You might enjoy P.F. Chang’s. Chances are, however, that the restaurant doesn’t play a role in you eventually hosting a syndicated radio show. It is part of Chuck Oliver’s story though. The Auburn grad hosts a syndicated college football show year-round throughout the South, as well as an afternoon drive show on 680 The Fan in Atlanta. That’s right; two separate shows, six hours a day, five days a week. Fire up the Keurig and let her rip.
Chuck isn’t one to complain. He knows his career is a blessing. Chuck loves what he does, but the former high school football coach also talks about the demands of working 13 to 14-hour days. Keeping a tight schedule is essential just like his PhD in coffee. Chuck talks about having an understanding partner, why he eludes Twitter trolls like Barry Sanders used to sidestep defenders, and the need for bike horns. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Are you originally from Atlanta?
Chuck Oliver: Essentially. I was born in Houston, but six months in my parents moved to Atlanta. I was born in December of ’67 and then the summer of ’68 my dad got a job in Atlanta. I was the youngest of four kids, so the Vista Cruiser station wagon with the fake wood grain panels on the side, it left Houston and landed in Atlanta. Except for college, this is where I’ve been.
BN: Have you been a college football junkie from the get-go?
CO: I was a baseball fan actually more than anything growing up. My first Major League game was the Braves home opener against the Astros in April of ’77. I was a third grader. My dad and I went to Opening Day every year after that. Literally it was every single night with the Braves on Ted Turner’s satellite. I’m running down to the driveway every morning trying to get the paper before my dad so I can read the box scores and everything. I was a huge baseball fan.
College football, I actually grew up with no allegiance to anybody because neither of my parents went to college. Pepper Rodgers was the head coach at Georgia Tech. I would watch the Pepper Rodgers Show on Sunday mornings because nobody was on TV. You would have two or maybe three games on a Saturday. Most of them were regional. You’d have Texas and Oklahoma playing, USC and Notre Dame playing. If you lived in Lawrenceville, Georgia you may get Maryland and Wake Forest. It was a totally different challenge to be a college football fan. I’d watch the Pepper Rodgers Show on Sunday and catch up on Georgia Tech football. That was kind of the environment; you had to watch those coaches shows just to see anything.
BN: How did you start your syndicated college football show?
CO: A guy named Chad Scott was a producer for me way back in the day at 790 The Zone in Atlanta. I had a conversation with him at a P.F. Chang’s parking lot in 2008. He said every day that you don’t do the Chuck Oliver Show, you’re throwing money into the trash can. I ended up switching jobs. I was at 790 The Zone, which was a tremendous station; it should have been legendary. I was afternoon drive there, which was a pretty nice patch of radio real estate to have, but it was just one station in Atlanta. I went and met with David Dickey when my contract had a provision in it where I could get out with no non-compete, no anything. I had about a 30-day window and I was like well let’s jump on this.
I met with David Dickey in September of ‘08. He said “I’m David Dickey”. I said “I’m Chuck Oliver; I want my own syndicated college football show”.
He laughed. And by the way, he was right to laugh about that. You tell me, how many dudes in the South have had the idea that hey, we’re going to put together a syndicated show and just talk college football? I would bet you a couple of hundred have even tried it. That’s the reason I left afternoon drive at 790 and went to middays at 680. I was like I didn’t care about that; that’s the local play. Then six years later, David Dickey pushed the Staples button on this and made the syndicated thing happen. I started with one affiliate and now seven years later it’s two hours a day, nine states, and I think next week we add our 55th stick just outside of Knoxville.
BN: Do you cover the SEC exclusively?
CO: I’m of the opinion if the customers want hamburgers, give them hamburgers. And that really is the SEC. Now, granted the flagship is in Atlanta and we go from Lexington down to Ocala, over the Baton Rouge and Fayetteville. That’s basically our footprint, our circle.
If you’ve got 55 stations in that footprint, the majority of it each day is probably 80 to 85 percent SEC. I’m going to say it’s 15 to 20 percent maybe ACC. But let’s be honest. That’s Clemson — not this year — but we talk some ACC. That means you talk Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech maybe, and North Carolina with Mack. You don’t talk NC State. Dave Doeren is therapy for terminal insomniacs. That’s just not how the conversation is going to carry the day. It’s almost exclusively SEC.
I don’t claim to be anything superior here at all. I’m talking college football in the South. It’s supposed to work. But we don’t get dropped. Rush Limbaugh would be picked up and dropped. Dave Ramsey has been picked up and dropped sometimes. For the most part we don’t get dropped when we get picked up. It’s just a really, really nice compliment. We’re in Alabama and Tennessee and Mississippi talking college football so it works, but the response has been really, really nice.
BN: What’s your schedule like on a daily basis?
CO: I’m on from 11-1 on the syndicated show. Then there’s an hour break. Then I do the afternoon drive show on 680 The Fan in Atlanta from 2-6. It’s a full day and it’s extremely unusual. I get that. In fact our sales manager when I started, he used to be in Cincinnati, and he said we had a host that tried this, it lasted three months. It’s not easy. But I also understand the blessing is the opportunity. I’m just trying to maximize the opportunity and be thankful for it. Again I’m not playing all shucks; it’s a full day. I’m out of bed every morning at five. At 5:15 I have coffee and I’m at my computer already prepping at 5:15 and I get off at six. But I’m not complaining. Like I said that’s a heck of an opportunity, so I’m just trying to show up and do a decent job.
BN: A lot of broadcasters don’t want to talk about how it’s mentally demanding and tires you out, because you’re not digging ditches or doing physical labor. But just the mental focus it takes, do you feel it on a Thursday or Friday when you’ve been doing it all week?
CO: Oh dude, the beginning of the week, my shirt is tucked in, pressed collar. By about Thursday, I look like I just killed a bear with a knife. As we go through the week there’s this deterioration. I don’t want to complain and I’m not, I’m just saying that the physical part of it, it literally is 13 to 14 hours a day. I was asked to do Atlanta Braves watch parties. From six to nine I was out. That’s part of it. The blessing is going out to a bar for a paid appearance. That’s awesome. Today I woke up at five and I’ll be getting home about 9:30. I ain’t complaining; I’m just saying it’s a full day and I’ve been doing it for seven years.
I’ll be honest, Brian, it’s doable. My daily schedule is like a Jenga tower. If I take out the wrong thing — I’ll be candid — you and I were texting back and forth and it got down to like we were negotiating at a fair or something. I was like 9:14, and you were like 9:16, and I was like all right 9:15. It fit perfectly in there. I just have to be really regimented and disciplined and scheduled to get it all done. The thing is that would be the same for anybody that was doing these two jobs. I’ve just evolved over time and started drinking coffee. I didn’t drink coffee when I started the job. I have my schedule laid out and as long as there’s no real big curveball, I can handle it. It’s been seven years and it’s fine.
BN: What’s your go-to coffee and how many cups are we talking here?
CO: All right, brother, I’ve got the Keurig. I actually wrote that thing off. I was like this is a business expense. I go all the way on strength, two of the three bars on temperature, and I use Don Francisco’s hazelnut coffee pots. Can I give you a hack? Everybody start doing this immediately. The only dietary thing I do is I don’t have any added sugar ever. I eat everything else all day long, whatever I want, no added sugar ever. What I add to my coffee instead of half and half; heavy whipping cream. It turns it into a hazelnut latte with zero sugar in it. I have two or three of those every single morning. You wake up, it’s like walking dead, then after three of those, man, you are ready to roll. That’s what I do. Heavy whipping cream, people. Start that. It’s a treat.
BN: I’d assume your wife [Kristen] is pretty understanding about the demands of your job, right?
CO: Oh gosh, yeah. For instance I was in Charlotte for three days. I was in Houston for three nights for the World Series. In two weeks I’m going to Knoxville and blah, blah, blah. It’s a blessing, but it also is me taking off and heading on the road and saying I’m going to see Tennessee and Georgia play at Neyland. Well that’s great for me; she’s back here in Atlanta running the house and the dogs and oh yeah, trying to essentially be a PA. That’s what she’s pursuing while she’s doing everything else.
She’s awesome though. You’re right, she has a big understanding of this. The cool part though is that I’ve told her when she graduates and when it’s all done in about four weeks, the world is her oyster as far as getting a job. With radio, you can do that job anywhere. Just give me a microphone and some power and I can broadcast in India. I’m ready to roll, man. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter and it being all about her.
BN: I’m curious how you’d describe Georgia fans this year. Are they braggadocious, we’re number one, or is it sort of like this could go south at any time?
CO: Georgia fans right now are occupying themselves with the Stetson Bennett, J.T. Daniels thing. Here’s the weird thing; they’re more boisterous and finger in the air if they’re like 9-1 than they are right now after beating Florida. It’s been weird. Going into the Clemson game, it was the height of anxiety. After they got into conference play, the South Carolina game, we all looked around and realized this is what the defense is. They looked at the schedule and were like Auburn ain’t beating us, Tennessee isn’t beating us, Vanderbilt’s not beating us, Florida’s not beating us. They already looked at the entire regular season and said there’s a really good chance we’re 12-0.
This is all in the course of about two months. I had two Georgia fans tell me I’m not going to Jacksonville. They canceled their plans and sold their tickets. I was like why? Quote, it’s not a big enough game this year. I almost needed a paper bag to breathe into. I couldn’t believe a Georgia fan telling me Jacksonville ain’t a big enough game. That’s what it is.
BN: There was some serious turnover during COVID at 680. Are you feeling good about where things stand now?
CO: Yeah, John Kincade is a very, very good friend of mine and played a huge role actually in me going over to 680. When John got canned, that was just awful, awful, awful. It’s tough because you look at John, you can’t do the job better than John does it. You can’t be more prepared. You can’t work harder. He has something to say. All right, he got fired. That was kind of an attention getter. That was Sheriff Justice kicking you in the butt against the side of the car. For John personally I knew that he’s a cat, he was going to land on his feet. Steak Shapiro and Mark Zinno the same sort of thing, they’re too good. Steak’s got his TV empire anyway.
It wasn’t necessarily just related to okay what happens to these individuals? Because I knew all of them were good and were going to land. It was just a tough commentary. I’ll say this about David Dickey, he is not knee-jerk. He does not react in the moment. Everything is very measured and thought out. If that was the decision he came to, I was like all right, this is another indication of how real this thing is. John is really good at his job. It was kind of jarring because that’s just not the kind of thing that has happened at DBC since I’ve been there. And it happens everywhere in the industry, but just not there.
BN: Where do you think you would be right now if you stuck with coaching?
CO: I want to say coaching d-line somewhere. In fact I’m going to tell you right now honestly if you dropped me down onto a college coaching staff right now, I could coach technique. I could coach technique tomorrow. I would be almost useless with a game plan. I can break down film and tell you what’s going on, but I know zero. I know a thimble full as far as preparing for a modern offense. It’s just been too long.
But the techniques have never changed. Alignments, stance, hand placement, footwork, leverage, it’s never changed. I can do that. And that was awesome. I loved it. Actually you know how I could coach? Here’s what I need, just two concessions, the offense only gets three formations and there’s no pre-snap motion. If you could make that a rule, I’m back in coaching tomorrow. I promise you. It was so much fun. It was just a tremendous experience.
I coached high school football for six years and even got a ring. That was kind of cool. Also there were kids on the defensive line when I was there that went to Troy State, one went to Auburn, we had several go to Cumberland and Maryville and various places. You see a kid that showed up who’s like I’m 14 and I’m a freshman, I’m just here to play high school ball, and then four years later you realize he’s about to be able to graduate from college without any student loan debt. It is a huge, huge deal, and so many of those kids, I just loved when they got their chance.
BN: I love your Twitter bio. Part of it says it’s not possible to troll me, I just don’t engage the negative on Twitter, ever. Why is that your approach?
CO: I have a co-worker of mine, Mark Zinno as a matter of fact, he gets out of bed every morning like he’s stepping into a boxing ring on Twitter. He’s like well these people said things about me. The way I said it, my studio is on the 4th floor and there’s a big floor-to-ceiling window about 12 feet away. I don’t sit anywhere near it. I said Mark here’s Twitter, there’s a thousand people on the sidewalk that have been yelling just rude, awful things to you for the past hour. He’s like really? I’m like no. Because you haven’t gone over and looked. I was like they might have been there just yelling the most vile, awful things for the past 60 minutes, but you don’t know that because you didn’t engage them. You sat in your chair 12 feet away. I was like I sit in my Twitter chair 12 feet away.
It’s really a different environment for me. I have some funny, really insightful, sometimes helpful folks on Twitter. That’s really what I try to limit my engagements to. Twitter is this dark alley that you step into it and then thousands of people jump out with sticks and just start beating on you. I’m just not going to do that. I don’t respond to anybody because again it’s not trolling unless you engage back and kind of shine a light on it yourself. You have to be complicit in this and I just don’t do it.
BN: Over the next five to 10 years what do you want your ideal radio schedule to look like?
CO: Gosh, the syndicated thing continues to kind of unfold on its own pretty steadily. We’ll pick up six to seven affiliates. People hear about it and over the year they add some. That’s kind of only been growing. I assume that that’ll keep going unless people lose taste for college football. I found a schedule that works. I believe that I’ll keep on rolling along until public taste changes and nobody likes college football in the South.
BN: How would you describe the difference between doing your 680 show with [Matt] Chernoff where it’s a two-man show, and your syndicated show, which is solo?
CO: Chuck and Chernoff is a traditional, like the wacky morning zoo with the bike horn and all that in the afternoon. We do a dumb show. It’s fun, but it’s dumb. We’re silly and we don’t take ourselves seriously. It is the anti — because college football is serious stuff — it is the anti-Chuck Oliver Show. It’s just a lot of fun. This is my professional life and I just hope they don’t catch on soon.
BN: It’s six hours on the air each day, you probably need the bike horn at the end of the day, right?
CO: Oh God, if it was six hours of brain surgery and the neighbor’s yard is so much better than mine and everything in between, no. It can’t be all serious issues all the time. We’ll go crazy. That’s the thing about the job actually I’ve said, my job is not important. I don’t fly the space shuttle for a living. But I’ve had so many people tell me that it’s important to them. When you’re in Atlanta traffic, which you average an hour and seven minutes a day in afternoon drive, here’s what people don’t want; they don’t want a statistical seminar on the Atlanta Braves matchup with the Astros. What they want is distract me in Atlanta traffic. That’s all they want, distract me. Make me not notice what’s going on in front of me. So we just try to distract people for a little bit while they’re in traffic.
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.