Building a new show isn’t as simple as it used to be. There was a time where if you sounded good and knew your stuff, you were probably the right guy for the job. All the sales department needed you to do was get ratings and not do anything to get fired.
Now though, sales and programming are so intertwined that when it comes to hiring anyone for the on-air staff, both the PD and sales manager will make time to sit down with every candidate during the interview process.
I wanted to get perspectives on building a show from both sides of the equation, so I spoke with Chuck D’Amico, program director of 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia, and Ken Brady, general sales manager of 1010 XL in Jacksonville.
Chuck is blunt. He doesn’t beat around the bush when I ask him how important it is that he know a potential new hire can play nice with clients before he pulls the trigger.
“It’s actually the most important thing because without it it’s a complete non-starter,” he told me. No idea in radio is a great idea unless it makes a lot of money. A good show that does well in the ratings but won’t play nice with sales or work hard for clients won’t be around long. And with resources (budgets) being what they are (or aren’t) a show that can work well with sales and clients and show a return can also benefit itself immensely.”
Brady completely agrees. He told me that he makes sure that he introduces himself to everyone that comes into the building to interview for an on air role and immediately starts to gauge how they would work with advertisers.
“Obviously the sales manager does not make the final decision on the hire, but making sure the potential new hire or hires will be a good fit with sales is very important,” he says. “I am fortunate that my GM is attuned to this and has introduced or talked about on air hires with me over the years.”
When a hire finally is made, Brady says he is “aggressive from the start.” He wants to put more money in the talent’s pocket and he wants to use the new perspective in the building to open up what is possible for 1010XL.
Brady is adamant that there is no reason to wait. In fact, on day one, every new air talent gets a little assignment from him.
“I have the talent fill out a questionnaire and then I meet with them to review it and brainstorm ideas and opportunities,” Ken told me via email. “Our sales team approaches potential customers from the start so we get a running head start. It may take a few months, but seeding as soon as you can only makes the monetizing process quicker.”
I asked D’Amico how programmers can see that aggressiveness from a sales staff. Is it ever “too soon” to put them in front of clients? Aren’t there things that need to be accomplished from an air-product perspective first?
D’Amico says those are all conversations that need to be had and answers that need to be agreed on before a hire is even made.
“As much as content for on-air matters, you have to discuss and have an understanding for off air efforts and someone’s willingness to work while away from their show. It’s not enough to just be good on the air anymore. You have to bring holistic value to the radio station. Clients as much as listeners have to excited to be associated with the show. On the programming side, we’ve always understood the power of emotional attachment for listeners, but we have to understand that power for advertisers too, and the best shows and hosts do.”
Have you ever heard the old adage that it takes 2 years for listeners to stop thinking of a radio show as “new”?
“I have ‘heard’ that too,” Chuck says. “But I’m of the opinion that you better make a good first impression because once a listener has it decided in their mind what you are, it’s incredibly difficult, almost impossible to change it.”
That is 100% fair, but advertisers are listeners too. If The Fanatic hires a new show tomorrow and locally owned businesses in Philly are still thinking of them as “new” in December of 2022, isn’t that detrimental to the bottom line?
Ken says that from a business standpoint, that timeline gets a lot shorter. The sales team is always working to make sure clients know what they are being asked to invest in.
“It seems to take a solid year for the customer base to get fully comfortable, for some shows and talent it is less, some more, but a year is what I see most often. That’s is why we start the seeding process early. Usually when you get one, others follow quickly.”
The number of months or years doesn’t matter so much to D’Amico. He knows a programmer is only as successful as his product, and as he said earlier, that product is only successful if ratings translate to revenue. D’Amico, like every programmer, wants that to happen as soon as possible.
“New, or perceived as new, really doesn’t matter to me. You have to quickly be perceived as good, or entertaining or funny or all of the above if possible. I wouldn’t bank on too many listeners giving you the benefit of time to ‘get better’ just because you’re new.”
It’s probably safe to say that the sooner you are perceived as good, or entertaining or funny, the sooner you can start making meaningful money for your employer.
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.