Tue. Feb 19th, 2019

A Final Look at the BSM Top 20 of 2018

“BSM President Jason Barrett offers his final takeaways on the BSM Top 20 of 2018.”

In sports radio, December thru February often represents a slower time of the year. The NFL remains a top priority due to the start of the playoffs and the Super Bowl, but the holiday ratings book matters less, key personnel take vacation breaks, and the intensity of competition subsides until the NCAA Tournament, MLB’s Opening Day, the NFL Draft, and the NBA & NHL Playoffs begin.

For BSM, the opposite is true. This 90-day stretch is when we begin making final preparations for the BSM Summit, recording and editing the next season of the BSM Podcast, and finalizing the process for the BSM Top 20 series. Each of those items are added to our plate while still trying to listen to clients, handle normal business, adding new contributors, and creating content for the website.

The BSM Top 20 series can feel thankless at times. I spend my entire Christmas/New Year’s week vacation gathering the final ballots, adding up the results, creating images for each category, show, brand and individual, writing press releases, and preparing columns for the website. I don’t sell sponsors into it (although I will in the future), and I purposely refrain from voting because of my personal and professional relationships.

No matter what the results are, there will always be a few personalities who take issue with the results. I don’t have a problem with that. It means a host has confidence in what they do. I’ve had some promote their appearance on the list, and then once their names don’t show up, they’re either firing jabs or asking not to receive future BSM updates. It’s cool. They’ll eventually get over it.

Others like to call on their army of trolls to be a nuisance on Twitter (thank you Jack for the Mute and Block buttons) and email. It’s usually the same crew who doesn’t understand how they stack up against others in the format. They just think that because they exist and operate a product that it entitles them to special treatment.

But the hardest part is not being a voter, and tackling the process independently. I love gathering the panel each year, adding up their choices, and seeing where things land. If a client wins or loses, it’s a reflection of how the industry views their product and people. I may agree or disagree with the result, but I didn’t create the BSM Top 20 series to showcase friends or paying clients. I did it to recognize who industry leaders view as sports radio’s best. My friend Don Martin tells me ‘stay real’ and that’s exactly what I try to do.

For sports radio folks who are grinding away inside the studio, I hope this project matters to you. Nowhere else does the format have representatives from thirteen companies and thirty US cities participating to present a collective snapshot of what executives think of the format’s best. Over the span of six days we highlight the sports radio industry, giving brands ammunition to forge deeper connections with listeners, employees, and existing and potential clients.

Since starting the BSM Top 20, I’ve seen the results appear on national television shows, local sports radio programs, in major newspapers, and on Twitter and Facebook timelines of some high profile people. To those who have promoted our work I greatly appreciate it. It tells me they value the input of industry executives, and respect the BSM brand. That alone is what provides the satisfaction and motivation to do it year after year.

As far as the 2018 results are concerned, I do have some thoughts to share now that the process is complete. I’ve laid them out in bullet point form so they’re easier to consume.

  • Winners: Industry voters placed 98.5 The Sports Hub and 101 ESPN on a higher level than most. Across the board those two brands were well received across all categories. Their consistent success is a big reason why both were nominated for Marconi Awards the past two years.
  • Top Companies: In the Major Markets, Beasley won three (3) awards, ESPN claimed two (2), and iHeart/Premiere secured the top National spot. In Mid Markets, Hubbard led the way with two (2) awards, and Emmis, Cumulus, and Entercom all gained one (1).
  • Top Story: Michael Kay’s win in PM drive was the biggest headline this year. Voters cared more about the quality and chemistry of Kay’s show than who won the local ratings. They also seemed fatigued by Mike Francesa winning the award the last 3 years. Francesa earned just one (1) 1st place vote, far different than recent years. Were voters turned off by his retirement, quick return, and the in-fighting with other WFAN shows? It appears that way.
  • The Left Out: I feel for the folks creating great radio in Miami, San Diego, Tampa, Houston, and Atlanta. Voters don’t seem to place shows in those cities on the same level with programs in NY, Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco or Dallas. We’ve seen shows in Denver, Phoenix and Minneapolis cut thru so it’s not like you can’t get noticed if you’re not in the northeast, but you’ll need to create and share a great story consistently to change minds if you work in one of those cities.
  • PD’s: Mike Thomas and Mark Chernoff have taken turns owning the top spot for the past 4 years. Those in spots 3-20 really have their work cut out for them if they want to ascend to the top position. It was great to see Ryan Haney of WJOX earn the respect of his peers for the great work he’s done in Birmingham. There are some damn good PD’s working in Mid Markets who I’m sure will earn future looks from Major Market cities.
  • Mornings: Craig Carton‘s controversial exit hurt WFAN in the voting last year, but the addition of Gregg Giannotti alongside Boomer Esiason has been a hit with industry voters….the loss of Kirk Minihane in Boston resulted in a dip for WEEI. They won the category last year….the move from Brian Hanley to David Haugh resulted in the loss of a spot for 670 The Score but if their ratings remain as strong as they were in the fall that should change next year.
  • National: Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick, Dan Le Batard, and Jim Rome have owned the top of the national rankings for the past few years. They deserve to. But two things surprised me: ESPN Radio‘s shows don’t own the top spots like they used to. Some of that’s due to lineup tweaks in recent years. Some is due to FSR improving their product. Two other noticeable items, CBSSR’s D.A. Show has strong support from industry execs. More so than a number of national drive time shows. That’s also true of Mad Dog Sports Radio’s Nick Wright. The FS1 ‘First Things First’ personality cracked the top 14 despite not entering the national sports radio picture until September.
  • Noteworthy: Dallas had 3 local midday shows appear in the top 6 which was extremely impressive. San Francisco had 3 midday shows crack the top 20 too, another quality feat. Perhaps more surprising given how the market gets overlooked, Houston had three morning shows register in the Top 20. Not bad.
  • Original Sports Podcasts: I had no issue with the Top 5. All of them are well supported by fans and media professionals. What I did think about though is ‘which podcast in local sports radio is going to cut thru and make an impact equal to one of these five shows?’ That should be a focus and challenge for every sports station across the country.
  • Where the Voters Got It Wrong: Grant & Danny have been crushing it in Washington DC for the past few years and deserved to be higher in middays than 18th. The same is true of their boss Chris Kinard who led The Fan to a tremendous 2018…WIP’s Jon Marks & Ike Reese also deserved better. They’re in a tight race with Mike Missanelli who was voted 8th. Are Marks and Reese 13 spots worse? That’s debatable…I was surprised to see 1620 The Zone get less support this year. Their challenge is to make sure folks remain aware of their success because they’re still having it. Sharp and Benning in particular had a strong enough year to be included in the Mid Market morning category..I’ll say the same about 1280/97.5 The Zone in Salt Lake City, another great station with consistent ratings success that deserved better in the Mid Market Sports Station of the Year voting.

I want to thank all who contributed to this year’s voting, as well as each person who visited the website to see the results. A special thanks to All Access, Inside Radio, Radio Ink, Talkers, the NY Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and every sports radio and television station and on-air personality, producer, and programmer who promoted the BSM Top 20. There are many talented people creating great sports radio programming across this country, and we’re honored to shine a light on the work they do.

We’ll now close the book on 2018’s Top 20, evaluate what worked and needs improvement for next year, and turn our attention to the upcoming 2019 BSM Summit. This is a great time to remind you that if you work in the sports media industry, our event in Los Angeles is one you should be at. It takes place on February 21-22, 2019 and tickets will be on-sale thru February 15th. Click here if you wish to attend.

In the meantime, BSM extends its congratulations to all who were recognized as part of the Top 20 of 2018. We wish you the best of luck for 2019, and may the meters be on your side!