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Takeaways From The 2016 BSM Top 20 Series

Now that the madness has subsided from this year’s BSM Top 20, I thought I’d weigh in with a few final thoughts and takeaways from this year’s process. Overall it was a huge success again. I want to thank everyone who stopped by to see the results, share it on social media, and participate in the voting process.

One thing I’ve learned from running point on this process the past two years is that it’s extremely subjective and will never please everyone. That said, there are many in the radio industry who appreciate the recognition, and positive acknowledgement for a job well done never looks bad to a station’s audience or advertisers.

I also think it’s important for industry members to contribute to the voting process since they see the inner workings and the truth behind the numbers more than anyone else. Will they be biased at times? Of course. But I’d rather have executives with a favorable view of their brands contributing rather than relying on people who are outside the business and lack the information and personal insight to know whether or not a show, station or individual is experiencing success.

If you didn’t read the articles and fast forwarded to the results, I want to reiterate one key part that I often worry might be misconstrued. I do NOT vote in this process. I simply present the industry’s findings. I have opinions just like anyone else, and one of the toughest parts of this project is seeing particular votes come in that I disagree with, yet knowing that my role is to remain true to the votes and let the panel present their collective opinions without interference.

I recognize that a few observers and readers know that I work with some stations, and have friendships all across the nation. I can’t tell each individual what to think, but one thing I will not do with this annual representation of the format is have the final results determined by personal preference or economic influence.

I started this project and turned to executives at more than fifteen media companies to get involved because I heard from a large number of folks that they were frustrated by having the success of their brands and people determined by outlets which made their ranking decisions based on relationships and advertising buys. They also didn’t include industry members in the voting process. After doing this for two years, I can proudly say that I have not accepted a dime for it. I could easily do that and treat my family to a few more vacations and expensive dinners, but my credibility and respect for this business will not allow money to influence how I treat this process.

Trust me, it isn’t easy when you’re in my shoes presenting these findings, and a client I work with, finishes behind a competitor. It can be challenging and frustrating and puts me in an awkward spot. I could easily twist the results to favor my clients, but then I have to ask myself “why am I even doing this project if I’m not going to treat the votes of the industry panel with the respect it deserves”?

Last week for example during the process, I had one particular station take aim at me because they felt I was lifting up the profile of a competitor. Rather than giving credit where it was due to a station which was the top spoken word brand in the market, and ranked 3rd overall with a 9 share, and instead of conducting a self analysis given that their own performance was below a 1 share, the easy excuse was to blame yours truly.

If it helps a station’s staff sleep better at night to create excuses then that’s fine by me. The bottom line, industry people know which brands win and which ones don’t, and if you want to gain a stronger reputation and earn a higher place on the chart, you’re going to have to back it up with evidence that shows your performance is among the best. If not, it’ll be a similar story next year. I don’t play favorites, I just present the information.

Aside from that senseless drama, there were some results I agreed and disagreed with but that’s the beauty of life in America in 2017. You can have an opinion and choose to ignore anything you wish. I felt better about this year’s panel given the addition of a few more folks in smaller regions, which was especially helpful in determining the mid-market categories. I put a lot of time and thought into the voting process and aim to include people from all companies so it doesn’t become a one group celebration. It’s not perfect, but it’s as fair and balanced as it can be.

As far as this year’s results are concerned, I do have a few takeaways I want to share. These were things that stood out to me during the process. If you have some you’d like to discuss, you can always email me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

  • The decision to split up the Major and Mid Markets felt right, and I’m glad we did it. Too often smaller regions get ignored and stand little chance of making noise against brands with outstanding heritage. This year they were able to get a better sense of how they’re viewed, and the major market shows received votes without the voters feeling obliged to ignore 1 or 2 of them just to make sure they offered some recognition to smaller market brands.
  • Boomer and Carton, Mike Francesa, and Colin Cowherd were repeat winners, and reaffirmed that they’ve become the local and national shows which executives compare all others to. Next year will be very different if Mike Francesa fulfills his promise to leave WFAN, but for now, all three of these shows are a huge hit with high ranking members of the industry.
  • FOX Sports Radio has done a magnificent job of rebuilding its image. After Jim Rome left for CBS, there was a period of time where industry folks I spoke to weren’t convinced the network was trending upward. Over the past two years though that perception has been changed. FSR had 6 shows in the Top 20 including 3 in the Top 10, signaling that they’re on their way to a strong resurgence.
  • ESPN Radio remains in strong shape but if the rumors of a Mike and Mike split hold true, it could be an interesting time for the network. As great as the brand is and has been, they’re vulnerable for the first time in a long time. That said, no company has done a better job over the past three decades of replacing top talent and maintaining its relationships and stellar image than ESPN. It was interesting to see Paul Finebaum continue to gain momentum with voters. Bomani Jones also increased year to year and is now viewed slightly higher than Russillo and Kanell. ESPN has an opportunity to breathe some new life into its brand if it chooses to do so. If it stands pat with Mike and Mike, that too has large upside. This will be an interesting story to follow in 2017.
  • Voters are very aware of what’s been taking place in Boston and rewarded both 98.5 The Sports Hub and WEEI for their performances. Without question, Boston is the hottest rated sports radio market in the country, and the competition between the two brands is as intense as ever. To see each station earn respect for the contributions they’re making to the format was a welcomed sight.
  • The same story was true for 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh and 101 ESPN in St. Louis. All three stations ranked high with our panel in the mid-market categories which speaks to each of their abilities to penetrate their markets and create a dominant presence with local sports radio enthusiasts.
  • If there’s an area I’d like to see improve from the voters it’s to reward more shows for the current year’s actual performance instead of its reputation. I can’t speak for each voter but the goal is to recognize those who performed best during the previous calendar year. It’s no different than MLB or the NFL picking an MVP who had the best season. In some instances I see brands and shows receive high voting placement based on market size, brand reputation or length of service, and I think we collectively can do a better job of familiarizing ourselves with those who have performed best.
  • That last section is important for on-air talent to remember. There were a few hosts who reached out to express displeasure about not being on the list or eligible for consideration, but as I stated numerous times, this wasn’t a sports radio draft, and it wasn’t a case of who’d get hired if executives had to make a business decision for their brands. This was simply about 2016’s performance. You can’t be mentioned as one of the best 25-35 shows during the year if you only spent 3-4 months on the air. For example, Gary Sanchez had a hot summer for the NY Yankees, but he wasn’t part of the MVP conversation, nor did he deserve to be. Same rules apply here.
  • There were a few situations where key talent were gone for extended periods of time yet that didn’t hurt them in the voting which surprised me. Case in point, Terry Boers and Terry Foster missed time on the air in Detroit and Chicago, and the same was true for Greg Papa in San Francisco. Each of those hosts and shows deserve to be featured high but one can make a case that they deserve to go down a notch or two if they’re not at full strength for a significant period of time, especially if another show/brand behind them performed in similar fashion.
  • In the mid-markets I was pleasantly surprised to see Bernie Miklasz, Dan Dakich and 3HL get recognized for their exceptional work. I’m familiar with all three shows and think they do an outstanding job and I felt the panel got each of those decisions right. There were a few other shows in their respective categories that I could also make a case for but you won’t get an argument from me when it comes to acknowledging those programs for doing an outstanding job.
  • In the major-markets, I was happy to see G-Bag Nation and Paul Allen earn some recognition for what they bring to the airwaves. Both shows are very good and rate well. I also felt Mike Missanelli was rewarded for having an incredible year in Philadelphia, and the same was true for The Musers in Dallas, and OMF in Boston. Each deserved to be in the top 3 and you can make a case that they could’ve been ranked higher. I also thought Chris Mannix and the Morning Men sneaking into the National section was a pleasant surprise.
  • A few programs were rated lower than I expected. Among them were the Michael Kay Show, Kap and Company, and Dan Barreiro. All three have generated better performance than where they were placed, but if they continue their momentum I suspect they’ll climb the ladder next year. When we conduct this process again next year I also won’t be surprised if Clay Travis, Dale and Holley with Rich Keefe, and Stephen A. Smith gain ground as all three are positioned to make a bigger splash.
  • I’ll be interested to see how a couple of changes in January factor into next year’s results. Jay Mohr is gone from FOX Sports Radio, Danny Parkins has left 610 Sports in KC for 670 The Score in Chicago, Terry Boers’ retirement opened the door for Jason Goff to move into afternoons with Dan Bernstein, and a few other brands have made tweaks too. How they’re received by next year’s panel will be an interesting follow.
  • Last but not least, Sports Radio WIP will have a full year under their belts with their new midday and afternoon shows which should put them back in the mix. Josh Innes will have developed a longer body of work in Houston putting him back on the radar. And Jorge Sedano, Keyshawn Johnson, and LZ Granderson will be up for consideration if they continue hosting mornings in Los Angeles and producing results. Where each of those shows finish is anyone’s guess, but clearly there’s a lot of talent there and the voters will have some difficult decisions to make.

To bring this to a close, it’s a fun exercise, and it allows many in our format to gain a sense of where they’re seen by high ranking industry officials. If you’re ranked high, you clearly are going to enjoy it and let the whole world know. You may even try to use it to your economic benefit with advertisers. If you’re not, you’ll likely find fault with the system and let everyone know that industry executives are asleep at the wheel.

It may not be perfect but it’s the best we can do. So until next time, thanks for reading, voting, sharing, and debating. Now keep those ratings and revenues high so we can explore this conversation again in 2018.

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