What is success for a sports radio host? Is it all it about the size of the market you’re in? Is it about the number of zeros on the paycheck? Maybe it’s strictly numbers based and determined by how many listeners you have?
Could success be directly tied to happiness? Yeah, maybe success equals how much happiness you have with your current position.
If that’s true, Hans Olsen of The Zone Sports Network in Salt Lake City is a successful show host for one more additional reason. He’s happy with the city he’s in, he’s thrilled to be able to talk sports for a living and he’s blessed that the relationships he’s formed on-air have led to eternal friendships. The man cannot believe how lucky he is.
“I consider myself one of the most blessed men that’s ever lived in the United States of America,” said Olsen. “It truly is a passion and an honor to work for the best company and the best station in the state of Utah.”
Olsen is just one of the many success stories from individuals who landed in sports radio by a stroke of luck. All through high school and college, there was never once a thought about talking into a mic for an occupation. Instead, he pursued the sport he loved: football. Having three uncles who played in the NFL, including one Hall of Famer, Merlin Olsen, he was driven to match the success of his three family members. But soon after he was cut from the NFL, he realized what new future might be available to him. Seeing as uncle Merlin and Phil were great broadcast voices, it felt like the natural progression to exit football and enter into sports radio.
“Hurricane Katrina had pushed me out of New Orleans and I ended up here with the upstart Utah Blaze,” said Olsen. “In my fourth year of the AFL they came to me and asked if I wanted to start doing some fill-in work on the radio. This is the old 1280 AM, and I said yeah I’d love to. I came on the air and just started to talk football.”
Today, Olsen and his co-host, Scott Garrard, have been dominant in the ratings, with Olsen bringing the former player perspective and Garrard, who also serves as the VP of Radio Operations at The Zone Sports Network, brings several years of radio experience to help perfectly compliment the duo.
Olsen’s love of the Salt Lake City market is quickly noticeable once you speak with him. It’s hard to blame him, seeing as it may be one of the more underrated areas of the country. The vast majority of the city’s population is made up of native Utahans, which means the number of extremely passionate Jazz, Utah and BYU fans are never in short supply. Though the number of transplants in the city may be smaller than most major markets, the ones who do call Salt Lake City their new home tend to be as rabid about their teams as the locals.
“I feel like, whether it’s at a Jazz game, when the Lakers come to town, they pack in there,” said Olsen. “Over the last three years I feel like more transplants have been moving into the state, but you always have the USC fan base that’s moved into Salt Lake that will show up at Rice-Eccles Stadium. You always have a Denver Broncos fan base, they really attach themselves to Denver or to Oakland with the Raiders now moving to Vegas. You do you see a portion of those fans, but they pale in comparison to the locals and the Utah born fan base. They’re very powerful. The Utah born fan base is extremely fanatical. It’s an underrated sports town and an underrated sport state.”
Though the popularity of the Jazz, Utes and Cougars is still high, a recent shift in the market has slightly altered the way Olsen and Garrard divvy up time for each team. A decade ago, market research would have said BYU football was No. 2 in importance, behind only the Jazz. Utah football would have been back at No.3. But today, with the Utes having a 9-game winning streak of the Cougars, coupled with a move to a Power 5 conference, market research now dictates Utah football has now taken over the No. 2 spot.
“In the Pac-12 when you’re taking on USC, UCLA, Oregon, this week they have Oregon State, especially later in the season, Utah‘s football schedule has really demanded the attention,” said Olsen. “It really is about putting your ear to the ground. We do play close attention to the market research and we really try to deliver the news and information to the people that are most demanding of it. But we do everything we can to really give a fair and balanced opportunity to both universities.”
The recent struggles for BYU have made for an interesting dilemma for Olsen’s job. A former player for the Cougs, one of Olsen’s teammates in Provo was current head coach Kalani Sitake. The two didn’t just share a field together for four years, they were really good friends. In fact, they still are today. But no matter how you slice it, a job is a job. When BYU fans are critical of Sitake, it may lead to a tough situation for Olsen, but he feels he has the right approach to handle it.
“I really take a research and educated angle towards it,” said Olsen. “I really want to be informed and try not to speak from my heart on it. In doing that, you have to understand the inner workings of BYU. You have to understand the administration, the hierarchy, how decisions are made, you have to understand the difficulties of fitting in, you have to understand the difficulties of what these coaches deal with when they’re at BYU and you have to really encapsulate all the knowledge you can on it and then try to make an opinion based off that knowledge. When you feel like your heart is getting involved a little bit, you have to attempt to step away from that.”
It’s also that exact strategy Olsen uses when he feels he needs to be critical of the Jazz. No, he never played for the Jazz, but his station is actually owned by the team. Needless to say, that’s not something you see very often in today’s environment.
“It truly is amazing because ownership and management do a great job in allowing us to navigate our opinions without getting in the way,” said Olsen. “That’s the truth. I’ve never had a Jazz opinion, whether it’s critical of Ricky Rubio‘s perimeter shooting, whatever critical component I have, I always try to be educated and fair. As long as you’re doing that, and you’re not taking personal shots, then everything’s game. Every opinion is respected.”
Though Olsen loves covering the Jazz and the NBA, he’ll still always be a football guy at heart. That’s very apparent when you see the Hans’ Film Study feature that’s posted on 1280thezone.com. Essentially, Olsen reviews every Utah and BYU game, then gives his thoughts and opinions on what went right and what went wrong. The feature has been so successful that it has around 985,000 views. It truly seems the people of Salt Lake City love Olsen. He seems to love them back equally as much.
“This all started three seasons ago,” said Olsen. “What I would do is go back and review the films to have material for that day’s show. I started thinking, since I’m doing this, I might as well show people what I’m seeing and what I’m thinking. It’s given me a lot of credibility and it’s given me a lot of integrity, because now people hold me to it. They want me to watch it and they want me to break it down. It’s really helped me become a better analyst.”
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.