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Women in Sports Radio Should Not Be An Anomaly

“Any woman who loves the sports radio industry enough to want to pursue a career in it should be welcomed with open arms if they have the talent to do the job.”

Jason Barrett

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I contributed a few thoughts and pieces of information to a story The Athletic published earlier this week titled Why Do So Few Women Work in Sports Radio? If you haven’t read it yet I encourage you to do so. The research done by Lisa Dillman and Sean Fitz Gerald was fantastic.

As I read the piece, I saw example after example of why this issue should be a thing of the past, and as the social responses began flooding in I thought ‘good for them, make your voices heard‘. Most involved in the conversation shared why women deserved better treatment in a format that’s largely ignored them, and just seeing the issue receive attention was a positive reminder that our business has a lot of room for improvement.

But then it hit me. It’s a great read, a valid question, and an issue which should produce far greater results in 2020 than it did in 2000 or 2010, but having traveled down this road many times before I’m not sure much is going to change anytime soon.

I saw the same public reaction to similar stories I wrote in recent years. I heard the same frustrations from women in the industry who I’ve talked to throughout the years. I’ve led on stage discussions on this topic with women and industry leaders, and the results are always the same – the problem is acknowledged but no plan, strategy or commitment is made to change it.

This may rub a few of you the wrong way. If it does, I don’t apologize. The truth hurts sometimes. In a format with nearly seven hundred stations, it’s inexcusable to have such little involvement from females. Spare me the excuses, show me the results.

Any woman who loves the sports radio industry enough to want to pursue a career in it should be welcomed with open arms if they have the talent to do the job. All these ladies have sought is a chance to prove they too love sports and can contribute to daily conversations while connecting with audiences. Yet there are programmers who fear the idea of a woman’s voice chasing away listeners. Others who don’t have the balls to take a risk and try something different. And some who just lack the ability to scout talent, resorting instead to hiring retread after retread because it’s easier.

Lineups across the country look similar to the way they did a decade ago. Sure there’s been a little progress when you see women like Sarah Spain, Amber Wilson, Joy Taylor, Jen Lada, Kayce Smith, Maggie Gray, Kate Scott, Michelle Smallmon, Sandra Golden, and Amy Lawrence occupying on-air roles on top stations and shows, but if sports radio leaders think hiring 15-20 women in a format that features hundreds of male voices represents a firm commitment to address the issue they’re sadly mistaken.

Answer me this, why is it that we don’t have one single sports station in this country featuring an all woman lineup on it? How many brands exist with a full roster of male talent? Hundreds would be the correct answer. Are you going to tell me that stations offering sports talk content that produce less than a 1 or 2 share couldn’t be used to try something different to actually create buzz and a potential new approach? What’s the worst that could happen, it fails? Isn’t that what a 1 share radio station is in the first place? By the way, you could raise the same question about no stations existing that feature a full roster of minority voices but I’m trying to keep this column focused on women.

And how about on the programming end. Why is it that I can count all of the women who oversee sports radio brands with less than ten fingers? Women can coach and referee men’s sports, excel on television and in podcasting, guide some of the largest media companies in the world, and run for the highest office in the land, but they can’t hold a prime position on a sports radio station?

I’m not naive, I recognize that the majority of the audience is male, and guys are more interested in sports radio than women. Ladies may not want to hear that but it’s true. Having run stations for a decade and spent the past five consulting brands and managing this website, the interest level is significantly higher among men seeking opportunities in the industry than it is of women. But it’s better now than it was ten years ago, and it could be even better in the future if we actually invited them to the party instead of telling them it’s an invitation only event.

The other side of the conversation that those advocating for change don’t like to hear about is that radio is first and foremost a business. If a sports station has 6-7 male personalities on the air producing strong ratings which help the station earn high revenues, why would they change it? Just because someone thinks they should have more on-air balance? If the numbers are strong and the dollars are coming in, radio groups aren’t going to mess with a winning formula. We can talk all day about being agents of change but if you’re running a business and it’s doing well, you’re going to be less focused on other issues because the current strategy is working.

That’s even more important in 2020 where this pandemic has created a lot of economic pain for radio operators. We can talk about diversity, the financial benefits of changing personnel, expanding the audience, and a whole list of other reasons of why it makes sense to consider adjustments, but we’ll be blue in the face before things take a different turn because profitable businesses don’t change until they’re forced to.

But that’s not the situation for the majority of brands in the format. For every 98.5 The Sports Hub, 97.1 The Ticket and KFAN that dominates its market and reserves the right to say ‘sorry guys, we’re thriving here and not screwing with it‘ there are plenty in need of a jolt to put ears and dollars on their airwaves.

One brand that does a great job elevating women is 1010XL, the sports radio leader in Jacksonville. The station has the rights to the Jaguars, features strong personalities who’ve been with the station for over a decade, and delivers results without subscribing to Nielsen. They could embrace the ‘it’s working so leave it alone‘ approach, yet they’ve consistently made it a priority to feature women on their airwaves. Lauren Brooks, Lauren Rew, Jessica Blaylock, Amanda Borges, Jordan DeArmon, Donna Murphy and Taylor Doll have all been part of on-air shows on the station and guess what – the predominantly male audience continues to listen to the radio station. Incredible right?

Let me give you another example. This one may surprise you even more. By most accounts, sports betting is seen as a male dominated space. Have you seen how many women are already contributing to sports betting brands? Go ahead and look them up – Ali Burns, Minty Bets, Lisa Kerney, Anita Marks, Lauren Joffe, Alyssa Rose, Ariel Epstein, Kelly in Vegas, Danielle Alvari, Jessie Coffield, Erin Kate Dolan, Rachel Bonnetta, Sara Perlman, and Chelsa Messinger. Sports betting content has grown in popularity over the past 5-6 years, and already groups like VSiN, DraftKings, FanDuel, FOX Sports, ESPN, SportsGrid and others are involving women faster than sports radio has.

Just thinking about this issue, and the prior work I’ve done examining it frustrates me. The solution to this problem isn’t going into every sports radio station and blowing out every male who occupies a spot. Many are doing their part to produce ratings and revenue. But there are certainly a lot of people who’ve been given numerous chances despite poor results, simply because they’re familiar to those in hiring positions. It’s fair to say that if a woman performed poorly for the same period of time as a male host, the likelihood of her getting a second opportunity to get back behind the mic and prove she could be successful is much lower.

If we’re going to make this situation better, Market Managers have to be more involved during the hiring process. How many have ever asked one of their PD’s ‘which women are you talking to for this position?’ I never had a GM ask me that question as a PD. They simply trusted me to do what I felt was best. I’m also embarassed by how little we see of women and minorities in PD roles. How does that change if GM’s and executives don’t prioritze it? Maybe you think the current results are acceptable. I don’t see it that way.

Continuing on the PD front, you guys in charge of brands also have to ask yourself if this situation really matters to you or not. I’m not sure everyone cares enough about it even if they publicly claim to be bothered by it. I am hardly ever asked by today’s programmers ‘are there any strong female hosts out there I should be looking at? and I rarely hear anyone mention female talent when on-air openings arise at their station. I did see Mitch Rosen in Chicago bring in Leila Rahimi for auditions with Dan Bernstein and Danny Parkins, Jen Lada was added in Milwaukee to ESPN 94.5 by Brad Lane, and Matt Nahigian hired Kate Scott to the morning show on 95.7 The Game. Those examples should be normal, not an anomaly.

Women also have a responsibility in this process too. Being relentless in the pursuit of opportunity is on you. Most PD’s aren’t going to come find you, and not every agent is going to call with news on your next gig. For every female who applied to one of my sports radio stations, I’d see 500-1000 emails, resumes, and applications from men. Since going on my own and launching BSM, the level of interest from females writing here compared to men is also very low. I was lucky to find Chrissy Paradis and previously had a female social media director, but the desire to work in the industry is higher among men, so women who want to be part of it need to be ready to knock on doors, dial phone numbers, and litter inboxes until they’re given the opportunity to chat. It’s fair to say you’re under represented. I agree with you. But that doesn’t excuse a lack of persistence.

As far as companies are concerned, executives need to put a higher priority on talent, and decide if they want to be great or just live quarter to quarter worrying about the bottom line. In the talk business, you’re nothing without unique talent striking a chord across multiple platforms. You can ask your morning host who runs a 4-hour radio show to write a daily blog, cut a weekly video, produce an original podcast and meet with current and potential advertising clients, but that’s not a path to long-term digital success. All you’re doing is stretching someone thin and attempting to play in a space you deem important without committing any real resources to it.

Our brands can create and distribute radio programs, original podcasts, social video, and online written content, but to do it effectively you need people. I’m sure there are many women who’d love to contribute to your digital content, but if stations won’t spend money to develop digital talent, and tomorrow’s radio stars, what are women supposed to think? You’re telling them the path to opportunity in sports radio doesn’t exist.

If there’s one thing I was good at as a programmer it was finding talent. I didn’t hit homeruns every time, but I never stopped scouting and looking in different places. I also wasn’t afraid to roll the dice and live with the results. What’s the worst thing that could happen? I lose a job? If you program in fear, I question if you should be managing the brand. Too many people look at what could go wrong rather than what could go right. I’d rather go down trying to create something special than stay afloat being lost in the noise.

Case in point, I hired Joe Fortenbaugh to be a host on the morning show in San Francisco depite never previously hosting a radio show full time. I did the same hiring John Middlekauff, Aubrey Huff, and Rick Venturi as hosts. I went to smaller markets to hire Guy Haberman and Zach McCrite, watched videos of Anna Kagarakis on YouTube to hire her as an update anchor, named Tony Softli a Rams Reporter/Host the week after he exited an NFL front office, and after studying San Francisco’s demographics and the lack of minority voices that existed on-air, I launched a promotion ‘Lucky Break’ in San Francisco to give an unknown person a chance to become a host. The final 4 contestants were a mix of Black and Hispanic voices, and the two Hispanic guys (Rudy Ortiz and Brandon Santiago) went on to host shows in the market, and the winner, Daryle ‘The Guru’ Johnson, is now in middays on 95.7 The Game and is one of the best people and talent in the market.

I’m not bringing up those examples in search of credit. I raise them to explain that one person with vision and confidence CAN make a difference. Nobody told me I had to improve the station’s diversity, hire unproven talent or dig thru YouTube looking for interesting people. I did it because my job was to look anywhere and everywhere to find people to build a great radio station. I see people out there today that fit this bill too but more times than not, the names and faces hired in sports radio look and sound the same.

This notion that female personalities can’t be successful in sports radio is nonsense. Many who see the business that way are out touch and unlikely to evolve. Rather than listening to someone who’s living in the past and lacks the spine to do something different, maybe take a chance to try and do something epic. Who knows, it might just strengthen your job security. But that’d require thinking about what could go right, and welcoming women to a party they’ve been given limited access to.

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Jeff Catlin, John Mamola, Gordy Rush & Maggie Clifton Join The 2023 BSM Summit Lineup

Jason Barrett

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We’re less than two months away from the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. This year’s conference takes place on March 21-22, 2023 at the Founders Room inside of the Galen Center at USC. Many industry professionals are set to attend but sports media folks tend to be a last minute crowd whether it’s buying a ticket, reserving a room or committing to be a sponsor. Yes, tickets, rooms, and a select few sponsorships are still available, but the longer you wait, the more you risk not being in the room, featured as a partner, and paying higher prices for travel. To make sure you have a seat and a place to stay, log on to BSMSummit.com. For sponsorship inquiries, email Stephanie at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

I am really excited about this year’s Summit. The venue is tremendous, the agenda is coming together nicely, and there’s no doubt we’ll have great weather when we gather in LA. Some have asked me why I don’t reveal the full schedule of sessions months in advance, and it’s because I believe in swinging for the fences and trying to do big things. To do that, you’ve got to be willing to invest time and explore every opportunity that can be impactful. It’d be much easier to fill the schedule and be done with everything but if it’s going to take a little longer to deliver the best speakers, discussions and experiences for all in the room, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Those involved in the creation of this conference know that I set a very high standard for it. We’ve run some great events over the years, and it’s because we put everything we have into making sure each session is valuable to a different segment of the industry. My goal each year is to present an action packed agenda that helps people learn, gain access to information to improve themselves and/or their brands, and create a few connections and memorable moments to justify it being worth a few days away out of the office or studio. If we can do that, it makes the sacrifices worthwhile. If we can’t execute at a high level, then I’d probably pass on doing it.

Before I tell you about the four people we’re adding to our speaker lineup, I do want to remind you that we recently announced a contest for California college students. We’re giving away ten (10) FREE tickets to the show courtesy of Steve Kamer Voiceovers. If you know a student in California please let them know about this. If they’re not in California but want to attend the event, we’ve created a special college rate to make it affordable for young people. Everything is listed on BSMSummit.com.

Now, for the new additions to the lineup.

I’m excited to welcome Jeff Catlin of The Ticket in Dallas to the Summit. This will be Jeff’s first Summit visit, and I appreciate him making time to share his programming wisdom with the rest of the room. Jeff will be part of a programming panel that kicks off day #2. That panel will include Jimmy Powers of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Raj Sharan of Denver’s Sports Station 104.3 The Fan, and our next addition, John Mamola of WDAE. John has been at all of our events dating back to our first test event in Chicago. I’m looking forward to giving him an opportunity to offer his programming insights alongside this talented group.

Also joining the Summit lineup is Maggie Clifton, Blue Wire’s Senior Vice President of Business Development. Maggie has played a vital role in growing Blue Wire’s revenue, and I’m looking forward to having her join Barstool Sports’ SVP, Head of Sales Matt Berger, and Magellan AI’s Chief Revenue Officer John Goforth on a panel that focuses on digital monetization.

Guiding that conversation will be Guaranty Media’s Gordy Rush. The Baton Rouge Vice President and General Manager who doubles as LSU’s sideline reporter on football broadcasts is well versed in monetizing content, and understanding the opportunities and challenges broadcasters face. I’m confident those in the room charged with maximizing digital revenue for their brands will gain great value from these four professionals.

There’s much more in the works that I’m looking forward to announcing in the coming weeks. Whether you own a company, manage a cluster as a GM, lead a sales team, host or produce a podcast or radio/TV show, buy advertising, oversee a brand’s social media strategy or program a network or local outlet, there’s something for every sports media professional at the BSM Summit. I invite you to come see for yourself. To do so, visit BSMSummit.com.

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Jimmy Powers to Receive The Mark Chernoff Award at the 2023 BSM Summit

“Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award.”

Jason Barrett

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As a former programmer turned consultant, I pay more attention than most to those who lead brands, manage talent, and create consistent success. When you look across the country at the hundreds of stations delivering sports radio content, and analyze who operates at a high level, there’s maybe ten to twenty who are changing the game, and others who are rising and hoping to become a bigger part of the conversation.

What makes this annual award special in addition to having Mark Chernoff’s name on it, is that it’s voted on by eighteen industry heavyweights. These are folks tasked with overseeing radio companies, major networks, and having exceptional track records of broadcasting success. So when they vote and an individual earns an honor, it means a little more.

If you’re in the business and follow sports radio, then you’re aware of Mark Chernoff’s accomplishments as a program director. He was one of the true architects and consistent winners, and his ability to excel as a sports radio manager has influenced and shaped many careers. Mark graciously agreed to be part of our awards ceremony a few years ago when I approached him with the idea in New York City. I’m thrilled to share that although he doesn’t attend many industry conferences on the west coast, he will be with us at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s winner.

It is my honor to congratulate the leader of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, Jimmy Powers. Jimmy received the most votes from our industry panel to become our third recipient of the Mark Chernoff Award. He follows Rick Radzik of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, and Mitch Rosen of 670 The Score in Chicago. Jimmy will be in attendance at the Summit to pick up the award, and will take part in a program director panel at the show. Further details on that to be shared next week.

“It’s such a great honor not only to be mentioned in the same breath with Mark Chernoff, but to receive the ‘Mark Chernoff Award’ is really, really cool” shared 97.1 The Ticket Program Director Jimmy Powers. “With so many great program directors across the country who are deserving of this award, I truly appreciate the recognition.”

Since late 2009, Powers has led the Detroit sports radio station to unmatched local success. Brought in to build upon what was created by the late great Tom Bigby, he’s helped The Ticket become one of the format’s best examples of success. The station has consistently dominated the Male 25-54 demo, while also becoming a ratings force with Persons 12+ and Adults 25-54.

“Jimmy has done an amazing job over the years running 97.1 the Ticket,” said legendary sports radio programmer Mark Chernoff. “He knows how to work with talent, and maintain balance while managing relationships with the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, which is not an easy job. The ratings remain high, and the Ticket continues to be one of America’s top sports stations, which reflects the great work Jimmy has done as the station’s program director.”

In addition to delivering double digit shares, quarterly ratings wins, and presenting a star studded lineup and Michigan’s top sports franchises, The Ticket has taken home plenty of hardware too. The station has won the Marconi award for best sports station in 2016 and 2022. And now, they can add the 2023 Mark Chernoff Award to their trophy case.

“2022 was another big year for The Ticket, and many in Detroit deserve credit for the brand’s consistent success, but none more so than their exceptional brand leader, Jimmy Powers,” added BSM President Jason Barrett. “Jimmy has been a staple of consistency, guiding one of the crown jewels of sports radio, managing top personalities, important play by play partnerships, and helping the brand generate large revenues. I’m thrilled that our industry voters took notice of the fantastic work Jimmy has done and look forward to celebrating his career and accomplishments in Los Angeles this March.”

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California College Students Earn Chance to Win 10 Free Tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit Thanks to Steve Kamer Voiceovers

“In order to win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event.”

Jason Barrett

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With a new year comes renewed energy and optimism for the sports media business. Yours truly is looking forward to showcasing the best our business has to offer when we gather the industry in Los Angeles, CA at the 2023 BSM Summit at the Founders Club at the University of Southern California on March 21-22, 2023. Our conference is returning to the west coast for the first time since 2019. We’ve announced some super talented speakers. We’ve got additional things in the works and I plan to make additional announcements in the next few weeks.

People often ask me what the biggest challenge is putting this event together. My answer is always the same, it’s getting people to leave the comfort of their office and spend two days in a room together learning and discussing ways to grow the business. We have great sponsorship support and exceptional people on stage and are fortunate to have a lot of folks already set to attend. Our venue this year has extra space though, so I’m hoping a few more of you make time to join us. If you haven’t bought a ticket or reserved your hotel room, visit BSMSummit.com to make sure you’re all set.

If there’s one thing our industry could get better at it’s opening our minds to new ideas and information. There’s more than one path to success. Just because you’re in good shape today doesn’t mean you will be tomorrow. Building brands, growing audiences, increasing revenue, and examining new opportunities is an ongoing process. There are many shifts along the way. We may not solve every business challenge during our two-days together but you’ll leave the room more connected and informed than when you entered it.

Each year I’ll get two or three emails from folks sharing that they learned more about the industry in two-days at the Summit than they have in ___ years inside of their building. That’s truly gratifying and what I strive to achieve when I put this event together. I remember when conferences like this didn’t exist for format folks and I take the risk and invest the time and resources to create it because I love the sports media industry and believe I can help it thrive. I see great value in gathering professionals to share ideas, information, and meet others who can help them grow their business, and if we do our part, I’m confident some will want to work with us too. That’s how we benefit over the long haul.

But as much as I focus on serving the professional crowd, I also think we have a responsibility to educate young people who are interested, passionate, and taking steps to be a part of our business in the future. The BSM website is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each month and it’s become a valuable resource for folks who enjoy sports radio and television. I think it’s vital to use our platform, influence and two-day event to connect generations and I’m happy to announce that we will once again welcome college students at this year’s Summit.

Most of us who’ve been in this line of work for two or three decades learned the business without podcasts, YouTube, social media, the web or conferences delivering two full days of sessions that taught you more about the business than what’s available inside of a class room. We learned by doing, and hoping we were right. Then we copied others who had success. Some of that still exists, and that’s not a bad thing. But where our business goes in the future is going to be drastically different.

I’d like to see the difference makers in our format remembered for years to come, and practices that have stood the test of time remain valued down the line. Change is inevitable in every business and I’m excited about the road that lies ahead especially some of the technological advancements that are now available or will soon become a bigger part of our industry. I think we can embrace the future while enjoying the present and celebrating the past. The best way to do that is by bringing together everyone who is and is hoping to be a part of the sports media universe.

So here’s two things we’re doing to make sure future broadcasters have an opportunity to learn with us.

First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Steve Kamer Voiceovers. Thanks to Steve’s generosity, TEN (10) college students will be given FREE tickets to attend the 2023 BSM Summit in March. Steve is a USC graduate (Class of 1985) and he bought the ten tickets to help young people learn about the industry, save money and make valuable connections. When I first received his order, I thought he hit the wrong button. I reached out to tell him a mistake was made and I needed to refund him. That’s when he told me what he wanted to do for students who were pursuing their broadcasting dreams just as we both did years ago. A very classy gesture on his part.

As it pertains to the contest, here’s how it’s going to work.

To win tickets to attend the Summit, students must submit a 2-minute video by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com explaining why they’d like to be in attendance and what they hope to learn at the event. Included in your email should be a list of steps that you’ve taken or are pursuing to explore opportunities in the media industry. If you want to pass along a resume and audio or video clips too to showcase your work and experience, that’s fine as well. BSM will accept submissions until February 17th. The winners will be announced on Friday February 24th.

Helping me select the winners will be an exceptional panel of media executives. Each of these folks below will choose one person to attend our L.A. event. The final two will be picked by Steve Kamer and myself.

  • Scott Shapiro – Senior Vice President, FOX Sports Radio
  • Justin Craig – Senior Program Director, ESPN Radio
  • Jeff Sottolano – Executive Vice President, Programming, Audacy
  • Bruce Gilbert – Senior Vice President of Sports, Cumulus Media & Westwood One
  • Amanda Gifford – Vice President, Content Strategy & Audio, ESPN
  • Jacob Ullman – Senior Vice President, Production and Talent Development, FOX Sports
  • Greg Strassell – Senior Vice President, Programming, Hubbard Radio
  • Scott Sutherland – Executive Vice President, Bonneville International

To qualify for the BSM Summit College Contest, students must be enrolled in college in the state of California, pursuing a degree that involves course work either in radio, television, print or the digital business. Those attending local trade schools with a focus on broadcasting are also welcome to participate. You must be able to take care of your own transportation and/or lodging.

This is a contest I enjoy running. We’ve had great participation during our prior two shows in New York City but haven’t done it before on the west coast. I’m hoping it’s helpful to California students and look forward to hearing from many of them during the next month.

For students who live out of state and wish to attend or those enrolled at local universities who enter the contest but aren’t lucky enough to win one of the ten free tickets from Steve Kamer Voiceovers, we are introducing a special two-day college ticket for just $124.99. You must provide proof that you’re currently in school to take advantage of the offer. This ticket gives you access to all of our sessions inside the Founders Club. College tickets will be limited to forty (40) seats so take advantage of the opportunity before it expires.

The 2023 BSM Summit will feature award ceremonies with Emmis Communication CEO Jeff Smulyan and legendary WFAN program director Mark Chernoff, sessions with influential on-air talent such as Colin Cowherd, Jim Rome, Joy Taylor, and Mina Kimes, big picture business conversations with executives from groups such as Audacy, iHeart, Bonneville, Good Karma Brands, Barstool, The Volume, Omaha Productions and more. For details on tickets and hotel rooms visit BSMsummit.com.

I look forward to seeing you in March in Los Angeles!

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