I typically leave myself out of these Q&A interviews for Barrett Sports Media. It’s not about me; it’s about the people I’m interviewing. Well, I need to violate my own rule to make a point. I grew up in South Bend, Indiana. Because the signal was strong enough to reach my hometown, it allowed me to hear a lot of Chicago sports radio over the years.
One of the hosts I always enjoyed (and still enjoy) listening to is Laurence Holmes. I appreciate his approach and conversational style. He doesn’t sound like your parent giving you “the talk.” He sounds like your cool uncle telling you about sex in a way that never makes you uncomfortable.
Laurence has been at The Score for 23 years now. That’s right; the year he started in Chicago began with a 19, not a 20. When a smart dude — which Laurence certainly is — has that much experience, best believe he’s acquired plenty of knowledge along the way. Come to think of it, one of the smartest things Laurence does is avoid sounding like he believes he’s the smartest person in the room. In our interview below, Laurence explains how his strategic approach to podcasting can differ from sports radio. He talks about teaching young broadcasters while learning from them as well. Laurence also touches on a lesson he teaches students at DePaul that he had to learn on his own. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: I’ll start a little broad; what do you enjoy most about being a sports talk host?
Laurence Holmes: It’s funny, I was having a conversation with someone last week where I was talking about how I still, as much as I love podcasting, and I do, there’s still something to the live aspect of it. There’s nothing like a Monday after a Bears game, or going on the air after Giolito’s no-hitter. Being there for the listener in that moment, there’s a real juice to it. It’s so much fun. The interaction and the connectivity of it is pretty terrific.
BN: On the flip side, what annoys you or is the biggest drawback of being a sports radio host?
LH: I still think that the amount of time that we have to break — and I get it, I understand it because I worked in sales, it’s important to make sure that we have advertisers — but sometimes it breaks up conversation. That’s why I think you’re seeing a lot of hosts being drawn to the world of podcasting because it’s uninterrupted. You could have the best intentions sometimes of trying to carve out a topic for your listener, and then it gets interrupted. You’re like I’m going to do this great tease, and people are going to listen to it, and then you come back and you’ve lost your place. I still think that’s one of the challenges is the balance between making sure that the station is paid for, which is super important, and the content not being interrupted as frequently.
BN: The approach to podcasting and sports radio is interesting to me. For example, sometimes I’ll record a game that I mean to watch later, and normally I’m like, ehh it’s old, and I won’t feel like watching it. Some podcasts can burn quickly. Do you approach podcasting strategically where your pod is still going to appeal to people even though it might be old?
LH: Yeah, I’ve been debating how much of the daily stuff that I do on the radio, would I, or should I do as a podcaster? I tend to lean towards trying to do more evergreen topics on the podcast because you lose something as you get farther away from it. The listening is different. I’ll tell you right now, I’m three weeks behind on Le Batard’s show. If they were doing well let’s react to the biggest games of the week, if they were doing that type of content, I would just delete that episode and move on to the next one. Luckily for me they don’t really do that. It’s their own type of thing that they’re doing, so I’m cognizant of it when I’m doing podcasting.
That’s why I prefer to do a longer-form interview with someone when I’m doing podcasts because it can live longer and people can come back to it. I have episodes of the podcast from almost three years ago that people are still downloading because that type of content is evergreen. I also know there’s going to be a difference in the amount of downloads that happen and when they happen.
If I break down the Bears-Saints playoff game, yeah 4,000 people are going to listen to that in 72 hours, but then they’re never going to listen to it again. But if I sit down and do an interview with Mina Kimes — I had Mina Kimes on my podcast — people will go back and listen to that episode to hear us interact, to hear us not talking about a breakdown of a particular game.
Yeah, I think you have to be very cognizant of how you’re programming your podcast and what your listeners respond to. I don’t regret doing a podcast after the Bears-Saints playoff game, that’s great and people want that content, but you have to know that you can’t do that unless that’s your goal.
BN: Do you think that’s the main reason podcasts lend themselves to interviews so much?
LH: Yeah, I do. I went back, I love [Marc] Maron’s podcast because of some of the people that he’s able to get on and interview. He interviewed Rhea Seehorn from Better Call Saul. I’m a huge fan of that show and it just was like one of those things where it got by me.
I think this interview was in November. I listened to it last weekend. I found out all sorts of great stuff about her and about the show and about Bob Odenkirk. If I’m behind, and I’m really behind on Maron, I will scroll through. But what happened was I ended up listening to two more episodes because they were evergreen. Maron reacts to what’s going on in his life and the world, but the interviews themselves will hold up no matter how long they’re available.
BN: How about as a listener, not so much as a performer, but listening to either sports radio or podcasts, what do you find yourself doing more?
LH: I don’t sample live shows around the country as much as I used to. I do if they are people that I like. I will check out what they’re doing from a podcast standpoint. What I’m looking for as a consumer, for the teams that I talk about and I cover, I’m looking for people who know something that I don’t know. I’m a big fan in Chicago of the Bulls Talk Podcast. I’ve never really covered the Bulls even though I’m around it. They have a really smart crew.
Jason Goff, I think is one of the most talented people in America. He’s my favorite host. Having him along with K.C. Johnson, who’s been covering the NBA for 30 years, and hearing who they’re talking to, and what they think about what happens, that’s more valuable to me. Big picture stuff that can then be broken down granularly is more important to me than, alright guys let’s talk about what happened with the Bulls in the third quarter. Like that’s my job as a host to do some of that from day to day.
Haberstroh’s podcast is dope. He goes in all sorts of different directions. He did an episode that got me to get him on the radio show. He was breaking down the GameStop thing. He did this incredibly layered, nuanced breakdown that could not have been done on radio. He ended up doing it for me on radio, but that was after he had done 50 minutes on the subject and I knew what kind of questions to ask him to get a 10-minute version of that conversation.
To have the space to spread out and really dissect something sports wise, those are the type of sports podcasts that I find myself drawn to. Tell me something that I don’t know. Take me inside of it. Those are the things that’ll get me more so than just react pods.
BN: I saw some of your comments following George Floyd’s death. I’m just curious what your thoughts and feelings are as that police officer is preparing to go to trial.
LH: I don’t want to talk about it as far as my own personal feelings on the subject. I’ll talk about it from an industry standpoint. I was happy that we saw a loosening of some of the restrictive nature of sports radio over that stretch of time last summer. Whether we’re talking about ESPN on a national stage or locally what we were doing, I was happy to see that program directors around the country — and there were a couple who pushed back. I know there were some people in Cleveland, actually I think it’s one of my old associate program directors Matt Fishman, it was one of his places where they had gotten to a point where they said okay we’re only going to focus in on sports.
What I’ve always thought about radio and sports radio is look, we know that the marquis is the teams that we cover. That’s the star of what it is we do. But the connection that people have with the hosts of their station is significant. Strangely enough, they do care about what you think on some of these subjects.
What’s bothered me is that a lot of programmers across the country have reacted to a vocal minority that have decided that they’re going to determine whether or not I can talk about subjects that matter to me, that are sometimes a bit uncomfortable. In situations where it might not make someone uncomfortable, like if I’m talking about Avengers: Endgame, it’s totally fine for me to go off script and do some of that stuff, or to talk about donuts because I love talking about donuts. I can do some of that stuff.
I’m glad that we were in a space for the summer that allowed us — and I think that a big part of it was there wasn’t a lot of sports that was going on — I thought that as an industry I was very proud of what we were accomplishing, that we were doing that as well as any talk show hosts in any other genre. We were talking about it from the perspective of athletes in the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, we were talking about it in those ways. But we were also given some license to talk about how we were affected. I don’t know how anyone — and I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing, leave your own problems at the door when the light comes on — I don’t know how anyone during that time, how you weren’t affected. It’s disingenuous to act like you’re not. It’s disingenuous to treat the audience like they’re stupid and that they don’t know all of the stuff is going on.
That’s where I go back to the idea of programmers are always trying to sell the personality of the people that are doing their shows. Like hey you should listen to this guy or this woman because they do this, this, this, and this, and they’re your friend in the afternoon. Well, now your friend needs to talk to you about some real shit. Now your friend needs to tell you why they’re bothered.
I thought that we, as an industry, did a good job of really allowing people to be themselves on the air. I know I’m grateful to my PD. There was never once, not once, that he told me to pull back, that he told me that what I wasn’t doing was compelling. He went out of his way to say we support you talking about these things. We know that you know how to program your show and it’s okay for you to open a vein for your listener.
I think my favorite thing that happened this summer outside of us talking about some of these really big picture issues, is more of my listeners learning what Juneteenth was. I had a bunch of them that said to me, why do I have this day off? They had never had this day off and I did a whole segment on the history of Juneteenth, on The Score, in Chicago. I got text messages from listeners saying thank you, I didn’t know that that’s what this was. I was explaining how I think it should be an American holiday. The support that I got behind it was really awesome. It was cool that in a moment where you don’t think you can go outside of the regular sports radio discussions, it was cool to have that moment and then have the validation of people saying, oh cool, Laurence taught me something today, and it wasn’t about playing Cover 2 defense.
BN: In terms of teaching, why is it important to you to teach young broadcasters about the business?
LH: I’ve been teaching media at DePaul since 2012. I love it. I love it because one, I’m probably a better talk show host in the quarters when I teach because I’m going over some of the fundamental stuff with my students. The other part that’s great for me is I’m seeing how younger people approach media. What is their consumption like? How does it differ from what I watch? How are they looking at baseball? They think it’s boring but they’re still consuming at least from a digital standpoint and I’m seeing that. I’m seeing what they think is important in reporting, and where their ears and eyes gravitate towards. I think that there’s value in that, in trying to understand younger people and their habits. It’s something that our industry is desperate to figure out; how to grab those listeners and never let them go. That’s a big part of this. Being able to sit in a room with them — when you could sit in a room — and discuss some of these things with them, I find it fascinating.
BN: Is there anything that you teach the young broadcasters that you had to learn on your own?
LH: Wow, that’s a really wonderful question. I guess I had to learn this on my own, but it’s more of an observational thing. With social media being what it is now and the emphasis on social media, teaching them about the First Amendment is really important. To me the part that I enjoy teaching them is that it’s not a catch-all. It doesn’t protect you from consequences; it protects you from the government. It’s interesting to see the light come on for students when you explain that to them; that the First Amendment doesn’t necessarily protect your right to keep a job.
If you say something that’s out of pocket, your employer has the right to pull your contract, to take you off the air, to fire you. That is an important moment for them, because I think there are so many people that take the First Amendment and misuse it horribly as a way to, “Well I can say what I want, I have First Amendment rights.”
You’re damn right. You can say whatever you want, but as far as the private sector goes, you are not protected from the consequences. I try to explain to them — I’ve allowed them to see portions of my contract. Make sure that you read your contract thoroughly so that you understand where your employer, what rights they have to terminate your employment.
It can definitely be a difficult thing to understand. It’s a target that keeps moving on some of these subjects, but students need to understand that they can’t hold the First Amendment up as a shield against their employer. They can try to do it against the government, but they can’t do it against a private employer. I think that’s probably the most important thing where you have to learn about that from watching the way that your entity where you work, how they handle some of these things, and knowing your rights. I think that that’s a really important aspect of the job.
BN: As far as goals go; you’ve got the Chicago gig, the podcast, you’re now doing Sunday mornings on CBS. Is there anything you want to accomplish down the road that you haven’t yet?”
LH: Yeah, getting a chance to do a national show is a big deal for me because I always wanted to be able to talk about a bunch of different topics. I still love doing the local show, but doing it nationally has been a real blast. It’s been so much fun and I’ve gotten to interact with listeners from around the country, which is cool. I find that I’m really starting to love content creation podcast wise, building my podcast, House of L, and working with people.
I actually am digging the consulting aspect of my job now where people will come to me and say, hey I’m thinking about doing the podcast, what do you think I should do? Sitting down and helping — I’ve helped launch four or five podcasts this year. To know that I have peers that respect me in that way is really gratifying. I guess it’s an offshoot of teaching, where I’m taking my experience and I’m lending it to someone else, and they’re adding their unique abilities to the advice and coming up with something incredible.
BN: Do you see a future in the teaching/consulting area?
LH: I think there’s a chance that could happen. I still love performing. I still get something out of performing, but as I age out of the demo — I’m 45 now, so I’ve got some time — I do think that that’s probably where I end up. Kind of creating a business on content creation where I’m helping people do their thing instead of me doing mine. I’ve been working at The Score since 1998. I’m 23 years into the game at this point. I still have a lot that I want to do on air, but I’m fascinated with people who are coming up now and how they can creatively tell stories. I want to be able to help them do it.
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.