There was a radio conference in Nashville, TN earlier this year. I’m sure important radio people were talking about several important radio things. I didn’t attend the event, but I stopped by the beautiful Omni Nashville Hotel to speak with a radio friend of mine.
While waiting to meet up with him, I was mesmerized by a beautiful chandelier that was hanging in the lobby. I don’t typically find myself hypnotized by chandeliers. However, this one really caught my eye. It had the whole “Music City” theme going on. There was a treble clef that weaved its way around the entire design. The music notes really popped with the lighting and sparkly stuff. By the way, “sparkly stuff” showcases my lack of chandelier prowess.
I was dazed by this thing because I’m a huge lover of music. It went well beyond a cool piece of musical artwork that glistened though. It made me start thinking about why music is so popular. Why are people so closely connected to it? Why do many people lose their minds, throw underwear on stage, or start weeping while standing near their favorite artist?
Because music makes you feel.
It’s very powerful when an artist or band can express exactly how they feel. Whether it’s something happy and upbeat like Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” or something angry and dark like “Raining Blood” by Slayer (I do love me some Slayer) music always leaves an impression.
There’s a reason why music moves us. When emotions are triggered, connections are made. And sports talk radio works the exact same way.
Fans are emotional. If you ever see the crowd at a Philadelphia Eagles game on TV, they’re doing much more than simply golf clapping. If you ever attend a game, it’s emotion city. Booing, cheering, cussing, you name it. Your nerves get taken on a roller coaster ride. One of the main missions for a sports talk host is to spark the emotion that listeners are already wired with.
When emotions are triggered, connections are made — and ratings go up! Just like music, the performer’s job is to get the audience to feel.
And it gets even better. The true beauty of sports talk radio is that it actually holds a distinct advantage over music. When the audience hates what you say, they still listen (insert evil laugh here). This is the ultimate advantage for a sports radio personality.
Think about it, when is the last time you said, “Man, I hate that band One Direction. I’m gonna listen to their entire album today.” Never. It hasn’t happened once in the history of mankind. We don’t go out of our way to listen to music that we hate. We avoid it. Oh, but we will listen to a radio host that we strongly disagree with or dislike.
Remember the 1997 Howard Stern movie Private Parts? Good Lord, 1997? Two decades ago? There’s a scene where Paul Giamatti’s character says, “But if they hate him, why do they listen?” The response about Stern’s gigantic ratings was, “Most common answer? I want to see what he’ll say next.”
Being unpredictable is valuable, but the underlying truth here is that listeners will stick around if they’re moved emotionally — even if it’s a negative emotion. It’s very important to be aware of this concept in today’s sports talk climate. There are several emotionally charged topics these days: national anthem protests, Colin Kaepernick the free agent, Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, refusals to visit the White House, etc. It can lead to heavy conversations that border on news talk.
Some hosts elect to stay safe and avoid the heaviness. Do yourself a favor, don’t!
A host’s #1 question before starting a show shouldn’t be, “How can I royally tick off my audience today?” But you also can’t avoid divisive topics entirely. Embrace them. If you consistently avoid topics with edge, you’ll be boring. Don’t be afraid to take chances because of the possibility that you might anger your audience. If they’re angered, that’s not the worst thing. You were able to make them feel something and that’s much better than feeling nothing.
The #1 question a host should ask themselves before starting a show is, “Will these topics get my audience to feel anything?” A topic like the Buccaneers-Dolphins game being moved from Miami isn’t likely to grab listeners emotionally. On the other hand, a topic like J.J Watt being aware of building his own brand while helping victims of Hurricane Harvey is likely going to spark an emotional reaction.
Make it a point to get your audience emotionally connected. Put Marvin Gaye’s “Just Like Music” on repeat or listen to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” while you prepare your notes if you need to. Just realize that there isn’t one sports talk topic that lingers for weeks that lacks an emotional connection. Not one. That should tell you how important the ingredient of emotion is.
One of my favorite parts of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH is a huge wall featuring negative quotes. Angry words that were said about artists ranging from Elvis to Eminem appear on this wall. There was one quote about a famous band that really stood out to me.
“(They) have loosed a veritable flood of musical trash on a generation of young Americans. Parents have been shocked to see their daughters charged in a state of hypnotic frenzy, clutching at the long-haired slobs who twang, screech and thump in a mixture of unrelated noise.”
-John Birch Society, 1966
It’s a quote about a semi-successful band — The Beatles.
Being disliked comes with the territory for any unique artist. You can’t win everybody over. Many sports talk hosts try to win the audience over by being buddy buddy but it doesn’t work. Don’t shy away from controversy in fear of being hated. Do the opposite. Find ways to spark emotional reactions no matter what those emotions might end up being — even if it’s a negative feeling like anger.
This piece isn’t designed to help you make your audience angry. I’m not a coach gathering his team and saying, “Tick ‘em off on three. One. Two. Three. ‘Tick ‘em off!!’” The goal of this column is to make you aware of how every topic can make your audience feel. Getting listeners to experience a range of emotions such as happiness, disgust, sadness, joy, outrage, pity, and amusement can be HUGE assets for a host. If you prepare a topic and see that it won’t elicit a strong response from your audience, scrap it. They need to feel something.
You can’t get your audience to feel passionately about you, if they don’t feel emotionally passionate about the topics you’re introducing to them. If you aren’t constantly looking for ways to make your audience feel things emotionally, you’re losing.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.