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Q&A with Chris Plank

Tyler McComas

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When it comes to sports radio, Chris Plank can do it all. Whether it’s hosting local shows, national shows or even doing play-by-play, few people in the business can match the workload that Plank has on a weekly basis.

It’s probably normal to greet someone you know with a simple ‘hi’ or ‘hello.’ However, whenever I see Plank, my normal greeting to him is a ‘hey, what are your thoughts on phone calls during the top of an hour?’ or ‘what do you think about this idea as a promo?’ Needless, to say, Plank has become someone I highly respect and really enjoy bouncing ideas off of, but maybe I should ask how his family is doing more often instead of spouting off radio questions. He believes in quality and the craft of the business and I highly respect that.

Plank started off where just about every successful host ever began – at the bottom. During his first year of radio in 1997, he produced St. Louis Cardinals games in Tulsa, OK. Soon after, he would get the opportunity to host 30-minute shows early on Saturday mornings with the same company. Fast forward to today and you can now hear him on several different platforms. Each weekday he hosts The Plank Show from 9a-11a CT on the Sports Talk Network in Norman, Okla. On Sunday nights, he’s heard on Fox Sports Radio hosting a national show with co-host Arnie Spanier. What I love about Plank, is that he was excited about this article and could talk sports radio for hours. Here’s a look into his career and the direction he thinks the business is headed.

TM: You began your career in Tulsa and developed a strong foothold, but why didn’t you ever leave for another market?

CP: I fell in love with the area and I realized Oklahoma was the home for me. Also, I got married and I started doing national shows from Tulsa. It became a place where I lived, had my home, had my kids, had my wife and I was able to do all the things I had ever wanted to do in my career from Tulsa. I didn’t have to move somewhere to make that happen.

TM: You mentioned Tulsa was the place you started doing FOX Sports national radio, how did you get into it?

CP: Back in 2007, I reached out for advice to Andrew Ashwood. Basically, I just was looking for clarity and to see if I was any good. When I did, we hit it off. He gave me a couple of opportunities to fill in and eventually I was given the opportunity to do an overnight show on the weekends, which I loved. It’s an underrated shift that gives you the opportunity to cut your chops and learn. I did that for a while and then Andrew passed away. Radio kind of went in a different direction for a while and then after a couple of years, I was given the opportunity to jump back on in a fill-in role for Fox Sports. After doing that, they teamed me up with Arnie Spanier back in 2011 and it took off from there.

TM: Being frustrated early in your career is something most sports talk show hosts go thru. What were your experiences and how did you handle them?

CP: That’s kind of hard, because I’m not happy now with how I handled adversity when I was younger. It wasn’t anything with my co-workers it was just the way I would handle things personally. You’re in a job where you’re always seeking approval. Even if you have ratings, you want your boss to tell you you’re doing a good job. If you don’t have ratings, you always think the end is coming near. For me, I didn’t really handle it well at a young age. As you get older, you start to find more things in your life that you can embrace and are more important to you.

TM: This is something I think a lot about: How do you handle phone calls and where do you think the future of radio with the using phone lines is headed?

CP: I really like them, I do, because interaction is key. But I do a two-hour show and if I came in and just took phone calls for two hours, am I really serving my listener base and my employer? If I came in every day and begged for phone calls for two hours, what good am I doing? I’ve had great bosses in my career and some think it’s the only way to go and others that think you have to be cautious and lead every call down the right direction. If I’m doing a show and we’re in the midst of a Heisman Trophy conversation and there’s a guy on hold that wants to talk about the NFL, what good is that? It comes down to good call screening and it comes down to getting the listeners to answer the questions you’re throwing out there. If you’re just coming on and saying ‘call me’ I think you’re doing a disservice to the craft. I think radio is turning into the host bringing up a really good topic, setting the points for that topic and then taking a phone call if there’s something to be added. 

TM: I like to get reactions on social media because it’s quicker and more efficient, but where’s the line on giving a bunch of your thoughts on Twitter and saving them for the show?

CP: I’m very addicted to Twitter. I like to tweet my thoughts out because I love getting instant analysis. Do I think you need to hold some things back? Sure, but your followers and your fans come to expect instant reaction. I dig the idea of giving your thoughts during games. Now, should you hold some back for the postgame show? Yes, but there’s still a need and want for instant reaction.

TM: You’ve been around a lot of successful sports talk hosts, what’s one thing you could say they all have in common?

CP: A true passion for sports. I know that sounds goofy, but I’ll give you an example: My daughter had a dance recital two weeks ago on a Sunday when the Raiders had just put forth the worst performance that mankind has ever seen, when their season depended on it. It was awful and I wanted to fire everyone. And here we are, the game is at noon and the recital is at 5:00. You would think, oh, that’s great you can watch and have balance, but no, I’m mad! I love football and I’m angry and I can’t wait to get on the air and destroy that awful coaching job on my Sunday night Fox Sports show. So, even if you have that balance in your life, to still have that passion about sports and good radio is key.

TM: What’s the difference in having a program director that knows what he’s doing and in your corner, compared to one that isn’t?

CP: I’ve had them all. I was a program director for 16 years and I would consider myself as an offensive coordinator that didn’t call his own plays. I was an OC, but I had someone in our operations department that I really respected. You know when you have somebody that’s out for your best interest. I think the guys I work with now at Fox Sports Radio such as Scott Shapiro and Don Martin, these guys provide you a platform that allow you to be as opinionated as you want and as creative as you want. They’ll give you that room.

For those that are involved, it’s really easy to take shortcuts in radio. It’s the easiest business there is to take shortcuts, because you have so much that’s done for you by the national networks. Even if you have a program director that you don’t think is in your corner, it’s amazing what communication can do. The program director’s door, that general manager’s door, should never be locked and you should never be afraid to balance an idea or a thought. That’s the idea of being the best you can be. 

TM: Who’s a host out there that’s under the radar and should be getting more attention?

CP: I have three. First, is Jonas Knox of Fox Sports Radio. He does the overnight show and it’s such a fun listen. He does such a good job of creativity. I would love to say any of the guys on The Ticket in Dallas, but all those guys are so well known I can’t pick just one. But those guys have created a certain mindset to where they’re so good at being irreverent, that you want to be that and you’re envious of it. Lastly, I would say what Jeremie Poplin in Tulsa and Toby Rowland in Norman do, it’s good to see guys that take their preparation and approach seriously, but when they get after it, aren’t so arrogant and all-consuming that they have to be right all the time and they have to be the only person talking.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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