Sports radio is flying high as we enter the year 2020. At least that’s the opinion of Andy Sweeney, PD and afternoon drive co-host at ESPN 680/105.7 in Louisville. It’s hard to disagree with the points he makes, such as the fact that newspaper and magazine writers, bloggers and anyone else who calls themselves a writer, are trying to get involved in some sort of audio, whether its radio or podcasts.
Sweeney calls sports radio an addiction. An attachment that keeps hosts on an everyday edge and listeners scrambling to their radios to hear the biggest stories of the day.
“Radio and its ability to attach to people is something that’s made it so successful,” said Sweeney. “When your favorite show goes on a two-week vacation, for instance, for me when Dan Le Batard went away, that’s like a huge three or four hours of my day. When Craig Carton went to jail I was like legit depressed, because that was a show that I legit listened to for 10 years. I remodeled a house listening to the podcasts.”
When you catch the addiction of sports radio, it’s likely to never leave you. To my knowledge, a cure doesn’t exist to remedy the cravings of quality sports radio content. But those who have it all catch it at different times. For Sweeney, it happened during an internship after college. During school he thought he wanted to do sports television, but there was something about lugging around a giant camera and only getting 2 and a half minutes of air-time on late-night TV that didn’t satisfy him. Instead, he found an immediate craving for sports radio.
“I knew sports radio was different and going to be way more popular than it already is,” said Sweeney. “I also knew that it had a lot of room to grow in the city. I just became addicted to the ability to give an opinion and let my personality shine through. It really is an addiction.”
But like so many in the business, Sweeney suffered an early setback in his career. What’s now 93.9 The Ville used to be owned by Cumulus and 93.9 The Ticket. Even though the lineup on the station was solid, management suddenly decided to flip the format to classic hits. Out of nowhere, even after a promising start, Sweeney was a young kid in his 20’s that was completely out of sports radio.
“At that point I was out of sports Radio and not knowing what I was going to do.” Sweeney said. “I actually taught myself about insurance. I passed the insurance exam. I got the booklets and I taught myself, then went and passed it.”
Maybe working at a major insurance company is what he thought he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he was like most kids in their early 20’s and figured something would just pop up. Whatever the case, it’s hard to argue that fate didn’t flop into Sweeney’s lap when transitioning into a new career field.
Around lunchtime on one particular day, he found his co-workers huddled around a clock radio in the corner of an office. What was coming through the speakers absolutely blew Sweeney’s mind. It was the all-too-familiar sounds of local sports radio in Louisville. ESPN had struggled for some time to launch a station in the market, but had a plan they thought would work and a PD they felt confident in. Seeing as Sweeney had lived in the area since moving from Buffalo at 10 years old, he had contacts working with the new station. Two days after hearing the news sport station on a clock radio during lunch, he was told to contact PD Jason Anderson. A month later, Sweeney was back in sports radio.
It’s funny how things in sports radio can come, all too often, full circle. Several years after Anderson got Sweeney back into sports radio, it was Sweeney that replaced Anderson as program director after he took the same position at Sports Radio 810 in Kansas City late last year.
Now, Sweeney is combining his super popular show ‘The Take’ from 3-6 pm with daily programming duties. But through all the long hours, the sports radio addiction is as strong as ever. And that’s what keeps him as one of the best Louisville has to offer.
“I think sports radio in major markets is the authority and in the Louisville market it is the authority.” Sweeney said.
Tyler McComas: Where do you find time throughout the day to host a three-hour show and be a PD? It has to be all about knowing how to spend your time, right?
Andy Sweeney: You have to be able to manage the clock better than Andy Reid has in the playoffs (laughs). That’s the best way to say it. I took over for Jason Anderson, who left for 810 in Kansas City, our mother ship, I was next in command, if you will, so I kind of knew what I was getting into. But when I took over in September we were right in the middle of our football season. But yeah it’s time consuming and you can’t waste a lot of time. Some days you have to set hours aside where you know you’re going to have to do programming stuff.
For me, as someone who is engrossed in sports radio as it is, I’m always thinking about my show. Kentucky plays over the weekend and Louisville loses to Florida State on Saturday, you’re thinking about angles and listening to all of our other programming throughout the week. I’m always thinking about my show so it’s not like I sit down at noon and finally start thinking about it.
TM: With football season winding down, so many stations in the country are exiting their biggest time of the year. But since college hoops is heating up, are you just now entering your biggest part of the calendar?
AS: We’re actually Baltimore Ravens affiliates this year. This is the first year that we’ve done that. Programming wise that’s been awesome for us and we’ve been able to make some money off of it. The busiest time for us is the crossover with basketball and football. That’s my opinion. When we’re in football and just ready for basketball, because people around here talk about basketball the way they talk about Oklahoma football.
Our second-busiest time would be when we get to March Madness. You’re flying out to different sites for the games and relying on producers to get cuts and sounds for the shows, I’m on the road and our morning shows are on the road. We’ll have four or five different shows all over the place.
TM: So UK and UL basketball are still way more popular than their football teams?
AS: Absolutely. I would say Lamar Jackson was the one that was able to penetrate through that. But here’s the thing you have to remember with Lamar Jackson: They had some bad ends to their seasons. They got smoked in a couple bowl games and they lost a chance to go to the Orange Bowl with a lost to Kentucky. UK is even more clear-cut. Listen, they care and they like what they’re doing in football, but it’s all about basketball.
TM: Listening to your show it seems pretty obvious you prefer the text line to any other source of communication from the listeners.
AS: It’s funny, here’s my thing on callers – I’m not anti-caller. In this area, what I have found is, it’s the same guys over and over. The morning show is taking calls, the midday show is taking calls, we just use the text line a lot more. It’s more anonymous, but it’s a larger percentage of people that will use that than calling in. For me, I just get tired of hearing the same 8 to 10 callers over and over again. That’s how I feel about guests as well. I don’t do a lot of beat writers, because I feel like I know just as much as they know. Not to say that’s bad, that’s just my preferred style.
TM: Another thing with the text line: You guys get a ton of them and there seems to be an expectation amongst it. The show’s tone is funny and laid-back so the texters really show that off, too. There’s an expectation to be funny if you text in. Is that fair?
AS: I don’t believe in three hours of sports, sports, sports. I understand that works and people do that. Some of my best friends and people that I look up to do that, but I can’t. I’ve got to throw in my personality along with some nonsense. I have a co-host with me, a producer and the text line is almost like another co-host. It’s continually adding and making someone a character and getting different people involved. It’s just an open avenue for so many people who would never call in, now they can interact with our show and feel a part of it.
TM: This is a little more random: What’s more important as a show host – being right or being entertaining?
AS: The people who take themselves too seriously in this business, and I think sports radio is littered in this, it’s ok to say that you’re wrong. It’s not that big of a deal. I don’t look at other sports radio people that are predicting a game or predicting what’s going to happen with the coaching hire and if it goes the other way or wrong to look down on them. I don’t need that information. Everyone has their lock of the week and if you listen to the next show it’s the opposite, right? There’s so many opinion makers I don’t need another prediction guy. That’s just me. I’m not too worried with being wrong. In fact, sometimes it’s great to be wrong. I was wrong about Kentucky football two years ago, I was wrong about Louisville football this year and we talk about it on the show all the time. Quite frankly I might be wrong about the Louisville basketball team this year. To me it’s about breaking through and being entertaining. I think that’s number one in this business. If you get caught up in being right or wrong I just don’t think that’s what people listen for. They listen for you.
TM: So now that you’ve taken over as PD, what’s your vision and how do you want to grow the station?
AS: My vision is to go above and beyond and give the most coverage of the local teams that we can give. We already do that, but I would say if there was one area to continue to grow, would be the Kentucky side of things. Louisville, we have so pegged. What I’m proud of in the last few months, since I’ve taken over, is growing a little bit more on the Kentucky side of things. Kentucky sells in this market. Growing that relationship and getting more people that want to talk about that, that’s been something I’ve focused on. Everyone else in the market is only talking Louisville, I’m going to talk Kentucky, too.
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.