Mark Chernoff Reflects On Career, Looks Forward to the BSM Summit and Sports Radio’s Future
“It’s not important to speak. It’s important to listen. You get so much out of listening. You find out so much about people.”
WFAN Program Director Mark Chernoff retired last summer, completing a legendary career spanning over three decades at the forefront of the sports media world.
Throughout his time in the industry, Chernoff worked with prominent on-air talents, including Howard Stern, Steve Somers, Don Imus, Mike Francesca and Christopher Russo, and helped develop the sound of sports radio in New York City and across the country.
Additionally, he played an integral part in helping WFAN find his successor and new program director Spike Eskin, who has brought new voices to the station such as Keith McPherson, Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney. Despite being retired, Chernoff still follows the industry closely and looks for the next generation of talent set to take the airwaves.
In fact, Chernoff will be attending the 2022 Barrett Sports Media Summit in New York City at the start of next month (March 2-3) in order to continue to keep up with the pulse of radio as a communication medium and as a business, along with reconnecting with friends and colleagues.
At the 2020 Barrett Sports Media Summit, Chernoff was honored by Barrett Media founder and president Jason Barrett with the introduction of a new award, eponymously named the “Mark Chernoff Award,” to commemorate his career in sports radio. The award, given annually at each BSM Summit, is bestowed upon sports radio programmers possessing strong leadership, vision, creativity, success in ratings and multi-platform excellence. Mitch Rosen, program director of Chicago’s 670 The Score, was recognized as its first recipient. BSM president Jason Barrett is expected to announce this year’s recipient in the next week or two.
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the media landscape was beginning to lean towards cross-platform integration, specifically within the digital space. The future of radio as a viable communications medium, concurrent with alterations in consumption trends, had indeed been questioned and remains as such to an extent today.
With early March right around the corner amid an unprecedented global pandemic and paradigm shift towards convergence, we felt there was no better time than the present moment to catch up with Mark Chernoff to discuss his career, gather his thoughts on the future of sports radio, and discuss the value of the forthcoming BSM Summit.
PART I: How it all started
Q1: How did you get your start in radio?
Chernoff: I started by working at my college radio station, which was WRSU in New Brunswick – I went to Rutgers. As a little kid, [I] would listen to radio all the time [on] a little transistor radio, if that world still exists, under my pillow. I just loved the idea of getting involved with radio. The first week of school at Rutgers, I went up to the radio station to a meeting and never looked back, basically.
Q2: What led to your transition from being a jock to being a program director?
Chernoff: My first real full-time job was at a little radio station in Sussex County in the Northwest corridor of New Jersey – WNNJ – and the FM station, WIXL. After doing about a year in a part-time role while I was going to graduate school, I took a job with an accounting firm, but that’s not what I wanted to do, so I took a full-time job at the radio station.
I loved being a jock, but people come and go so quickly [at these small radio stations] that within about a year-and-a-half, two different program directors got better jobs and it was kind of like, ‘Okay, you’re next, Mark Chernoff.’ I volunteered; I wanted to be the program director. Lo and behold, I was the program director of an AM/FM combo up in Newton, New Jersey, still on the air – doing a shift every day.
After Chernoff left WIXL, he took a part-time job at WDHA in Dover, New Jersey, something he called “a step up,” in terms of market size. Once he was hired full time at the station, he became the new program director and went on to serve as morning show host and music director with the PD role simultaneously. After seven-and-a-half years at WDHA, Chernoff got a job at WNEW in New York City, where he made the decision to focus his career towards management in the radio industry.
“I was a decent jock, and I liked being a jock,” said Chernoff, “but I really thought at that point, that was the turning point where I said, ‘I think management’s a better idea.’ I got the job as the music director. I still continued to do fill-in air shifts at WNEW, which was a big deal being in New York radio. When Charlie Kendall, the program director, left, I became the program director. That’s kind of how it evolved from being a jock to at least the programming end of the business.”
PART II: All things sports radio
Q3: How do you evaluate talent on sports radio?
Chernoff: [Sirius XM Vice President of Sports Programming] Eric Spitz and I worked together for many years. He kind of encapsulated the idea [of] the P.O.K.E. theory: Passion, Opinion, Knowledge, and Entertainment. Those were always the things we were looking for in our air talent, and those that had all four of those qualities really wound up being the best people on the air.
I just think that passion was really important because on sports radio, you need to be opinionated. If you’re not opinionated, I don’t believe you’re going to go far, nor have people gone far… It was important that talent had those qualities and that they knew how to entertain people, and particularly were very passionate and opinionated about what they were speaking about, and of course you wanted them to know the facts to go with whatever their opinions were, and how they spoke about topics and stuff like that.
Q4: How do you manage talent on sports radio?
Chernoff: I was pretty lucky at WFAN; I had Mike and the Mad Dog, who were the most unbelievable sports duo that has come about in sports radio. What I was able to discern from them and Don Imus, was how good they were and that my role as the program director was to do what they felt they needed. If they wanted me to help, I would be there to help.
I learned, especially from Howard Stern [at K-Rock], that those talents that are great talents don’t really need to be managed. These people knew what to do, so you didn’t have to fight and argue. We would discuss promotions and things like that because I wanted things done to help the radio station in general. But to me, I wanted to have good relationships with the air staff. I wanted them to know that I was there to be helpful and to work with them on an as-needed basis, but I didn’t want to sit in with hosts at every one of their meetings.
Q5: Was there a difference in your management style for those who are more difficult to work with?
Chernoff: I tried not to look at anybody as being difficult. You just have to manage people to what their style is, not what my style is. I hope most people – if you spoke to them – would say that I was a good manager in that I didn’t want to sit and get into arguments and fights. I didn’t think that was a good thing to do. I didn’t want to be managed like that when I was a jock or a host. I didn’t want to manage like that. If there were issues, then we spoke about them. I was lucky in that most people that worked with the radio station really got it [and] understood what the station was all about.
Q6: How important was it to you to stick to a specific format while on the air?
Chernoff: WFAN was a mature radio station when I got there. Whether it was Steve Somers, Don Imus, Mike and the Mad Dog. I just wanted to make sure that they knew that I was there to support them. There are all these rules – we break at such and such a time, the breaks are this long, make sure you promote things, make sure you give the call letters and so-on and so-forth.
What I also learned [is that] great talent can break the rules. Rule-breakers work. It’s not that I wanted everybody to be like that because sometimes you did want to teach people the rudiments of radio so that they knew how to tease and do some of that other stuff. If they had the innate talent, that was the most important thing to me. You could just hear it when people started.
Q7: What are your thoughts on sports radio hosts talking about topics not pertaining to sports?
Chernoff: At WFAN, we ran through a number of midday shows. We finally really, really clicked when Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts [were put] together and they did middays. [It was the] same thing with Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton doing the morning show – they clicked. With the morning show, and then even now with Evan and Craig, who we put together before I left this past summer, it was ‘Just make sure that everything emanates from the world of sports.
You can move along and talk about other things. But if sports isn’t your ‘bread and butter,’ then I think the expectation of a listener will be, ‘I’m not sure that’s what I want to listen to.’ You’re allowed to go off on tangents, you’re allowed to talk about other stuff, you’re allowed to do lifestyle, but if you don’t heavy up on knowing what’s going on in the world of sports and what ‘Topic A’ is, I think that’s a problem.
Q8: What impact did including regular callers on programming have on the station?
Chernoff: Whether people were right or wrong in what they said, our listeners wanted to be involved with the radio station. We had so many loyal listeners – and I never said [not to] take calls from the regulars – [instead], do take calls from the regulars because they are part of what’s making WFAN WFAN.
We’ve lost some through the years, but people knew who the listeners were. They knew Bruce from Bayside and Bruce from Flushing, and they knew Al from White Plains – so many of these people – Short Al, Doris – I can go through dozens of them – that meant a lot to them.
Q9: How was WFAN involved with the New York-Metropolitan area community?
Chernoff: The station was always involved in the community. Imus got behind the Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund [to help] kids with cancer. He literally, not with his bare hands because he didn’t get out and do the physical work, but the money he raised, and adding to that with Mike and the Mad Dog and their help in the afternoon, they built that whole wing over at… Hackensack University Medical Center… We’ve always been community-minded, which I think is so important for a radio station. There are many causes; we ran public service announcements just about every hour for charities.
Q10: Why do you feel WFAN has such a special connection to New York sports?
Chernoff: For so many years, we had the Mets on the radio station, then it became the Yankees. We had the Jets early on when I was there, and then we had the Jets and Giants, and then just the Giants. We had the Knicks and Rangers, and eventually we had the Devils and the Nets, and even the Islanders for a short while.
So we’ve been very much involved with the teams; we’ve always taken all of those teams to talk about and let our hosts [and callers] talk about them. I think just being wrapped up in New York sports, and again, being 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the station was able to grow and become part of the essence of New York, and those call letters – W-F-A-N – meant an awful lot. In the sports world, people know E-S-P-N; important in TV, and they’ve had radio and still have some radio. I believe that the voice of sports in New York has always been W-F-A-N, [and] that when people think of us, they think of us as the preeminent, predominant sports station as it continues to be after all these years.
PART III: Looking to the future
Q11: What would you like to see happen in the future for all brands to gain a stronger and more accurate measure of their performance?
Chernoff: We’re always going to do surveys. We’re never going to do a census – you can’t measure every single person out there. I know people dispute the accuracy of the numbers, but it’s what’s there. I’m not sure I know how to make it better. You can only survey so many people. I would hope that they would get better results.
I know the complaint always is one or two meters in a week that go awry negatively or even positively, you sometimes say ‘Oh, look at that. We got a 10-share, great! We sound wonderful,’ or ‘Oh, no — we had a two-share this week. We’re awful.’ I never wanted to look at it like that. It was more important about the consistency. Are we doing the right things? You’re at the mercy of the ratings, and I’m not sure that anybody is going to be able to make it better.
Q12: How does the Nielsen portable people meter (PPM) ratings method compare to the diary ratings method?
Chernoff: The [PPM method is] a better way [to measure ratings] than the old diary method because at least it’s people listening to radio whatever their device is at the moment – whether it’s a mobile phone, a smart speaker, computer, laptop, or the actual radio…. In the old diary world, people would get a diary, and then once a week they would try to remember what they listened to over the last week. To me, that was completely inaccurate. I know this system is not perfect; it will never be perfect.
Q13: Do you believe there can be a competitive ratings service to Nielsen?
Chernoff: People have come and gone — whether it was Accuratings way back when; there was Pulse and other things. They all went by the wayside, and Arbitron, now being Nielsen, is what we’ve got, and I think we’re going to have to keep using it.
One of the important things about spoken word and particularly sports is that it was a concept to people. We’ve liked that, and always done what is working for the client. If you get a 10-share or a two-share, but a client says ‘X amount of people came into my place of business, and they love your radio station and they’re buying my cars, buying my product, buying my service,’ then you know you’ve been successful.
Q14: Did WFAN ever consider selling advertising spots to clients based on the ratings alone?
Chernoff: We’ve never really done ‘Let’s just sell the ratings.’ I know many of the media buyers, that’s what they deal with. At WFAN in particular, we’ve had great salespeople who go directly to the clients and discuss with the talent. They endorse products, they get to know the service and the product. We’ve had all these great people who have done that through the years.
When that works for the client, that’s more important than what the ratings are at the moment because the ratings are going to go up and down. You’re at the mercy of a survey; it’s not a census. If there are 10 people in the room, and you get an opinion from one or two of them, but you tell people they’re representing all 10, it may be accurate or it may not be accurate.
Q15: What is the future of cross-platform integration in sports radio?
Chernoff: I think it’s important and I think so many are doing it now. At WFAN obviously, the morning show is being simulcast on CBS Sports Network. For many years, the afternoon show was on the YES Network; we worked with Fox for a while. Carton and Roberts right now are on SNY.
‘I think the TV integration is great; the streaming is extremely important. Some of the shows — Moose and Maggie, for example the last few years — the show was being video-streamed so people had the opportunity to watch it as well as listen. I think all of the elements are really important. It’s great to be able to say, ‘Hey, Alexa. Play WFAN,’ so it’s easy to stream on a smart speaker. On your phone, you have your apps and you go right to the app of what you want to listen to. I think the integration is just extremely important. Those that don’t integrate are going to be left behind.
Q16: How does cross-platform integration impact the Nielsen Audio ratings?
Chernoff: Last spring, I did a call with the sales department with the Audacy people. There must have been 45-50 people on the call. I could see all of them and I said, ‘How many of you have radios at home?’ Maybe three or four people raised their hand… It’s not like they didn’t listen, but they had other ways of listening. As long as the measurement can pick up all of those ways, I think that’s important too so people get a real idea.
When Audacy worked with Triton Digital, we were able to see in real time how many people were streaming the radio station. Sometimes you look and you say, ‘Wow, that’s a lot higher than what we actually see when Nielsen gives us a number.’ Those numbers are important because a client could know that 23,000 people were listening at 2:22 p.m. in the afternoon, or 180,000 people; whatever the number is listening. You can target people. I think that’s what all of the platforms are able to provide. More platforms for stations to show off their products, whether it’s just on the audio side or adding video as well, plus podcasting of shows, nevermind the original ones which is something separate.
PART IV: The return of the BSM Summit
Q17: What do you enjoy most about the Barrett Sports Media Summit?
Chernoff: I’ve missed it. I think it’s a good experience, for one — getting together with other programmers, and trading ideas, trading different thoughts, trading ideas about talents, trading ideas about programming; who’s doing what. People have good ideas. If there’s a good idea out there, it’s not a matter of stealing it, but it’s a matter of ‘Hey, let’s share. I have an idea; you have an idea.’ It’s a good way and a good place to meet people, and also just to find out what’s going on with everybody.
The panels were great. Sometimes you learn stuff, and sometimes you got to see people you haven’t seen and hear what they have to say; how they’re running their stations, what their thoughts are about sports, how they program locally, or mix-in national with local, and there’s a case that can be made in some ways for that as well.
I’m really looking forward to being able to see everybody in-person again. We all hope that the virus doesn’t take a bad turn in the next month so that we can all be together and just hang out, listen to what people have to say, get some new ideas and work on some old ideas and see old friends and make new acquaintances as well, and find out about up-and-coming talent.
Q18: What does it mean to you to be annually recognized with an award in your name at the BSM Summit?
Chernoff: I’m more than flattered. I know when Jason [Barrett] brought it up, I was sort of embarrassed like, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ I thought it was very nice. I know I’ve been in radio a long time, but I’m just truly honored and humbled by doing that. Even if there was an award that wasn’t in my name, but it was to honor somebody special every year, I think that’s great. But again, honored and humbled by him wanting to do that. I was just very flattered and it’s truly a nice honor. Sometimes, I scratch my head and I’m like ‘Really, somebody’s naming an award in my name?’ Again, I’m humbled, honored, flattered by it.
PART V: Chernoff’s future and advice to others
Q19: How have you adjusted to life not being inside a radio building each day?
Chernoff: It’s very different. I do hear from people. I’ve had a wonderful time being with family and kids and grandkids, but I can see myself wanting to get back and doing stuff again at some point. I do miss the action of being there, and I certainly miss the people.
To me, working at a radio station is all about the people, and that goes for not just the on-air people, but all of the support staff, all of management, sales, engineering. I just love the action of being there. Kind of retiring from that — it seemed like a good thing, but I think at some point, I would like to be back doing stuff — whether it’s full-time, part-time, project work.
I do get calls from people who ask for my opinion or my advice. I do that and I feel good about being able to help where I can. It’s not paid work; it’s just sometimes — all the acquaintances and friends I’ve made — it’s like ‘Hey, I don’t mind your opinion,’ or ‘I’d like to have your opinion’ I should say. When asked, I’m happy to give.
Q20: What is one piece of advice you have for upcoming programmers?
Chernoff: I say it’s to be a good listener. In life, I think that’s one of the most important things you can do as a human being. It’s not important to speak. It’s important to listen. You get so much out of listening. You find out so much about people.
When I listened to the radio station or radio stations, I tried to listen in two ways. I tried to listen as the program director, and I also tried to listen as a listener. I’d put on a different hat, and I’d be driving around, and if I put on, whether it’s my radio station or another radio station. If I’m listening as a listener, when something sucked or that I didn’t like, I would make a mental note of why and I would go turn to something else. If I’m sitting there trying to critique, that’s different. I want to listen and I want to say what’s good and what’s bad about that.
I think a lot of program directors don’t take the time to listen. They may sit in their office and calculate this and ‘When should we do the break?’ and topics to talk about and stuff like that. Listening to your radio station, and talking to your people every day, just even being friendly. Just talk to them.
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Ian Rapoport Is Competing Against Everyone
“When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive.”
The 2023 NFL Draft was a weekend filled with speculation, intrigue and musing among football fans and experts alike. After two quarterbacks were selected with the first two picks – Bryce Young by the Carolina Panthers; and C.J. Stroud by the Houston Texans – Ian Rapoport had the inclination that something was about to break at the event in Kansas City.
The third pick of the night was held by the Arizona Cardinals, but through previous intel, Rapoport knew there was a chance the team would trade it. His phone then lit up with a text message from a source that simply read, “Texans trading.” Receiving a message of this magnitude takes years of networking, credibility and immense trust from the people you cover. Rapoport has worked hard to attain all of them.
He replied by asking, “Did the Texans trade up to three?,” as the team was not set to pick again until No. 12 overall. Once he got confirmation of the scenario, he began to visibly shake in excitement and captured the attention of the NFL Network team.
“I sit there with a camera in front of me that’s not always on air – this is during the Draft – and the producer gets in my ear and he goes, ‘Can you go on air with whatever you have?,’ and I just say, ‘Yes.’” Rapoport recalled. “And then I hear Rich Eisen go, ‘Ian, you have news,’ and I was able to break that the Texans have traded up to three to go get Will Anderson.”
This is the craft through which Rapoport has cultivated a successful journalism career, ultimately distinguishing him as NFL Network’s goto insider. He hardly ever separates himself from the job, equipped with an unparalleled work ethic to ensure he can communicate messages accurately and in a timely manner. While some people may argue that he is in direct competition with others in his position, such as Adam Schefter of ESPN, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports, the reality of the situation is that it is Rapoport vs. the world.
“It’s such a small world now and everyone is interconnected – and with Twitter, literally anyone could break a story and have it go viral,” Rapoport said. “Obviously, you want everything first, but really you’re competing against everyone that exists because anyone could get the story at any moment.”
Work-life balance in such a role is usually quite insurmountable in today’s dynamic, interminable breaking news environment. Rapoport strives to find some level of normalcy in his life by playing golf and attending his sons’ sporting events. In the end though, he knows the world of football never sleeps, and it is up to him to remain in the know at all hours of the day, essentially always on standby to break the next big story.
“I do not turn my phone off because that’s actually way more stressful,” Rapoport said. “At least now when my phone’s on and near me, if something crazy happens, I can react rather than having a fake relaxation moment and then being caught off guard with something.”
Rapoport recognized that journalism was the field for him almost immediately after stepping onto the Columbia University campus. He worked his way up at The Dial to ultimately become its associate sports editor. In the summer preceding his senior year, he landed a coveted internship with ESPN where he gained invaluable experience in the world of television production.
By the time he graduated, Rapoport envisioned himself becoming a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, but he knew it was going to require he start small. Three hundred eleven job applications and two interviews later, he landed a part-time role with The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y. covering high school sports. It gave him a start in the highly-competitive business – and kept him close to home while trying many new things.
Two years later, he found himself moving from the bright lights of New York City to the quaint town of Starkville, Mississippi for a notable opportunity. He had landed a job covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs for The Clarion-Ledger in the nearby capital city of Jackson and was under the direction of sports editor Rusty Hampton.
“I knew how to write, but I really didn’t know how to report,” Rapoport said. “He was probably the best [at] showing me, ‘This is all about reporting. It’s all about telling people something they don’t know rather than how well you can pen a sentence.’ To be really valuable to society or your newspaper, you really need to inform rather than entertain. I think he was probably the first and best person to teach me that.”
After spending two years in Mississippi, Rapoport became a beat reporter for The Birmingham News tasked with following the Alabama Crimson Tide. Just months into his new role, the program made a coaching change and hired Nick Saban, who has since led the program to six national titles.
Rapoport learned the thoroughness necessary to cover the Southeastern Conference as he rapidly watched the program become a perennial contender. In turn, he became an eminent college football reporter and his work began to be consumed nationally.
Simultaneously, Bill Belichick, another accomplished football head coach in his own right, was in the process of trying to lead the New England Patriots back to championship glory. Known to be stoic and restrained in his press conferences, reporters asking him questions knew extrapolating answers was not the easiest of tasks.
When Rapoport saw a job opening to cover the team with the Boston Herald that required NFL experience, he knew that he was not qualified verbatim per se. Yet he figured the experience he had in covering Saban and Alabama would serve him well in the role, and articulated such in a protracted email to the newspaper’s editors. His strategy worked, proving why Rapoport is considered one of the industry’s best communicators at the micro and macro levels.
“You don’t see a lot of sources within the Patriots or sources within Alabama – there’s not a lot of that,” Rapoport said. “So I learned to report despite that and kind of work the edges and get the information I needed, despite head coaches who weren’t always the most forthcoming with information.”
NFL Network oftentimes has local beat reporters on the air to interact with studio talent and give their perspectives about teams, and it was something Rapoport did while at the Boston Herald. He had no television experience outside of other appearances he made on Comcast New England and certainly no intention to pursue the medium as a career.
In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants overcame the New England Patriots, who were undefeated for the year entering the game. Rapoport was on hand for the proceedings, and shortly afterwards was called into a meeting with NFL Network executives.
He didn’t know he was interviewing for a job until he asked just why he had been summoned. He expressed his lack of television experience to the executives, who said the network would teach him everything he needed to know.
Once the meeting concluded, Rapoport called his wife, who he had met while living in Starkville, Mississippi, and told her what had just happened. She tempered his expectations, warning him not to get his hopes up as he remained optimistic. One month later, Rapoport received a job offer and found himself moving once again – this time to the Lone Star State.
“I hired an agent and moved to Dallas and basically spent the next year reporting on the Cowboys and some other things being very, very bad at TV, but learning and eventually figuring it out,” Rapoport said. “At the time, this guy, Eric Weinberger, who was our boss, kind of mentioned to me the possibility of transitioning [me] from reporter to insider.”
Rapoport acknowledged that he did not have the contacts necessary to effectively work as a league insider for a national outlet, but through his years of experience, he knew how to network and he was ready and willing to take the challenge.
Once he began the new position, Rapoport, along with reporter Michael Silver, was on the road for Thursday Night Football and contributed to its pregame and halftime coverage. While his television skills improved, Rapoport was hard at work bolstering his contacts and took somewhat of a geographical approach.
Every time he arrived in a new city, he would contact anyone and everyone he could conjure up, including general managers, scouts and head coaches. If he could not schedule a meeting time with them, he would introduce himself by roaming the sidelines at practices and before games. He engaged in a similar practice before the NFL Draft Combine, training camps and the Super Bowl along with other premier events, always staying focused on the task at hand.
“It probably took me five or six years to get a baseline of sources where if something happened, I had someone to call,” Rapoport said. “And then it took me a couple more years to get to the point where I would know before a lot of people when something was about to happen. It’s all a multi-step process, and just [the] layering and layering and layering of sources is really the sort of engine that drives this thing.”
Ian Rapoport always attempts to triangulate his sources to verify information before he releases it publicly. There is no guarantee sources are always truthful or acting in a professional manner. Therefore, it is incumbent on a journalist to ensure the validity of content before publishing it themselves.
“If you’re only right some of the time, then none of it is really worth it,” Rapoport expressed, “because then you say something and they’re like, ‘Well, wow, that’s a big story if this is true.’ The whole point of doing this is when I pop up on TV or when people see my Twitter alerts or whatever, they have to know that it’s true – they have to know.”
One day, Rapoport was having a conversation with a source and discovered through their conversation that Rob Gronkowski had informed the New England Patriots that he would return to the game of football under the stipulation he be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reunite with quarterback Tom Brady. There had been much speculation pertaining to Gronkowski’s future after he had worked as an NFL analyst with FOX Sports, and now Rapoport realized he had a monumental scoop – that is, if it was true. Within six minutes, Rapoport verified the story with three sources, contacted his editor and reported to the world Gronkowski’s intentions. The story was picked up virtually everywhere.
“I just think about the job all the time, and I make little lists for myself of things that I need to track down, and I just make a lot of phone calls for it,” Rapoport said. “When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive. It ends up just a brain full of football thoughts, and then I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what I can learn from it.”
Working for a league-owned entity can sometimes epitomize an inherent conflict of interest. For Rapoport however, he has found working at NFL Network to be hassle-free. He knows, however, the nature of his job means he will not be universally liked.
“Whatever you do, you’re going to report and the people you report on are going to be happy or upset or neutral – or whatever it is,” Rapoport said. “I’m never going to criticize a referee, for instance, because that’s a nuanced thing and people might say, ‘NFL criticizes referees.’ I’m never going to do that, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Rapoport continues to appear on a variety of external media outlets, perhaps most notably The Pat McAfee Show, which recently concluded its “Up to Something Season.” The grand conclusion of the proceedings was McAfee announcing he would be bringing his show to ESPN’s linear and digital platforms starting in the fall.
While McAfee is retaining creative control and has expressed on multiple occasions that his show will not be changing, many have wondered whether insiders employed by other networks will be able to continue making appearances. It is an answer Rapoport himself does not know, nor has he asked about.
“When the news broke, my phone blew up with all sorts of people saying all sorts of different things,” Rapoport said. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
Even so, Rapoport is elated for McAfee and his team taking the next step in their show’s journey and is genuinely glad to see them succeed. He does not think McAfee’s goal was to reshape sports media, but rather to cultivate a distinctive sports talk program built for fans and today’s generation of consumers.
“You get to know someone and you think they’re a good person and you respect the way they work. Some people have success and some people have a little success and some people don’t. It’s really rare to see someone who has every bit of success that’s essentially possible and deserves every bit of it, and that’s kind of how I thought about Pat. It’s really cool, honestly. He’s built it himself.”
It was on McAfee’s show where another prominent football insider – Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports – said it would be a matter of “when,” not “if” the NFL would have games seven days per week. While devoted football fans like Rapoport are open to such a proposition, he is not sure the league would ever go that far.
“I don’t even know that it would affect my schedule that much,” he said. “It sort of doesn’t matter. I’ll report all year round anyway.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Face-to-Face Sales Meetings Have Never Been More Valuable
“With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F.”
When did you last attend a face-to-face (F2F) in-person sales call? Let’s imagine for a second.
In New York, Sarah, a determined sports radio salesperson, got tired of chasing a major client for months. Despite her calls, emails, and text, she couldn’t break through to get a meeting.
Throwing caution to the wind, Sarah decided to go for it. She loaded her deck and took her burning desire via airplane to Florida to make the pitch. She showed up unannounced at the client’s office and startled the decision-maker. She was given the meeting and won over the client, getting a substantial annual contract and a movie deal in Hollywood.
We have all seen that storyline. F2F meetings used to be the obvious choice over a phone call, and most buyers were open to that idea. We even conducted market trips to meet our buyers in person and create better relationships.
With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F. Lots of us work and listen from home.
Gartner Research points out that live, in person selling is superior to virtual selling in financial services or, as I think, in radio sales. Now, prospecting new clients F2F is much more difficult. You have never met them, you don’t know who you are looking for, and gatekeepers and remote decision-makers make walk-ins more challenging.
How about getting out and seeing your current or former clients F2F? 65% of outside account executives attain quota, 10% more often than inside reps. Here are some simple strategies to get outside and F2F:
STAY IN TOUCH
Turn the sales faucet on ‘drip’ and contact your current clients with whatever works: phone calls, emails, or texts. Tell them you are checking in to see if anything has changed, give them a local business lead, or share your latest insight on their favorite team. When doing so, tell them you want to meet F2F and go deep into the next quarter’s ad plan or a new idea to get them back on the air. They may start looking forward to your communication.
Schedule an annual review ahead of their busiest time of year to review the upcoming messaging in ads. Go over what worked or didn’t last year. Share a success story of a similar advertiser in another market or show them a new opportunity that fits.
Be upfront that with F2F, we can get more specific, work with better feedback, and partner on hitting their goals. Be the person who looks ahead and helps keep your client focused.
Organize workshops for your current clients. Teach that about streaming, OTT, or Google ads. Get your digital person involved. Let them know you are bringing in other local businesspeople they may want to know or network with and meet F2F! A Mortgage broker may want to meet a realtor who wants to meet a wealthy local businessperson interested in meeting the local head coach. Stand out as a leader in the industry and watch clients brag about working with you.
HIT A TRADE SHOW
Attend trade shows where your current clients will be. This will show you are serious about their business and want to stay current so you can learn and earn. Set up a meeting over coffee or a drink. Share what you learned.
Client Appreciation Events held at your town’s most meaningful events or places. Do whatever it takes to get hospitality tents at big games and concert suites to show appreciation and bond with your current clients. Host a luncheon at the hottest new local restaurant. Focus on providing an atmosphere or experience everyone wants, but not many can attend. Be the exclusive person in town.
GET PERSONAL REFERRALS
Leverage your existing client relationships to seek referrals. Do it in person. Tell them you want to see them and ask for help and advice. Ask for introductions to potential new clients they know, and you will be surprised how much they like working with you.
Bring your Digital manager to them and do a free review of their SEO, PPC, whatever. Working off your client’s pc and bringing them an expert at no charge or obligation is much easier. Watch your partnership grow by providing so much expertise at no extra expense.
Don’t forget the value of F2F meetings. It’s a great way to build trust, connect, and unlock new opportunities. We are in a people business doing business with tons of local directs who still make most of their money serving retail customers F2F. Let’s get out and sell!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
All Jason Timpf Needed Was A Moment of Clarity
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this.”
There was once a time when Jason Timpf always included Colin Cowherd in his commute to work. As he made his morning drive to a sales job at Verizon, The Herd was appointment listening each morning for Timpf. The ex-college basketball player would marvel at Cowherd’s ability to make relatable references and break down all of the same basketball games he would watch the night before.
One of the unique things Timpf can remember from listening to The Herd during that time was Cowherd saying if FOX ever put someone in front of him, he could tell in five seconds if that individual had the skills to be a host. It was far from a hot take on the Lakers, but still a distinct moment that stuck with Timpf for many years. Little did he know at the time but Cowherd would soon give a five-second evaluation of Timpf’s career.
Jason Timpf was a late-bloomer in basketball. He played college hoops at an NAIA school in Utah, but not until his third year, after being a regular student the first two. After graduating, he pursued a basketball career overseas in India. However, after the league folded, he left the game for a normal job in the States.
There was a real desire for Timpf to get into the sports media business, but he was having difficulties finding the right fit. He wanted advice on the best way to start, but the tips he received just didn’t feel like the right initial path.
“I’d hear, hey, go bang on a radio station’s door and ask if you can work the soundboard,” said Timpf. “Or, try to go to a journalism school. Another big one that everyone was doing was the SB Nation blogs and FanSided blogs. I briefly tried to do that a little bit. But none of it was materializing the way that I had hoped.”
But then the lightbulb went off for Timpf and it happened during the middle of a podcast interview. In October of 2020, Jason Maples of Blue Wire reached out to Timpf to talk hoops on his podcast. It was in the middle of that interview when it all made sense. It felt exactly like the camaraderie he enjoyed with his old teammates and friends talking basketball. It was relaxed, fun and what he used to do for enjoyment. The perfect fit had just found Timpf organically.
“It was, ‘this is it,’” said Timpf. “‘This is how I want to do it.’ It was like a moment of clarity. Like, this is the way I want to talk about the game. Fortunately, I was working in real estate at the time, so I was super flexible, so I literally was just trying to fake it until I made it.”
While Timpf was grinding away on his new platform choice, he was constantly putting out his content on social media. For a handful of years, he had used Twitter as an outlet for basketball talk – not because he was trying to build his brand, but because it was his preferred method of sharing his takes during and after basketball games.
“My wife actually played basketball in college but she, like a lot of people, got out of it and was like, ‘actually I’m so sick of basketball, since it’s all I did growing up, that I’d rather not talk about it,’” laughed Timpf.
As Timpf had built up years of basketball takes on Twitter, he also built up followers. Not a crazy amount, but enough to have regular interactions with several basketball fans. He had no idea at the time, though he remembers occasionally interacting with him, but one of his followers in the beginning was Logan Swaim, who just happens to be Head of Content at The Volume.
Being such a huge fan of Cowherd, Timpf was absolutely familiar with The Volume, a company started by the FOX Sports Radio host. In fact, during his first plunge into podcasts, he quickly took note of how much success The Volume was having with instant reaction and video content. He wanted to emulate what they were doing and would host a Twitter Space after each Lakers game.
Swaim kept up with Timpf’s journey and continued to be impressed with what he saw. He was so impressed, in fact, that a video eventually made it in front of Cowherd’s eyes. It was the moment Timpf had always heard about while driving to his job at Verizon. Cowherd was about to make a declaration on Timpf’s abilities.
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this,” Timpf said. “That was a huge boost of confidence for me, because it meant somebody I deeply respected believed I could work in this business.”
Timpf made his dream come true. He was offered a job by The Volume hosting Hoops Tonight. As much of a dream as it was when he was initially hired, the experience since has been nothing but ideal for Timpf. He gets to cover his favorite sport the way he wants to cover it.
“When I first started and Logan and I were structuring out the show, he kinda viewed it as my show would be the slower, more methodical pace, where I work through my thought process of a game. And also that I’d be a guest on other Volume shows for more conversational podcasts. I really wanted to break down pick and roll coverage. It’s just going to take me a while, so trying to do that in a debate show format or conversational format can get hard. It’s a place where I can let more of my crazy depth out. And I can also have a side format where it’s more conversational.”
Timpf has learned prep for podcasts is one of the biggest elements to being successful. As Hoops Tonight continues to draw impressive numbers over audio and YouTube, he’s figured out the best method to prepare for a long-form podcast where he’s hosting solo.
“I digest the game from the simple concept of how the game was won,” said Timpf. “Where was it won? There’s 100-something possessions in this game, there’s seven different storylines and several runs and sequences and sways in momentum, but what’s the one? Usually I’ll target that first in the opening segment of the show.
“While I’m watching the game I’ll take ancillary notes. About five minutes before I record, I sift through everything I’ve written down and limit it down to the things I think are most important. But generally the flow of the show is how the game was won.”
The whole experience has been gratifying and a full-circle moment in many ways for Timpf. Not only has it been vindicating to do things his way and see it become a success, but he’s gotten to do it with someone who he considers an idol.
Sure, Timpf always envisioned growing up he would be talking to Cowherd as a pro athlete, but talking to him as a colleague is certainly the next best thing. So when he got the call to talk with Cowherd during last year’s West Conference Finals, he didn’t hesitate.
“I was so incredibly nervous, as you could imagine,” laughed Timpf. “But I immediately remember him making me feel comfortable and confident. It immediately calmed me down.
“This is probably my favorite part of the entire experience, I think a lot of people think that these networks try to shove people in certain directions and The Volume has given me such freedom to cover the game exactly the way I want to and nobody is telling me to say crazy stuff. Nobody is pushing me in certain directions, it’s like total creative freedom. The way that Logan and Colin have been letting me do me, so to speak, has been so cool. To see my version of what I want it to look like makes me feel vindicated for talking about it the way I want to.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.