I have to say that I have never had a Q&A or part of one that is one question and a 1400 word answer. That’s what makes Mark Packer the incredible talk show host that he is.
Pack or “Packman” as he’s called by his fans and friends is the most incredible storyteller I have ever come across in my 20+ years in radio. On the air or off the air Mark tells great stories. In this three part Q&A I’ll try to do these stories justice.
I caught up with Mark earlier this week between his two (yes-two) daily shows on SiriusXM. Mark hosts “ACC This Morning” with Wes Durham from 7-10am on SiriusXM’s ACC Channel 371 and “Off Campus” from 4-7pm solo on ESPNU on SiriusXM 84.
Matt: I had always assumed since you’re Billy’s kid (Billy Packer) that you had always wanted to be in broadcasting and had always been in broadcasting. Not until we worked together did I learn about how you ended up hosting a show in Charlotte. Can you tell us that story?
Pack: I had ZERO interest in being a broadcaster, but I loved the business aspect of broadcasting. My background was really more in putting together networks, announcers, marketing plans, and sales opportunities. I loved all of that, but I never really had any interest in going on the radio or television.
How I got on the radio full-time is such a fluke but it’s also a message of why you try to do as many things as you can and meet as many people as you can because you never know when that can come back full circle. What I meant by that is that in the early 90s I worked one year at the “Blockbuster Bowl” which was run by (Blockbuster CEO) Wayne Huizenga and Raycom Sports. I really didn’t have a huge interest in being in the bowl business but I thought it would be kinda neat to do it. It was a great experience because I met so many incredible people.
One of the people I met was Terry Hanson. Terry had been an executive with Turner for years and years and he was a big cheese with Raycom Sports at the time. Fast forward six or seven years and I get a phone call from Terry Hanson. I was in Charlotte and Terry was doing some consulting work for this new Sports Talk radio station–WFNZ in Charlotte. Terry lines up this meeting for me with Mike Kellogg who was coming in from Legendary WEEI in Boston. Mike was leaving to start the WEEI of Charlotte. Charlotte really desperately needed sports talk radio.
I show up at Mike Kellogg’s office and he’s not there. I’m sitting there in an empty office. Kellogg comes walking in a couple minutes late, typical Bostonian, he’s got his Dunkin Donuts Coffee in his hand talking 200 Miles an hour. Kellogg says, “Hey I understand you’re Mark Packer. I want you to meet Matt Pinto. Do you know Matt?” I say, “I have no idea who he is.” Matt at the time was the afternoon host. So he calls Matt in and he says “Oh great you guys get together. Pack I want you to come back later this afternoon and you and Matt do an hour together. And I gotta go.” And he gets up and walks out of the office.
The meeting lasted four minutes and to this day might be the worst business meeting I’ve ever had EVER! Pinto looks at me and I look at him and Matt says, “Well I guess I’ll see you this afternoon at 3.” And he gets up and walks out. Now I’m still sitting in the office by myself. I’ve been there four minutes. I thought I was gonna have a marketing meeting talking about opportunities. Next thing I know, I’m supposed to come back later in the same day to go on the radio!!
So I get home and my wife says, “You just left. Surely you didn’t have the meeting already?”
I said, “I did. It was the worst meeting I ever had.”
She asked, “What are you gonna do?”
I said, “I guess I’m gonna go back and go on the radio.”
She says, “What do you know about talking on the radio?”
I said “Nothing.”
She says, “What are you gonna talk about?”
I said, “I have no earthly idea!”
I read all the sports pages and get online and have like five or six things I’ll talk about. I have no idea how this is gonna go. I head right back to the radio station later that afternoon. Nobody is there to greet me. I find this guy and he tells me where the studio is. So I head down there and Matt Pinto is there. Matt says, “Perfect timing. Put on your headset..3…2…1..” and we’re on the air!
And the next thing I know an hour goes by in about two minutes. Seriously, I couldn’t believe how fast the hour went by. So the hour’s up and Pinto looks at me and says “Hope you enjoyed it. Have a good day!” and I looked at the clock and I was having so much fun, I didn’t want to leave.
Now Pinto’s kicking me out and I get up and walk out. Like anybody else you want some feedback one way or the other that you either did a good job or you sucked and there was nobody there.
Now I’m really hot! I’m thinking ‘I’ve come to this radio station twice in one day. I had the worst business meeting that lasted four minutes. Now I come back and go on the air for an hour. There’s nobody here to say great job or terrible job.’ Now I walk to the car and I am LIVID!!!
So I get in the car and drive home. Well I’m thinking at least my wife is gonna say, “Hey, you did a great job honey!” And so I get home and ask her, “How did I do?” She said, “I wasn’t listening.” Now I’m really HOT!!
Later that night Terry Hanson (the consultant) calls and I was so thrilled because I just want to rip into Terry for wasting my day. I tell him he’s out of his mind. I can’t believe I went to that stupid radio station twice today and I hang up.
My wife was listening to it and says, “You’re an Idiot. How crazy can you be? Did you have a good time on the air?”
I said “I loved it! It was great!”
“And they’re calling you to offer you a job, right?” She says.
“I don’t want to get my time wasted”
She says, “He wouldn’t have called you back if they didn’t think you did a good job!”
A week goes by and Hanson calls me back and says, “Have you calmed down yet?” I said “yes”. “We want to offer you the job. To be on the air. We’re going to put you on the air from 12-3.” I took the job because I knew my wife was right. I was on with a guy by the name of Sandy Penner who they brought in from Philadelphia. We were Packman and Penner 12-3 for about six weeks. I could still do my sports marketing in the morning and afternoon and do the show in the middle of the day.
I get a phone call one night from the boss, Mike Kellogg. He tells me that Matt Pinto (afternoon host) is leaving to be the play by play man for the Dallas Mavericks. We’re going to do a national search. I thought, that’s fine–I had daycare figured out and had my work and show figured out. They did a national search for about a week. Then I got a phone call from Mike Kellogg in the middle of the night:
Kellogg: “Hey I wanted to let you know that we got our guy for the afternoon show!”
Packer: “That’s cool. I’m sure whoever he or she is will do a great job!”
Kellogg: “Don’t you want to know who it is?”
Packer: “I really don’t care. Whoever it is I’m sure they’ll do a great job and I look forward to working with them!”
Kellogg: “I think it’s important for you to know who it is.”
Packer: “You’re probably right. Who is it?”
Kellogg: “It’s you!”
Packer: “I’m not taking that job. You’re outta your damn mind. I’ve got my whole life figured out with the show from 12-3.”
Kellogg: “I don’t want to hear about it because on Monday you’re on the air from 3-7pm”
That was the start of “Primetime with the Packman” and that show exploded in ratings and syndication and the rest is history. When people say “How do you get into radio?” I always roll my eyes and say, “do you really want to hear this story?” because I have the most unconventional means to get into radio.
The point of all of it though is that you meet so many interesting people along the way you never know when that can help you open another door. Without the relationship with Terry Hanson and Raycom Sports at the Blockbuster Bowl six or seven years earlier, that would never have happened for me in radio. Never, ever, ever!
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.