Phil Elson is really good at what he does. Yes, I realize that sounds like a very biased opinion, but there’s actually facts to back up my claim. Three, to be exact.
Earlier this week, Elson won Arkansas Sportscaster of the Year. It was his second in as many years and third overall, with the first coming in 2009. It takes a lot of talent and respect to even win one these awards, let alone the three he’s won in the last decade.
Life is good right now for Elson. Along with being the voice of Arkansas baseball and women’s basketball, he recently joined ESPN Arkansas in September to do a weekday afternoon show. That means his plate is normally full on a daily basis, but it also means his voice is heard all across the state of Arkansas. What’s funny, is that you can find Elson several days throughout the year in Fayetteville, the home of the Razorbacks, calling baseball and basketball. But it was in another Fayetteville where his journey began.
Originally from Pittsburgh, the long-winding road of Elson’s career began at 18 years old in 1995 as a Minor League Baseball intern for the South Atlantic League in Fayetteville, NC. From there, he would move to a new city for each of the next six years.
In 1996, Elson moved back to Pittsburgh to intern for the Pirates doing media relations. That season, he taught himself how to score a game, a critical component to anyone doing media relations at the time. As a 20-year-old in 1997 it was another new city, as Elson found himself interning for a Double A team in Akron, Ohio. But it was in 1998 where he caught his first broadcasting break. Leaving Akron the year prior for a new opportunity on the west coast in the Pioneer League, Elson was able to talk his way into being a color commentator. The team had never heard him do a game before, because, well, he’d never done one. He was being paid peanuts and doing media relations, but his first big break had come at 21 years old.
In 1999, Elson was the play-by-play voice of the Ogden Raptors. What’s strange, is the team offered him the job the year before, sight unseen. It was a break that seemed abnormal in the business, regardless, he was really starting to feel fortunate with how things were going in his career. Not only was Elson doing play-by-play for the first time in his life, he was also the lone voice on the broadcast. That experience proved to be invaluable.
The new millennium saw Elson in the California League in Stockton, doing games for the Mudville Nine. He called 140 games and was, yet again, in a new city. In 2001, Elson was hired by Arkansas Travelers of Texas League. His career had taken him from coast-to-coast and everywhere else in between.
Elson was the first person the Travelers ever sent on road games. Before, the team had only done home broadcasts. For the next 14 years, Elson was riding Texas League busses and doing everything else that goes along with Minor League Baseball, such as advertising, making the website, doing stats, writing game stories and handling official scoring.
During his long stint with the Travelers, Elson was also able to call women’s basketball for Arkansas-Little Rock. For eight years, he was combining doing two sports, along with another opportunity that came along with Henderson State in 2011 to call football games. Calling games is what Elson did. And he was really good at it.
In 2011, Elson picked up fill-in roles for Arkansas baseball games. Though it wasn’t full-time or permanent, he used the opportunity to establish relationships. That would prove to be key. In the summer of 2014, Chuck Barrett stepped down from his duties of calling Razorback baseball and soon after, Elson was named as the new-play-by-play voice.
Along with being granted the duties of Arkansas baseball, he was also named the voice of Razorbacks women’s basketball, as well. In terms of hosting a sports radio show, Elson had experience with a station outside Little Rock, producing and hosting on a limited basis, until an ownership change saw people being let go. Now, his new opportunity at ESPN Arkansas as a co-host of Halftime has seen him blossom into a successful show host.
“I was nervous about doing a show with him at first,” said co-host Tye Richardson. “I didn’t know how the chemistry would mesh. In all honesty, it’s been a blast. Phil has a great sense of humor and we play off the young millennial & middle age guy dynamic throughout the show. He can be serious and joke around on some occasions which some guys can’t do. He also adds a different element to the station concerning Arkansas baseball, which we haven’t had before. We don’t agree on everything, but we respect each other’s opinions. That’s pretty much the best thing you can ask for in a co-host.”
TM: What’s the advantage of being the voice of the baseball team and doing a local show?
PE: I think it put me in a place where I could even have a talk show. I don’t know what it’s like, yet, to do this with baseball, because I just started doing the show in September. It will be really interesting, because you’re doing two different kinds of broadcasts for a good chunk of days. Plus, we’re on a lot of stations.
The baseball team, if it’s not the largest network in college baseball, it’s one of them. That puts you in a lot of people’s ears. We haven’t seen the impact of what it’s like for our show, yet, because once baseball season starts, and people are already counting down, our show is going to be the place to be for an inside look at the program, Without doing the baseball games, I don’t think doing this show would have been a possibility.
TM: What are some of the biggest differences between calling baseball and women’s hoops?
PE: The sports are just completely different, but that’s been something I’ve been used to. I used to do minor league baseball and UALR women’s basketball at the same time.
I guess the challenge for me, is that I’ve been around baseball a lot longer, and while I know basketball, I’m just in the baseball culture a little bit more. I’ve hungout in a lot of clubhouses and a lot of dugouts during batting practice. I’ve hung around the batting cage and gotten tips from all types of people. That came from Minor League Baseball and I’ve tried to take the same approach with college baseball.
It’s kind of hard to do with basketball, because it’s a culture I’m a part of, but maybe not as in the weeds as baseball. But I really like covering women’s basketball, because it’s fun and everyone is really nice.
TM: What’s going to happen when Arkansas had a mid-week game on the road or you’re traveling on a Thursday to Baton Rouge to play LSU. How do you still fulfill your commitment to your daily show at ESPN Arkansas?
PE: There may be a couple days, here and there, where it’s an issue but our timeslot lends itself to not being a problem. Noon-2 works when your travel is after 3:00. What’s great about this show is that I’m mobile. The show is based out of Fort Smith, I’m doing it in Little Rock, where I live. But I’m also doing it from Bud Walton Arena or a hotel in Knoxville, or Mizzou Arena and Baum Stadium as well as other ballparks in the SEC.
To be able to pull that off, I don’t think that will be a problem. What that becomes, is added attraction to the show. Our first really big road series that I’m going to be able to do, is against Texas in Austin. How awesome is it going to be doing the show from Disch-Falk Field? I’ll be doing the show and leading right into the broadcast that’s on the same station. That’s awesome.
TM: How humbled are you that you’ve won your third Sportscaster of the Year award?
PE: What’s humbling, is seeing the other names of people that have won it the same number of times. They’re the greats, when it comes to sports casting history in this state. I don’t look at myself in the same way as them.
Guys like Paul Eells, Chuck Barrett, Bud Campbell, Steve Sullivan, it’s very humbling to even be considered in that group. What’s also really humbling is that the people who have a sense of what you really do, voted for me. You definitely care what your listeners think, you care what your bosses think and even I want our coaches at Arkansas to hear good things about the broadcast. But when it comes from people that actually do this, it carries a different weight.
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.