Every sports radio host dreams of the opportunity to cover an historic team. One that becomes the biggest national headline en-route to a championship. It’s great for ratings, it’s great for a hosts own personal profile, plus it’s absolutely thrilling to be right in the middle of all the hype and excitement. Whether it was Jordan and the Bulls in the 90’s, the triplets in Dallas winning three Super Bowls, the Red Sox’ historic run in 2004 or even the Golden State Warriors teams of today, the desire to cover teams that will always be remembered is a dream that few hosts get the opportunity to do.
David Glenn knew Duke would be good again this year, but he wasn’t sure just how dominate they would be. That was to be expected, as the entire nucleus of the team is built around four freshman starters and little help from any returning upperclassmen. But even though the hype was strong, seeing as Coach K was bringing in four 5-star talents, few expected what was to come in the season opener.
It was almost exactly one month ago on November 6th in Indianapolis inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It was Duke vs. Kentucky with the entire country watching. Sure, No. 1 Kansas had just looked impressive in the previous game beating Michigan State, but that story would be buried by the end of the night.
The first few minutes was close between the Blue Devils and Wildcats, but soon after, the lead kept growing and growing and growing for Coach K’s team. The heralded group of four freshmen, Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones, made a statement that the entire world of college basketball both heard and felt with a 118-84 win. Not only had Duke asserted itself as the best team in the country, but fans instantly realized this could be a team unlike anything Mike Krzyzewski had ever fielded before.
For sports radio hosts in North Carolina such as Glenn, an opportunity to cover an historic team had just presented itself. Sure, it was just one game, but Duke caught the entire nation by storm that night and became one of the biggest, if not the biggest, story in all of sports. Since then, the hype around the Blue Devils has only grown.
For sports radio hosts, you always want to cover a team that moves the dial. That can mean covering a team that wins a championship or even covering a team that’s historically bad and has fans up in arms and upset. Regardless, it’s all about fielding a reaction. Obviously, covering an historic team is more enjoyable for a multitude of reasons, but the thing you always hope to avoid is a team that’s mediocre and garners no strong reactions.
Heard across the entire state of North Carolina, including over 250 towns and cities, the David Glenn Show is humming along nicely this time of the year with Duke basketball often as the lede story. But what’s it like when you’re covering a potential historic team in the middle of the year? Glenn shared some thoughts on the whirlwind of the past month as well as what’s to come.
TM: At what point did you realize this was wasn’t just any ordinary Duke team?
DG: One of my first contributions to The Athletic was exactly on this topic. Basically, the word unique is often misused, but it means one of a kind. I believe, and I think history backs it up, nobody has tried to follow four freshman in an attempt to win championships. Coach K had the three in 2015, Kentucky head coach John Calipari had the three one-and-done players in 2012. It’s not the first of its kind, in terms of utilizing superstar one-and-done freshman, but it is one of a kind when your four best players are freshman.
But as a writer and a radio host, I realize you better follow recruiting even if you don’t love it. I’m not that old, but there are people in my age bracket that roll their eyes at the idea of following recruiting. I’ll never forget when the famous Billy Packer used to say that he didn’t pay attention to that stuff and that he’d wait until they were in college to make his own judgment. Well, he had a fantastic career and more power to him, but in today’s day and age, if you don’t follow recruiting, you’re about a 1,000 miles behind the story. If you don’t pay attention to it, most of your readers and listeners will know more than you do, by the time they take the floor for the first time.
My background involves following recruiting, so I saw Zion Williamson in all-star games. I saw RJ Barrett in international play. I saw Cam Reddish as a star high school player. I think part of doing your job, especially nowadays, is following the recruiting trail so you’re up to speed when these guys get to their college campuses.
TM: I agree with that and have always thought it with college football recruiting, but is it even more so with college hoops, considering the turnover is much higher for teams?
DG: Yes, I’ve always said you can be a college football fan without be a recruiting freak. Now, there’s going to be the occasional player where you better have your eyes wide open or you’re going to be behind the curve, but with so many freshman redshirting and even so many of the stars needed a year or two, college football remains a different animal.
In modern college basketball, we expect to see freshman on the first team All-America team, right? We expect to see freshman competing for ACC Player of the Year. The ACC was around for 60-plus years and had never had a freshman as its player of the year. Well, guess what, those days are over because Jahlil Okafor was the first in 2015, so there’s your symbolic proof. You go from 60-plus years where no freshman won it, to Okafor in ’15 and Marvin Bagley in ’18. Plus, you have Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett as the favorites to win this year. That says a lot about college basketball and how freshman can impact it so quickly.
TM: When you’re talking about Duke on your daily show, do you feel you’re judging them on a different scale than past teams, considering how historic they may be? Are listeners doing the same?
DG: Yes, there was a little momentum for that even before they played a game. But when they not only played Top 5 Kentucky, but ran the Wildcats out of the building in the season opener, that really ramped up the expectations. That changed the conversation. It went from a curiosity about how high the team’s ceiling was going to be, to some people suggesting that Duke was a favorite to go undefeated. The first since the 1976 Indiana team.
Just as someone who’s been around for 31 years, I told them they weren’t crazy to see the high level talent, but to please pump the brakes. Every other college basketball team of all sorts of fantastic vintages has fallen short of running the table and winning a national title without a single blemish since 1976. Yes, this team is viewed differently by many Duke fans. You probably saw Coach K call out his own fan base last week, asking them to not contribute to the hype machine, unnecessarily. In Coach K’s eyes the media does enough of that.
I share his view and think he was right on point, just like he usually is. He could sense that his own fan base had such extraordinary expectations that they were becoming unrealistic.
TM: Whether it’s talking about them more, leading off with them more, guests, have you conducted your show any differently since Duke could be historically good?
DG: I would say that I’ve tweaked my show, but I have not turned it upside down. Our show is syndicated state-wide, so I can’t cater just to The Triangle. I’m not talking to the entire nation either, but I am talking to the entire state of North Carolina. I have to blend national headlines with in-state headlines. Whenever anything is happening in North Carolina that reaches national or international headlines, it’s my sweet spot as I’m coming to almost 300 different cities and towns in the state.
Like when the Panthers went 15-1 in the NFL and made that run to the Super Bowl. That’s not just a North Carolina story, that’s a national story if not international. We were pounding that drum all the time. Similarly, the hype surrounding these Duke freshman, combined with the hype that Coach K teams usually get, combined with Zion Williamson as the YouTube sensation, combined with NBA scouts and the possibility of these guys going 1, 2 and 3 in next year’s draft. Every one of those facts just contributes to a perfect storm, where I’d be crazy not to tweak my show with that in mind.
When I’m talking college basketball in November and December, which are, for the most part, football months on the calendar, I’m not forcing college basketball down people’s throats when I’m grabbing national and international headlines and huge names like Coach K, Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett. If it was just another Duke team, there’d be some college basketball talk in November and December, but because it’s this Duke team it’s a no-brainer regular topic.
TM: Are you to the point where you’re having off-the-wall topics and conversations, such as how many of these freshman would start on an all-time Duke starting 5, or where this team ranks against the greatest ever? Are you there yet?
DG: Yeah, we had the conversation on if they’d go undefeated. We’ve had the discussion on if this is the best team I’ve seen in my 31 years of covering the ACC. We’ve had people asking me to do the research on if any team has ever had three Top 10 picks in the same draft. The answer is yes and it’s only happened one time. Florida’s national title team in 2007 did it. So I did that research and that’s another example of my audience asking me to treat this differently and do that research. I’ve even been portrayed as the bad guy for suggesting, at this point in the season, Virginia is just as good as Duke if not better. I feel like I’m wearing a villain’s black hat by not jumping on the superlative bandwagon, if you will. I’m just being candid, that’s my style.
I don’t play to a fan base and if I’m hyping something, it’s because I believe what I’m saying. There’s some radio hosts out there that do play to a fan base, but that’s just never been my style. I think we even saw against Gonzaga that these freshman have a lot to learn as college basketball players. At their worst, they’re a Top 10 team, but if they want to truly be the best come March Madness, they need to keep learning from Coach K.
TM: With that being said, you’re not outwardly rooting for Duke on press row or cheering for them at home in a blue sweatshirt, but at the same time I’m sure you see an opportunity if they keep winning games. Is there any part of you that is rooting for them because it would help ratings?
DG: I tell fans all the time, and as anybody in our industry knows, many fans believe media members are rooting for this or against that in all sorts of context. I try to tell them all the time, what we root for are compelling stories.
Duke, with these freshman and that legendary coach, is already a compelling story. If they continue to blossom it only gets that more compelling. They are, in at least one category, nobody has ever followed four star freshman, without any accomplished veterans providing the supporting cast. It’s never been done before. It’s good for our show when there are fun, interesting, compelling, success stories to follow. Many fans will think that you’re rooting for or against a certain school. Whatever. I wasn’t born or raised in North Carolina. I didn’t get here until I was 20. I don’t have a rooting interest when it comes to college sports.
Unapologetically, I root for good stories because it’s good for the show and our audience. That means it’s also good for our sponsors and affiliates.
TM: When you’re covering a team of this magnitude, does your national presence get a bump, considering you’re probably being asked to be on more radio and TV shows than normal?
DG: There’s no doubt that the phone rings more often and you get more radio and TV appearances. There’s no doubt about it. When I was in my 20’s, a story like this would take a small set of invitations and maybe make it grow exponentially. Now, it’s just sort of a tweaking of my normal schedule.
I’ve always done more shows as a guest than I do as a host. In other words, I have a noon to 3 p.m. show here. Five shows times 52 shows a week, let’s just say roughly 250 shows a year as a host. I’ve always done more than that as a phone guest. When Duke plays like this or when Carolina had three different national title teams under Roy Williams, or when the Panthers are chasing a Super Bowl, it all matters.
The bigger the platform, the bigger the story, and the bigger the name, the more the phone rings. There is absolutely no doubt that this Duke team is good for my career and my profile. Even more importantly, it’s great for the radio show because it offers so much compelling content on a regular basis.
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.