Ask a broadcast radio veteran how the industry plans to combat the rise of Pandora, Spotify and other portable music listening options and they’ll tell you all about their on-air personalities and ability to be hyper-local.
I’m not sure I buy that differentiator for most music channels, since their hosts are often relegated to 10 seconds updating the world on Justin Bieber and then playing the #1 hit…again.
But there is one spot on the dial that isn’t threatened by the growth of internet, satellite and streaming audio – sports talk radio. Unlike music channels, there is enough unique content to go around because sports radio can be local, national, opinionated, news focused or anything in-between.
As traditional broadcast music stations have seen their market share decrease due to outside competition, over the last three years sports radio formats can brag about a:
- 21% increase in listenership*
- 14% increase in the number of stations programming a sports talk format
- 128% increase in the number of sports talk stations on FM
Executives and programmers alike are discovering the value of sports radio in an increasingly competitive marketplace, because it’s translating to the bottom line.
“Sports is a sponsor-friendly atmosphere. Lots of advertisers are passionate about sports,” commented Dial Global Programming EVP/GM Chris Corcoran during the All-Access Music Group panel discussion at the Arbitron Client Conference.
Profit growth means jobs and opportunities, but it takes more than just having a sports opinion to work in sports radio.
“You have to market yourself as something special. Find a way to stand out from the herd,” says Dave Druda, Executive Producer of the Tim Brando Show on SiriusXM radio. “If you have a specialty or skill that makes you better than the next guy, use that as much as you can and be able to do anything any time!
“Have pride in your production. Focus on making yourself as attractive to potential employers as possible.”
For more tips on beginning a career in sports radio, here’s the inside story from Dave Druda.
Alright Dave, Let’s start in the early days and your first job in radio – what was it, and how did you get it?
Druda: First job was in the summer of 2005 at WHBO AM in Pinellas Park, Florida.
It started out as an internship right out of the Connecticut School of Broadcasting in Tampa. I was offered an internship at the big Clear Channel station that would start in a few weeks…but the much smaller ESPN Radio affiliate offered me a chance to dive in right away.
I started out doing the grunt work on Buccaneers tailgate parties and players shows. Hauling a lot of gear in my pickup truck (probably the reason they wanted me – I had a truck!). Hanging banners, putting up tents and tables, giving out stickers and t-shirts etc.
All kinds of promotional work.
Very early on we had a Buccaneers player show with linebacker Ryan Nece. It was extremely exciting to be out at a restaurant with a real NFL player and a crowd. I noticed the engineer on the remote and chatted him up when we had time. Turned out he was the operations manager who also voiced the daily 90 second Florida State sports updates that ran on the station twice per day.
I let him know I was a fan of his work and that if he ever needed a hand with FSU news, I was the man for the job.
Not exaggerating at all, he said -” You want it, you got it”. I didn’t realize I was taking one of a thousand things off his plate and he welcomed the enthusiasm. I was naturally very eager and nearing the end of school. I made myself known within the building and made as many friends and contacts as I possibly could while interning.
So after my first real event as a promotions intern, I locked up a daily on air feature – granted it was only 3 total minutes of mic time a day, but it was big to me! I had a very basic Mic, mixer and computer setup in my apartment that I used to record them down at night before going to bed.
After just about 3 months my internship was set to conclude. I quit my day job and went to the studio to inform the “intern wrangler” that I needed a job. Within 10 minutes I was in the program directors (PD) office and essentially said I was offering him my services first before talking to anyone else.
Kind of a bold move I thought, but I had surveyed the scene there and realized I had something to offer and could really contribute. The PD didn’t necessarily have a job for me to do, but didn’t want to let me walk so I was hired that day.
With the Ops Manager and PD now firmly on my side I knew I was in good shape. I started out doing fill in board shifts on WHBO and WWBA. All kinds of miscellaneous weekend brokered shows.
Mortgages consultants, fishing charters, health and religion counselors. Anything I could take to get hours on the board and on the digital editing software – Cool Edit. I also made a strong point to get to know the general manager who was a well-known guy in the Tampa sports radio world.
My main goal was learning on the job and making good contacts!
The big lesson, take what you can at the beginning and start learning the operation from the inside out. My career plan wasn’t to run the board for weekend religious shows, but it taught me so much and helped me take the next step in my sports radio career.
What were the main things you learned about the radio industry in your early career that set you up for later success?
Druda: Don’t complain.
Make friends and connections who want to be around you. Studios are small confined space, if you have to be with someone for long periods of time, you’d better find a way to get along.
And don’t knock it till you try it – you may not be offered the afternoon drive host job on the #1 station in town!
If you are offered a weekend board shift on a paid show with a religious whackjob who makes your skin crawl, do it with pride. You never know what good could come out of it.
Nothing good can come out of voicing your displeasure or doing a half-hearted job.
I tell people all the time that tangible skills – being able to do something – is what gets you hired in radio or any other industry. In your experience, what has been the most valuable skill you have learned which helped you succeed?
Druda: Digital audio editing.
I was interested in it, and had some experience with very outdated .wav editing software coming in. When I gained access to Cool Edit / Adobe Audition and Pro Tools I dove in head first.
I really made a point to master it. Anyone can learn how to cut and paste something together. There is a real art in making something smooth sounding and pleasing to the ear.
You’ve been a host…a producer…an engineer…and everything in between. Which role has been your favorite (for reasons other than salary) and why?
Druda: That’s a tough one! I think I most enjoy producing.
Not necessarily the live-show element of it but producing imaging, bits, drops, promos, finding the perfect music for a guest or segment.
In radio the audio can be a real feature of the show. The host obviously is the star but the right audio at the right time can really enhance the production to a new level.
Being able to get creative and make something from nothing is challenging and fun. If I had to choose only one task to do every day, I’d lock myself in a production room and create.
If a young person came up to you today and said “I want to work in sports radio” what advice would you give them? Is there something specific they should do or learn to prepare?
Druda: Can I give more than one piece of advice?
- Be ready to fight for what you want because It will not come easy.
- The more prepared you can be the better
- Try to be out in front of problems. Technical, content, financial, personal relationships…all of these problems will come your way in one form or another.
- Don’t get caught off guard or surprised. Attack your problems and fears head on.
Lets keep going…
There’s no substitute for experience. Do anything you can to gain it. Get your hours. Hate the subject matter of the show? – its not about you enjoying it, it’s about you learning something new that day and finding a way to apply it to your next assignment.
Don’t worry about what the next guy is doing. Cut your own deal! If the next person is making more money or getting more hours than you don’t worry about why, worry about how to get better so you can get the next opportunity.
Never deliver a halfhearted performance. If you don’t want to put in 100%, don’t bother.
Be someone people want to be around. A lot of this job is about personality. If you present yourself in a way that people enjoy, good opportunities will come to you. Being responsible and trustworthy is important too. If you are someone that the boss can rely on, they will give you more opportunities.
Learn your way around computers and electronics. Everything is automated in one way or another. Stay on top of new technology and think about how to use it to your advantage.
OK, that should keep everyone busy for a while…
Part two of our interview with Tim Brando Show Executive Producer Dave Druda will publish next week. In it Dave will discuss the ins and outs of being an Executive Producer on a major sports radio show. Of you have questions for Dave add them to the comments below, we’ll be sure to get his take on things!
*facts provided by Arbitron’s Sports Radio Measurement