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The Fine Line Between Treasure and Trash

Jason Barrett

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Inspiration can be hard to find at times. Especially if you’re an on-air talent and working with less than spectacular material during a slower period of the sports calendar. But regardless of your empty basket of content options, an audience still expects you to hit the airwaves and put on an entertaining show to allow them a distraction from life’s challenges.

But what do you do when the ideas don’t flow and the sports world offers trash instead of treasure?

The first place to start is inside your soul. It’s understandable that you’re going to have less joy for certain topics than others, but being honest, transparent, and intimate with your audience goes a long way in earning trust, respect and appreciation. People can detect when someone isn’t invested in the content and it’s your job to make sure they never feel that way about you.

On a daily basis, you’re going to sift thru stories from tons of websites, searching for a headline, paragraph, audio bite or video clip that is worth stopping in your tracks for. Sometimes you’ll find them. Other times you won’t. How you proceed when you locate gold is pretty obvious, but it’s when you uncover the equivalent of a dirty wet napkin that you discover what you’re truly made of.

Each talent is different in the way they think, operate and prepare. Some turn coal into diamonds. Others panic at the first sign of danger. But whether you’re confident and gifted or rattled and creatively challenged, an Oscar worthy performance is expected and excuses are best left at home.

What takes place before you speak into a microphone is irrelevant to the audience. To put it mildly, they don’t care about your problems or how much time you dedicated to create the content, only what comes thru the speakers. If it takes four hours of your time instead of two to satisfy their expectations, so be it. When the red light goes on, they expect you to seize the moment, or they tune you out. It’s that simple.

In thinking about the days when nothing stands out and the fear of filling two to four hours of air time with sub par material consumes you, I want you to step back and examine why you’re in that particular position.

The first issue often involves confidence and insecurity. To grab an audience’s attention, and operate to the best of your abilities, you’ve got to believe in what you’re selling. You are the salesperson of your content. If you can’t convince yourself that a topic is worth buying, then don’t expect it from your listeners.

Secondly, many hosts blame the subject matter rather than their own creativity and preparation. The beauty of the world of sports is that each day provides new content. There are days and weeks when bigger stories develop and our natural passion and interest increases, but there are no off-days in sports, let alone the sports media industry. It’s what you do with the material in front of you that determines if your programming is viewed as superior or a poor use of air time.

Rather than complaining about the lulls in the calendar, consider how you’re preparing during those tougher days. If you normally invest one to two hours of prep time into your show, slower periods day may require three or four hours. Is it a pain in the ass? Yes. But if you’re an exceptional talent with an ability to create compelling content, you’ve got to be willing to invest the time in your craft to deliver your best stuff.

Ask yourself this, if the phone lines were shut off and the audience participation on Twitter and the text line disappeared, would you still have an entertaining show? If the answer is no, reconsider your approach.

Nothing is more important than your pre-show creative process. This is your opportunity to discuss, debate, and test possible content ideas, and the final conclusion you arrive at determines if material makes it to the air or gets tossed aside. Whatever you do, don’t let that time get wasted with small talk, coffee breaks, and personal phone calls. As the old saying goes, Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance!

When big stories don’t land in our lap, we have a tendency to assess blame. That may allow you to get a few things off your chest but it doesn’t solve anything. A great storyteller and entertainer understands that to win over a crowd, you sometimes need to take small items and make them feel bigger. They leave no stone unturned when searching for content, and equally as vital, they recognize the difference between making news and creating interest versus reacting to news and relying on interest.

What serves as a great indicator of a show forming a powerful connection with an audience is when people tune in for the host rather than the subject matter. That’s the goal you should be striving for. It’s similar to purchasing tickets to see a top notch comedian. We trust in their ability to make us laugh and deliver stories and punchlines in a unique and memorable way, that we disregard the subject matter.

If you’ve ever listened to Howard Stern, he’s a master at creating internal show drama and content. He uses it like bait to lure in the fish. What makes Stern’s show fascinating is that it doesn’t rely on what’s topical. It creates its own material, which then becomes content for others to talk about.

Leading up to a big interview, few are better at building suspense and anticipation than Stern. He also captivates the audience by involving his cast and exposing their various dilemmas in real life situations, which in turn makes it easier for listeners to think, play along and connect to the personalities. That makes the program easy to digest.

One show that is doing this particularly well right now is Kirk and Callahan on WEEI in Boston. Each day is unpredictable, interesting, funny, upsetting or emotional, and whether listeners love or hate Kirk, Gerry and their rotating co-hosts, they have either strong opinions or an emotional connection to the program. Because Kirk and Callahan are authentic, creating their own content, and not reliant on the day’s top sports stories, they’ve been able to generate a ton of interest, and keep listeners tuning in to see what’ll happen next. The personalities have become the point of entry for the audience. The material comes second.

If you scan the country, you’ll find a large number of shows promoting themselves each day by touting their guest lists and giveaways, but rarely is anything mentioned about the host. It may not feel as big or unique, but the on-air talent’s observations, jokes, personal stories, and unfiltered commentaries strike a chord with people much more than a daily guest list.

Don’t get me wrong, A-list guests are worth promoting, especially if an on-air talent can pull exceptional answers out of them, but it doesn’t mean the other areas of the show aren’t also a destination or capable of becoming the larger focus of a day’s presentation. I also don’t want you to think that by becoming the focal point of a program it means that you can deliver less valuable content to people. Just like going to a concert, the crowd will sit thru a new tune or B-side song that you have a passion for, but if you feed them too many unfamiliar songs, they’ll quickly head for the exits.

If a host is capable of relaying a personal connection to a piece of topical content or offering an interesting way of understanding and viewing a specific subject, that has a better shot at staying in a listener’s head. The on-air talent are seen as the listener’s “friend on the radio” who keeps them company each day, and they go thru your ups, downs and in-betweens with you. It’s what makes radio a powerful platform.

A host doesn’t have the benefit of knowing who’s paying attention or how their comments are being consumed. The best ones though attack the air with a purpose, and welcome the challenge of stealing the audience’s attention when they appear less interested.

Anyone can hit the air the day after Jay Cutler signs with the Dolphins and question if it’s a good or bad move. Stating that Colin Kaepernick deserves to be on a roster when players with lesser skill occupy NFL roster spots requires little thought. Taking issue with LaVar Ball after he boasts about getting a referee removed from a summer game is easy. Each of those examples are things that your audience can create themselves, but as a sports media personality you’re expected to get more mileage out of the content than those who listen to you.

Over the span of a three or four hour show, some basic points are likely to be raised. That’s fine, but relying on audience reaction and simplistic headlines won’t be enough to keep people tuning in for an extended period of time.

What it boils down to are three simple things; being curious, investing prep time, and taking chances.

Are you stating the obvious or peeling back the layers of the onion to find what’s in the middle? Can you take a basic topic, relate it to a bigger local issue, and make it sound more important? Or are you regurgitating facts and information and distancing yourself from the emotional opportunities inside of a story?

To keep a topic hot for hours, and maintain mental interest and energy in a story requires developing four to five angles and having the patience and understanding to avoid unloading all at once. If you can exhaust ten to fifteen minutes of content potential from each angle, and include an interesting twist during the conversation, the audience will eat out of your hand and be back for seconds.

Reading, watching and listening to different things is a wise practice because it keeps you mentally engaged. It’s especially helpful to research how a local team, player, or story is being covered in another city, because it’s fresh and removed from everything we’re accustomed to hearing or seeing on a regular basis.

In our business it’s common to develop habits and rely on the same three or four local websites to create a rundown, but finding gems often requires searching in foreign places. When you fail to do it, especially during slower periods, you can find yourself gassed on a particular subject, and praying for a flood of phone calls or guests to bail you out.

No one said creating content and connecting with an audience was easy. It’s extremely hard. It’s why some hosts have reservations for the broadcasting hall of fame and others have futures waiting on tables or selling insurance. It doesn’t require a ton of skill to engage an audience when hot button topics are available, but you find out who’s truly worth their salt when the sports world feeds you a handful of crackers and you’re clamoring for steak.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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