AM Radio Advocates Aren’t Fighting the Right Fight
“Remember what we are fighting here. No one wants to outlaw AM radio.”
There is still value in AM radio. That has been made tremendously clear over the last few months as Congress has rallied to fight against automakers eliminating the band from the dashboard in 2024 models.
The arguments were effective for at least one company, as Ford has decided to reverse course and preserve AM radio in their cars. The same cannot be said though for the other seven car manufacturers. They aren’t interested in being in the amplitude modulation business anymore.
Our industry is taking up a worthwhile cause, but the arguments being made on Capitol Hill and in open letters ring hollow. Even though I am not rooting for cars to be manufactured in a way that makes it harder for any listener to hear their favorite station, I can see the carmakers’ point of view. I get why they wouldn’t be swayed by these arguments.
Remember what we are fighting here. No one wants to outlaw AM radio. No one is trying to pass a bill to make it illegal to carry legal advice and gardening shows.
Carmakers are making a business decision. Electric vehicles’ engines interfere with AM signals. Making the necessary changes in order to keep that from happening costs money that they don’t see as a necessary expense. How do we combat that?
Instead, we are talking about EAS systems. That has nothing to do with the fight we are fighting. I have worked at AM stations. I have worked at FM stations. We carry those alerts on both bands. In the event of severe weather or national emergency, both bands go to wall-to-wall coverage.
If we aren’t trying to fight a bill that makes AM radio illegal, then this argument is irrelevant. Even if stations go out of business, if AM is imperative for distributing emergency information, the government has a responsibility to find ways to keep that distribution system operational.
We talk about how important the band is for sports fans. We romanticize listening to a game on the radio. Nostalgia is great if your audience has the nostalgia, but what if they don’t?
I grew up having to listen to Alabama games on AM radio. Guess what? It sounded like shit. I’m not eager to experience it again.
Some of right-wing talk radio’s biggest stars have made the argument that this is another step in silencing conservative voices. That can easily be disproven by the fact that Elon Musk’s Tesla was the first automaker to announce the removal of the AM band. You can also simply pointing to the number of FM talk stations that carry those very same programs.
“No one is loyal to amplitude modulation or frequency modulation,” Larry Rosin told me before this year’s BSM Summit. Our audience chooses content 100% of the time. They are not loyal to AM or FM. They aren’t even loyal to a particular station. They are loyal to themselves, and that is perfectly understandable.
The one time I tried to watch an episode of Yellowstone, I was positive the people that call it the best thing on TV were playing a prank on me. I didn’t give it a second chance because it didn’t entertain me in the least. It had nothing to do with preferring streaming to cable or a vendetta against Paramount Network.
Seriously, there’s a joke I’m not in on, right? Yellowstone is bad.
Again, I am not advocating for the end of AM radio. I am advocating for making smarter arguments and fighting the right fight.
If AM radio is harder to access, stations will lose money and that means that they will likely cut staff. Job losses are not good for people being able to make ends meet, let alone buy new cars. That is an argument to make to elected officials who want to win future elections and to carmakers that want to sell new cars.
Yes, people can find the information they need on an FM station in the event of an emergency. Doesn’t it make sense to preserve all choices in a car though? If an AM radio listener switches to streaming music or podcasts because the content they want isn’t readily available, they could miss that emergency information.
Now, it sucks, but there is one more thing to consider here.
Maybe this is a war AM radio cannot win. Maybe the best we can do is win some individual battles and buy ourselves a little time.
Technology is ever-evolving and that isn’t going to change. We have already seen it. Newspapers struggle in the age of the internet. Tape decks are replaced in cars by CD players. Even when you go to the movies, it is rare that you are watching film being projected onto the screen. Now it is digital video.
Better ways of delivering information and entertainment come along all the time and slowly replace what we have always relied on. NAB and radio groups are fighting to preserve AM radio. They should also be making sure that their listeners and advertisers are well-acquainted with all of the ways to access their content.
Fighting to keep AM radio on the car dashboard is worthwhile, but when you’re fighting technical innovation, any victory is temporary. Let’s not be so narrowly focused that we forget that the ultimate goal for the stations on AM is that the content survives.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
ESPN Hiring Pat McAfee Has Nothing To Do With Layoffs
Listen, The Walt Disney Company decided it was going to cut 7,000 jobs a long time ago. The hiring of McAfee didn’t turn that number to 7,001.
Pat McAfee is going to make ESPN a boatload of money, and in return, ESPN is going to pay Pat McAfee a boatload of money.
In the words of the great Bo Burnham, that is how the world works.
So the uproar from media members inside and outside Bristol over his hiring while ESPN is undergoing mass layoffs is ridiculous.
The opportunity to hire someone like McAfee — both from a talent and popularity standpoint — does not come around often. ESPN would have been absolutely bananas to pass on the chance to acquire his services. It would have been an even dumber decision to do it because of the layoffs.
It’s a pretty simple equation: The Walt Disney Company would only do a deal with McAfee if it felt like it could get an ample return on its investment. And what happened?
The right decision was made. Does it suck that there are people inside the company that will lose their jobs over the course of the following days, weeks, and months? Yes, unequivocally, no questions asked.
But they’re not losing their jobs because the company is hiring Pat McAfee, and they likely wouldn’t have kept those jobs if he signed elsewhere. The idea that because McAfee is coming on board meant that an additional department was going to be affected by the layoffs is asinine.
Listen, The Walt Disney Company decided it was going to cut 7,000 jobs a long time ago. Chances are, they decided which 7,000 jobs were going to be cut at about the same time, and those poor souls are working on borrowed time. The hiring of McAfee didn’t turn that number to 7,001.
Earlier this year, Demetri Ravanos wrote a column echoing a similar sentiment. He was right then and is still right today. ESPN is going to spend billions of dollars on the NBA, and that’s ok, too.
ESPN can’t simply reduce its programming because The Walt Disney Company is going to be a bit more frugal going forward. Does ESPN need to be slightly more economical and also efficient? Hell yeah. But they’re still going to be the Worldwide Leader, baby.
And part of carrying that moniker is signing high-profile, once-in-a-generation talent that will drive hundreds of thousands — millions? — of viewers to your network daily.
The hiring of Pat McAfee amid mass layoffs, while unfortunate, are two separate issues. The pearl-clutching needs to stop. It was the best deal for McAfee and the company. Ultimately, the success of his show could create jobs down the line, not take them away.
Do the optics stink? Sure. But bring yourself back to reality and recognize that ESPN still has a business to run, as crass, cruel, and unnecessary as that may seem.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nick Cellini is Entertaining a 3rd Generation of Listeners in Atlanta
“If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. We’re going to be what we’re going to be.”
Growing up in Ohio, Nick Cellini seemed to always be talking about sports, especially at the kitchen table with his father and his brother Vince.
Years later, both Nick and Vince would start receiving paychecks for talking about sports.
“(My father) passed away in the late 90’s but he was like ‘I can’t believe you guys get paid to talk about stuff that we talked about around the kitchen table every day,’” said Nick Cellini, co-host of Cellini and Dimino on 680 The Fan in Atlanta.
Nick was inspired by his older brother’s journey and followed in his footsteps.
They grew up in a tough Italian neighborhood in the inner city of Cleveland, where not many people went to college. Vince decided to write his own story and earned a communications degree from the College of Wooster where he also played football. He went on to become a sports anchor at WJW TV in Cleveland while also hosting a sports talk show on WWWE Radio. He eventually made his way to CNN, becoming a sports anchor there.
If that path could work for his brother, Nick was determined to follow a similar road and that included a degree in communications from the University of Mount Union in 1989.
“He’s eight years older than me, so I watched what he did and I was like ‘ok well, he’s doing that then well I’m going to do it,” said Cellini. “I’m going to go play football in high school and play at a small school in college and be a communications major. So, yeah, he was a major inspiration to me and still is to this day.”
Today, the Cellini brothers are still close as they live in the same neighborhood in Atlanta. Vince certainly has to be proud of his younger brother as Nick has enjoyed a more than two-decades run in Atlanta sports radio, a run will go on for at least a few more years. He and his long-time co-host Chris Dimino signed a four-year contract extension with 680 The Fan last year.
“It’s been incredible,” said Nick Cellini. “As you get older, you have a newfound appreciation for things because you know how challenging this business can be. We’re working on, Chris and I, third generation of people who have been listening to us…it’s crazy.”
Atlanta is now the Ohio native’s forever home.
“It’s amazing that this town has adopted me as one of their own now,” he said. “I feel like this is my hometown now. I’ve raised my family here and it’s just been an incredible run.”
And through that run, Cellini has been there to talk Atlanta sports fans through the highs and lows of the local sports teams. Over the years, there was a lot of success for the Atlanta Braves including a pair of World Series championships as well as two trips to the Super Bowl for the Atlanta Falcons, including a loss to the New England Patriots when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead.
“If you do something long enough, you deal with both sides of it,” said Cellini. “You’re kind of a conduit. You sit there and you let the people celebrate and you let them vent.”
And over the years, the topics of discussion have not only centered around the local teams. As more and more people from around the country have relocated to Atlanta, there has been the need to focus on other teams as well as national stories. As the population of the Atlanta metro area grew from around two million people to the more than six million that live there today, so too did the scope of the daily content on Atlanta sports radio.
“Especially when the local teams aren’t winning because that’s when it really gets challenging. You have to focus on the national stories. But it seems like more people now embrace the local teams because the Braves are winning and maybe it’s because the Falcons had some success. I think now, more-so than ever, we can take the local angle but for a while it was that way.”
Through many of his years in Atlanta sports radio, Cellini has been teamed with Dimino with their experience together dating back to working at 790 The Zone.
Over the years, they’ve developed a special chemistry and it’s made them very successful.
“I can honestly tell you that I look forward to coming to work every day,” said Cellini. “It’s more like a family relationship where we can say whatever we want to each other but no one from the outside can say it. We compliment each other because we don’t think the same and we don’t want the same. We’re past the point of any egos. We’re just doing our job. He calls it a stupid little show. If you get it, you get it. If you don’t, you don’t. We’re going to be what we’re going to be.”
It was during their time together at 790 The Zone when things unraveled a bit back in 2013.
Both of them, along with co-host Steak Shapiro, were fired by the radio station after they did a bit that mocked former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason who suffers from ALS. For Cellini, it’s something that he carries with him every day.
“You have to remind yourself that people are listening and you’re talking about people,” he said. “You can have fun but you can’t make it personal or try to be, for lack of a better term, a shock-jock.”
After he was fired, Cellini issued an apology to Gleason and vowed to donate his first month’s salary to the Gleason Foundation if he was to get another job in radio.
The Gleason family and the Gleason Foundation did reach out to Cellini and accepted his apology.
“I would never want anybody to do something so silly and so stupid but if anybody ever made a mistake like that, my best wish for them would be that they would get embraced and forgiven,” said Cellini. “What Steve and his family did, they didn’t have to do. It was just really incredible the way they reached out to us. I think there is always going to be a bond between us.”
His 28-month absence from Atlanta sports radio will always be part of Cellini’s DNA but not completely in a bad way.
“It’s something that I do think about every day and I think about it in a positive way because I know that this can all be taken away,” said Cellini.
From talking sports at the kitchen table with his father and brother to his successful career in Atlanta and even through a terrible on-air mistake, Nick Cellini has experienced a spectrum of emotions. It’s been quite the ride for Cellini and his family and that journey isn’t over quite yet.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Leaving Corporate Radio Uncertainty To Be Your Own Boss Takes a Good Plan
“If you are considering walking away from corporate America’s radio stations, here is some advice I can give you.”
Local radio can be very competitive, local advertising dollars are limited and stations are often battling for them. Add to that the ego of the talent, who are all battling for listeners who also are limited. Those two things combined result in one cluster of stations constantly monitoring what the other clusters in market are doing and trying to predict their next moves.
One thing I learned when I worked in corporate radio is that competition may lead to celebration when one local station or cluster beats the others, but that celebration rarely has any carry over to the failures of the larger radio corporations. Most seasoned radio employees realize the failures of one major corporation are often a harbinger of things to come for their employer.
While a round of layoffs in one company may temporarily deliver an advertising or ratings win, it is normally a hollow one. Most don’t want to see colleagues lose their job. That creates a in the stomach knowing it could be them next time.
Audacy is the large corporation currently in the negative spotlight. The second largest radio ownership group was delisted by the New York Stock Exchange on May 16th after its stock price dipped below $0.10 per share. The outlook is grim. They blame the current economic climate and falling advertising revenue for their stock price, which has dropped more than 60% year-to-date.
News like this, which seems to come with greater frequency than it ever has, is cause for many in the radio industry to strongly consider risking it all to leave the perceived safety of the large corporations to see if they can make it on their own. This is the decision my show made in June of 2021.
I can absolutely say we made the correct decision, I can also say it was an incredible learning experience. As I will never have to do it again, perhaps I can use the lessons I learned to help anyone considering doing the same thing.
If you are considering walking away from corporate America’s radio stations, here is some advice I can give you.
1. Save Money Now
There is a very good chance you will have to go several months with no regular paycheck. Almost any radio contract, especially the standard boilerplate contracts, have a non-compete clause that can last as long as six months. Large corporations often are adamantly opposed to waiving that clause as it is a deterrent to other employees from jumping to other competing ventures. Once you’re your own boss and own financial provider, plan accordingly.
2. Know Your Contract
Our show has had the same representation for 13 years, two attorneys who are the very best at what they do in the sports agency realm. I can’t recount the number of times they have saved us legal headaches and made certain we have maximized all that is available to us. I can’t be more direct than this: Get. An. Agent.
They aren’t free but they are invaluable. As our’s once told us: all corporations and athletic directors say they won’t deal with agents, of course they won’t, they’ve negotiated hundreds of contracts, you’ve negotiated zero. The playing field heavily tilts in their favor.
One painful lesson we learned as we started our journey was how little thought we had given to some of our post-contractual restrictions. As our agents pointed out; “Everyone in your field focuses on their non-compete clause while completely ignoring the non-solicitation clause”. It is very likely you have no idea that exists in your contract or what it even prohibits.
If you have intentions of starting your own advertiser funded competitive venture, that clause is going to be very important to you. If you, like me, have no legal degree, it would be beneficial to have an attorney explain to you how to avoid violating that restriction.
3. Have A Plan But Be Flexible
Chances are, you do not own a radio station. That means your venture is going to be digital in nature. There is still a lot of uncharted space in the digital world and the same things that worked on radio will not work there. This is one of the reasons so many large radio companies have failed in the digital space. It is impossible to serve both masters simultaneously.
You may have a plan that you think will work anywhere but be ready to get slapped in the face by the consumption habits of a digital audience, almost always much younger on average than your broadcast audience. It is great to have a plan but make it a flexible one. I can promise you are going to learn as you go in the digital world.
Going it on your own can be a terribly frightening world, I was incredibly fortunate to be part of a team that launched our own digital platform together.
I can tell you there have been many surprises in the last 23 months, both good and bad, but this has been the most rewarding period of my professional life. You will be jumping into a space that can make you feel very isolated but it can also be the most freeing moment of your career. You may only get one chance to make this decision on your own. If you do, make it count.
If you have any further questions about the prospect of leaving corporate media to launch your own enterprise, please feel free to reach out to Ryan at: email@example.com
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.