Radio is not a large community. Sports radio is an even smaller community. It makes sense that hosts and programmers call one another for advice or to bounce ideas back and forth. Sometimes the calls are with a respected former boss. Sometimes they are with folks you have met through routine networking. The value is in making connections and exchanging ideas.
This week, I ran across a clip of Nick Saban discussing modern football. He spoke to the Louisiana High School Coaches Association on a video conference about the need to adapt to what is happening around you rather than insisting that following the same plan that bred success in the past will guarantee the same results in the future.
This is, without a doubt, the best football coach to ever walk the Earth. Admittedly, I am biased as a Bama alum, but for a guy, who sees his roster completely turnover every four or five years, to maintain championship-level success with a system he built over time, then see that system become obsolete and very quickly build a new system that continues that level of success is remarkable.
This isn’t Bill Belichick trying to force his square peg of a philosophy into the round hole of a Patriots team without Tom Brady. This is a guy that knows he is smarter than his opponent acknowledging that he isn’t smart enough. It is no wonder Nick Saban is the guy college football coaches turn to when their resume needs a rehab. It is no wonder that his former assistants are often the first ones to get a phone call when there is a job opening in the SEC.
When it comes to former Saban assistants though, there is one truth that athletic directors need to accept: a protégé isn’t the man himself. Saban’s former assistants have watched their mentor adapt with the sport of college football. They have seen him and Alabama prolong their dominance by changing everything about the way they approached offensive game planning, yet I can rattle off a list of names for you that become a head coach themselves and insist on running the most old-fashioned, dumbest, slowest offense they can. Most times, that ends with four years of employment followed by a nice, fat buyout check.
All someone can give you when you ask for their advice or guidance is knowledge. It is up to you to figure out how to use it and be successful. All you can do, as the person who’s advice is being sought, is explain what works for you or what problems you see in the asker’s approach. Whether or not they can take your advice or implement your ideas in a successful way is totally up to them.
We all have worked with an older host that doesn’t get why there is value to making an effort on social media. We have all seen bosses and colleagues remain married to a talent that still thinks a good show is rotating between phone calls and interviews every segment. You can get frustrated and scream until you are blue in the face. Sometimes failure is the only thing that will force a change.
I was in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for Nick Saban’s failure. It was the 2014 Sugar Bowl. Bama got its doors kicked in by Oklahoma. The Sooners went up by two touchdowns in the second quarter, and Bama’s offense was not operating fast enough to catch back up. That game was January 2, 2014.
Eight days later, Nick Saban hired Lane Kiffin as his new offensive coordinator and that was the day that the style of football that gave us Tua Tagovailoa, Devonte Smith, Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones, and others came to Alabama.
You know what moves faster than football? Technology and the media. That is the reason stations hire consultants and colleagues call to pick one another’s brain. It is imperative we understand what is changing around us and examine how and why successful brands are embracing the strategies that they do.
“Adapt or die” is a common saying in many businesses. Studios had to figure out how to distribute their movies in a time when it wasn’t safe to go to theaters. Car companies constantly have to update their offering and tweak aspects of best selling models based on new priorities amongst drivers. Radio isn’t special in this way.
Then again, no one is out here arguing that cars or movies are dying. It is understandable to feel like our industry’s future is under a more powerful microscope.
The truth is that the old model for radio is dying. It’s not dead yet, because the medium still has plenty of reach. In a world though where competitors are finding new platforms to expand their offerings and finding new ways to deliver for both advertisers and listeners, how long can a station survive using the same playbook it did a decade ago?
Nick Saban recognized that he didn’t just need to understand what a run/pass option play was. He needed to understand why teams that huddled less and snapped the ball quicker had an advantage over his more traditional playbook. Knowledge of what you can do better or why a competitor is successful matters, but having a plan of what to do about it matters more. That is how you adapt.
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.