece of music may be great for a promo just for LA, but may not be cool for the network or in a different market.
Schmidt: I employ what I’ve come to call the Sonic Pallet. It’s setting a range of sound styles that are IN and sound styles that are OUT in terms of defining a sonic signature for the radio station. It morphs and evolves over time, but it’s a guide. It’s easiest to do when launching stations because you can start from scratch, but I also do it with re-brands and re-builds too.
Regarding taste, I do believe we have an obligation to reflect the general taste of our audience, but this does not relieve us of our responsibly to smartly lead the audience forward to show them what else is possible. Our tastes should be wider than the general audience, not to be above them, but to use as a source ofinspiration for generating new ideas, and to get a sense of what the audience will consider cool and mainstream 12 months from now.
Brownsher: I think the mood and feel is one of the more important things to decide upon when creating promos. I’ll ask myself a couple of different questions such as “What kind of feeling am I trying to elicit with this bed” or “Does this sound byte actually further the story.” I try and assess the reasons why I’m taking a particular approach.
Generally speaking, I can do what I like with respect to the audience’s tastes, and I’m right in the middle of the ESPN Radio demo, so the work I’m producing doesn’t feel like much of a stretch. However, New York City is a rather diverse market, so I’m always conscious of the many different demos we have that are listening.
Levy: This always goes back to what the station is. If it’s a Rock, Top 40 or a Sports station, you can have a lot more fun in terms of getting crazy with SFX and highlights. Newstalk and hard hitting stations use less SFX and more substance. Whatever your station is, you have to know the audience you’re playing to. Especially if it’s a heritage station. Those brands usually require more thought because you have to know how to get your message across creatively, while staying inside the boundary of your station’s standards. That said, there are ways to throw yourself into it no matter what format you’re working on.
For my AM station, they let me have fun, and be creative, because they know that I’m aware of the station’s heritage, and what the audience expects. If I’m doing a sports promo, that comes easy because I’m a sports nut, and my radio background is rich in sports. I’ll set things up with music, SFX, and highlights, and I know how to build it before I even write the copy. For talk shows, if I’m producing a promo, I like to choose the music according to the subject matter. That’s a good way to put your stamp on something without having to go all out.
Q: How can you tell if your imaging/production is or isn’t connecting with the audience?
Schmidt: I’ve been fortunate over the years to be in a lot of research and perceptual meetings where you’ll hear your station’s slogan repeated back. While a lot of people pat themselves on the back for that, I’ve always believed that’s table stakes considering you repeat the slogan on-air thousands of times. I’m much more interested in hearing if certain campaigns and ideas generated a response or an emotional connection/reaction. But that is a very expensive and time-consuming way to get feedback.
You can also get feedback on social media. I have always believed in making sure at least some of the imaging I create is such that it could be shared by the audience on social platforms. That means it has to get out of a “Just The Facts” approach and try to connect with the audience emotionally, and this almost always means the imaging can’t just be about your radio station.
Levy: The beauty of being an imaging guy is that my work is catered to my boss. He sets the tone for the station and the audience. If I create something and he doesn’t get it, I know that I have to go back and fix what needs fixing. Like anything else, after a month of doing stuff for the boss, you’ll know what they like, and that allows you to create production that is in line with what they want on the radio station.
Morales: In network radio, often the imaging is mainly show opens and rejoins, so you’ll hear a caller or see a tweet that references the imaging. They may not know what to call it, but over the years I’ve heard a lot of “we love that thing that brings on the host and recaps the previous show” or they talk about a certain drop, music, or VO phrase. Sean Pendergast of KILT/Houston (used to be with us at Gow/YSR) used to call it the WWE entrance music effect. My imaging helped set the stage and pump him up to come out and perform.
In my years with the Tony Bruno Morning Show at FOX, my goal was to make Tony laugh every morning with the open. If he was pumped up and laughing out of the gate, and referenced the open and imaging, then I knew it connected with the audience.
On a local level, it sometimes is a little more challenging because a lot of the work is station related branding/promos. But hearing callers reference “you guys have that thing saying you’re #1 in LA”, that thing they are talking about is the imaging. When you hear that, you know your work is cutting through.
Brownsher: That’s a really tough one. I’m honestly not sure if you can or can’t. Obviously feedback is great, but this has always been an areas that’s been tough for me to gauge.
Q: Do you find listeners more likely to consume shorter or longer promos, and why?
Brownsher: I think the shorter the better. If you think a listener is going to sit and consume your promos, that’s not accurate. I especially hate laundry list promos and when I hear them I wonder what the station is trying to accomplish. “We got all this stuff that we wanna tell you about and we know you’re gonna sit here and listen to it and then remember it.” Nonsense! Make it short and impactful.
Schmidt: Obviously with PPM you want to keep everything moving so in general you have to respect that by making your point at concisely as possible. But you have to be able to spot the exceptions, such as when the local teams are in the news, the playoffs, etc. You want to express, reflect and draw on your listeners increased passion in those times even if it goes over :30 seconds! In the past I’ve created the on-air cut down version and the theatrical release version for online.
Levy: This is one that changes like the weather. I don’t think any promo should be longer than 45-60 seconds. I believe any promo can be funny, creative, connect with the audience, and get your point across within 25 seconds or less. In my opinion, that’s all I think listeners can take when hearing any form of creative production. The more time you add to a promo, the more likely people get bored or tune out. Short and concise is the ideal marker.
Morales: When PPM was still relatively new, Craig Larson (YSR PD and Gow Houston) said something very wise when I was referencing another station’s concerns that I had been working with. They were worried about promos being too long. Craig looked at me and said, “If it’s 15 seconds and garbage, then it’s garbage. If it’s 60 seconds and amazing, then isn’t that the goal, to have amazing imaging”?
I’ve been fortunate to be blessed with PD’s like Mike Thompson and Nate Lundy who have my back when I get a little long in painting the picture of what we’re striving for. The ratings and results back up that having a long promo doesn’t hurt the station. I think we need to concentrate on listeners consuming “GREAT” promo messaging that builds an image, sells the station and its personalities, and creates theater of the mind. THAT is what makes imaging part of the magic of radio.
Q: What type of promos do you feel connect best with the audience, and why? (Ex: Appointment promos, Funny bits, straight forward brand builders/slogans, play by play/game promos, etc)
Schmidt: If a listener hears a dry liner over a music bed saying a big guest is coming up in 10 minutes and they remember to check back in, did that connect? PPM says yes. But let’s not forget that “Connect” also means an emotional connection that could deepen a listeners bond with your radio station.
I think station imaging not only has the opportunity but the responsibility to deliver on both fronts. How you do that should be specific to the needs and wants of your listeners, and station.
Morales: I think you have to offer a few different categories in today’s PPM infested world. We know we want cume recylclers, appointment builders, guests, PBP game promos, and those are vital depending on the station and it’s presentation. But, I love “imagers” centered around the talent and the message of the station. I think of them like beat mix/hook promos for a music station. A promo that is a collection of talent drops, with a great music mix, etc. sounds fun and cool, and they differentiate our format from the political spoken word world.
They can also really sparkle amongst the other straight forward imaging we do on the station. To the listener, it makes their choice of our station resonate as a good one in their heads and minds. Who doesn’t want to feel like they’ve made the right choice in something? We want to image that their “fraternity” is our station’s performers.
Brownsher: I believe it’s probably a combination of all of the above. I do value appointment guest promos if the guest is a really good one, or highly topical. I’m not much of a funny bit producer for promos in stopsets, but I do think they can add some value during the actual shows. We carry a lot of play-by-play on the station so we do our fair show of game promos and try to make them feel like a big deal.
Levy: The station itself dictates what promo’s connect best with the audience. The AM station that I image for, we have a lot happening at once. We have HUGE on-air talents hosting shows during the day. We also have Notre Dame football, and now we will be carrying the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls starting next year. The promos I create are catered to the audiences of each of those elements.
Q: When you listen to the imaging/production of other sports stations around the country, what do you hear them doing well, and where do they miss opportunities?
Morales: I hear many pushing the envelope these days with creative writing that makes the station sizzle and seem more edgy than what it may really be. For a format growing rapidly into M18-34, and FM sticks, we want to image being the best MALE station, not just the best sports station. We want to compete with top 5 M25-54 music stations, not just be the #1 sports talker. It’s awesome to hear stations that can capture this.
Where many miss the opportunity, is because they still view our format as something that needs to be imaged simple. A dry liner from Jim Cutler, that is thrown over a bed coming back from break. It’s sad. Cutler is one of the best VO people on this planet, so why would you waste his read? Why would you waste the listener’s time?
This is the old mindset that sports radio is the format that will never get past a 0.5 in the market, and it’s just turn key and all about sports. Sometimes this happens because a station doesn’t have an imaging person or if there is one, they’re stretched inside the cluster. It also starts with the PD. If they don’t care about imaging, then why would their production person? When Dave Shore was the OM of KSPN, he could literally recite every on-air promo back to me. If he didn’t like something, I would get a text at all hours. He understood the importance of imaging, and was as passionate about how the station sounded as I was. That is vital.
Schmidt: In general, great stations take advantage of the fact that imaging has the unique opportunity of being totally pre-planned, where the exact script, actors, music, and sound effects can all be used in full force to create something powerful.
On the missed opportunity side I perceive a calcification in Sports Radio Imaging where “the way it’s done” has already been decided (by whom?) and is senselessly copied. From both revenue and unique programming perspectives, Sports Radio has major advantages that Music Radio doesn’t have, but it isn’t immune from becoming what U.S. AM Talk Radio has devolved into if it stops innovating and just keeps repeating itself.
Brownsher: I’m always impressed when stations are doing very directed specific promos that point to something. Whether they are topicals or teasing to something that’s coming up. In my opinion, it means they’re thinking about what they’re putting on the air and trying to make it easy for the listener.
The opposite would be stations that run promos saying “look at us and how great we are” or “here’s a laundry list of what we’re doing”. The other ones that I reject are giant fluff pieces that don’t push me towards anything and are just taking up inventory.
Levy: Sports radio all across the country is at an awesome level. There are so many great shows and talents that are being featured. I’m a sucker for show promos. I always hone in on how a station market’s and brand’s their lineup, and how long they go with their promos.
Are they only giving me the funny stuff? Are they giving me guys who try to ram stats down my throat? Are the promos providing a great blend of all of those attributes? Most importantly, if they’re making a long show promo, the build up to the ending better pay off. If it doesn’t, my ears will tune out their future promos.
Q: Why is good production, messaging, and branding important for a sports radio station?
Levy: Because sports radio is huge and outlets are everywhere (the internet, social media, sports alerts on my phone). A radio station needs to find a way to separate themselves from this massive pack.
The message that you brand yourself with is the one that listeners will identify you as. Are you the station that is the home for a certain team? Are you the station to turn to and vent your frustrations to after the big game or big sports story of the day? Great imaging and production is essential to building the brand, and that includes on-air, marketing, and the sales side too.
Brownsher: People ultimately come to the radio station because of the personalities. If I can be an effective extension of that and remind them though our promos and messaging of their importance, then maybe it helps them enjoy the experience more. If they enjoy the station and the way it makes them feel, it should help with getting them to listen more.
Schmidt: I’ve been fortunate to be involved in some iconic brands and was able to see first hand how powerful that can be. The best stations are more than the sum of their parts. They have a distinct stationality that ties it all together. If done correctly, it can deepen a fan’s connection to the brand.
Morales: Imaging and good messaging is vital in helping build your P1’s and TSL. It reaffirms that the listener has made the right choice, and that we want them to spend more time with us, showing them the menu of the station and hosts, making them laugh, smile, mad, essentially feeling something.
Think of the legendary “This is Sports Center” promos. It created an amazing brand and image, and made us feel part of something that was on our TV’s every day, even though we weren’t in Bristol. That’s why it matters.
Q: What advice do you want to pass along to other Imaging Directors, Programmers, and Industry professionals who are looking to upgrade the sound and quality of their brands thru good imaging and production?
Morales: Try new something new each week. John Frost said that to me many years ago. Whether a new VO effect, type of music in a promo, grabbing drops from a source you normally wouldn’t go to, etc. Stay fresh. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s a colossal failure, but you’ve got to keep sharpening your skills. Listen to as much imaging from others out there as you can. I’ve done sports radio imaging for 13 years, and it may sound cliché but I learn something new every week from listening to the imaging of others.
Also, ask for help and advice. When I was FSR’s imaging director, Bob Schmidt was imaging the Clear Channel affiliate in Syracuse, WHEN. He’d email me every week for drops of Tony Bruno and our talent, and send me his stuff. He was passionate and lived and breathed the talent on his station. He’s now in LA at KLAC, and doing some great work across the country.
His right hand man, is my former right hand man, Vito Violante. Vito was young and new when he started with me, but was hungry and worked his ass off to learn. We came up with ideas, and different approaches, and I bounced stuff off of him and our team daily because I wanted ideas and feedback. He’d be the first to come in with a new DVD to pull drops, or find different songs we could use.
To be a great imaging director you need to listen to feedback, and make the talent, producers, and interns all feel part of the imaging process.
Schmidt: Reach out. I’m happy to help! Seriously, we would all be better served by sharing thoughts and ideas and helping each other develop new ideas. It’s far too easy to sit in our offices and studios doing the same things today that we did yesterday. That’s how stations, brands and formats stagnate.
Additionally, when I got to San Francisco in 1997 I was immediately ushered into regular research and perceptual meetings and it changed how I viewed Radio and the role of imaging forever. It made me really appreciate all that goes into creating and maintaining powerful radio brands. It helped me become a more valuable Imaging Director. I encourage every cluster to include their Imaging talent in those essential meetings.
Brownsher: Be smart about what you’re putting on the air. Write short, keep your ears open, and remember that no one listens to your work more than the people in your own building (keep that in perspective).
Also, don’t waste the listener’s time by patting yourself on the back. Music selection is incredibly important, and can’t be overstated in my opinion. Most of all, try to make the listener feel something.
Levy: Don’t ever be afraid to go outside the box. Great imaging/production talents are everywhere. Maybe an alternative imaging guy is exactly what the sports station needs. Separate yourself from those sports stations that beat their chests and say they’re number 1 at everything. Add some splashes that simply make your station sound good!
Remember, sports is fun, not hard hitting. You’re not breaking down the presidential debate or reporting on ISIS. That said, not everything needs to be funny. If it calls for it, great. Know the audience and keep in mind that we are all competing against video and the internet. So great audio, content and especially production, are essential to gaining back that audience.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
Reflecting on the 2023 BSM Summit
“Barrett Media president Jason Barrett reflects on last week’s BSM Summit in Los Angeles.”
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 BSMSummit.com.
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!
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
2023 BSM Summit – March 22, 2023 (Day 2)
We’re keeping you updated on news, key information, and interesting perspectives shared on stage by our speakers.
Day 2 of the 2023 BSM Summit is underway in Los Angeles at the Founders Club at USC. We’re keeping you updated on news, key information, and interesting perspectives shared on stage by our speakers. BSM editor Garrett Searight will be updating this column throughout the day as each session wraps up, so be sure to check back multiple times to avoid missing anything important.
Barrett welcomed attendees to the second day of the BSM Summit, and shared a clip of WWE wrestler Sami Zayn at a recent press conference saying that it is more difficult than ever to create “memorable” content due to so many different options. He asked attendees to remember the question “How do I take something good and turn that into something memorable?’
9:10-9:45 = The Programmer’s Panel presented by
- Jimmy Powers, 97.1 The Ticket
- John Mamola, WDAE, Tampa
- Jeff Rickard, WFNZ, Charlotte
- Raj Sharan, Denver Sports 104.3 The Fan
The discussion began with a focus on content management.
Jimmy Powers shared he meets with afternoon host Mike Valenti every day. “We give him a long leash, because I know he’s going to deliver. A guy like that is so good, we have to let him create”.
Raj Sharan said data has helped deliver buy-in from his talent. He added that some of the former athletes on his station — like Mark Schlereth and Derek Wolfe — have been coached their entire lives, so the ability to show data and explain why they’re doing what they’re doing has been easy.
John Mamola simply said he trusts his talent. “There’s a lot more focus on how do we get them to be better digitally,” Mamola shared. “Finding the content that they do that we can market better where people can find us more often.”
Jeff Rickard believes everyone is different. “We meet a couple times a week, mostly informally, but once a week formally, and I give them one thing. I ask questions to get them to start thinking about what they wanna do. Everybody’s got their own little thing. I try to meet them where they’re at.”
The panel was then asked how the measure success, and what their definition of success is.
Mamola reminisced about the first BSM Summit, where he asked Barrett what the definition of success would be in five years. He said he uses Nielsen as one data point, rather than the data point.
Sharan admitted that while there are several data points available, Nielsen is still the main measurement point they’re chasing. He believed if you’re doing well in Nielsen, social media and digital performance is likely to correlate.
Powers agreed that Nielsen is the most important measurement. Rickard concurred. “That’s the game we’re playing. That’s why we manipulate the clocks for the PPM. It’s the game that we play,” Rickard said.
Branding has also been an important step for the programmers on the panel. Sharan recently went through a brand refresh from 104.3 The Fan to Denver Sports 104.3 The Fan, bringing the station inline with branding used by other Bonneville sports stations.
He compared the branding to that of a company like Meta, which encompasses social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Ultimately, he believed the updated brand will help propel the station into a bigger digital future.
“It was a little challenging to explain to everyone,” Sharan shared. “How are you going to really be in the content business if your name has a radio frequency in it? That sort of stuff went into it.”
The conversation shifted to the length of shows, and what’s the perfect length.
Powers said their station is set up to have four-hour shows, and mentioned that at times his hosts will mention they are burnt out due to the length of their shows.
Rickard mentioned that the WFNZ morning show is four hours, but mentioned that as a talent he didn’t like four hour shows. “I just find that when I’ve done shorter shows, I’ve seen meters increase. I’ve seen energy increase,” Rickard shared.
At Denver Sports 104.3 The Fan, Sharan said if his hosts were robots, four hour shows would be fine, but said that younger audiences attention span’s are shorter, and joked that their talent is getting shorter and shorted.
Mamola said if budgets weren’t an issue, a similar setup how cable news channels format their prime time lineups with one hour hosts would be ideal. “There’s not necessarily a number you can put on it. It’s how the talent makes it feel. It’s more how the talent approaches it and how the execute it on the air.”
Length of spot blocks varies from station to station. Barrett shared there are stations he’s listened to that have had as little as 32 minutes of content in an hour due to spot load.
Powers said they have different clocks for different shows. “Clients love the show, and revenue is very important, so we don’t move it that much,” he said. “If you get too long, you can burn an entire quarter hour.”
Mamola said WDAE has different clocks every hour. “I want to keep our listeners guessing,” he shared, adding that he tried to manipulate the PPM quarter hour numbers.
Sharan admitted his station has 20 minutes of commercials an hour in morning and afternoon drive, but that number drops down to 12 minutes during middays.
“You gotta be careful, because if you don’t put your foot down, sales guys will take a mile,” Rickard added.
The final topic was about video content. Some companies have deals with Twitch, while others prefer to air their programs on YouTube.
“There’s never been a video component at WFNZ,” Rickard admitted. “It’s something I’m going to work on this summer. I think the key is my engineering staff figuring out the encoding with that. If someone has a meter and they’re gonna watch on YouTube, I need that counted.”
“Our YouTube strategy didn’t really start until eight or nine months ago,” Mamola said. “We talked about putting our content where everybody is. It’s all about building engagement and getting people to come to your brand.”
9:45-10:20 = 20 Deadly Sins of Sports Radio: Redefined presented by
- Bruce Gilbert – Cumulus Media/Westwood One
In October 2005, Gilbert shared the 20 deadly sins of talk radio. He shared he was going through a tough time during the original deadly sins. He added that sins are negative, so he is changing them to 20 ass-kicking attributes.
Those attributes are:
- Forward Momentum
- Effective One Topic Teases
- Don’t Talk Too Much
- Accompanying Audio
- Clock Discipline
- S.O.S. (Storytelling, Opinions, and Show Business)
- Authenticity Over Arrogance
- Short Open-Ended Questions
- Excellence Over Success
- Play The Hit
- Don’t Forget to Have Fun
- Embrace The Migration
10:20-10:55 = Wheel of Content presented by
- Amanda Brown – ESPN LA 710
- Joy Taylor – FOX Sports
- Mina Kimes – ESPN
- Demetri Ravanos – Barrett Sports Media
A physical wheel was brought to the stage with nine topics. The first topic was about flexibility and how they manage it in contrast to media company exclusivity.
“I think it’s the future,” Joy Taylor said. “Because you have the ability to have your own platform, if you’re big enough, you can exist outside of a traditional media company. If (companies) wanna pay for exclusivity, you’ve gotta pay for exclusivity, and that drives the price higher.”
“There’s a balance,” Kimes said. “As someone who does football content for ESPN five days a week, it would be strange if I was doing football content somewhere else.” She mentioned that she was given the opportunity to do pop culture podcasts with a friend at The Ringer, and was grateful ESPN allowed it.
Brown looks at it from the management aspect, but said she’s supportive of those that want to branch out to other avenues. “Anywhere your talent can be and people can consume them, they will, and they’ll associate it with your brand,” she said.
The next topic was who the best interview has been.
Kimes said Deandre Hopkins has been her favorite interview. She said she pitched the interview for two years before it finally happened and he was very candid during it.
Taylor said it was difficult to decide the definition of “best” but landed on an interview with Allen Iverson “was pretty amazing”.
“As talent, someone that’s responsive and engaged is always the best. Pro wrestlers are always awesome. Someone like Magic Johnson is always going to give you a great interview.”
Brown said an interview with Kobe Bryant during her days producing Max & Marcellus where he continually dropped the phone call due to signal ended up becoming a hilarious discussion.
The wheel then landed on the “path to stardom”, with BSM’s Demetri Ravanos questioning how the panel balanced if they got to where they are due to success, luck, strategy, or something else.
“It’s not like being a lawyer, teacher, or doctor. There’s not a test where it’s outlined for you,” Taylor said. “You can get very lost in the business. You can take jobs that don’t align with what you wanna do long term. You’re probably not gonna be getting paid what you think you should be getting paid. It can be demoralizing.“
She then said knowing what you want to do is half the battle, and noted that maybe that position or role doesn’t exist yet. Taylor experienced that situation by knowing that she wanted to be a sports opinionist, but that avenue wasn’t widely available to women. She decided that was the path she was going to take.
“I wish I had your clarity and vision,” Kimes joked to Taylor. “I think I’ve done every job you can have at ESPN. I think the thing I could say is: every job I had I didn’t view as a stepping stone. Every show I treated like was the most important thing that I ever did and ever would do. I just wanted to do it the best. I treated it like this might be the thing I do for the next five years.”
Social media was the next topic, with Kimes joking “great”.
“It has diminishing returns if you let it take over your life. The bigger your profile grows, the bigger your audience grows, the less you have to look at it,” Kimes said. “If someone says you shouldn’t be on Twitter, that’s not true. It is part of your job. However, I also think that the bigger the firehouse of engagement gets, I have had to be much more deliberate of what I see, what I allow to penetrate my brain. It’s too much. It’s not all negative, but it’s all too much.”
“Social media is not real. I’m an algorithm nerd,” Taylor said, adding that she’s always looking for the best practices on the platforms. “It’s your public face. It’s what you’re presenting to the world. For me, social media has to be intentional. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t believe humans were meant to get this much feedback, but it is a very important part of our job. Sports and Twitter are synonymous. The only things we consume live are politics and sports. I think you should be very intentional on how you consume it and I think you should approach social media like the big beast. How are you going to deal with it?”
Brown said ESPN LA 710 has a different brand on social media than that of its radio station.
“We do stuff that’s social media specific, or shows that are only streaming on our social media. That’s what people wanna see. They don’t wanna see the clips from the show, they wanna see the talent doing dumb shit. They wanna see the talent’s lives.”
Ravanos concluded by asking about sports betting information and content into spaces it wasn’t traditionally welcomed.
“We’re not quite there yet,” Brown said, noting that legal sports betting isn’t yet legal in California. “If it does become legal, we wanna monetize it.”
“It does dovetail nicely with our ongoing discussions,” Kimes said.
“The goal is to keep eyeballs on the show,” Taylor added. “People are tuning in to hear what we think and get information on anything, but putting it in a way that is consumable and easy to digest is the best,” mentioning Colin Cowherd’s The Blazing 5 as a great method to present it to the audience.
“I actually prefer we have something to base our conversations on, rather than just the generic term ‘overrated’, or whatever, it really helps to have something to base it on and quantify it with,” Kimes added.
11:10-11:45 = Keynote Conversation presented by
- Eric Shanks – FOX Sports
Shanks starts off discussing launching two new broadcasting booths for MLB and NFL and his crew’s performance during the Super Bowl. The conversation shifts to FOX Sports owning the USFL and if the appetite for football is strong enough to sustain other leagues.
“People always ask me what’s the next big thing in covering sports and I always say football,” Shanks said. “If we could increase NFL ratings by 1%, it would be incredible. We come at it from the FOX perspective that we come from the TV ratings standpoint. We kind of turned the model on its head. We have a sustainable business model that hasn’t happened with spring football in the last 30 or 40 years. There’s an insatiable appetite for football in this country. Is there room for multiple ones? I don’t know.”
Barrett asked about the network’s foray into the college football landscape, including the launch of Big Noon Kickoff to compete with College GameDay, including the decision on talent and utilizing newly retired players.
“There was a void at noon. We take our best pick and place it at noon. So we put together a group that we feel really good about. We decided to take the next leap of investment and take the show on the road. When you see that crowd, you want to keep on watching. We need to get better at it every week, but between Reggie (Bush), Urban (Meyer), and Matt (Leinart), it’s a really relevant group. And we have great storytelling with (Tom) Ronaldi.”
Shanks continued by talking about the network’s strategy in regards to having fun on the air, compared to the approach brought by other networks.
“You can’t take yourself too seriously,” Shanks said. “You want people on the air that when they speak, people listen. You wanna be the group that everyone wants to sit and have a beer with. That’s kind of our philosophy.”
When asked about biggest risks he’s taken that he’s gotten right and wrong, Shanks talked about the Harry Caray hologram before pointing out the network’s role in evolving the NFL content experience.
“At the time that we started Red Zone, nobody knew what NFL viewing would look like. Nobody had ever seen a commercial-free, all-action viewing experience. That was a pretty big risk that we couldn’t get wrong.”
“We tried bass fishing for awhile, and we had Joe Buck announcing it. It was right after we made the NHL puck glowing, so we put stuff on the fish that made them glow. The fishermen couldn’t see them but the folks at home are thinking ‘the fish is right there you idiot…so maybe bass fishing wouldn’t be what it is today without us,” Shanks joked.
The creation of FS1 in 2013 was a large undertaking, and Shanks admitted he knew it would take time to gain a foothold.
“The reason we started FS1 was we had these individual niche audiences (Fuel, Speed, and Fox Soccer). We saw a world where it would be harder and harder to get carriage and distribution for. So we merged those three channels into FS1. That was the reason we built FS1. Jamie (Horowitz) was here at the time, and was a big believer in building morning talk and was the big driver of landing Skip (Bayless), and I knew nothing of it at the time. It’s now about 25% of our audience viewing. It’s a brand that brings a lot of value and brings a lot of value to the pay TV bundle.”
Barrett asked Shanks about the streaming strategy for the network, mentioning that it has been one of the lone companies that hasn’t thrown bundles of cash at the platform.
“A couple of years ago, we were in wait and see mode. I think at this point, we’re kind of in that post-streaming wars era. We’re in the eighth or ninth inning. We’re not sitting on the sideline. We’re looking at everyone else thinking ‘What are they gonna do?’. On the entertainment side, you could say it’s added benefits to customers. But on the sports side? Anybody here can look at those standalone streaming services as a sports fan and think they’ve added inconvenience and expense. I can’t get anything from one single source anymore. They’re taking advantage of sports fans, to be quite honest. There’s some decision that are going to need to be made in the standalone streaming services that are relying upon pure streaming sports.”
Frustration with Nielsen has been an ongoing topic with both TV and radio groups, and Shanks said FOX Sports is no different, but did give the ratings measurement company some grace.
“I think it’s complicated. Nothing’s ever going to be perfect, but it’s the currency that we all live with. How else are you going to transact unless you agree that’s how we’re transacting? Technology is always advancing. Out-of-home is starting to get credit for viewing that was always there. I give credit to Nielsen that if they find errors, they’re not afraid to go back and correct it.”
“I can’t think of a product that we’re living and dying by the ratings with,” Shanks continued. “There’s not anything — at least in our portfolio — that a little bit of mis-measurement or data will make or break us.”
In the sports betting space, Shanks believed there’s plenty more legalization that will take place in the coming years.
“It’s still tough to tease out if legalized sports betting has had an affect on ratings,” before noting FOX Sports would look at being upstream in the sports betting space, rather than simply accepting ad dollars.
He added that he doesn’t currently view an all-gambling sports content network from the company in the short term.
“For us, that’s a ways off. I’d rather take the most interesting people, the most credible people, and the biggest events, and weave it in for the masses, rather than do niche programming.”
When asked about his goals for the future, Shanks said utilizing the company’s availability is what he strives for.
“Internally, it always starts with culture. Is it a fun place to work? From a business standpoint, we have a couple of renewals coming up. I think that for us it really does come back to some of these tangential investments, whether it’s in wagering or USFL, so if I could go forward five years and look back and question did we create new business. Whether it’s baseball, international soccer and the World Cup, are you situated out with the core business and take some of the buying power that FOX has to be transformative.”
He continued the conversation by saying he is open to working with talent from other networks and collaborating, mentioning Alex Rodriguez’s desire to be a game analyst. “We didn’t really have a spot for him, so we were fine” with the former All-Star joining ESPN in addition to keeping his role at FOX.
The Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks were previously owned by FOX Sports, and has experienced a collapse after the company sold them to Disney before divesting themselves to Diamond Sports Group. Shanks called the situation a perfect storm.
“When we had the RSNs, we had 44 of the 88 pro teams. We knew how much leverage we were using for distribution and rate, and brought the whole portfolio of FOX to make them successful. And they worked. The world has changed. We got everything out of the RSNs that we could get. Once they went and landed where that portfolio was in place that it couldn’t support, that was the secret sauce. The concentration of teams, the leverage we would bring to bear, and without that, you can see where they are today. There’s just as many fans that want the content, and when they’re in the bundle, it worked. But going outside the bundle and going direct? It didn’t work.”
11:45-12:15 = 2023 BSM Summit Awards Ceremony (Day 2) presented by
- Jeff Smulyan – Emmis Communications
- Julie Talbott – Premiere Networks
- Al Michaels – Amazon Prime Video
Premiere Networks President Julie Talbott was honored with the 2023 Jeff Smulyan Award. The Emmis Communications founder welcomed Talbott to the stage.
“This is a lot of fun for me. Jason called me years ago, and said ‘We want to name this award in your honor’, and I said ‘Thank god it’s not in my memory’. I’m really proud to honor Julie,” said Smulyan. “Not only is she one of the great leaders in the industry, she’s one of the great people in our industry.”
Talbott shared her appreciation for being given an award named after a trusted friend.
“I am absolutely thrilled to be here. Imagine being honored for such an award, but to have a name with a really good friend, it’s amazing,” Talbott said.
“I sure wouldn’t be here without a great team. I thank you so much. It means the world to me to accept this award with the Jeff Smulyan name on it.”
Legendary broadcaster Al Michaels was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award, and shared his appreciation for being bestowed with the honor.
“It’s great to be with so many people who got into the business because we love sports,” Michaels said. “It’s also great to see so many people that are so radio centric. In my generation, the best broadcasters were from radio.”
Michaels shared that he’s been paired with more than 100 different partners during his tenure, and briefly reminisced about them.
“Looking at all of those partners — John Madden, Cris Collinsworth, the great Tim McCarver, the best to ever analyze baseball on television, Jim Palmer, Doc Rivers, Ken Dryden, Jackie Stewart. I worked with Howard Cossell, O.J. Simpson, and Bruce Jenner, I’ve been around the block,” Michaels joked.
Sports broadcasting has seen radical changes over his career, and talked about some of the more obscure sports he has announced.
“The business has changed so much. When I did Wide World of Sports at ABC, I did motorcycle racing on ice, target driving in West Germany, but in those years ABC did a ton of auto racing. So I’ve done 30 NASCAR racing, 6 or 7 Formula 1 racing, you had to be a jack of all trades. I’m doing all this auto racing on national television, and I didn’t know how to use self-serve (gasoline).”
Michaels was joined at the event by Prime Video colleagues Andrew Whitworth and Kaylee Hartung, as well as Amazon Vice President of Global Sports Video Marie Donoghue. He shared his excitement about the product the streaming platform put together in its debut season.
“These people were totally supportive and totally invested in making this look like a big time show. One of the big things they did was hire Fred Gaudelli, and he made this look like a big time television show. I’m so proud of where we’ve come.”
Michaels is the voice of the most famous call in sports broadcasting history with his “Do you believe in miracles?” as the United States defeated the Russian hockey team in the 1980 Olympics. He explained that it was complete happenstance that he received the assignment.
“I got hockey because I was the only guy on that staff who had done hockey. I had done one hockey game. It was serendipitous. I could also explain offside and icing.”
Michaels concluded that one of the fallacies that took some time to get over was the idea that a great game means it was a great broadcast.
“Some of the best games, the games I’m most proud of, were bad games. The broadcast can be great without a great game. A great game doesn’t equal a great broadcast. But those are the things I’m most proud of. Those bad games that turn into great broadcasts.”
1:30-2:10 = Creating a Superstar presented by
- Shawn Michaels – WWE
The session began with Jason Barrett asking Michaels about the way the WWE scouts talent as the world has changed.
“We’re starting to cast a much wider net than we ever have before,” Michaels said. “Finding former athletes. Not everyone is gonna make it to the pros. Football, baseball, gymnastics. We’re reaching out to universities across the country and finding those athletes. You always keep a keen eye for someone that might have that electric personality, the it factor.”
The conversation shifted to how the WWE will brand an individual athlete as they’re gaining their footing with the organization.
“We have promo classes. They’re in front of green screens, they’re pitched ideas, situations, characters, learning to help teach them how to talk with entertainment but not lose your character. We ask them if they’ve ever thought about their name or character. You get a look inside their thought process. You’d be surprised how many have great ideas and there are others that we have to help out. We look for things that are organic or are already in them. We look for someone who is 100% a good actor.”
Barrett asked how WWE plans for its talent to hit the mainstream and what that buildup process looks like.
“It varies from talent to talent,” Michaels admitted. “We have a 7-to-10 week time period that we’ll use 30 to 45 second vignettes to build up the introduction to that character.”
When asked how to decide between creating characters or utilizing the natural personality of talent, Michaels said it’s all about feel.
“We feel like we have a really good pulse on our audience. From a wrestling standpoint, if you’re a bigger guy, it’s ok to laugh along with you, but we don’t want people laughing at you.”
Michaels shared he believes wrestling, like other content creators, is about storytelling.
“From the get go, we’re telling stories. It’s the story of the journey our characters are going through. We fight good and evil. Good guy versus bad guy. We just do it in a 20×20 ring. Our stories just end in a fight.”
Like sports radio stations, the WWE sometimes has to decide if something isn’t working.
“One of the greatest things about the WWE is our fan base. That sounds cliche at times. They’re brutally honest. When they don’t like something, they’ll let you know. Sometimes you have to push through that initial reaction,” Michaels said, pointing to the promotion’s star Roman Reigns long tenured unpopularity before ascending to be one of the company’s biggest draws.
Barrett asked how Michaels sees WWE defines success outside of strictly dollars and cents.
“I look at it in a number of different ways. I understand that if I don’t produce decent ratings, I don’t know how long I’ll be in the job. But at the same time, I have to produce talent. I may not have a number I can put on that, but I have to produce talent. 95% of our talent at WrestleMania will have grown through NXT. From that standpoint, NXT has been a big success. I can’t live and die by the weekly ratings. It’s about supplying the main roster with talent for the future.”
Michaels also shared that wrestling talent, like many in our industry, want to be told the facts from their managers.
“They almost always want to hear the truth, even when it’s tough,” Michaels said. “I deal with everybody the way Vince McMahon used to deal with me. He gave me a lot of free reign. He supported me and gave me space to take risks. He cut me loose, and said if it goes too far, I’ll reel you back in. I was uninhibited. It allowed me to be an artist.”
Barrett asked about the difference between allowing free reign versus what the company needs from a particular promo or story line.
“They have to earn your trust. From the beginning, you have to be able to get the points and follow the script. As you become a better steward of what you’re given, you’re entrusted with more. Not everybody just gets to go up there and wing it or feel it. You’ll have to follow a certain script. When you complete that, we give you a little freedom. It has to start regimented. There are I’s that have to be dotted and T’s that have to be crossed, and once they’ve been tasked with that and they complete it, we allow more creativity.”
2:10-2:45 = Aircheck on Campus presented by
- Mark Chernoff – Formerly of WFAN
- Scott Shapiro – FOX Sports Radio
- Rob Parker – FOX Sports Radio
- Michael Fiumefreddo – USC
The panel began by listening to a five minute clip of a recent show from WFAN’s Carton & Roberts, that encompassed St. Patrick’s Day, the injury off Edwin Diaz, a pizza being dismantled by a producer who dropped it in an elevator, and the belief that Aaron Rodgers would never play for the Jets.
BSM Director of Content Demetri Ravanos asked the panel if they heard five minutes of content that will keep PPM listeners.
“There was enough, but maybe a little too much all over the place, but it’s enough to keep me there,” former WFAN Brand Manager Mark Chernoff said. “I certainly heard enough that I would stick with the station because they talked about the two topics listeners want to hear about.”
“To get my five minutes, it did. It wasn’t perfect, but it did get my five minutes because there was passion there,” Scott Shapiro added. “At the very start of it, I did not understand some of the St. Patricks Day stuff, but it was 50 seconds in, and they brought up Edwin Diaz. I got the impression it was going to go on longer, and I wouldn’t have stayed longer if he went another minute, but to Carton’s credit, he brought it back.”
Ravanos asked how the programmers would balance formatic mistakes against content decisions.
“Howard Stern would go on for an hour and ten minutes, and do an 18 or 20 minutes commercial break, but he was getting 9, 10, 12 shares, and I said ‘You know what? They’re sticking with him, they don’t know when he’s coming back, and the content is so compelling that we can’t tell him to reign it in’. Content is king,” Chernoff said. “If the content is great, flush the format.”
“We want people to be human and take chances on the air, but there’s a road map, learn from them, and appeal to the broadest set of the audience,” Shapiro added.
FOX Sports Radio host Rob Parker then joined the panel to discuss a five minute clip from a recent episode of The Odd Couple with Chris Broussard, and a discussion ensued about how to aircheck with talent present.
“Scott is the dream programmer because he listens to the show,” Parker said of Shapiro. “One day, we were doing the show and Scott sent a text that said ‘Cut it out’. And I thought ‘What did we do?’ And Scott sent a follow up that said ‘I’m in my driveway and I’m laughing my head off’.”
“To me, I was gone from the show after the first minute. You can’t spend the first minute reading a commercial. Do it going into the break, if you have to,” Chernoff said. “If you wanted to talk about Aaron Rodgers, talk about Aaron Rodgers. It took four minutes to get there. You went on some tangents, for starting a show, it was all over the place. I had no idea where you were going. Those first few minutes, there was no substance, and you’ve got to have substance to start the show.”
“The read at the start is a 15-second read. It can sound like a 60-second read, but they pay a lot of money to be at the start of the show, so that’s not going anywhere,” Shapiro countered. “Rob Parker set the table off some nice momentum 1:45 in, with topics like Aaron Rodgers and Damian Lillard. We did not mention anything about Aaron Rodgers again until 3:45 in. That’s where my critique comes in. It can’t be two minutes. Let’s trim that down and get to the topics quicker.”
2:45-3:20 = The Era of Talent Led Audio Networks presented by
- Logan Swaim – The Volume
- Jack Rose – Silver Tribe Media
- Mike Davis – Dirty Mo Media
- Richelle Markazene – Omaha Productions
The panel led by Jack Rose began the discussion by asking Davis what has defined Dirty Mo Media.
“We’ve taken some pretty big swings,” Davis said. “We’re going after a strategic vision. We started some new shows, we’ve got gambling content, we started a new show with a guy that we identified — Denny Hamlin — so those are the swings we’ve taken.”
Swaim added that instant reaction content has been a growth driver for The Volume. “That is when we believe we are at our best because that is when sports fans want that content the most,” adding that they had traditionally operated under the usual podcast model. He said that company founder Colin Cowherd questioned why he couldn’t just turn something around after game ended, and it’s led to a new outlook.
Markazene said — similarly to The Volume — they look for new content centered around current athletes. “When we first launched, we thought it was really important to have an active player on our roster. We did that with Cam Hayward of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We didn’t anticipate the ups and downs of the Steelers season, so as he was navigating through that, he was also able to give his honest and timely reactions to the season on his podcast, which we found really resonated with fans.”
Rose mentioned that the digital media world is still largely in its infancy, but asked the panel what they’ve noticed isn’t working.
“Early on, we worked on getting new episodes out in a timely manner. I think a pivot we’re making now is our producers working on what is newsworthy and how we can get it out faster,” Markazene said. “I don’t think we did a good enough job of getting the newsworthy content in a timely manner.”
“The biggest missteps that I feel like I’ve made and we’ve made is we get so excited about an idea that we rush it to market,” Davis added. “And we don’t ask the basic questions before we take it to market. What’s the identity and why will people want to consume it? You can have answers to that and it can still succeed, but if you don’t have answers to that, you might not be ready to take it to market. If you don’t have those basic things answered, it probably won’t work.”
When asked what a point of emphasis is in the advertising space for The Volume, Swaim said it’s influence over inventory.
“With The Volume, we have a roster of not just podcast hosts but influencers. There are so many other ways to sell into an influencer rather than just a podcast itself. There’s all these other tentacles with that.”
Davis shared his process of going “hard to the hoop” to close deals.
“There were corporate, strong brands that were alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. when we started this,” David said, before adding that they were slow to sponsor Dirty Mo Media content. “‘We recognize that you’re doing great, but you’re going to need to explain it to us’, is what we heard a lot. Not only is this something you want to be a part of, but it’s also something we can help them benefit from and something that is necessary for them.”
“As we started the network, we’ve had Caesar’s Sportsbook as a partner, and they’ve been tremendous on giving us feedback so we can align our content goals,” Markazene said. “I’m excited to see what we can all do together.”
Swaim added that gambling content is still “the Wild West”. He mentioned their partnership with FanDuel that helps drive different ways to customize gambling content inside different shows on the podcast network.
Rose asked how each of their companies use their biggest brands to create new content and advertising opportunities.
“My job is to create content for fans and content for Dale,” Davis joked. “I’m building a platform around a personality that is true to his authenticity, true to his ideals, but wasn’t his idea. When it’s not his idea, he’s not going to go push anything unless he’s all-in. He doesn’t play the game unless he’s interested. But that’s how I want him. My job is to keep him engaged and happy.”
“(Cowherd) calls me randomly. He’s usually mid-segment, and I engage with him,” Swaim said. “He uses sports analogies to grow the company. He likes to embrace the idea that he’s willing to move off of stuff that’s not working and double down on stuff that is. Colin has the ability to see talent in people many others don’t, and empowering them to do something many didn’t believe was out there.”
“Peyton (Manning) set’s the tone for Omaha in front of the camera and behind the scenes, too,” Markazene added. “Peyton is committed to every Omaha product and initiative. He was key in identifying talent and bringing them to our rosters. After launch, he’s made regular appearances on all of our shows.”
3:35-4:10 = Social Media Goes Hollywood presented by
- Karlo Sy Su – ESPN LA 710
- Matthew Demeke – AM 570 LA Sports
Barrett Media President Jason Barrett began the conversation by asking Karlo and Matthew how they decide on which platforms to prioritize and if there are certain days and times that they focus on making sure content is available.
Karlo shared the station has nearly 500,000 followers on Facebook, which allows opportunities to share more accessible content.
Demeke shared that “really good content is really good content”, adding that there isn’t a specific time that works best for the station’s best content.
“Anytime is a good time,” Su added.
The topic shifted to how each defines social media success.
“I like to see engagement,” said Su. “The fact that people will watch the content and then take the time to comment on it? That’s huge. I value the comment. People are taking the time to digest that content.”
“It’s a lot of things,” Demeke said.
“Engagement’s a big thing. Secondly, are people listening? We have to drive everyone back to listening. I need to get people back to our shows, whether that’s on the app or the radio. I saw a comment a couple of weeks ago on our post, that said ‘I found Roggin and Rodney through social’. That’s a big success. There’s so many ways to define it.”
After Barrett played a clip of Omar Raja talking with Gary Vaynerchuk about his approach to social media content creation, Su shared that the numbers his brand has delivered have been accomplished through organic reach, not with the help of paid media. “That is a display of pride in our work rather than cheating in a way. If we are looking to reach goals, that’s on us rather than putting some greenbacks to put us beyond our goal.”
“There’s zero dollars, zero cents on paid media,” agreed Demeke. “We get creative on how we do our marketing. We do paid media, but in a different way. This way brings engagement and brings people back to the radio station.”
Barrett asked about how the pair trust social media platforms, especially TikTok given that there’s been conversation around the platform being banned in the future.
“Nothing is gonna get reversed immediately,” said Su. “TikTok’s not gonna go down in the next day or two. Good content is good content. We feel like it’s good content because it gets the audience to watch and watch more, and then listen to the podcast or be a loyal listener to the station.”
“You have to adjust,” Demeke said. “I feel like since 2020, it’s been a series of adjustments. It doesn’t frustrate you, you just have to post throughout and get everything in priority. If people are using a platform, we need to be using it, too.”
“Everyone in this room, and society as a whole, has turned into a visual society,” added Su. “If we’ve got cameras in the studio, we should utilize them.”
“It’s tough because we have to make audio visual,” Demeke continued. “We’ve gotta bring that across all the platforms.”
4:10-4:45 = One For The Road presented by
- Matt Fishman – ESPN Cleveland
- Sean Thompson – Arizona Sports
- Danny Zederman – ESPN Chicago
Barrett began the conversation about potential sellable features and promotions by asking Fishman about The Land on Demand, the station’s subscription service for on-demand podcasts and live video of shows.
“Primarily, fans go there for the shows. That’s what we’ve learned. They go there for the commercial free and exclusive shows, and our Browns coverage,” said Fishman. “The best way to describe our growth is a six-figure line of income every year.”
ESPN 1000 is preparing for a 25th anniversary celebration.
“The actual anniversary is in October, but we had to jump at the chance to utilize the House of Blues in Chicago,” Danny Zederman said. “This is a great opportunity to satisfy fans and partners. It’s a give back for our partners. 150 of them are involved in this. They’re gonna get to mingle with one another, exchange ideas, and our partners get to become partners with one another.”
Sean Thompson discussed an event at his former station — 92.9 The Game — called “The Game Bowl”, that featured a paper football tournament with station listeners.
“I’m so happy to be back in the live event game,” Thompson said. “It makes me excited because it means we’re back to where we were a few years ago.”
Thompson added it was usually promoted for several months.
“We always did it the week the Pro Bowl was, the week before the Super Bowl. For me, expectations were always keeping the crowd entertained and engaged. From a sales standpoint, finding and creating activations. Whether it was to hand out a branded beverage, or anything like that, we wanted to create those footprints. From a revenue standpoint, we could have done better, but we would always have a good amount of people there and a good crowd, but we weren’t ready for an arena.”
Barrett then asked Zederman how many events should a station focus on per year.
“That’s a tough thing to specify. The most important thing is to do it right,” Zedderman said. “I can’t give you a specific number, but I would say it’s an important thing for the fans to reach out and touch the talent. Maybe once a quarter.”
Fishman said that several big promotions are key for ESPN Cleveland. He shared that during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic, the station gave away $30,000 of local advertising that saw 82 entries. It gave away one winner, but got the contact information of 82 local businesses to potential pitch advertising too. In 2021, they added a luncheon for business who entered, which allowed them to network with each other. In 2022, the event expanded to a seminar on networking to couple with the lunch and giveaway.
Barrett asked the panel how they can monetize items outside of just the traditional commercial load.
Zederman said it’s important to have the talent buy-in to the event or promotion.
“We could have tons of great ideas, but if the talent doesn’t buy into it, it’s not gonna soar.”
“Nothing is worse than watching the talent do something they’re not engaged in,” Thompson agreed.
Barrett closed the 2023 BSM Summit by reiterating that we’re in the content business, not simply the radio or television business. He asked attendees — due to the volatile economy — to step out of their comfort zone and explore new territories. He showcased how companies like Hubbard have created digital-only shows that have invested in talent outside of the radio that have driven large revenues for the company. He then closed by explaining how radio leaders don’t do enough to tell their brand success stories compared to others in similar businesses and reminded the room why it was important to do so given the challenging financial climate.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
2023 BSM Summit – March 21, 2023 (Day 1)
Day 1 of the 2023 BSM Summit is underway in Los Angeles at the Founders Club at USC. We’re keeping you updated on news, key information, and interesting perspectives shared on stage by our speakers. BSM editor Garrett Searight will be updating this column throughout the day as each session wraps up, so be sure to check back multiple times to avoid missing anything important.
Barrett Media President Jason Barrett welcomed attendees, sharing the details of how sports radio statistics compare in 2023 to 2013. Barrett continued by sharing those working in sports media are no longer in simply the radio or television business; we’re in the content business.
9:10-9:45 = Sports Radio in an Audio World presented by
- Larry Rosin, Edison Research
Rosin shared seven trends that continue to drive conversations in the sports radio space.
- Your audience has all the stuff. 91% of those 12+ own a smartphone, with 96% of men in the 25-54 demographic own a smartphone. 74% in that same demographic own wireless headphones. 78% own a smart TV and 44% own a smart speaker.
- Your audience is using that stuff. 81% in the demographic listened to digital audio at least once a week. 67% listened to owned digital music, while 66% listend to AM/FM radio in their cars. On average, Americans listen to 4 hours and 16 minutes of audio per day. 1 hour and 6 minutes of that time is devoted to spoken word audio. AM/FM Radio accounts for 38% of the time spent listening in that 4 hours and 16 minute average. In 2014, that number accounted for 53% of the share. YouTube has grown from 6% to 14% in that timeframe.
- As radio listening declines, the remainder is increasingly old. 56% of those aged 55+ show AM/FM radio as their largest share of ear, but those 13-34+ is only 23%.
- Spoken word listening keeps rising. 26 million more people are listening to spoken word audio each day than compared to eight years ago. In 2014, 20% of total time spent listening was spoken word audio. That number has grown to 29% in 2022.
- The phone is eating all the listening. Rosin shared that interviews with teenagers revealed they viewed listening to AM/FM radio as more difficult than listening to digital audio offerings. For the first time in 2022, listening on mobile devices eclipsed listening on AM/FM radio, with 34% listening on their phones, while 33% listened on broadcast radio. Those in the 13-24 age ranges saw mobile device listening at 55%, while only 25% of those spent the most time listening to spoken word audio on their phone. In men 25-54, 40% spent the most time listening on their phones, while 27% listed AM/FM radio as their most listened to source.
- Podcasting has changed the game. 42% say they have listened to one podcast in the last month, while 56% inside the demographic responded similarly. 48% of men in the demographic listen to a podcast on a weekly basis. The Bill Simmons Podcast, Pardon My Take, and The Pat McAfee Show have the highest reach in the sports podcast space.
- Sports is growing as spoken word is growing. Sports has remained at roughly 14% of the spoken word audio share. In 2015, 76% of men said they were listening to sports radio compared to podcasts. In 2022, it was 53% radio and 26% podcasting.
- Men are increasingly streaming their sports radio. 65% of men in the demographic that listen to sports radio shared they are listening on AM/FM radio.
Rosin concluded by mentioning that listeners aren’t loyal to the way they receive and consume content as much as they are loyal to the content they enjoy. He also shared that immediacy matters more than a linear experience.
9:45-10:20 = Business Strategy For Economic Uncertainty presented by
- Scott Sutherland – Bonneville
- Don Martin – iHeartMedia
- Sam Pines – Good Karma Brands
- Stacey Kauffman – Audacy
The session began with Sutherland mentioning that the economic uncertainty began nearly 3 years ago to the day. In 2021, the advertising market was strong, but has since fallen off due to inflation and other mitigating factors.
Sutherland asked what the best strategy is for managing expectations in uncertainty. Kauffman said consistency is key, but the humility to make different decisions should new information be presented. She continued by saying balancing the needs of the company and the people inside the company is paramount.
Martin said radio has experienced issues similar to this for the last 25 years. He added that creativity is the biggest driver in both sales and content. An all-hands-on-deck approach is needed to continue growth.
The conversation then turned to how talent and sales co-exist and how to continue providing resources to talent.
Martin believes there isn’t a difference between sports programming and sales. The two need to work in conjunction. In news media, there has to be a delineation to avoid credibility issues, but those problems don’t exist in sports radio, noting that listeners tune into sports radio to hear opinions.
Kauffman said the days of keeping company and station financial information away from talent are gone. She added that hosts and reporters having that information helps drive the passion and ambition of the stations and brands.
Pines added that collaboration got lost during the pandemic, but is returning. He believes those working inside stations want to collaborate and support each other. He referenced the statements from Martin that hosts can help drive sales due to the connection hosts have with listeners. Their opinions matter to the listeners, so their opinions on brands and products will carry weight.
Sutherland then asked how companies are handling remote work or hybrid situations.
Pines admitted for a long time every meeting included a Zoom invitation, and believes as much as people can be together, they should be together. At Good Karma Brands, he shared at least four days a week in the office is the goal, but the company is understanding of efficiency.
Kauffman agreed, saying that each Audacy market is available to set its own mandate, but the Northern California stations expect at least three days a week of in-office work. “We try to smart and strategic about how that happened,” she said.
Martin shared that nationally FOX Sports Radio has worked remotely for a long time, but on the local level the talent at AM 570 LA Sports never left. However, the sales staff is just now returning to three days per week.
The ability to offer different revenue streams was a topic of discussion.
Challenges have emerged, according to Kauffman. There’s not a standardization of how the company has monetized its sports audience, but knows a captive audience is there. Content creation is easy, and is easier on a local level, but monetizing it has been the challenge.
Martin agreed, saying “It’s not a product problem. It’s a sales problem. How do you teach them to sell all these sports verticals?” He believed creating “ecosystems” of each show is the easiest way to monetize each show.
Local decision making is the key, Pines added. “We see different ways we’re monetizing it,” mentioning The Land on Demand from ESPN Cleveland as one option compared to other markets.
Sutherland then asked the panel how they handle the Nielsen metrics.
Pines believed Nielsen is just one data point when several data points are available. Good Karma Brands doesn’t utilize Nielsen in all of its markets.
Martin believes if you’re only utilizing Nielsen numbers to create revenue, “you’re dead”.
The Nielsen data points are market-by-market, Kauffman countered. In San Francisco, the majority of the advertising revenue is national, while Sacramento is more focused on local business. “Getting that mindset more in Market #4 that we’re not going to rely on something we can’t control to control our destiny…you can focus on problems or solutions, we choose to focus on solutions,” Kauffman continued.
“You can be crushing the market, and still not be where you need to be,” Kauffman said of the challenges Nielsen data presents to potential customers.
10:20-10:55 = Best of Both Worlds presented by
- Mason & Ireland – ESPN LA 710
- Petros & Money – AM 570 LA Sports
- Evan Cohen – Good Karma Brands/SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio
Cohen asked members of both shows how they handled their longevity. Both shows have been together for more than 16 years.
Mason said “being a comfortable pair of shoes” for your listeners is key.
Smith said being able to help advertisers has helped. “That’s something that’s often overlooked. You have to lean into your advertisers and build them up,” he said.
Ireland said neither show is afraid to “drive off the road” when it comes to content. He mentioned a situation when Neil Diamond wore a fake mustache and a hat, and said Smith’s postgame show strictly focused on Diamond’s bad disguise. “Mason and I do that every day. We take left turns every day. Money and P do the same thing”.
“We may spend an hour discussing something that has nothing to do with sports. If we think it’s interesting, we’ll do it,” Ireland continued.
He credited Program Director Amanda Brown who has reinforced “I don’t care what you talk about, as long as it’s interesting,” adding that having that support from management is important to their longevity.
Smith said he believes their show is the most local show in the market, saying that many major market shows would never discuss high school sports as much as he and Petros do. “We show the community we’re part of you. We’re not just guys with media passes…I think that’s so important to a community. We are in your community, we live in your community, we work in your community.”
Mason said he and Ireland have completely opposite personalities, which helps continue to keep the show fresh.
Cohen asked if they have evolved over their tenured, which Ireland said he might be cancelled if you were to pull up an aircheck from their first year.
“I believe you’re either changing, evolving, or trying new stuff, or you’re getting really dull,” Mason added. “We’re much more loose now than we were.”
Smith said when their show began, it was as informative as it was entertaining. But due to the rise of smartphone usage, the informative piece has gone mostly by the wayside, but listeners continue to seek entertainment.
“You gotta find a way to be entertaining and not just be a vent outlet,” Ireland added.
Smith also gave credit to AM 570 LA Sports Program Director Don Martin for allowing he and Papadakis “to figure it out”, allowing the pair to make mistakes and decide what worked best for their show.
Ireland said he couldn’t do a show with another “sports guy”, so the pairing with Mason continues to work.
When asked if longevity was a dirty word, Smith balked at the idea.
“We’ve raised a generation of sports fans. It’s weird, but it’s really cool. I like the word ‘longevity’.”
Ireland said “it’s really tough to last a long time,” adding that it’s rewarding to have that word applied to their show.
Cohen asked if either show had ever thought their run had ended or if there was a moment they thought the show was going to end.
Smith said he hadn’t that situation, but joked “I’m going to say something and stupid. It’s a foregone conclusion. It’s going to happen”. He said the situation has changed that 10 years ago if he were let go, he might need to move to another market to continue hosting a show. However, with the landscape of digital audio and the fabric he and Petros have weaved into the Los Angeles sports scene, they could go create a new program or podcast.
11:10-11:45 = How Radio Can Compete and Win in the Connected Car presented by
- Joe D’Angelo – Xperi
D’Angelo shared there are 12 streaming platforms attempting to infiltrate the audio space in automobiles, including Apple Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, and TuneIn, among others. These platforms offer great user experiences for drivers, and are making things easy for auto manufacturers by designing their own software and an ease of implementation. Those entities also offer detailed analytics to advertisers that traditional AM/FM radio can’t match.
Xperi works with all major car brands, and currently has 125 million automobiles on the road that carry some of their technologies.
The company launched DTS AutoStage in 2020, which combined broadcasting and internet services for broadcast radio. The technology showcases traditional radio in a similar format to that of digital on-demand audio options. Radio continues to be a featured option with DTS AutoStage, rather than being included in an all encompassing “media” option.
Tesla, Mercedes-Benz, Genesis, Kia, and Hyundai currently offer the radio product. An additional eight manufacturers will be announced in the next 18 months.
The technology features a mobile device-like display that showcases all radio offerings, rather than a traditional analog radio dial. The platform also showcases an easier to find HD Radio offerings list. It also features detailed contact and social media information for the station on the digital dashboard.
The updated digital dashboard has a search capability function, allowing users to search specifically by genre.
Stations have creative control over what information is inputted into the DTS AutoStage system to allow contact information, social media platforms, and programming information displayed on the dashboard.
Xperi will provide analytics to stations who opt into providing the company with information about their programming. The analytics provided will include reach, total users, average session times, and more. “This is meant and intended to help the industry compete,” D’Angelo said. “We are not monetizing this in any way.”
The data will be tracked in 24-hour increments, and will allow stations to monitor their performance hour-by-hour the next day.
A “heat map” will also be provided to stations, showing where the automobiles utilizing the technology have traveled and where listeners are actually driving.
“This, we believe — if segmented by day part — can have a significant impact on your sellers strategy.”
The company captured 7.2 billion listening sessions in 2022. THat number will grow to 93.3 billion in 2023.
D’Angelo mentioned car companies are looking at all available options in their infotainment systems. The radio costs manufacturers $120. However, that cost could be put into making more connected cars simply equipped with a tablet-style system that is only connected to the internet.
In exchange for the analytics, Xperi asks that stations provide static data (station call letters, logos, positioning statement, etc), a streaming URL to continue listening experiences for drivers leaving the broadcast area to continue the listening session, and live data from the station’s programming system like song title, artist, hosts, name of advertisers during an commercial, and photos of talent. The service is completely free to broadcasters.
“You give us rights to use your metadata, and we obligate ourselves to give you access to the dashboard, complete control, and access to the analytics,” D’Angelo concluded.
11:45-12:15 = 2023 BSM Summit Awards Ceremony (Day 1) presented by
- Mark Chernoff – Former WFAN Program Director
- Jimmy Powers – 97.1 The Ticket Program Director
- Jay Glazer – FOX Sports
The festivities began with 97.1 The Fan Program Director Jimmy Powers being honored with the Mark Chernoff Award.
“This year’s award winner is a guy who has done a tremendous job in Detroit,” Chernoff said. “What Jimmy has had to do is balance out all this great talent plus they’ve got the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings, and Pistons. So you have to balance out how you work with the teams and you also have to be critical of the teams when they’re no good. Jimmy has learned how to balance all that out. He has great ratings, great talent, and a truly great station at 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit.”
“I would never expect anything like this. I’m completely honored to be recognized,” Powers said. “I appreciate the recognition, and it’s a true honor to be associated with a legend like Mark Chernoff.”
FOX Sports NFL Insider Jay Glazer was presented with the BSM Champions Award.
“The work that (Glazer) has done and the work that he has put into the public eye has been so incredibly helpful to those dealing with mental health battles,” Barrett said.
“I could never imagine I’d get an award for being really f***ed up,” Glazer joked. “I wake up in the morning and have to make that decision to get out of bed. We’re talking about it now.
“I wanted to really come forward…I wanted to be someone to show that it’s ok to talk about this. Every time I’ve opened up about this to someone, it’s brought us closer together.”
Glazer has been honest about his mental health struggles, and recently wrote a book — “Unbreakable” — on the topic. He also launched a podcast of the same name discussing mental health problems.
“My life amazing, but between my ears sucks. But whether you’re at my level or not, we’re all going through something…so I wanted to take it upon myself to be of service. Writing this book, I’ve had so many parents reach out to me saying ‘Thank you for giving me the words to discuss this with my kids’. I’ve had grandmothers say ‘for the first time in 80 years, I can have this talk’. Now, we’re paying it forward.”
Barrett Sports Media donated $1,000 in Glazer’s honor to the Merging Vets & Players charity.
1:30-2:10 = Raising The Volume presented by
- Colin Cowherd – FOX Sports Radio and The Volume
Jason Barrett started the conversation by asking Cowherd about co-hosts since the last time he appeared at the BSM Summit.
During his last visit, Cowherd’s co-host was Kristine Leahy. She has since departed, as has her replacement, Joy Taylor. Jason McIntyre now works as Cowherd’s co-host.
“I blew up his website, so I figured I might as well give the guy a chance,” Cowherd said of McIntyre, referencing a 2007 incident with The Big Lead.
The FOX Sports Radio host then shared his admiration for the radio medium, and he joked that he is likely to make mistakes because of the pace of his show, and that’s ok with him.
“Radio to me is just a treadmill,” said Cowherd. “Don’t worry about mistakes. Just go.”
He then shared about the difficulty of doing both a television and radio simulcast.
“That simulcast is about pace. I know my radio show isn’t quite what it could be, and my TV show isn’t quite what it could be, but I have to balance them.”
Barrett asked about how Cowherd handles the times he is in the headlines for his mistakes or unpopular opinions.
“I’m really good at not doing things,” Cowherd admitted. “I’m very good at not picking up my phone. I’m very good at not giving a shit about criticism…I don’t worry about that. I used to tell Doug Gottlieb this. There’s not a lot of money in being right. I got rich by being interesting. Be interesting. We’re not Wikipedia. I just don’t care about the criticism.”
Cowherd was asked about his company The Volume. He previously said he didn’t put much stock in podcasting, saying no one was getting rich on podcasting.
“I don’t consider us a podcast company. I consider us a media company,” Cowherd said. “I watched Bill Simmons, I watched Dave Portnoy, I watched Big Cat. I’m constantly pivoting. We started podcasting. We’re a media company now. We watch what the audience likes. We look at the data. We’re like driving a bus. You tell us where you’re going and we’ll meet you there.”
The Volume has seen rapid growth since its inception. Cowherd said he has a great staff, and the timing was correct.
“COVID made some people available that wouldn’t have been,” the company’s founder said. “If you want Bill, you go to The Ringer. If you want Portnoy, you go to Barstool. There’s no scarcity of me, so I created our own ecosystem. It’s our guys. I knew we couldn’t get into bidding wars, so I’d listen to all these podcast and think ‘I wanna hire people that ESPN and FOX would wanna hire, but wouldn’t know what to do with them’.”
When asked what he’s looking for in potential employees, Cowherd looks for those who are like him.
“People that can talk to themselves. Barstool’s brand is very fratty, and it works for them. Bill’s brand is very cultured. So I’m gonna hire me. I didn’t go to Missouri or Duke or any of these great other schools. If you look at what we did: Draymond Green? 2nd round pick. Richard Sherman? 5th round pick. I hired a bunch of people I thought they’re grinders. Somebody’s cast them aside. They’ve been doubted.
“If Draymond Green was the number one pick, he wouldn’t work as hard. My management staff is people who hit a ceiling at other company’s and were undervalued. We’ve really tried to hire people with a chip on their shoulder, something to prove, and are vulnerable. Big companies wouldn’t know what to do with them. And it’s worked for us.”
Cowherd mentioned now that he’s in management of a company, he doesn’t mind paying his employees what they’re worth.
“The best thing I do all year is write bonus checks to my staff. It’s such a joyful moment. If I have a producer and I write him a $12,000 or $18,000 check, I’m changing his life. It’s a down payment for a house, they can buy a car. It’s joyous.”
2:10-2:45 = From Podcast to Podca$h presented by
- Gordy Rush – Guaranty Media
- Ryan McDermott – Barstool Sports
- Maggie Clifton – Blue Wire
- Matt Mallon – Locked On Podcast Network
The panel — led by Rush — was asked why advertisers are interested in advertising on each of their networks.
Ryan McDermott said advertisers are buying a 20-year story when it purchases ads with Barstool, adding that ad buyers are looking for a younger audience with the company, and it will continue to create content where its audience exists.
“When I started here five years ago, I never would have imagined some of these blue-chip advertisers would be buying ads with Barstool,” McDermott said, after referencing brands like Chevrolet and Taylor Made.
Maggie Clifton said brands that some advertisers are still utilizing promo codes and direct links as ways to measure their ROI, but the technology is changing to allow more and more blue-chip advertisers come into the fold. She added the diversification of podcast advertisers has developed during her three years working in the space.
Matt Mallon mentioned there were previously 5-10 advertisers purchasing the bulk of podcasts ads, but that number has dramatically increased in the following two calendar years. He added the opportunities available to those advertisers has never been greater.
A company’s uniqueness to advertisers was also pointed out as a potential foot in the door for those looking to reach sports podcast listeners.
McDermott shared that Barstool is a reality television program as much as it is a content factory. It also has several different hubs in New York and Chicago, as well as an employee now working in New Orleans.
Clifton highlighted the company’s relationship with the Wynn in Las Vegas and the state of the art studios built inside the hotel and casino complex.
Each agreed that podcast advertisers are seeking different things, with the belief that aggregating podcast sales with scale is the best way to get started. While McDermott mentioned product placement of Barstool talent is a powerful tool to offer companies.
2:45-3:20 = Showtime presented by:
- Rachel Nichols – Showtime
- Baron Davis – Baron Davis Enterprises
Nichols began the session by asking Davis how he viewed the sports media space since his NBA playing days concluded, which he called “fruitful”.
“If you look at the current ecosystem of sports, it’s its own ecosystem,” Davis said. “Athletes have their own podcasts and their own shows. Producers are becoming their own studio.
Nichols mentioned the barrier to entry is as low as it has ever been, saying you have a television station in your pocket.
“Think about NBA fashion,” Davis said. “Craig Sager was the most fashionable person. He was the fashion guy in a league where it was suits and ties and now people are trying to pitch and sell shows as a part of NBA Productions or TNT Productions of this invisible red carpet of guys walking off the bus. The evolution, and now having that in your phone, it is driving commerce. Commerce is driving content and content is driving commerce. Destinations are now so important.”
Nichols then asked Davis about his views on what traits NBA personnel have that lend itself to a sports media future.
“Our space is personality and opinion driven,” Davis said. “Voice are important. The storytellers. I think this new generation are looking for the history and we’re so — because sports is so present — busy creating the ultimate narrative. We haven’t evolved from painting the picture of ‘Oh, he broke the record’,” mentioning that LeBron James eclipsing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was only contextualized by the point of view of LeBron and no discussion of the previous record holder.
A question from Nichols wondered what Davis — a media investor — views as the most successful content.
“Radio is always great because they do it every day, constantly. The information that they retain and churn out is ridiculous. Radio is always great. But from a long from content perspective, I’d like to see it busted back down to the reel, the hot take. If you look at the next documentary coming out, there’s a documentary, then a story about the documentary, and then there’s people who don’t make the documentary, and that ancillary content is becoming a premium.”
Sport specific content has become more prevalent, which Davis agreed is a good way to operate.
“Focus is good,” Davis said. “But it’s really more about the person and the personallity. Focus is good, but your intel and your intellect is drawing out real conversations.”
Nichols believes specialization can be helpful. “I think that it helps people know what they’re gonna get, and they’re looking for you,” she said. “I think that people have more choices, being clear on who you are and what you are is helpful.”
She then asked Davis what he looks for — from an inverstors prespective — in potential hires.
“I look at a personality, a business standpoint, like entreprenuers, and a creative standpoint. For me, it’s always like having this direct focus in investing in sports and collaborating to create a bigger ecosytem so there’s a bigger revenue pot so we can all share in storytelling.”
Davis shared that six years ago, he said he wanted to invest in 10 companies. He has since invested in 40 companies, with 36 still in operation.
“There are a lot of good content creators that want to mimic radio,” Davis continued. “Any talent that we run into, we have the opportunity to send them to a company to work with. It gave us a lot of intel and insight on the podcasting space.”
The former NBA star added he doesn’t view athlete-driven podcasts as a fad, but said he doesn’t believe viewers want to hop from platform to platform to find content from their favorite players.
When asked about how he would rate the diversity of sports media leadership, Davis laughed and joked “it’s unrateable:
“We need to put a lot of interest and effort into women’s sports, women leaders, because I would say women in sports have a better periphrial around talent, story, and how to actually break barriers. Then we talk about culture. Culture is a misused word in sports, but there’s a culture that was built in the 80s, but in the 90s and 2000s, it started to become monetized. So you have these players in this ecosytem that are starting to become pioneers.”
3:35-4:10 = The Moneyline presented by
- Bryan Curtis – The Ringer
- Mitch Rosen – BetQL Network and 670 The Score
- Jon Goulet – VSiN
Curtis began the panel by asking Rosen and Goulet if gambling content has become the mainstream.
“This was the first year that there was a sports betting show in the BSM Top 20,” Rosen said, refrencing You Better You Bet’s placement. “That shows to me that sports betting became mainstream in our industry and they accept that it’s not just one of those sports betting shows.”
Goulet mentioned that three of the largest stages at the Super Bowl’s Radio Row were betting content companies. He mentioned three years ago, he isn’t certain those companies would be allowed to be at Radio Row, and mentioned that Tony Romo was banned from participating in an event less than a decade ago because of the company’s association with sports betting.
Rosen continued by saying there are different types of sports betting content focuses, mentioning that there are room for those who will present a “CNBC-style” offering of just spreads, information, etc…while there is also room for those that want to be entertaining. He believes, however, that simple presentation of the facts will be more difficult to maintain.
Goulet said listeners will continue to follow hosts, even if their bets don’t pan out, because they are entertained by the hosts.
Curtis asked Goulet why listeners enjoy hearing about hosts losses.
“I think that humility is something we can connect with,” Goulet said. “I love when our guys say ‘I was so wrong about this game’. I think you connect with the audience that way. People like that. You might get bad reaction to that and someone may have been following that money, but hiding from it is much worse than that.”
Rosen was asked what are fantastic moments for sports betting content creators. He mentioned a situation like Aaron Rodgers potentially moving to the Jets is the perfect example. In a more unsavory situation, big NFL injuries change things immediately that will drive listeners to sports betting content.
The conversation shifted to what a rundown for a sports betting show looks like compared to traditional sports radio.
“The only difference is you’ll dive into a few more games — especially later in the day — but what’s interesting to a sports fan is interesting to a sports betting fan,” Goulet said.
Rosen was asked about the difference between a sports host and a sports betting host.
“There is certainly some crossover,” Rosen admitted, saying someone like 670 The Score host Danny Parkins could do a sports betting show, while others couldn’t. “We at the BetQL Network want hosts that can talk the lingo of sports betting.”
Goulet mentioned that while hosts could believe they have a great bet, listeners don’t care unless they are already planning to watch a game to begin with. He pointed to a story from a few years ago that the 10 most-bet college football games that year were nine bowl games and Ohio State/Michigan. “People bet on the games they’re most interested in watching,” Goulet said.
Both Goulet and Rosen mentioned that neither of their networks take calls from listeners, with Goulet mentioning that calls could backfire on sports betting, but also because they are both video platforms as much as they are strictly-audio content platforms.
Curtis asked about the future of AM radio and how VSiN and BetQL will make up that distribution.
Rosen shared he’s still a big believer in AM radio, and pointed to his home market of Chicago still being a vibrant AM radio market. “People find good content. If they don’t listen through AM radio, they listen on the app or streaming,” he added.
“It’s actually created a little window,” Goulet said. “There are so many sportsbooks that are willing to place ads, so why not take VSiN instead of a network news radio station.”
The conversation shifted to how the sports betting space will change in the following year. Rosen believes with more states becoming legal, that is how it will change. Not so much the content, but the localization of content as more states become legal. Goulet mentioned that the nation’s three largest states by population don’t have legal sports betting.
4:10-4:45 = Rome on Media presented by
- Jim Rome – CBS Sports Radio/CBS Sports Network
Barrett Media President Jason Barrett began the conversation by asking Rome why he continues to do sports radio and what keeps it fun.
“Because they keep paying me to talk shit,” Rome joked. “Why 30 years in am I still doing this? Because I’m stealing money. I still love sports, I still love the game, and I can put food on my kids’ table by talking about sports.”
When asked how he structures the show, Rome said he’s got a certain way of doing things, but realized early in his career that he knew the right questions to ask of himself, the audience, and his interview subjects.
“My situation is unusual,” Rome said, pointing that the majority of Audacy employees work in the eastern time zone, while his studio is located in Orange County, California. “Everybody that works with me, I make it very clear to them you have no idea how lucky we are. They don’t bother us because we’re consistent. But the second we slip, they’ll be there to let us know.”
He then shared that his staff usually gets into the studio between 5:00 AM-7:00 AM before his show begins at 9:00 AM local time.
“When, I got to the national level, I had to find topics that transcends a national audience on the more than 200 stations I’m on,” Rome said.
Barrett asked Rome how he defines if something is or isn’t working.
“We have to appeal to all these different platforms. The content is king. My feeling is, if I take care of the show, the show will take care of me…I can say something on the radio that if I said on Twitter wouldn’t land the same. Know your room. You have to be something to everybody and it’s a nearly impossible thing to do. But never shortcut the content.”
Rome is one of the few national hosts who still continunally takes callers, and said callers have to make his product more compelling.
“How many of my hardcore audience is listening for three hours? Not all of them. If they’re gonna drop in for nine minutes or 13 minutes, if they’re not caller people, you don’t want them dropping in on callers. If they’re interview people, you want them dropping in on interview people.
“This is very simple: Have a take, don’t suck. Tell me what you think. If they make it better, they get on the air. It is not your inalienable right. It’s always been a host driven show because I didn’t want to rely on somebody else to decide my fate.”
Barrett asked about Rome’s opinion on a recent statement from Dan Le Batard that nobody in sports media cares if an interview is conducted well or not.
“It’s a flex, and it’s good for the brand, but if you’re gonna get that person on and you’re not gonna get anything out of that person, it’s a waste. Dan’s a really smart person, and he’s right, but the way I came up I was always concerned someone would say ‘Why did you not ask that question?’. It’s my job to ask the question. I don’t want to be the old head in the room, but things have changed. People don’t care. Dan’s right. It’s my job to get those guys on, I think you should prep it, and I want that person to say ‘Rome was prepared’.”
Rome’s show is heard on many AM radio stations. With the future of the medium in doubt, he said the situation is not ideal.
“If it makes it harder for the consumer to get to the product, that is not a positive development,” Rome said. “People are very habitual in their listening habits…I would imagine those same exact cars would have the technology for listeners to find us on an app, on their phone, but there’s always a way to access the content.”
Rome is famously friendly to advertisers, and shared it’s because they’re the lifeblood of his show and stations.
“It doesn’t matter how good the show is, or how intellgient or insightful I am, it doesn’t matter if I don’t have advertisers,” admitted Rome. “You will not find anybody who appreciates the advertiser more than me. I’m not gonna read it and throw it aside. I’m gonna sell my ass off for you. I’m not saying it’s easy, but we have to earn their respect and their business. I know how hard it is to get that business.”
Athlete-controlled media — sometimes refered to as “new media” — has grown in recent years. Rome thinks its both good and bad.
“It’s good for the business because there’s enough to go around,” shared Rome. “But I can’t compete against Kevin Durant talking about what it’s like to strive for a championship. But everybody has an agenda. The media has an agenda, (players) have their narrative they want pushed. Is it good for the fans? Yeah. They want to be let in behind the curtain. But the athletes are going to be behind the narrative and push what they want to be sign and not be pushed.”
Rome was asked what he would like to do that he hasn’t done in his illustrious career.
“I just kinda always planned it one thing at a time. I was always pretty good about being where my feet were,” Rome said. “I remember showing up and doing The Late Late Show, and I don’t remember if it was before or after Craig Killborn. That was fun. I remember thinking ‘I nailed that’. They hit me back with ‘Yeah, you did alright. We’re looking for someone with a little more sex appeal’. But I’m telling you, I’m doing what I want to be doing.”
He concluded by saying he’s still working on a book — “because everyone has a book” — and that’s the one thing he wishes he would have completed by now.
Jason Barrett is the owner and operator of Barrett Sports Media. Prior to launching BSM he served as a sports radio programmer, launching brands such as 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. He has also produced national shows for ESPN Radio including GameNight and the Dan Patrick Show. You can find him on Twitter @SportsRadioPD or reach him by email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.