It’s something that can be your best friend or your worst enemy. No, I’m not talking about women — although that can occasionally be true — I’m talking about emotion.
Many people are triggered more easily than ever these days. It doesn’t take much to send someone into orbit with a thought or opinion. There can be a tendency for sports radio hosts to steer clear and try to avoid touching a nerve. That’s a bad approach. It isn’t good enough to get the audience to think. You have to get the audience to feel. Emotion can be your best friend if you use it to your advantage.
Take Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott for instance. I, like many fans, hated to see Dak suffer a major injury against the New York Giants on Sunday. However, the emotion that people felt regarding his injury was an opportunity to swing the other way. The common emotional response was to criticize Jerry the tyrant Jones along with the Cowboys organization for not giving poor Dak the exact contract he wanted. Dak didn’t get hosed contractually. The Cowboys offered him over $100 million in guaranteed money. He turned it down because he wanted the length of the contract to be four years instead of five. That isn’t getting screwed. That’s making a bet that backfired.
It’s also a chance to point out that this is what can happen when mobile quarterbacks don’t slide. Robert Griffin III’s career was destroyed when his leg transformed to linguine thanks to Haloti Ngata.
This isn’t a black/white debate either; it’s a healthy/unhealthy debate. Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who is as white as snow, got knocked out of a game against the New England Patriots last year after getting blasted while running downfield. I love when quarterbacks use their athleticism as long as they slide like Russell Wilson instead of gambling with their health and the team’s chances of winning. If it’s 4th & 3 in the Super Bowl, get the first down no matter what. If it’s 1st & 10 midway through the third quarter against the winless Giants, please slide.
Whether you agree with those thoughts or not, it really doesn’t matter. The emotion that many fans feel toward Dak is the ticket toward getting their attention. Look, the guy has a broken ankle. It’s going to heal. This isn’t an Alex Smith situation that will require 17 surgeries. If the Cowboys don’t sign Dak to a long-term deal, they’ll either franchise him, or he’ll get paid elsewhere. He’s going to be just fine financially. In the meantime, hosts can use the emotion many people feel toward Dak to their advantage.
Ben Maller of FOX Sports Radio did a great job of using emotion to his advantage on Sunday night. The Los Angeles Lakers had just polished off the Miami Heat to win their 17th championship in franchise history. Ben did everything but give the Lakers credit. He said the Lake Show took the path of least resistance to a championship and that they are the least impressive NBA champion in many decades. I see it differently, but Laker fans one after another took the bait hook, line, and sinker. It was entertaining radio because the crew and audience reacted so emotionally.
I had a speech class at Ball State University many moons ago. The teacher constantly stressed the importance of starting a speech with an attention getter. There is no better attention getter than making comments that move the audience emotionally. Even sparking anger isn’t automatically a bad thing. Many listeners react like a lyric from the band Three Days Grace, “I’d rather feel pain than nothing at all.”
The audience will come back for more if the host is compelling. It’s the same as sports fans. There are so many long-suffering fans of franchises that stink to the high heavens. Why do they keep coming back for more even when they’re angry and miserable at times? Because they are emotionally invested.
Former Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play voice Vin Scully recently joined social media. In the first video he posted, the baseball treasure said, “We might chat about a famous date in baseball, or a player, or a team, and hopefully nothing controversial. This is strictly a meeting of friends having some fun talking about our favorite subjects. So pull up a chair and be ready to join me hopefully in the very near future as we start our careers together on social media.”
I respect Vin’s approach. It works great for him, but sports radio hosts that never touch on controversial subjects are dull. If you don’t move the audience emotionally, you will just blend in. Some of the biggest names in sports media recently stood out by making comments that touched a nerve. Charles Barkley said that the Breonna Taylor shooting death was a different situation than George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery. Jason Whitlock wrote a column about Maria Taylor and Katie Nolan being privileged in sports media due to their good looks. Stephen A. Smith said that Steve Nash got hired as head coach of the Brooklyn Nets because of white privilege.
I agree with some of those comments and passionately disagree with others. It really doesn’t matter what I think though. What matters is that I reacted to all of the opinions because I was emotionally invested. That’s the name of the game. Get the audience to care. Spark emotion. The job isn’t to be right. The job is to be remembered.
Being a sports radio host is kind of like dancing with the devil without allowing it to destroy you. Toying with the audience’s emotions is a dangerous but necessary game. Emotion can be the enemy of logic, yet it’s also the ally of ratings. Sure, the audience might be too emotional to think straight or to even hear what you’re actually saying. But I guarantee they’ll be invested. That boosts ratings, which in turn helps you eat food each month.
Look for ways to spark positive emotions as well. I’m not pushing for you to royally tick off the audience constantly. There is such a thing as overdoing it. Just don’t be afraid to touch a nerve from time to time. All of this talk about cancel culture makes me laugh. Think of cancel culture like the line from Ed Norton in the movie American History X, “There’s a lot of f—ing hard talk around here and not a lot of follow through.” People might talk tough about disregarding your comments, but they’re incapable. Why? Because they can’t cancel their own emotions. Spark emotion and reap the benefits.
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.