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Independent Nation: ESPN Honolulu

“At a time like this, if you’re not trying to throw something out on the table, if you’re using this pandemic as an excuse to stop being creative, I’m not sure what you’re doing.”

Jack Ferris

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“Hey, I’m sorry,” Matt Apana apologizes – unnecessarily.

It’s half past 9 am on a weekday on Oahu and the General Manager of ESPN Honolulu was late to answer my call because he was already knee deep in his other job.

“I was just getting my little guy to focus on some school work.  We’re working on the letter ‘W.’”

Ws are nothing new in the Apana household.  Neither is wearing a lot of different hats.  KKEA, otherwise known as “The Fan’s Voice,” has been the standard bearer for sports on the islands for nearly two decades.  This year, under Matt’s guidance, the station was well on it’s way to achieving 100% of it’s revenue goals.

Unfortunately – we all know the rest of the story.  As COVID-19 cases grew, live events were cancelled, restaurants were forced to shut their doors and on and on the dominos fell.  Like so many other stations on the mainland, Apana and his staff began taking calls from concerned partners from all industries.  Through it all, ESPN Honolulu has been focused on one commodity over all others – and it isn’t money.

“My philosophy comes from the culture of Hawaii,” Apana explains. “Everything comes from respect. Respect and relationship building.  We knew everyone would be affected one way or another, and we just had to have those tough conversations.”

Owned by Blow Up, LLC – a parent company based in Hawaii – Apana has the freedom to make decisions and implement them quickly and efficiently.  In doing so, he does everything in his power to make sure everyone in the company is on the same page as to why those decisions are being made.  That might sound like a small task for a small company, but there’s nothing more valuable in these uncertain times.

“I’ve always felt it’s important to let everyone know what is going on.  Everyone should be in the know, everyone should know what’s going on and why.”

One message Apana made clear to his staff was that he was all ears when it came to ideas – from anyone – to create new revenue.  Free from the weight of bureaucracy holding down so many other stations, ESPN Honolulu was able to move quickly and with a purpose.

“Usually the packages we put together for clients take about 6-8 weeks to roll out.  Some of the ideas we’re coming up with right now – there’s just no time.  We gotta start almost immediately, and fortunately for the most part we’re able to.”

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Very soon, the station will launch it’s “Fan Cave,” campaign.  Listeners are encouraged to transform rooms, basements or any other space in their house to the ultimate University of Hawaii lair.  Pictures and videos will then be shared on the station’s website, social media platforms and discussed on the air.  A fun and safe competition within the community is sure to grab a lot of attention.  

Venture over to ESPNHonolulu.com and you’ll also find a consistently updated “Food Status” page, in which dozens of local restaurants are listed with service and delivery options along with new operating hours.  The heading of the page is simple and powerful:

“We at ESPN Honolulu love food as much as (maybe more) than we love sports. During these tough times, it could be daunting just thinking about what to prepare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday now that restaurants and bars have been mandated to cease dine-in services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Every industry has been forced to invest more and more in their digital space over the last few weeks – it’s a byproduct Apana has been happy to explore.

“It helps with overall content and creates another opportunity for revenue.   Being able to figure out how to incorporate both traditional radio and digital really helps broaden our efforts in covering a story or a fun promotion.”

In addition to branching out online – Apana points to this time as an opportunity for people to rise up and distinguish themselves in their roles.  One such employee has been Program Director Josh Pacheco.  

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“Josh is someone who is always taking a step back, looking at the big picture and thinking about things that will help us out both in the short term and the long run,” expresses Apana.

When confronted with the praise, Pacheco is quick to shrug it off.

“At a time like this, if you’re not trying to throw something out on the table, if you’re using this pandemic as an excuse to stop being creative,” the PD pauses. “I’m not sure what you’re doing.”

2020 should be a big year for Josh.  June marks the 1 year anniversary of his Program Director title.  It would also mark his 2nd full season as the radio voice for Hawaii baseball and softball.  Like so many others across the world – he’s felt the direct economic impact of the virus – but he’s not making excuses.

“Nearly 40% of the state’s workforce has filed for unemployment, which is staggering.  It’s going to be interesting to see how we bounce back from it.”

One of Pacheco’s ideas over the past few weeks has been to partner up with WarriorCast – the University’s self produced podcast.

“With WarriorCast, we’re just exploring how we can be mutually beneficial to each other.  What that means exactly?  There’s a few different possibilities and we’re open to all of them.”

Understanding the impact their personalities have on the community, Pacheco and Apana have both stressed the importance of being positive role models on air.  Shows have been done remotely for well over a month with the talent, including Pacheco, focused on feel-good anecdotes to share with the community.

Pacheco’s latest idea is very much still in the works, with a few loose ends to tie down before an official announcement is made.  As a tease – he offered that it does address the unceremonious end to school schedules and kids who didn’t get to experience their full senior year.

Oahu Travel Guide - Expert Picks for your Vacation | Fodor's Travel

When you think “Hawaii,” generally the first thing you think of is tourism, and rightfully so.  The state’s unemployment rate is a sobering reminder of how much the communities on the island rely on vacationers.  However – ESPN Honolulu finds itself in an interesting position. 

Their demographic is almost exclusively local, making their business quite unique in the state. Sure, a number of their partners are greatly affected by the steep decline of tourism, and as Apana laid out, they’re set on dealing with each challenge as it presents itself.  With that said, it’s abundantly clear that the key to getting through these tough times for ESPN Honolulu is to keep the trust and respect of their listeners they’ve earned over the years.  

That task seems to be taking care of itself.

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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