August 5, 2014
Jeffrey Schwartz must love a challenge. Around 20 years ago, he turned a daytime-only AM in Chicago into a full-time Sports/Talk winner. Today, he's just a couple of weeks into his new challenge: Take Yahoo's iconic brand and build its Sports radio network into a winner in a field populated by even bigger brands in ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS and NBC. Here's how we plans on doing just that.
What were you doing before joining Yahoo! Sports Radio?
For the last four years or so, I was at FOX Sports Radio as VP/Sales, and a while ago, I met David Gow, owner of Gow Broadcasting which operates Yahoo! Sports Radio. Recently, the talk became serious about how to stand out in this crowded network Sports radio business. Network also has the disadvantage of competing with local stations nationwide.
I love a challenge where I'm building something from the ground up. You don't build a skyscraper from the top floor; you start at the ground floor. Joining Yahoo! Sports Radio, which has already built a nucleus of tremendous talent and a phenomenal team running the day-to-day operations, presents a very exciting opportunity to work with this team to take this network up to the next floor.
The first time I started something from scratch was when I was with The Score in Chicago. It was a daytime station that grew into a monster in less than a year, both from a revenue and ratings standpoint. Putting Dan Jiggetts and Mike North together - Jiggetts, a former Chicago Bear who went to an Ivy League school, and North, a hot dog vendor - saw a jump to #1 in men 25-54 within two books. The Score became the talk of the town that is so well-known for loving their sports.
I was also General Sales Manager at The Loop, the #1 Rock station in the country, where I was one of the architects for what is still known as one of the largest radio promotions in history - Disco Demolition.
CBS later moved me from The Score to WCKG as VP/Programming and Operations, where I worked with the likes of Howard Stern, Steve Dahl, Kevin Matthews and others. About two years later, I moved to ESPN 1000, and helped grow them into a powerhouse in Chicago, including a play-by-play partnership with the White Sox as they went on to win the World Series. It was a very exciting time for the city and my Sports radio career.
Local radio was a tremendous journey where I grew up and appreciated everything along the way. I think everyone should start in local radio; local radio generates different emotions. By learning the business from the inside out, instead of from the outside in, you can bring those emotions to the network landscape.
I love the challenge of doing something different, and Yahoo! Sports Radio offers the unique platform to bring network and local radio together.
So how was your first network radio experience?
After the first year in network, I wanted to blow my brains out.
From the sales standpoint, it was all about spots, average quarter-hours and affiliates. Growing up selling local, you had the opportunity to create ideas; you didn't sell numbers. I sold opportunities, creativity and solid ideas. By its nature, network radio didn't have that emotionality.
However, after meeting David Gow and studying the Yahoo! Sports Radio brand, and listening to its personalities, we've come up with a formula to take what they have and treat it like local radio with network reach -- recreate that emotionality and have fun with it. Every affiliate is our boss and we can create custom programming and sales opportunities that the general structure of network radio cannot offer.
Isn't that basically what KLAC did here in Los Angeles by taking afternoon duo Petros and Money off the Fox Sports network?
That's a perfect example. Petros and Money ARE L.A.-centric. Los Angeles loves their Lakers, loves their Dodgers, and they love Petros & Money.
Major markets love their local broadcasters and teams; network has to find its niche in major markets that already have localized staple personalities.
Just how can a Sports radio network be local?
I'm not talking geographically; and I don't include networks that have live action play-by-play. PPM addresses play-by-play so efficiently that it perfectly helps stations attract listeners and sales.
Yahoo! Sports Radio doesn't carry play-by-play. So how do we make it local? At the end of the day, we're smaller-market entrepreneurs. The radio stations that are our bread-and-butter lie not in the top 20, but in the bottom 2,000. And stations in Ottumwa, Iowa want to be treated as if they're in New York City. What I plan to do is make myself and our talent available to them locally for local programming and advertising activities (i.e. have former NFL player Sean Salisbury talk up an Ottumwa car wash).
Yahoo! Sports Radio also customizes sports flash updates for all formats. It's not your typical generic sports update - It's designed to reach your local market and connect with your local sports fans.
Do you foresee Yahoo acquiring play-by-play rights in the future?
Play-by-play is a very expensive proposition, and the play-by-play that is out there is already contracted to others for the long-term. Yahoo! Sports Radio is concentrated on the talk portion - where listeners can go to talk about the games and their teams. At Yahoo! Sports Radio, we talk-the-talk while, locally, they walk-the-walk.
Play-by-play is definitely something we would look at when the availability and opportunity is there.
Let's talk about talent. It seems Sports Talk is a field with a lot of hosts who have been around for years and former jocks. What's your take on that as well as Yahoo!'s personnel?
I want to address your second question first. Yahoo! Sports Radio's personalities are as good as any on-air talent in the business. I would match up Steve Czaban, Sean Salisbury, Travis Rodgers -- all of them -- to anybody on the radio today. I'm proud to be working with all of them.
Sports Talk radio has a lot of quality hosts and, yes, a lot of them have been around for years, but that's not a bad thing. Former jocks also bring credibility to the conversation (i.e. our own Sean Salisbury, ESPN's Mike Golic and CBS' Boomer Esiason). There is nothing negative about saying the same names have been around for a long time.
However, you do need to bring in new talent to work with the veterans on the air, just like a ball club needs to bring in a Pujols-type to play alongside a Trout. A good balance of new blood and experience makes for a winning combination on radio, too.
Here at Yahoo! Sports Radio, we are in the process of developing a program to discover and develop the next generation of Sports Talkers. It will be like our version of "American Idol" and "The Voice" - you constantly have to stop, look and LISTEN for the next top talent.
There has been considerable concern among radio pundits that Sports Talk radio's target demo is aging away, that its stations aren't doing enough - or anything - to attract the younger audience. Do you share that concern?
It impacts more than Sports radio; it impacts everything. It impacted music radio first, starting with iPods and all the new digital equipment that enabled kids to create their own playlists. Although radio is still the primary source of new music, its share is decreasing by the year.
With AM radio in general, we all have a challenge - and that's to look forward. I love to use the analogy of TV. If you look at network TV today, cable came into the picture, followed by Netflix and Hulu, offering original content that you couldn't find on network TV. Now, network TV has to try to do what cable has been doing - and that's create specialized programming such as "Breaking Bad" and "The Sopranos." While its content can't be as graphic as seen on other platforms, it can be still be dramatic. That's why you're seeing network television getting away from the standard sitcoms and moving to shows like "The Blacklist" and "Hannibal."
But here's the problem: If "Hannibal" was on Netflix, it would be the most talked-about series around. It's on NBC -- and they haven't marketed it properly and they air it in a terrible timeslot. They've got to get their shit together. At least on "The Blacklist," they're putting the show on hiatus in mid-season this fall, then changing nights after re-launching right after The Super Bowl.
What we're trying to do here is bring back the spirit of what great AM radio used to be. Sports Talk radio can't be just about revenue; it also has to be about fun. Last week, I sat with our talent in Las Vegas and they are ready for the ride. We're going to try to revolutionize the way Sports radio is done. We can't be afraid to be different.
I just showed a chart to David Gow of what I think we need to do to win - a chart that looks like something Sheldon Leonard worked on in "The Big Bang Theory." And David said, "Just do what you have to do. Come to work every day and do what you have to do." If I do that, I'm confident that at the end of every day, Yahoo! Sports Radio will be that much better.
What goals do you have for yourself and Yahoo!? Do you have a timetable for success?
Yes, but nobody else has set or knows of that timetable. I give myself my own personal timetable.
Setting goals is different than achieving goals. We might never get to what our goals are, but like I told a future affiliate just a few days ago, goals for success starts with promising only effort, and hopefully with that effort comes results. In radio today, like in any business, everything is driven by the mighty dollar. Never trust anyone who promises "X" amount of money. Trust the person who promises the effort try and bring in "X" amount of money. The only promise I, or anyone, can keep is total effort and commitment to win.
Yahoo! Sports is a tremendous brand name. I know already, Yahoo! Sports Radio is thrilled with this partnership, and being in a crowded space only makes our desire to achieve success, to achieve pride, to achieve the win stronger. Yahoo! Sports Radio is really, really good right now, and it's only going to get better.