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Swimming In Digital Waters

Jason Barrett

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In most buildings, talent are conditioned to think about the here and now. They’re consumed with creating content, watching and reading about sports and other topical events, and forming emotional connections with their listening audience. Few are spending their time studying industry trends and changes or creating Plan B strategies to assure their brand remains relevant across multiple media platforms in the event of a catastrophic shift in audio consumption.

The same can be said of many programmers, sales managers, and account executives. Today’s tasks are what matter most and winning the next month or quarter helps determine if the boss remains satisfied and a future raise awaits.

But while we’re all caught up in our day to day responsibilities, it’s too important to stay informed on the way our business is changing. You may think that radio is bulletproof but one piercing of the skin could require much more than a band aid. I’m not talking about a competitor’s decision to adjust their lineup or the station’s largest client switching its ad agency and reevaluating how much business they want to do with your brand. I’m talking about change that can affect every single person and brand and the way our entire industry thinks and operates.

Now before you sound the alarm and start emailing copies of your resume to the real world, relax. Radio isn’t going anywhere tomorrow nor the day after. But if we’re not smart and strategic in the future, we could be in deep trouble because technology is moving at the speed of sound and it’s not going to wait around for anyone.

If you weren’t aware, last week the country of Norway announced that it was eliminating FM radio. The Norwegian government said the country’s high mountains and scattered population make it expensive to operate the Norwegian FM networks compared with other countries, and a growing confidence in digital audio was behind their reason to change course.

As a result of the change, the government estimates that radio stations will save 23.5 million dollars per year. They also feel that broadcasters will have access to more channels and better audio quality by operating in the digital space.

“Radio digitization will open the door to a far greater range of radio channels, benefiting listeners across the country,” former Minister of Culture Thorhild Widvey said in a statement in 2015. “Listeners will have access to more diverse and pluralistic radio content, and enjoy better sound quality and new functionality.”

Although Norway is the first to execute this strategy, other countries such as Denmark and the United Kingdom are said to be considering following suit. Switzerland has also pledged to shut down FM broadcasting by 2020.

There will certainly be some bumps in the road when making such a drastic change, but the digital audio space is seen as an open road full of possibilities. The surplus of content is enormous, listening and downloading of programming is available on each individual’s time, and broadcasters are treated to more reliable measurement. It also happens to be where the majority of advertising dollars are moving.

When Napster and other file sharing software became available in the 1990’s, the record industry didn’t take the threat seriously. That lack of concern resulted in the music industry experiencing years of agony and a whole lot of financial pain. Fast forward to today and the majority of music is downloaded and purchased online, and companies like Spotify, Pandora, YouTube and Apple have become very lucrative.

Here’s something to ponder that you may not have ever considered before, what would your brand identity be if your product was removed from the AM and/or FM dial? Many stations tie the name of their brand to their dial position and the frequency they broadcast on, but if those two things were eliminated tomorrow, how would you be identified?

The answer is many of you would be pushing the panic button because your entire brand history would be permanently altered.

Why does that matter? Because technology is changing the game. Many of us may accept the status quo with the dashboards inside of our vehicles, but the auto industry believes it can make the experience inside of your car better and more attractive. In doing so, they believe it will result in more sales and higher customer satisfaction.

If you didn’t notice, two of the hottest selling products on the market this holiday season were Alexa by Amazon and Google Home. Each have been a big hit with consumers and the auto industry has taken notice.

Case in point, Ford has formed a partnership with Amazon to make Alexa available inside of its cars, and voice activation is an attractive feature to automakers. Once the inside of your vehicle begins to offer this service, and the dashboard is no longer controlled by an FM and AM tuner, the only way you’ll stand out is through audience recall.

In order to do that, you must create a powerful brand. There are hundreds of thousands of digital audio options to enjoy, but if the consumer can’t remember you or isn’t familiar with what you offer, then you’re as useful as a white crayon.

Are these products good for radio’s future? I believe they can be. Except radio may have to rethink and expand its content and distribution strategy and pursue other areas of the entertainment business. iHeart and Townsquare have already done this by becoming event creators and marketers, and Hubbard and E.W Scripps have too through significant investments in podcasting.

In recent years, many in the industry have been skeptical of the growth potential of digital audio. Inventory counts are drastically lower, and consumers have been unwilling to foot the bill to enjoy consuming content, which means it’s financially unattractive when compared to radio’s current business model. But, if it’s where the audience is shifting, and distributors begin to introduce newer technology at the expense of the previous models which had been reliable and successful for previous decades, then the industry has two choices – adapt or risk permanent damage.

Our industry has done a great job building and sustaining its local awareness, community connection, and visibility. That approach has enabled stations to build bonds with the audience, making it easier for them to be remembered. Those type of relationships help a brand remain important to a consumer who has access to voice recognition software or a digital dashboard.

It’s true that innovation is happening lighting quick and what seems groundbreaking today could be old news tomorrow, but one thing we can’t take for granted is radio’s position in the car through FM and AM distribution. All it takes is one monumental change in the way audio is distributed, and the business as we know it would not exist.

I can’t see the United States of America abandoning FM and AM radio the way other countries have, but to think that in the next ten years there won’t be massive changes and a heavier focus on digital distribution is simply naive.

Throughout my career I’ve tried to prepare myself for the “what if” scenarios. What if my best talent retired tomorrow? What if my legendary play by play announcer had to step aside as the voice of the local team which my brand held the rights for? What if a new social media platform launched and the audience shifted away from Facebook and Twitter? What if the identity of my brand was changed?

Fortunately, I was able to avoid these situations, but I’m a believer that when chaos ensues, it’s the ones who are prepared beforehand who navigate the rough roads best.

I’ll share one small example with you about preparing for change.

When we were building what is now known to sports radio folks as 101 ESPN in St. Louis, we launched with the rights to the St. Louis Rams, St. Louis Billikens, and a partnership with ESPN. The ESPN relationship in particular provided us with an opportunity to align our on-air and online branding.

During our first two years, we gained strong traction in the marketplace using the name 101 ESPN and 101ESPN.com. But as many great brands and leaders do when they’re having success, we held open dialogue about some of the potential dangers that could face us down the road.

We heard whispers about the Rams potentially relocating. We realized there was a chance that a key personality or two could elect to leave in the future to pursue a different opportunity when their contracts expired. And there was this one longshot possibility that we didn’t give much thought to but could never be discounted, what if we lost ESPN?

We had zero control over the Rams future, confidence in ourselves to retain valuable people inside the organization, and a great relationship with ESPN, but we were also not privy to their future plans or opportunities in St. Louis. Although the likelihood of the relationship changing seemed farfetched, in the world of business, you can’t rule anything out.

As we analyzed our future, we determined that it’d be a wise move to change the website branding of the radio station and align it with something we had future control over – the 101 FM frequency. We continued to position the on-air brand as 101 ESPN, while getting the audience more familiar with the new name of our website 101Sports.com.

In taking that approach, we were able to keep the station on track and built around a powerful brand like ESPN, yet prepare ourselves for the future by positioning the website with a name that would become a logical and easy transition should the on-air identity be compromised. Having pounded that branding into the audience’s mind for the past five years, the station is now in good shape should it ever need to adjust.

You may work for a station which is identified by its call letters, dial position, or affiliation with a sports radio network. There is a reason why hundreds of stations following this strategy, it works under the current set of broadcasting conditions. But if tomorrow those conditions were to take an unexpected turn, how would you be defined? What would you do?

I’m not suggesting that you should freak out over Norway eliminating FM radio or other countries considering the same possibilities. I realize that we operate in a different part of the world with a different government and very different economic realities. But as we all know too well in business, change is inevitable, and if you’re not careful and aware of future possibilities, it can send you into a downward spiral that you may never recover from.

My advice is to stay up on the trends, prepare for “what if” scenarios, continue creating memorable brands and content, and make sure your digital strategy is strong and sustainable. It’s easy in 2017 to treat your digital presentation as the second most important part of your brand, but before you know it, it could be the very thing that defines your relevance and success.

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Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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