I keep thinking about the Super Bowl. Is it because I grew up a Buccaneers fan and I am utterly flabbergasted that my team won a second Super Bowl in my lifetime? Yeah, absolutely. But it is also one particular image. That shot of Patrick Mahomes, hanging in mid-air, parallel to the ground as he manages to throw a perfect spiral is among the most amazing things to come out of that game. How often do we look back on a championship game at any level of football and say undeniably, the best play was an incomplete pass?
You can say whatever you want about the Chiefs’ offensive performance on Sunday night. The game plan was predictable, clock management was abysmal, and the offensive line played like all five of them had money on the Bucs. One thing I have seen a lot on social media that is absolutely not true is people saying that Patrick Mahomes played like shit. Statistically, it was bad, but he did literally everything he could.
Look at that picture again! That isn’t “falling down”. To quote Jack Black, “that’s levitation, homes.” And Patrick Mahomes found a way to throw a dart to Tyreke Hill despite his lack of footing. It isn’t the quarterback’s fault that the receiver let the ball hit him in the facemask.
That realization made me think about our industry. We may not have distracted coaches or patchwork pass protection to overcome, but just like the Chiefs on Sunday evening, a show, a station, or a building is only as strong as its weakest link.
I asked people at various positions in the industry across a variety of stations. The “links” here are not metaphorical. I asked people what the strongest link between various positions and departments looks like in sports radio.
We’ll start with the link between production and programming. I asked Ryan Haney, program director of JOX 94.5 in Birmingham how good a station can be if it doesn’t have great imaging.
His answer? Imaging is where a station’s success begins.
“Your imaging needs to reflect the tone of how you want your station to be perceived,” he told me. “If there is a specific ask of the listener, it needs to be as precise as possible. And in turn your content needs to pay that off.”
What about the link between sales and programming? John Mamola, program director of WDAE in Tampa says everyone in the programming department has to have a relationship with the sales staff. He told me the best advice he was ever given for programmers getting the most out of sellers.
“You should kind of find your best three or four on your sales floor, whether that is physical or virtual, and get them the big ticket items. They can do the best with those. They know your product the most,” he says. “You communicate with everyone else constantly. Present new opportunities to new people and maybe you add someone to that three or four that can have serious success down the road.”
Mamola says that he is lucky to have an air staff that also wants to work with ad reps. If you go to work for John, he makes it clear that there are benefits to making yourself seen in the bullpen.
“Be open and never say no, because the minute you start saying no is the minute you’re not being asked anymore,” he says when I ask what he tells his air staff about interacting with sellers.
The relationship between a programmer and his air staff is of the utmost importance. That is the link that determines whether your on air product can evolve or if what your listeners hear will stay stagnant and eventually bore them.
I asked Jim Costa, who recently took over the night shift on 97.1 the Ticket in Detroit exactly that. How can a programmer help keep a host from losing relevance with his audience?
Jim is quick to point out how much he likes feedback. He says that it is easy to accept “if it’s coming from the right place and not an egg on Twitter.” The right place in Jim’s mind isn’t just a programmer he trusts wants to hear him succeed. It is a programmer he trusts has an idea of what Jim needs to do to make a difference.
“Formatics and mechanics are important but the real value is content selection and execution,” Jim says. “Even if we disagree it can be healthy and force me to reflect on if there is a better way to get the content to land. A trusted set of ears can push a host to be the best version of themselves.”
Josh Dover is part of the mid day show at Altitude Sports Radio in Denver. He is partnered with ex-Bronco Ryan Harris and ex-Nugget Scott Hastings. As the one guy on his show’s staff that is a lifelong broadcaster, his role is something akin to a ship’s captain.
When you’re steering things behind the mic, what sort of support and feedback do you need from the guy or gal steering the direction of the station as a whole?
“Open communication that goes both ways and honest, like brutally honest,” Josh answers. “I want my PD to be able to tell me what I’m not good at, ways to fix it and always tell me ways to improve. I’m a big fan of constructive criticism. But I want to be able to tell them if I have an issue with the show, production, sales, money, and with a great PD, personal struggles I may be going through.”
Inside the studio, there are relationships that matter too. I know that sounds obvious and I have written a lot about this before, but the relationship between a producer and a host should be built on trust and respect.
Travis Hancock, best known as T-Bone to listeners of WFNZ in Charlotte, went from being the producer of the station’s morning show to its co-host. That is great experience to have. It also means that he has very clear expectations in terms of what he needs from the guy behind the board.
“A great producer prepares like a host would because you hope to one day be the guy in charge and when your time arrives you’ve been preparing for it well in advance. The top producers also anticipate well and know what a hosts wants or needs without having to ask”
Erin Maloney is the producer of Doug & Wolfe on Arizona Sports 98.7. It’s important for a host to communicate their expectations to a producer. It is the best way to ensure everyone is happy and on the same page. Maloney says that it is also important to know she is making an impact.
I asked her what it meant to be empowered as a producer. When does she most feel like she is making the show better and the hosts’ jobs easier?
“To me, I feel the most empowered as a producer when I can use all of my resources to improve our listener’s experience,” she told me via text. “I make it a priority to bring creativity and innovative content that inspires my hosts which in turn grows our audience.”
Looking back on Super Bowl LV, to me it is clear why the Chiefs lost. It isn’t some mythical “winner’s blood” that flows through Tom Brady. It isn’t even a single mistake or ticky tack penalty that started things rolling down hill at an unstoppable pace.
Patrick Mahomes tried playing like he always does. Eric Bienemy tried calling the same plays he always does. There was no adjustment to the new reality of a significantly depleted offensive line. That gave the Buccaneers every opportunity they needed to disrupt Kansas City’s game plan. Without acknowledging what was now their weakest link, Kansas City set itself up for failure.
A constant eye on improvement and making each other better is how we address and strengthen the weakest links at our stations and in our buildings. As John Mamola told me, it really is a team game. The individual members of the team may have their own goals, but the definition of success for the team should be pretty obvious.
“We’re all in this together. We’re all in this to have a good time, but at the same time make money and have ratings success and revenue success,” he says. “The more we can work as a team, the more success comes and the more money hopefully ends up in everyone’s pockets.”
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.