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Josh Pate Bet On Himself And Built College Football’s Hottest Podcast

“Then I said ‘I’ve never done TV before, does that matter?’ He said ‘probably, but we’re going to do it anyway.’”

Tyler McComas

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The Paul Bunyan Trophy was lifted high in the air on Saturday afternoon, as the entire Michigan State football team celebrated an improbable comeback victory over its bitter rival, the Michigan Wolverines. The scene, both on the field and in the stands, was arguably unlike anything that had been witnessed before at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing. 

FOX College Football on Twitter: "The Paul Bunyan Trophy trophy belongs to  @MSU_Football 👏👏🏆… "
Courtesy: CFB on FOX

Smack dab in the middle of all the madness, stood Josh Pate. As he watched the four-foot high wooden statue of Paul Bunyan being hoisted with a Michigan State helmet on top of its head, he pinched himself. He couldn’t believe this was part of his job.

To understand the feeling Pate had in that moment, you first need to know how his start in sports media happened. 

After graduating high school in 2004, Pate went to college without a clear vision on what he wanted to do professionally. There was no purpose or drive to find what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, so, instead of wasting money, he left school until he figured out what he wanted to do. That meant dropping out and working for a fabric warehouse in Columbus, GA. There was no air conditioning and the job requirement meant full-on manual labor in the Georgia heat. Each passing day required the same simple task of unloading a truck. 

To pass the time, Pate and his co-workers would listen to sports talk radio. His love for sports had fully blossomed at a young age, but his affinity for sports talk was really beginning to take shape. It wasn’t just about the endless opinions he heard every day. He was truly appreciating the art form of the industry. 

“I loved more than just the content,” said Pate. “I loved the production aspect and I loved listening to guys like Colin Cowherd, who was just getting his start at ESPN Radio. I paid attention to the way he would bring in a segment, or how he would tee up a guest, how he would toss to a break, I was fascinated by all of it.”

Pate would grind it out at the fabric warehouse for a few years, before putting himself back into school. Those years of listening to sports talk radio ignited a passion he wanted to chase. The problem was that he didn’t know how to go about finding a way into the industry. He had no contacts, no friends or family in the business, just a burning desire to try his hand at the first professional thing he was ever passionate about. 

That’s when he thought of WIOL, the ESPN radio affiliate in Columbus. It was one of the stations Pate had listened to a lot during endless days of unloading trucks, so he decided to take his chance at a place he was familiar with.

“They had an afternoon drive show and I started badgering one of the hosts on Facebook Messenger,” Pate said. “I asked him if I could just meet him or come in and do anything. He said yes and let me come in to observe the show.”

Pate kept coming in and observing. Subsequently, he knew he needed to practice. The station wasn’t giving him that opportunity, so he would turn the radio down in his truck and pretend to be on the air. It was the only way he knew how to get better. 

His determination paid off, because, one random day, one of the co-hosts of the afternoon drive show called in sick five minutes before the open. With no prep, and right in the middle of football season, Pate was asked to pinch hit at the last second. He knew it was his time to shine.

“We did an afternoon, caller-based show and I loved it,” Pate said. “They never took me off the air.”

For the next two years, Pate was living a new-found dream of being a sports radio host. He quickly excelled. Then he got a call from the general manager of the ABC television affiliate in Columbus. His next big break was about to come.

“He said, you’ve never met me, and you don’t know me, but I’ve been listening to you on my drive home every day,” Pate said. “He said the station wanted to start a college football TV show and wanted to know if I wanted to be in the driver’s seat. I thought about it for a fraction of a second and said yes. Then I said ‘I’ve never done TV before, does that matter?’ He said ‘probably, but we’re going to do it anyway.’”

Josh Pate - ID - YouTube

It was a far cry from unloading trucks every day. He was now a TV anchor talking about his favorite sport. Soon after, he was promoted to sports director and even a news anchor. He was incredible story of determination. But he saw the capability of even bigger things.

“When I saw streaming on Facebook Live and Youtube Live, I knew that was my gateway,” Pate said. “That took down the barrier of overhead and distribution. The industry was revolutionized.” 

The issue Pate had with all the TV shows he was doing was that he didn’t own any of the content. So when it came time to renegotiate his contract, the station offered him more money than he had ever been offered. But he wasn’t going to be able to independently produce anything on his own.

“I got down to the last day of my contract and said I wasn’t going to renew,” Pate said. “The general manager called me in with the news director and said, we don’t get it, what is your plan?”

Pate’s plan was to start a new YouTube channel. He was told by management he couldn’t make any money off it. But Pate believed in himself and his vision. Finally, the two sides reached an agreement. He would independently contract for the TV station, but for a fraction of what his previous offer was for. However, the station agreed to give Pate three nights a week of exclusive access to the TV studio to build his own YouTube channel that he independently owned. Thus, The Late Kick with Josh Pate was born. 

“It took about two years to get it off the ground and running,” Pate said. “Then I got a call from Shannon Terry of 247Sports and CBS. He said he wanted me to come work for him. He wanted me to do something they didn’t have.”

Pate had heavily bet on himself and won the jackpot. In January of 2020, he joined 247Sports with Late Kick as the main feature. 

“They essentially gave me the keys to the car and then they shut the door and told me to go do my thing,” Pate said. “I’ve been able to do a show here and executive produce it. I’ve essentially charted my own course here and I’m able to do it on one of the bigger media platforms in the world.”

So as he stood on the field of Spartan Stadium last Saturday in the middle of all the pandemonium, it was hard not to think of the journey that got him to that very moment. Now, The Late Kick with Josh Pate is one of the most popular college football podcasts on the internet, with a YouTube feature that has taken the show over the top. 

Nobody thought the kid working at the fabric warehouse would someday be hosting a college football show with a huge audience. But that’s what determination did for Pate. The funny thing is that even though those years are in his rearview mirror, the impact it had is still felt on today’s podcast. 

“Back in Columbus, there’s a place called Clearview Barbecue,” Pate said. “They accept cash only and me and two or three buddies would go there every weekday for lunch. We would obviously talk about college football, that’s what 22-year-old guys did in the south. We talked about it every single day and when I started to get an inkling of an idea that I could do this for a living, I remember thinking to myself, this is the format of my show. I always wanted to do a solo show, because I think it’s one of the hardest things in our business to do. If you can perfect it I think it can make you infinitely harder to replace. That was my strategy at my time and it still is.”

Pate grew up watching SEC football and the 247Sports office are located in the Nashville area, but that doesn’t mean he limits his content to strictly what happens in the Southeast. He wants to follow, attend and cover what the major game and storyline is every single week. 

“Michigan and Michigan State is a perfect example,” Pate said. “There may not be a ton of people in Wetumpka, Alabama that woke up on Saturday morning caring about that outcome. I just view my job to go there and tell the story in a way that lets them know there is a lot to care about. I go to these games to show why these people get so worked up about a wooden statue of Paul Bunyan. But I also want to tell people in Wetumpka, Alabama how they feel about the Iron Bowl, is how these people feel about Michigan and Michigan State. It’s pure hatred in the most beautiful of ways.”

Saturday was a pinch me moment for Pate, but it was just one of many that he’s had. Among the list, was the many Late Kick signs that appeared in the crowd of ESPN College Gameday this year. For the college football nut that’s been watching the show his entire life, it meant a lot. 

“I’m a part of what I grew up idolizing,” Pate said. “To be a part of it is beyond incredible. When I walk around a stadium in a state I’ve never visited and people know me by name, that’s a surreal thing I’ll never get used to.”

That passion is shown during every episode of Late Kick. To me, it’s what separates the podcast from all the others. But I also love that Pate isn’t another button-downed media member that can’t see the fun and the beauty of the sport they cover.

Late Kick: Josh Pate on OU and Texas heading to the SEC
Courtesy: 24/7Sports

“When I look back, I count it as such a blessing that I did not come straight form high school to a four-year journalism school, straight off the assembly line into this business,” Pate said. “I meet people that took that route, and more power to them, they are a lot more buttoned down than I am.”

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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