It was November 2009 when I first crossed paths with this week’s featured personality Bob Stelton. Bob had spent 12 years in sports radio at that point with stints at Sporting News Radio and KJR in Seattle and I was looking for a new host to join me in St. Louis at 101 ESPN.
Initially I thought there was no way he was going to leave the 2nd largest market (Los Angeles) to move to the 20th largest market (St. Louis) but Sporting News Radio had gone through some layoffs which left Bob looking for his next opportunity and after we made arrangements to have him come to town for a trial run with Bryan Burwell, we both could tell that there was a good connection and a situation worth exploring.
I remember telling Bob when I hired him “St. Louis is a tough market to break into as an outsider so I want to place you with Bryan which will help you get over“. Fast forward 9 months later and the show had made some progress but nowhere near where the others on the station had gone.
I then had to make a tough call and part ways with Bryan, a guy who I liked and respected a lot. I called Bob and told him I wanted to meet for dinner and talk about the show and I broke the news that evening that I was going to make a change and put him on solo.
Bob looked at me with his “I mean business” stare and said “let me get this straight, you said this is a tough market to break into and now you feel that our best way to grow the ratings on the show are to put me on solo and takeaway my partner“? I responded back with a confident “yes” even though I knew that was a damn good question and he had every right to question the game plan. To get an idea of Bob and Bryan as a team, check out this video.
As luck would have it, we made the change and within the next few months the show took off and started delivering inside the Top 5 like the rest of the radio station. Much of that success was due to how hard Bob worked to shape his identity with the audience and build relationships in the market. He was also open minded, candid and honest with me and his producer John Semar about his views on the show and that team collaboration and desire to do whatever it takes to win was a big reason why he did so well.
It was not only a big turning point for the radio station but it was a big achievement for Bob as well and the momentum from that success would ultimately put him in a position to land a weekday spot in his hometown of Seattle working 12pm to 3pm with Dave Grosby for 710 ESPN.
The rollout video that 710 ESPN put together for the start of the show was excellent. Make sure to check it out.
When you listen to Bob host a show, one of the first things you’ll notice is the way he presents himself to his audience. He has a deep voice and showcases a youthful approach with some of his phrasing and he’ll come across as a guy who’s serious, informed and passionate yet loves to have fun as well. Sometimes it’ll even happen at the expense of an update anchor which I’m sure Cliff Saunders remembers all too well (sorry Tasty Cakes).
Much of that presentation I believe stems from Bob’s background. He was the lead singer of a rock band on the Seattle music scene in the 1990’s so he got comfortable at a young age at entertaining audiences on stage. I used to love breaking his chops that he was the only musician in Seattle during the 90’s explosion to not land a record deal. I’m not sure he enjoyed that line as much as I did though! Here he is rocking out back in the day.
In addition to being an avid lover of music, Bob practices martial arts and is a diehard UFC fan. He’s also a Mariners and Seahawks fan and one of the few guys I know who likes Alex Rodriguez. I’m pretty sure that Bob is also the only guy on this planet to attend a Train concert and nearly get into a fight. Who knew that a song like “Drops of Jupiter” could cause such a reaction?
Having managed him, one of the things I appreciated and respected was how he put his heart and soul into his show each day. I can tell you that the same effort is given off of the microphone and he was always looking for feedback for ways to improve. Breaking into a new market and being successful can be very difficult but when you have the right mindset and a strong work ethic it’s definitely possible and Bob is proof of that.
I exchanged a few texts and emails with him to pick his brain on his background in the radio business and some of his professional viewpoints on critical elements of doing sports talk radio and I’m happy to share the details of our conversation with you.
A: I grew up playing sports. Although I was a musician, most of my idols were sports figures so I listened to a lot of sports talk and frankly, I felt I knew as much and could do it at least as well as those I was listening to.
Q: Who was the first person to hire you and what was the best/worst part of the job?
A: Tom Lee the PD for KJR in Seattle hired me to run the board for The Tacoma Rainiers games. The best part of the job was actually being paid to be in a place where everything was about sports. Sports were now paying my bills…sort of. Worst part…I was making $6 an hr and AAA baseball on the radio wasn’t the most electric thing in the world.
A: Mitch Levy here in Seattle was a tremendous influence. One of the best interviewers in radio. Howard Stern for his interviewing skills and creativity. He’s not for everybody but I have absolute respect for his fearlessness…he’s brilliant! PBP guys, VinScully is the greatest ever! Jim Lampley is fantastic as well.
Q: If there’s one thing that’s surprised you about the sports radio business that you had no idea about prior to getting into it, what would it be?
A: It seems silly but I always thought that I couldn’t possibly EVER get tired of going to games or speaking with athletes. After a few years of covering struggling teams/players, you realize how draining it can be to talk about those things on a daily basis. Trying to find new angles on a losing team or struggling players can feel like a death march if it’s something that lasts a while. And going into those locker rooms to talk to those players about “what is wrong with this team“, is no picnic.
A: With more experience I’ve just become more comfortable with who I am and my strengths and weaknesses. When you first start, you tend to mimic, on some level, those who influence you. After a while you find your own voice and it becomes obvious what works for you.
Q: What is one thing that you don’t feel you do well as a broadcaster that you need to improve on?
A: I can be a little rigid in my opinions. At times I have a hard time seeing the logic to an opposite opinion. When you put a bunch of time and effort into creating your position on something, it’s not always easy to embrace an opposite point of view. Although, great debates are certainly born out of that, at times.
A: Local radio, you feel like you have an attachment to the team your covering and their fan bases. You have an identity and a connection with them both. The scope of what you talk about, such as the teams and topics, are much more narrow in local radio. Mariner fans don’t want to hear me talking about the Mets or Dodgers. But national radio gives you a much bigger plate of material to work with. The headlines are the headlines no matter which city is involved in the story. So, whatever story you’re talking about that day, there is an interested audience there for you. As a national host, you have material all year around but you really miss being attached to a specific fan base and the passion that goes with speaking to one specific market about THEIR teams.
Q: How important is utilizing audio in your show each day? What are some ways you incorporate it into your daily presentation?
A: If you don’t use it, what’s the reason behind it? Audio is a great launching point for me. It sets up a conversation and listener reaction. It sets up a tease to the next segment (Coming up next, you won’t believe what Richard Sherman had to say about the 49ers, you’ll hear it next!) It supports or counters your opinions. Creating more conversation with your co-host and audience.
A: I need a producer that cares about the show as much as I do. I want them to take pride in the success of the show. I want them to take ownership of it. I want them to be thinking about how to improve and grow the show as much as I do. I love a producer who will challenge my opinions or ideas. It forces you to really dig deeper into the subjects and creatively it’s great to have two minds going on an idea and bouncing different scenarios off of each other. It’s a lot like writing a song, you piece together everybody’s contributions and see what you have. Sometimes it’s great! Sometimes it stinks! But, that process is crucial to keeping a show fresh.
Q: What is the most difficult part about being a personality and dealing with audience feedback that isn’t always positive?
A: Sometimes if the negative feedback gets personal, it can be a little challenging. Or if it’s clear that somebody is responding to what they THINK you said and, not what you actually said. Outside of that, I love listeners who want to challenge my opinion. Again, it’s just another form of material to work with.
A: I meet with my PD every couple of weeks. I love constructive criticism! As soon as I feel like I know everything or, everything I do is perfect, I’m dead. That’s when you stop improving or trying to improve. I don’t always agree with every critique but more often than not, a fresh set of ears will hear things you don’t because you’re too close to it. It can be very hard to be objective about your own show.
Q: When you reflect on some of the things you’ve accomplished in your career so far, what tops the list?
A: To be employed in this business as long as I have feels like an accomplishment. Anybody in the business knows how tough it is to have any level of sustained security. Having success on a national level for 7 years was big for me. Then succeeding in a local market that I had never even been to much less really followed, is something that I’m very proud of.
A: I’ve been out of work one time since 1997. The network I was with for 7 years, downsized in a very big way. And, I was not renewed when my final contract was up. I was out of work for 8 of the longest months of my life. That had me a little unnerved. But, it also made me really appreciate the places I’ve been since.
Q: For someone out there reading this who’s thinking of entering the industry and striving to be an on-air talent, what advice can you pass along to help them on their journey?
A: LEARN EVERYTHING! Don’t ever think you’re above doing any job. Just because you want to be a host doesn’t mean that’s where you start. Run the board, cut sound, produce, go into the locker-rooms, etc… do it all so that once you do become a host, you have an appreciation and understanding of what it takes to make the whole thing tick!
You can hear Bob Stelton on the “Bob & Groz” show weekdays from 12p-3p PST on 710 ESPN in Seattle. For more information on the show you can click here to visit their show page. You can also follow Bob on Twitter @BobStelton.