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Sports Talk Should Be Like Top Gun and Garth: Play the Hits

People come to you and your station to hear your opinion on what is going on, so give it to them. Talk about what they want. Play the hits.

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Garth Brooks Top Gun

There’s a tried and true axiom in music radio, “just play the hits”. Sure, back in the day, deep cuts and B-sides were great but people dialed in to hear the popular songs. You know who knows how to play the hits? Garth Brooks and Top Gun.

My last weekend was a spectacular one for 46 year-old-me. It started Friday night with a trip to the theater to see Top Gun: Maverick. Blown away. The cinematography is spectacular, the sound is off the charts, the ’80s cheese is spot on. A perfect summer film for a child of the decade that wore Jams, Hypercolor shirts and Parachute Pants. And Zubaz, remember those? They were the loudest, tackiest sports apparel ever created and mine were Dolphins themed. Imagine the worst clothing you can, now make it aqua and orange.

Top Gun: Maverick deserves praise for many things, not the least of which being the fact they absolutely knew their audience and played right to them. “Too much cheese,” some say. That’s like saying The Godfather had too much Sicilian with subtitles or Gone with the Wind had too much Civil War. Come on, man, it was the ’80s. We bathed in cheese.

No sir, Top Gun: Maverick gave us what we shelled out a portion of our kid’s college fund to go see. It gave us Captain Pete Mitchell refusing to bend to the Navy’s rules. It gave us the admirals who wanted to throw him overboard, superbly played by Ed Harris and Jon Hamm. It gave us a Maverick love interest, incidentally, far less steamy than the original Top Gun – I’ll say it for a generation of 40-somethings: thank you, Kelly McGillis. It gave us aircraft carriers, dog fights, impossible maneuvers and Great Balls of Fire. Just play the hits.

Garth Brooks plays the hits. Granted, it is pretty easy for him. The man has sold more albums than anyone other than the Beatles. He is the human embodiment of the Christopher Walken character in the famous “More Cowbell” skit from Saturday Night Live: “Easy, guys.. I put my pants on just like the rest of you, one leg at a time. Except, once my pants are on, I make gold records.”

Saturday night I saw Brooks in Birmingham’s Protective Stadium as part of his World Stadium Tour. A Garth Brooks concert is an incredible event. The man never stops moving, takes zero intermissions and sings the hits. In addition to his seemingly endless supply of popular songs, he included covers of Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, George Strait, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Billy Joel, Don McLean and included a Lynyrd Skynyrd four song medley. It was Birmingham, of course he played Lynyrd Skynyrd. Alabama State Troopers would’ve escorted him to the Georgia state line had he not.

Tom Cruise and Garth Brooks know something those of us in the sports talk industry should embrace: If your audience is expecting the obvious, give them the obvious. Play the hits. This is something one would think wouldn’t have to be said but I am afraid our industry sometimes outsmarts themselves.

If a topic you know is of great interest to your audience is a topic “everyone else” is talking about, maybe there is a good reason. Your audience listens to your show for a number of reasons, not the least of which is, they care about your opinion on the stories important to them. Play the hits.

There is an art in knowing when a topic has been thoroughly covered. If your show is caller-driven, the callers will dictate the topic is no longer of interest. If you are less caller-driven, there is no exact formula but you have to develop a feel for your audience that allows you know when it is time to move on. 

Some topics never die. Our show is based in Birmingham but we have listeners nationwide. We know those listeners have one love in common, college football. We do, roughly, 250 shows in a year. All 250 shows will have some college football content included. In some cases, it is the entirety of the show. Do we end up sometimes repeating ourselves? There is no doubt.

That leads me to another truth in our industry: very few of your listeners are there for the entirety of your show every day. Most listeners are in and out as their schedules allow. To assume they’ve heard your thoughts on any given topic is not a safe assumption. Perhaps a different delivery of that thought is necessary but we should never assume every listener hears everything we say on every show. Play the hits.

In addition, that select group of listeners that are there when the show open rolls and stick around until you say goodbye, you will have to work to run that person off. They are there because your show entertains them immensely. A couple of times around the same topic, if it is still entertaining, won’t be the breaking point that forces that person to give you up forever.

I can’t give a higher recommendation than the one I’d give to a Garth Brooks concert. Top Gun is a fun summer movie that appeals to the feelings my generation had in the 1980s. Garth is next level. The man is one of the greatest entertainers of our lifetime and should be commended for never mailing one in.

Garth knows his fans, he knows what they want, he gives it to them night after night. We aren’t playing to packed stadiums like Garth Brooks but the one thing we have in common with him is this: we are entertainers. Our form of entertainment really has a simple formula, just play the hits.

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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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