One of the great things about the sports radio business is that everyone seems to have a different story to how they ultimately achieved success in the host seat. Some, such as Darren McKee of 104.3 The Fan in Denver, had the privilege of a diploma from a high-profile school such as Syracuse attached to his resume in his early 20’s. Others, such as Christopher Gabriel of 940 ESPN in Fresno, bounced around with odd jobs and an acting career before finally pursuing his passion of sports radio.
Jeremie “Pop” Poplin is another that has his own unique story in sports radio. However, he may be one of the few that’s done it via a broadcasting school. In college at Tulsa Community College, Poplin will honestly tell you he was interested most days with the afternoon sports talk in town, rather than his upcoming classes for the day.
“I got bit by the radio bug early,” said Poplin. “Like, I can remember Chris Plank wasn’t in radio for very long and doing his afternoon show here at The Buzz in Tulsa. I would make it a point to listen to that non-stop. I was a huge Art Bell fan at night and Jim Rome during the day. Man, I would skip class, would skip algebra to listen to Rome in the parking lot. I was just fascinated by it. I was young and got to the point where I was done with school and saw a commercial on television for American Broadcasting School. I was like, you know, let’s just go for it and see what happens.”
There’s not just one particular avenue an individual must take to get into sports radio. That’s the beauty of it. Poplin is a living example that you don’t have to go to Syracuse, Missouri, Northwestern, or any other major 4-year institution to achieve success in the field. His rise to show host and PD at The Buzz in Tulsa shows that attending a broadcast school can certainly get you into the business. But with that being said, does it mean it’s still the right way to go?
Maybe you’re 34 years old and have a family but want to finally explore the sports radio format. Or, you could be an early college student like Poplin was when he decided to attend a broadcast school. No matter your situation, this article is intended for the ones that have thought about going with the alternative option of a local broadcast school. Is it worth your time? Can you get a job out of it? Will you learn the necessary tools to be successful? To learn all those answers I asked Poplin himself how much the school serves its students.
TM: Why do you think going to a broadcasting school was the best for you at that time?
JP: At the time? Man, that’s a good question. It’s tough, because I felt that’s what was consuming me. I had this want and this desire…maybe it was ill-sided because I wanted this fast track, you know what I mean?
I wanted it so bad and I knew that once I got involved with it that I was going to be all the way in. I wanted that to encompass everything I was doing. I just wanted a fast track at the time, I was always a talk radio guy and the thought of being on the air on living that life was a magical thing to me. Even when I was in school, I thought that even the music route would be okay, but I always wanted to be in the talk format, specifically sports.
TM: How hands-on was the broadcasting school early on? Did you have to wait long to be doing the things you wanted?
JP: At first, it was a lot of technical stuff, like you’re trying to learn FCC rules and regulations. But then, they basically put you in a production room and you would pretend you were coming out of a song, do a stop set and then throw it back to music. Obviously, for the first week you’re going to be terrible, but you were in front of a mic before a couple of days. To get completed and done didn’t even take an entire year, in a lot of ways it was like a vo-tech.
One thing they did say is that they would help you with job placement, which they never really did at all. The thing is, I figured out once you got in there that the curriculum is driven by all music stuff. You basically had to go and create a scenario to where you would do anything other than music, so I would go in and basically fake like I was in a sports talk produced commercial. I would write my own copy for commercials like that and it’s what got me more comfortable in the talk format. But yeah, everything was pointed towards music.
TM: Did they have quality equipment and professors on hand?
JP: They had equipment, it was pretty basic though because I was learning on CD’s and carts. They would give you a cassette and you would record on it for your air checks. It was very basic at the time, but keep in mind that right before I turned 21, that’s when internet radio was just starting and they had one studio that would broadcast 24 hours a day over the internet and that was it, because that was on the very forefront of that. That kind of gives you an idea.
I was learning on carts and everything else, and that was older technology. When I got my first job, I quickly realized nobody used carts anymore at all. It was just very basic. They had seven studios you could go in, you had a curriculum throughout the day where you did have instructors. But there was just so many people there, that it was hard for the instructors to give anyone individualized instructions. From what I remember, there seemed to be only one instructor that really put time and the effort to make you feel comfortable with the progress you were making. You were really kind of on your own. They left you to your own and would air check you once a week.
TM: So, the idea behind going to a broadcast school at that time was to be able to skip all the entry level classes at a college and move right into hands-on work?
JP: Yeah, it was. Don’t get me wrong, I made the most important relationship of my life at the school when I met my wife there. She was in radio, too. I don’t want to skip over that process, because that changed my life in meeting her there. But, at the time, yeah that was exactly it.
I would go to a regular class in college and think, what am I doing? This isn’t fun and I was just burned out. I saw the commercials for the broadcast school and it just felt right.
Now, revisionist history. Clearly now I regret not going the other route, but yeah at the time, it was definitely the thought. It was, I’ve already had enough history, I took speech classes at the time that intrigued me, but I wanted to get to it and do it right away.
TM: Do you know of any other successful people in sports radio that were either in class with you at the same time, or went to the Tulsa branch at some point?
JP: No, I mean I know other people in radio that went there, but sports talk wise, no I don’t of any at all.
TM: For instance, let’s say you’re 34 years old, have a family, and wanting to finally pursue sports radio for the first time. Would a broadcast school be the perfect route to go?
JP: I think it’s different, I mean I know there’s the Ohio School of Broadcasting and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. But I don’t know what the experiences are like at those two places and how different the curriculum is. I’m just going off what my experience was and I feel like it would be okay to get your foot in the door for more of a music format, if you want to go that way. But if you’re just looking a talk format, man, I learned probably more in my first year working at a real radio station than I did my entire time at the broadcast school. Because, quite frankly, I walked into a great situation as an entry level board op, learning and watching guys that have the reputation of being incredible on-air performers.
Guys like Michael DelGiorno who made his name in Tulsa and is in Nashville currently. I still say today that Chris Plank on the air is one of the more incredible talking talents and interviewers that I’ve ever been around. I had a chance to sit back and learn from incredibly talented hosts and really learn the talk format. I learned more as a board op and paying attention than I did at the broadcasting school.
TM: You’ve risen to become a show host and PD at The Buzz, so let’s say you have a position open with two younger candidates. One went to a 4-year college and the other went to a broadcast school. Under this scenario, their talent level seems very similar on an air check. Do you favor hiring the 4-year graduate in that case?
JP: Honestly, I think it comes down to their personality and how they do face-to-face. I’ll you this, I’m not going to sit there and say I’d lean one way or the other if their air checks are similar. I do feel like now there’s no more advantages of coming out of a 4-year university with all the resources they have. What we have in our state with what Oklahoma State and Oklahoma does with their programs, I mean, you get a pretty incredible leg up, in my opinion, now, much more than ever.
I think it’s changed so much in the past 10-15 years. I do feel those kids have a leg up, but by no means anyway geared in favoritism towards someone who comes out of a 4-year. A lot of it for me is still going to depend on worth ethic, drive and personality.
TM: Let’s go back to the kid that wanted to go to the car in the school parking lot and listen to Jim Rome instead of going to class. What would you tell him now? Would you tell him to do it all over again? Yes, your wife was involved, but just in terms of a career aspect.
JP: There are two ways to look at it in my opinion. Obviously not changing anything because I met my wife, but I think now that I have a daughter, and my wife and I have talked about this before, I would tell him to go back into class at TCC. There’s plenty of time for that and there’s some unbelievable things coming down the road, as far as the platform itself. So yeah, I would absolutely tell that person to go back in class and pay attention. Just because you feel like that in the short-term, I think you would benefit much more in the longer run from doing that.
I will always carry it with me that I didn’t finish a 4-year and it’s a chip on my shoulder that fuels me to work harder, but it’s kind of a double-edged sword that’s helped me in so many ways. But yet, I still feel like I carry this giant hindrance that I didn’t do it.
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.