“I have bad dreams every night. I’m not sleeping nearly as much. I’m getting three-and-a-half, four hours sleep.”
Just six weeks ago, business was as good as it’s been in Tim Fletcher’s 20 years as a local radio sports talk show host and small business owner. Like a lot of broadcasters, Fletcher buys part of a station’s airtime, then sells that airtime to advertisers. That’s how he and others like him make their living.
“With March Madness, we had already made plans with a couple of sponsors about some special events and live remotes with our shows. We were getting ready to jump into baseball season as well. We do a thing called the “Little League Report”. We had just gotten a sponsor for that. It was going to tie Moms, Dads, and younger kids into sports talk radio.”
But then came the coronavirus (COVID-19), stay-at-home orders, and the closing of non-essential businesses.
“We had 34 sponsors heading into March. On April 1st, we were down to 13.”
Fletcher buys—and is responsible for selling—four hours which are home to “The Tim Fletcher Show” on KWKH-AM 1130 “The Tiger” in Shreveport, Louisiana. But that’s not all. He also buys and sells time for three other shows. In addition, Fletcher pays seven employees, including show hosts and a board operator.
“The world’s crumbling around me, and I’ve got to figure out a way to hold it together,” Fletcher said. “Whether it’s duct tape or free ads—whatever it is, we’ve got to do something. It’s highly depressing. We’re scrambling.”
So are most, if not all, media outlets.
“Unfortunately, the coronavirus’ impact on broadcast advertising has been severe,” Gordon Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, said. “There’s no way to sugarcoat this—many radio and TV stations are witnessing unprecedented revenue losses, all based on the fact that many local businesses have simply closed their doors. If businesses are open, many aren’t advertising.”
It’s ironic that broadcast revenue is down, while viewership/listenership is up. People—many of them staying home—are satisfying their appetite for coronavirus news.
“Broadcast network evening news programs have seen a huge spike in viewership,” Smith said. “More than 30 million people are watching those news shows each night, which is way up. I’ve read that local TV station viewership is up 20%. I’ve also heard that radio station listening—especially News/Talk station listening—has been very high.”
Still, the less money a business takes in, the less it has to spend.
Chris McJunkins is the Managing Partner for seven restaurants in two states. He has been a believer—and participant—in traditional advertising. However, when eateries were told by state government to close dining rooms (they can offer take-out), McJunkins immediately knew what he had to do.
“Cut. Start cutting costs,” McJunkins said. “Start cutting salaries and employees. Start cutting everything possible to get through to the other side.”
High up on McJunkins’ list of cuts was advertising.
“It’s an expense you wrestle with a little bit, because you think we need to advertise to let people know what we are doing from a “To-Go” standpoint. At the same time, it’s very expensive. So, we just cut it all and went with social media—Facebook, Instagram, things like that.”
There is the possibility that once restaurants and other businesses re-open, owners may re-evaluate the way they spend advertising dollars. That re-evaluation may not be good for television and radio stations.
“With everybody being able to use social media the way they are doing, they might take a look at that and say, ‘This Facebook thing is basically free, and we seem to get our message out’”, McJunkins explained. “In our case, every time we do a special, people are calling up and asking about it. So, we know people are looking at (our social media posts), sharing it, and liking it.”
Local station sales managers are seeing first-hand the ugly advertising picture drawn by the coronavirus.
“There are some verticals that are not marketing at all,” said the sales manager of a media cluster who wants to remain anonymous. “Some big chunks of money have been taken off the table due to businesses being closed.”
In order to save as many ad dollars as possible, sales managers and account representatives have had to try and convince owners to stay the course but change the message.
“Previously, locally-owned restaurants were saying ‘Hey, this is our weekly special, these are our hours, we can’t wait to see you and feed your family,’” the sales manager said. “Now, it’s ‘We’re proud to say we’ve kept our employees, you can text or call us, we will bring your food and your order to your car, and these are the safety measures we’ve put in place.’”
As long as sports talk show hosts can afford to by their airtime, their show must go on. Without games, hosts have been forced to get creative when it comes to content. In keeping with the NCAA Basketball Tournament, Fletcher has used a tournament-style format to have contests such as Best Comedian, Best Sports Movie, and Best Cereal.
It’s a strategy that has resonated with listeners.
“Our Facebook LIVE numbers are double, triple, quadruple what they were five or six weeks ago,” Fletcher said. “We’re getting more instant reaction on our polls we’re posting on Twitter. Our text line is blowing up. We’re getting three figures every day of unique texts coming in during our show. We’ve connected in a way where we still give the sports news of the day—typically in the early part of the show—then we turn it over to these tournaments. It’s just been a blast.”
But despite the fun, Fletcher—and others in his position across the country—long for the day when it’s business—and advertising—as usual.
“Our business is cyclical. This is just a cycle that we didn’t foresee coming. I have a feeling that while we’re pedaling uphill, at some point, we’re going to be able to coast again and things will be back on the right path.”
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.