Every station in every city across America does charity work during the year. Sometimes it is in the form of a remote from a major fundraising event. Sometimes it is an ongoing on-air promotion. The goal is always the same: activate our audience to get involved.
I want to tell you about one of the fundraisers I look forward to every year. If you read my columns regularly, you know how much I love the Shutdown Fullcast. The show is, in theory at least, about college football, but the connection to college football is tangential at best. That is why I like it so much.
Every year, the show rallies its listeners to donate to New American Pathways. The Atlanta-based charity focuses on helping refugees build a new life in the United States in a multitude of ways including job training for adults and tutoring for children.
The idea is simple. You donate money to the cause, but there is a competition aspect to it. You donate in the name of your school and you donate an amount based on a score or state that means something to that team. For instance, this year, my donation amount was based on one of the more absurd moments of the Saban-era in Tuscaloosa.
Holly Anderson keeps and regularly updates the leaderboard so that every year, a winning school can be determined. I have been following the Fullcast and thus the “Charity Bowl” fundraiser, for four years now. The names Michigan and Georgia Tech often end up at the top of the heap.
Spencer Hall, not only one of the hosts of Shutdown Fullcast but also a former employee of New American Pathways, has enjoyed watching the leaderboard aspect create competition and rivalries amongst listeners. It is likely only displays of competitive selflessness that could turn Georgia Tech and Michigan, two schools that have only faced each other once on the football field (A 9-2 Michigan victory in 1934. Hail to the Victors!), into bitter rivals.
“The Georgia Tech/Michigan rivalry is one,” Hall says when I asked about his favorite rivalries the Charity Bowl has created. “Another are schools we’ve arbitrarily grouped together — i.e. everyone versus Harvard (which is a blowout in the direction of everyone,) or the Battle of the Washingtons, i.e. Washington vs. Washington State vs. Washington and Lee vs Washington U of St. Louis. That is the most bizarre simply because of how well the two small schools do, and how truculent they are about it.”
And that friends, is why the Charity Bowl works as well as it does. It taps into the competition that all college football fans love: a chance to prove that my school is better than yours. It also is a direct line to exactly who the listeners of the Shutdown Fullcast are. Yes, we love college football, but we love it because it is such a weird sport made up of pockets of obscure, dumb history that mean the world to one fan base and are likely unknown by others. It is the kind of stupidity that can only be appreciated by those that love the cause of said stupidity.
I reached out to Joe O’Neill to better understand how radio thinks about charity campaigns. The president of 101.7 the Team in Albuquerque told me that he wants to do what will make the beneficiary happy, but understands that need for the audience to be excited about whatever it is that will be executed on air.
“I think if a campaign excites you, it’s a good barometer for whether it will excite your listener,” he told me in an email. “The important thing is the message and how you provide that message to connect to the audience and make it successful.”
Oh, it is also important to note that Hall literally puts his body on the line every year. Michigan has won the Charity Bowl every year of its existence. That means Hall has a lot of Michigan-themed tattoos on his body, including the anime character Totoro with a block M on his belly and what Hall describes as “a gentleman wolverine”.
This year, things were shaken up a bit. Hall, Anderson, and their co-hosts Jason Kirk and Ryan Nanni decided that if the campaign’s overall goal was met, Hall would be shaved completely smooth. It will be a sight to behold since Fullcast fans and SEC Network viewers are used to seeing a Spencer Hall that looks like this.
Hall says the Charity Bowl and those that give have moved past needing a prize for their efforts.
“It used to be about deciding something was at stake, but honestly the most sustainable and compelling thing ended up being people’s enthusiasm for getting really creative with their giving. It’s one thing to pay for an idiot to get a tattoo. It’s another to personalize it, to aim it at a very specific rival or someone, or to come up with your own strange chain of numbers with their own personal value to you. There’s no substitute for someone feeling really invested in something, and watching me get multiple Michigan tattoos — while entertaining — can’t really compete with that feeling.”
Armen Williams is the program director of Sports Radio 610 in Houston. He told me that the key to successful charity campaigns for sports media brands is passion. The more you can tap into, the more successful your fundraising efforts will be.
“The first step is to get involved with a charity that has an impact on a part, if not all, of your target listening audience. You want the charity efforts to appeal to the most amount of listeners in order to see maximum impact that your brand can make,” Williams says. “Secondly, do you have a host(s) that is passionate about the cause? You need one or several individuals to be the voice and drive engagement and interest around the specific need in the community.”
Another aspect that makes the Charity Bowl such a success each year is that New American Pathways embraces it so enthusiastically. The 2021 campaign generated nearly $830,000 over the course of seven days. That is, in part, thanks to NAP making sure people knew what they provided and what the donations would pay for.
O’Neill says it is important to work with a group with that kind of energy if you want a fundraiser to be a true success. If a charity is trusting you to steer the ship, you need them to be your biggest cheerleaders.
“The more you can get them involved, the more invested they become. This ranges from their vision on how it may work, ideas on getting their existing supporters/donors involved, how they are going to support the event with their resources etc.”
While the hosts of Shutdown Fullcast built the Charity Bowl in a way that fits their brand and hits their listeners right where they live (“I love truculence, especially in the name of charity,” Hall says), O’Neill doesn’t always think the branding side of a campaign designed to help out a worthy cause is necessary. The branding that matters to him is the type that reflects the station’s belief that the cause or organization it is worth the air time.
“We brand ourselves heavily in all these type of events because of it’s not REALLY important to you, why would it be important to the listener?” he says.
My favorite thing about the visual aides Holly Anderson provides to the Charity Bowl is looking near the bottom of her spreadsheets to see which schools likely only had one donor come through in their name. That is almost as fun as the RTs Spencer and Holly through out to highlight each fan base’s pettiness.
I asked Hall if any of those donations still stick out in his mind. Has anyone ever donated in the name of something so petty or obscure that he still thinks about it?
It wasn’t pettiness or obscurity. It was a donation recognizing another sport entirely.
“Probably the dude who gave money in the name of ‘Dale Earnhardt.’ Not even ‘Dale Earnhardt University,’ nope, just: ‘Dale Earnhardt.’ Like we were supposed to just get that and let it happen without making him obey the same rules as everyone else.
“Which we did, because yeah, you can give money in Dale Earnhardt’s name, why wouldn’t a sensible person get that?”
The lesson here is pretty simple. Charity is not a waste of a station’s time and resources. It does not have to be something done only out of obligation. Find a partner that trusts you to deliver your audience your way. That is what the Shutdown Fullcast has done with the Charity Bowl and it accounts for a major percentage of New American Pathways’ annual fundraising.
Who is your target demo? What motivates them? What do your hosts get the biggest and best reaction too? Use that info to create something that not only makes a difference for a local charity, but also becomes content your listeners can’t get enough of and can’t get enough of being a part of!
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.