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Radio Can’t Tell Its Story By Dictating How It Gets Told

Jason Barrett

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Control. It’s a word which is at the forefront of many conversations inside the sports radio industry. It’s part of every contract negotiation, content decision, advertising sale, internal policy, and day to day business decision.

If you scour the nation, you’ll find hosts and producers in each building making decisions today on a variety of challenging situations. Among them are whether to aggressively challenge their local teams or soften their opinions to gain favor. Booking guests and tackling sensitive subjects with them or accepting restrictions and avoiding tough questions to protect future relationships. Last but not least, deciding whether to be honest and authentic on the air and on social media, knowing that if they explore topics unrelated to sports it could result in a loss of audience and/or advertisers.

In most situations, people in position of power use it properly. But when it ends up in the wrong hands, a small brush fire can turn into a blazing inferno.

If you’ve read my columns for the past 3 years, you’re well aware that I’m a free speech advocate. I believe in being transparent, offering unfiltered opinions, and putting the interests of the audience first. Sometimes that’s not popular with members in the industry, but I don’t believe silencing people makes anyone better. In fact, I think you learn more about yourself and your brand when you’re exposed to critical commentary and differing styles and opinions.

I recall Mike Valenti of 97.1 The Ticket making this point a few years ago after the Detroit Lions left his radio station. The team was bothered by Valenti and The Ticket not offering enough of a pro-Lions slant, and when addressing their departure, Valenti summed it up perfectly: “Play the games, win games, I say nice things. Play the games, lose games, I say mean things.”

That’s how it works in a performance based media business which operates under the public eye. If your ratings are good and your brand steers clear of controversy, you’re bound to earn favorable press. If you produce poor results or bring unwanted negative attention to the station you’re employed by, the local headlines will likely be less flattering.

Let me make this clear. I love the sports radio business. It’s been my life’s work for the past two decades. I respect those who work hard to deliver meaningful content, and welcome outspoken personalities who give me a reason to tune in rather than filling the room with less important noise. I recognize the challenges every operation faces in trying to generate higher revenue, and despite an imperfect ratings system, I still value the numbers and believe there are strategic ways to help grow your performance.

I take great pride in championing this format’s cause and working with many great stations and people as an independent resource. There are many great leaders in this business today who have incredible ears and eyes for talent, and love the industry as much as I do. Due to working for one employer though, most don’t have the amount of time that I do to listen, watch and study brands across the country, and address topics that are of importance to the future of our business from a neutral position.

What bothers me though is when I see situations arise inside the industry which put it in position to endure future problems.

Case in point, dictating terms to media reporters on how to write and report about a station and/or its personalities is a disaster waiting to happen. PR people might think they’re retaining control when they offer access with conditions such as sitting in on an interview or approving a story before it hits the press, but that just sets off an unnecessary alarm. You are essentially taking a match, striking it against a rough surface, and expecting it not to light.

Over the past two months I’ve been informed of multiple incidents where radio companies have tried influencing how reporters should cover them. What they fail to take into account is that most media reporters approach stories with their bullshit detectors on. They know drama produces clicks and stations only want one side of a story to be shared, the one that serves their best interests. By attempting to influence a reporter’s ability to tell a story, you are giving them more reason to negatively position your brand and people. This is how most host’s react when a local team pushes for a positive spin after putting lipstick on an unwanted pig.

Ask yourself this, why would an independent writer/reporter, who collects a paycheck from another outlet, sell the positives of your brand, when you’re attempting to limit their ability to tell a complete story? They won’t. As a matter of fact, they’ll likely go further down the negative road because your PR department made it personal when they attempted to restrict them.

Take a look around and you’ll find roughly 700-800 sports stations employing thousands of people. Many have strong opinions and share them with an audience for 40-45 minutes an hour, 3-4 hours per day. If these people can be trusted to candidly speak to thousands of your listeners and on behalf of your brand’s business partners, then you should have enough faith in them to handle themselves professionally during a conversation with a media reporter. If you try to dictate who they can talk to and which topics are fair game, you better be ready for an avalanche of stories to follow which are less friendly and citing ‘sources close to the situation.’

Fortunately I haven’t had many try that approach with me. Those who have know that censoring my views is not an option regardless of any business affiliation. I’ve taken my share of calls from folks who weren’t thrilled with certain topics I’ve written about but that comes with the territory when you write opinionated content on a format comprised of passionate and sometimes sensitive and egotistical people. In most cases, those who complain seldom make contact when something positive about their brand, people or company is published.

I’d like to think that I conduct myself professionally and sell the benefits of this business a lot more than the negatives. Yes I have clients that I work with and sometimes they’re involved in situations which are less than flattering. When they arise, I report the news since this platform is one where sports radio people turn to for news and opinion. In those situations I may refrain from adding my personal opinion because I not only respect those I’m working with and understand the issue a lot deeper, but I also believe too many on the outside looking in tend to sensationalize specific moments rather than evaluate a brand or individual’s full body of work.

The reason I chose to explore this topic is because I think it’s important for radio professionals involved in the day to day decision making of their brands to understand the importance of providing trust, flexibility and transparency to their people. Hosts don’t want to be told what to say and how to say it on your airwaves, and the same is expected when working with outside media members who report on your business. You can arm them with information, and if you respect them and treat them well, they may even give you the benefit of doubt from time to time. However, you’ll never have full control over their editorial decisions.

I realize some stories are going to make your blood boil. When details are shared about situations you’re not proud of, it can be very frustrating inside the office. But if you’re going to ask the audience and advertising community to take into account your entire body of work when your brand is connected to something unpopular, then you’ve got to be willing to offer the same courtesy to those who provide a benefit to your brand, even if it means having to drive over a few speed bumps along the way.

For starters, I’d recommend spending a few minutes educating yourself on the way the Chicago Cubs did business a few years ago. The franchise introduced an honesty policy, letting their fans know they weren’t going to be good for a while. By being transparent in the short-term and working on a viable long-term solution, they made people and the media a part of the process. That ultimately made the reward of a World Series title in 2016 that much sweeter.

Can you image a radio station telling its audience and advertisers, “We’ll be honest with you, our ratings aren’t very good. We’re not giving you enough return on your investment.” Fat chance of that happening. But when you address negatives in a truthful manner and offer humility and future solutions, it becomes harder to root against you.

Each company has to decide how to manage its employees. Some will provide free reign. Others want to place a leash around an individuals neck and connect them to a chain. Restrictions may be necessary for some formats and people, but I think that as a whole, the better approach is offering flexibility and trust. If someone commits a violation then you make an adjustment. But doing so in advance, and without merit, often results in a larger mess.

Ironically, industry leaders often preach about their success stories not being told enough. They challenge outside forces to pay more attention to the good work they’re doing and give radio the respect it deserves. But if there’s one way to guarantee that story never being shared in the press, it’s by instructing the writer how to tell it.

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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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