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What Do You Learn From A Long Stretch On The Sidelines?

“We work so hard to land these positions and when they are gone, it can take time to get the train back on the track. Weeks turn into months, months turn into a year, then two years, then three.”

Demetri Ravanos

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The thing about sports radio that can be so frustrating is that there are only so many on air jobs to go around. That means that some good people will be left on the sidelines, sometimes for considerably longer than they ever anticipated.

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I wanted to talk to some of those guys today. I reached out to two buddies, Nick Kayal in Nashville and Jeff Pantridge in Raleigh. Neither has been totally on the sidelines. Nick has part-time gigs in both Atlanta and Nashville. Jeff has moved from the programming side into sales. Still, I don’t think either thought they would be where they are right now when they started their last full-time on air job.

So with all of this time on the sidelines and plenty of time re-evaluate what does and doesn’t matter to them, how have they changed? How has the way they think about radio changed?

Pantridge says he hasn’t changed much about how he applies. He still tries to learn all he can about a station and a market before sending off a demo or resume. What has changed is if he applies at all. After three years away from the microphone, he has learned to value himself a little more than he did before.

“For a while, I was applying for anything and everything,” he told me. “When radio is all that you know and you are forced out of the industry, you must piece together odd jobs until your next radio opportunity arrives. Leaving an odd job is easy. I was selling people insulation for a little bit. I don’t know anything about insulation. And let me tell you, selling insulation sucks. If I got an offer in 2019 to wash vans for a sports station in rural North Dakota, I probably would have considered it. Now that I have a more stable career in radio and digital sales with a great company, I can pick and choose where I want to apply. Plus, if I get an offer, I have the power to walk away if the offer isn’t worth changing my life, which I have done.”

Kayal has also reassessed what matters to him. He has a wife and two kids and realizes that any job he is offered doesn’t work for him if it doesn’t work for them.

“My wife and daughters are very happy in the south and they love living in Nashville,” Kayal said in an email. “Sure, if FOX Sports Radio was interested in me filling Clay Travis’s vacancy, I’d absolutely listen. If ESPN Radio wanted to hire me, I’d jump on it. If the chance to go back to Philadelphia was realistic, I’d be all ears. But largely, I am very happy with the 2 great stations I get routine work on and am focused on moving up the ladder at one or both of those places. I’ve also had steady work for both of them during the pandemic, so I am very blessed in that regard because I know a lot of talented people in the industry can’t find any fill-in work, much less full-time gigs.”

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I asked both guys how they see themselves in the business now. Are they hosts and only hosts? Could they see themselves being happy in another side of the building?

Kayal started in the sales side of the business. It is how he first got his foot in the door in radio, hosting a morning show from 6 until 8 am in Allentown, PA and then selling spots for the rest of the workday. It taught him the value of building relationships with a sales staff, but it isn’t something he wants to do again.

“At 37 years old, there’s no way I would do sales full-time. I still have too much of an itch to host. I have too much of an ego to being sitting in a cubicle or on the road listening to the show/host that I’m selling if I know I am more talented than that person. I just couldn’t do it,” he says with a laugh.

You have to give Kayal credit for knowing who he is. Whether or not people are lining up to hire him for a prime, weekday shift is irrelevant. He knows what makes him happy and intends to pursue it.

Jeff Pantridge is different. Maybe that is because he is older than Kayal. Maybe he just has a different set of priorities. Neither is wrong. Jeff just knows that sales provides some things for him that chasing low-paying on-air gigs cannot.

“It took me a while to realize this, but believe it or not, there is more to life than hosting a sports radio show. Is hosting a show more fun than sales? No question. Does it pay as much? Nope. I’m in my mid-40’s now, and I have come to a point in my life where I need to start thinking about retirement. I also love to travel, and when you are in radio and you are on vacation, there is always a piece of you that is worried that your station might replace you with your fill-in because they may come cheaper or may even be (gasp) better than you. Being in media sales, I can also have a direct impact on my community by helping these local businesses that support our products grow. That matters to me.”

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I wanted to wrap up giving both guys a chance to speak directly to programmers and GMs that do the hiring in radio. I don’t want them to pitch themselves or their ability. That is what the BSM Member Directory is for. I asked them what they would want hiring managers to know. What has a longer-than-anticipated stint on the beach taught them about the industry.

Pantridge says that he hopes companies and stations understand where value comes from in your audience. Spending time on the sales side of the business has taught him that quality is always more important and more valuable than quantity. He encourages hiring managers to think about what makes an audience loyal to a talent.

“I believe that a lot of sports radio ends up sounding the same, because there seems to be a universal formula that many management types follow. I understand that this is a business, and the endgame is to make money. With that said, there are many ways to do that. Now that I am in sales, I have come to realize that numbers are not everything. You also must create a passionate audience. If I am a radio station, I would rather have 200,000 passionate listeners than 500,000 passive ones. Local businesses have a much greater chance of connecting with them versus somebody that is just listening to the same old sports radio show because they like sports.”

He uses Dan Le Batard’s deal with DraftKings as an example. Pantridge says that a lot of local sports radio stations didn’t know how to make sense of Le Batard. All some managers saw was that fewer people listened to Le Batard in the station’s 10 am to 1 pm slot than listened to Colin Cowherd when he was there and decided it wasn’t working. DraftKings, on the other hand, saw an audience that didn’t listen passively and wanted to support their favorite show.

Nick Kayal just wants PDs and GMs to see the people applying for their openings as more than resumes and mp3s. He wants them to know just how much a little common courtesy means to people trying to find a new job.

“When a talent reaches out to you and pours his soul into impressing a decision maker you shouldn’t ghost them. The whole world is on a smartphone and has a dozne means of communication. You owe that talent a reply and a genuine one at that. This is a very small industry. Don’t be the guy who says “I’ll circle back to you”, or “I’ve got a lot on my plate.” I swear theres a PD verbage/clich playbook that was published in 1998 and it’s quite annoying. We are all busy. I get that. But you’re programming a sports talk radio station, not creating the next vaccine for the next global pandemic. You have time. You work in communications. Be better than that.”

Losing a gig sucks. There’s no need to sugarcoat it. We work so hard to land these positions and when they are gone, it can take time to get the train back on the track. Weeks turn into months, months turn into a year, then two years, then three.

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The best anyone can do with their time is learn. Learn about the industry and more importantly, learn about yourself. Learn not just about the weaknesses that lead to the exit from your previous job. Learn about the strengths and goals that maybe could not be served working in and thinking about radio like you did before.

BSM Writers

Who Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion Best?

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

Jason Barrett

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Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.

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Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area

Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.

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Joe Rogan

For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.

As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.

I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.

At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.

From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”

But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.

But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.

However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.

One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.

Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.

There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.

Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.

At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.

There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.

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