Chris Oliviero Wants To See The Sports Radio Industry Evolve – Barrett Sports Media

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“Just try something new every once in a while. Throw an idea against the wall. Hire a host who is off the radar and off the grid. Be confident enough to be ridiculed for such moves.”
For many New Yorkers, the launch of WFAN in 1987 changed their lives forever.
That certainly was the case for a young Chris Oliviero, whose fascination with the new station and format sparked a love affair with radio that caused him to make it his chosen profession.
Oliviero spent 23 years with CBS Radio, including the last five as the company’s Chief Content Officer. He was a key figure in helping CBS build the top news and sports audio platform in the country, as stations in those formats dominated in audience and revenue. 
Shortly, CBS was acquired by Entercom (now Audacy), and he walked away from his corporate programming position to work in consulting.
Naturally, it didn’t last long. As has been the case for so many talented radio professionals who decide to “step away,” the industry finds a way to pull them back.
He was recruited, and soon accepted, the position of Senior Vice President and Market Manager for Audacy’s cluster of brands in New York City. For Oliviero, it was a homecoming of sorts since he’s had oversight over former CBS all-news Brands 1010 WINS, WCBS 880 and, of course, all-sports WFAN.
Oliviero will be attending the BSM Summit in New York March 2 and 3 and was gracious to speak with us about his career and thoughts on the industry.
Thrilled to have @MitchRosen670 @SpikeEskin @CohenNFL @brucegilbert14 @DonMartinAM570 @PhilMackey @Mr_KevinJones @loganswaim @nuvoodoo Jeff Smulyan, Mark Chernoff, Terry Foxx & Chris Oliviero joining us for the 2022 BSM Summit in NYC. Click for details >
Why radio? What got you into this industry?
WFAN’s birth in 1987 fascinated me as a kid with an aura and gravitational pull that only an around-the-clock, personality-driven live format can have when done right. Hard to grasp in our technology utopia today but it was just so new and different at a time when if you wanted the box score from a West Coast baseball game, you needed to actually put shoes on, leave the house and walk to the corner to buy a printed paper.
Plus, the personalities, including the callers, seemed to be right out of central casting, if that casting office was, of course, not in Hollywood but in Queens or The Bronx. I listened (a lot), I recorded hours on cassette tapes, wrote letters to the hosts, and I would even call in to attempt to sidestep the age restrictions imposed by the phone screeners. I was hooked. And I wanted to one day try and be part of it in any way possible. 
You worked on The Howard Stern Show. What did you learn about working with Stern and his team?
You need breaks in this business, especially early on, and luckily, I got a huge one. To be an intern in the late 1990s at the Stern Show and just to have a chance to witness complete mass media domination from radio to TV to film to books was the best education you could ask for. So many career lessons I have carried with me from those days.
The importance of the team, from top to bottom, and everyone knowing their specific obligation, no matter how big or small, and performing at their maximum level consistently day in and day out. That sense of mutual responsibility amongst employees really made a mark on me. If I don’t do my job well, it makes it harder for everyone else to do theirs. Oh and, of course, I learned don’t just win, win big; that’s always more fun. Run up the score on the competition. 
Who do you consider your mentors and why?
So many over the years, but your first is always the most impactful especially in the formative early days of a career. Gary Dell’Abate, hands down, will always have my appreciation. Gary paid attention to me, took the time to listen, then he actually followed up on the things we would discuss. He generously shared his experiences and his connections. All of this to me is a pretty good description of a mentor.
Fact is, I don’t know if I would have even gotten the chance to walk in the door at WFAN as a board-op if Gary did not take the extra step of calling Mark Chernoff to introduce us and vouch for me. But I am really glad Gary did and that even now, decades later, he still is someone I know I can call on for guidance. 
A new Meet the Market Managers column drops tomorrow. If you haven't already seen what Point to Point Marketing has made possible, check out last week's column with Chris Oliviero.
During your career, you’ve worked with and managed a LOT of very headstrong talent. What’s the secret sauce of getting them to perform well and play nice with others?
Well, I will whisper it so hopefully no one hears it. Though this flies in the face of the organizational chart and titles, I have always viewed it as if I actually work for the talent and not vice versa. My job is to get the best out of them and eliminate anything that prevents that. It is also about playing a role in helping them actually see what their best potential could be.
To start, though, you must have genuine empathy for how difficult their jobs are. Do you think it is fun getting a ratings report card every week judging the alleged “value” of your content? If you can build a mutual trust, and that does take time, then it is actually pretty easy going.
You also must be honest, in good times and bad, with each other. Empathy, trust, and honesty are the building blocks of any healthy marriage, and that’s how I view it, we’re married in this endeavor. I do laugh, though, when I see an executive come in and try to heavy-hand a talent and basically say ‘do this because you work for us.’ That never works and those management types usually are not long for the creative world.
If you could construct the ideal talk radio talent, what characteristics would this person have?
Intelligence and humor are the foundational pair of essential traits for a talk show host. Sprinkle in some self-deprecating awareness, along with a unique voice delivery and that always helps. And the ability to know when to be silent is key. A great host does not have to talk all the time, some of the best know when to be quiet and give others around them the stage to dance. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but being silent can make you a great talk show host.
What advice would you have for PDs and content directors?
Just try something new every once in a while. Throw an idea against the wall. Hire a host who is off the radar and off the grid. Be confident enough to be ridiculed for such moves. What is your equivalent of playing records backwards? But of course, just don’t lose the license. Short of that, have fun and stand out.
Radio has been going through a massive metamorphosis. What do you think the industry will look like in the next decade?
If I had a crystal ball, I’d say that local content actually increases in value for radio as much of the entertainment world looks to scale up nationally and even internationally. People will still live in communities and have unique experiences, especially with news and sports. We have a foothold in this space, so double down on it. If everyone zigs, sometimes there is a value for those who zag.
Plus, I think many of the industry content norms will expire and fall by the wayside. Why must a radio show be in a three- or four-hour block? Maybe it is only 37 minutes. And finally, who knows by 2032, maybe audio will have killed the video star. 

Ryan Maguire is a columnist for BSM, and a longtime sports and news radio program director. He has managed KIRO-FM in Seattle, WQAM in Miami, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, 610 Sports in Kansas City, and 105.7/1250 The Fan in Milwaukee. Presently, Ryan serves as the Executive Producer of Chicago White Sox baseball on ESPN 1000 in Chicago. Originally from Michigan, Ryan still holds out hope that the Detroit Lions will one day deliver a Super Bowl title. He can be reached on Twitter @RMaguire1701.
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“Technology has forced the marketing world from using calendars to using stopwatches.”
The 2022 BSM Summit presents a networking opportunity, as I wrote about a few weeks ago. It is also a great chance to learn about the future of the local advertising market. On Wednesday, March 3, Borrell Associates CEO Gordon Borrell will do a session with Amplifi Media CEO Steven Goldstein to review where the opportunities are and are not for selling in 2022 and beyond.
Borrell is frequently quoted in our trades, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. His podcast, Compass local ad spend research, and local advertiser surveys are vital assets to sellers. You can learn more from Borrell in New York at the Summit, at Borrell Miami March 6-8 at the Miami Hilton, or right here as he gives us a preview of his insight for local radio sellers and podcasting.
Jeff Caves: What advice would you give to a sports radio sales rep to increase their sales with tools they can access on their own?  ​
Gordon Borrell: Sales automation has become a strategic competitive advantage only because so many reps are challenged, don’t use CRMs, or don’t use them effectively. So, a CRM is one vital tool.  Another is marketing knowledge, with the tool being anything (including Google) that can help them cite facts and trends to make them a marketing expert in the eyes of the ad buyer.  I can’t emphasize how important that is.  Advertisers have told us that the No. 1 thing that makes them buy from a radio rep is the depth of their marketing savvy and ability to represent the interests of their own business, not the radio business.
JC: Why was automated proposal generation the key to a media sales rep performance increase in 2021? ​
GB: Technology has forced the marketing world from using calendars to using stopwatches. Marketing opportunities seem to arise in a moment — the need to launch a campaign or retract one — due to market circumstances. So, speed and efficiency are important.  Also, it’s a well-established fact that the more proposals in the sales pipeline, the more sales will close.  Reps who can turn around a proposal the same day, via automation, took advantage of advances in technology that allow them to do so.
JC: Adults 60+ will soon have 85% of the US wealth and be the most significant share of radio listeners and local tv viewers. How do local sellers convince the ad-buying community to spend dollars here? 
GB: ​It’s true that broadcast audiences skew toward older adults, so it makes sense that advertisers would spend their dollars on those types of media. However, they won’t be buying broadcast by themselves, which exposes them to other media that might work just as well.  The only thing that will insulate broadcast media against a competitive rep in the digital space is to ensure the broadcast company employs a MARKETING expert that sells both — not a broadcast expert that also sells digital stuff.
JC: What’s the barrier to bigger local podcast or stream audiences? 
GB: You’re going to need a strong local angle and a strong local personality to bring it to life. Give me a compelling reason to listen to a recorded audio program about my locality. And please, for God’s sake, don’t make it about rock ‘n roll or music genres or concerts and events, as I fear some stations might attempt.  I think if you took the tried-and-true podcast recipe of intriguing, entertaining, and unique and applied it to something edgy or interesting about the community, you’d have a local podcast hit.
Think of old newspaper columnists and their unique voices — people like H.L. Menken or Andy Rooney — and wonder how that type of personality could apply to a local market with a show by a colorful personality or mayor or lawyer or church pastor.  Wry commentary or great wisdom and perspective applied to things happening in the local community would be a hit, I think.
JC: Why aren’t re-purposed radio show podcasts consumed more?
GB: ​Cramming an existing business model into a new technological platform never works. Plus, the popular part of radio is live — like traffic reports, weather reports, what’s happening today.  That doesn’t play out well in a program that may be heard several days later. 
Podcasting has a different nature.  It’s a classic disruptive iteration, as TV was back in the 1950s. When TV came along, would it have worked if radio merely uploaded the audio from the Gunsmoke series to TV sets and just showed a picture of Sheriff Matt Dillon the whole time the program played? A lot of radio serials did get transferred to TV but required different talent (the radio’s Matt Dillon, William Conrad, wasn’t as suitable for TV as the handsome James Arness.)
JC: Should radio on-air talent pursue podcasting opportunities away from radio companies? Even as a side hustle? 
GB: Certainly if their contracts allow. 
JC: How can attending Borrell Miami help local broadcasters in 2022 and beyond? ​
GB: It’s a unique opportunity to hear about the amazing transformation in local advertising outside of the broadcast-only perspective. Everybody’s racing for the same thing — to become marketing experts who sell a cornucopia of advertising products to local businesses. It’s great to hear the perspective of newspapers, local cable systems, outdoor companies, local ad agencies, and pureplay Internet providers. They’re all under the same roof at the same time. The content is unique and dynamic, but networking with other sales executives is by far the No. 1 draw. 

Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM, working in National Collegiate Sales for First Team Ventures. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop 93.1, 1350 The Ticket in Boise, Idaho into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @JeffCaves.
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“PPM, the last great innovation in measuring radio audiences, was rolled out fifteen years ago. That is multiple lifetimes in terms of technology.”
We saw a nice bounce-back for the Super Bowl this week. After viewership dipped to 91 million for Tampa Bay’s win over Kansas City last year, 2022 saw the game climb back over the 100 million mark. It is still a long way off from the record (114.4 million for the Patriots’ win over Seattle in Super Bowl XLIX), but it is a step in the right direction.
Nothing draws numbers like the Super Bowl. When it comes to television, live sports are the only reliable rating grabbers. That is why rights fees skyrocket every time a major property hits the open market.
The rest of television relies on what are called live-plus-seven ratings in order to tell their best possible story. Those ratings measure the number of people that watch a show in real time, plus the people that DVR it and watch it back within seven days of the original air date. Even then, stations don’t get a truly accurate measurement for a single number, but Nielsen has at least tried to account for television’s non-traditional audience.
Where the hell is radio’s live-plus-seven?
Covid-19 shifted our consumption patterns. It changed where, when, and how people listen. Ratings systems have always been flawed. Now they just don’t account for reality.
I don’t want to come off as another radio guy making excuses for the ratings drop that inevitably comes to many sports talk stations after the football season ends. Instead, I am asking Nielsen to be fair to the entire radio landscape.
PPM was an epiphany for ratings. No, it isn’t perfect, but it is undeniably better than diaries.
Here’s the thing though, PPM, the last great innovation in measuring radio audiences, was rolled out fifteen years ago. That is multiple lifetimes in terms of technology. Arbitron reinvented the wheel with PPM. It is time for Nielsen (which purchased Arbitron in 2013) to reinvent it again.
Start with small steps. A station’s total listening measurement should come in a single number. That should be standard. No one from that company can look you in the eye with a straight face and give you a good reason why WFAN’s terrestrial signal and WFAN’s stream have to be counted as two separate things.
Work on radio’s answer to live-plus-seven ratings. Shows should be given credit for the listeners that are consuming their content through podcast replays. Work with Blubrry, Apple, or other fruits to develop a formula that gets you to a number that tells that story.
These are big ideas, and it is easy to sit here on my couch and type them out. I have no financial stake in Nielsen. I don’t have to worry about the cost of developing a new rating system or overhauling the old one. Even if the company’s initial inclination is to complain about the coast, the fact of the matter is that Nielsen has to innovate when it comes to radio ratings or someone else will.
Just look at what is going on at NBC, which announced a partnership with iSpot. The network believes their partnership can offer advertisers a more realistic way to measure viewership than Nielsen can provide. NBC has lost so much confidence in Nielsen (and honestly, why shouldn’t it?) that it didn’t decide to test this new ratings system out on a new comedy or even on an established franchise like America’s Got Talent. Instead, the network decided it was going to unveil its new measurement system during the Winter Olympics and Super Bowl LVI.
That should speak volumes about what is at stake if Nielsen cannot get the market’s confidence back. That will never happen if the company chooses to stand still.
It may have felt like the world shut down with the Covid-19 pandemic, but really it didn’t. It just changed in a monumental way. If the world’s premier audience measurement companu can’t adapt to reflect the effects those changes have had on media consumption, than any number it produces is valueless.

Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at [email protected].
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“It doesn’t have to be like this, guys. Honest.”
It’s a choice to turn the trade of Ben Simmons into a discussion of his mental health.
A choice that I think is unfortunate and unfair for reasons that I’ll get into, but one that is entirely unnecessary.
You can offer so many opinions, argue about so many aspects of how his tenure in Philadelphia ended without having to question his mental health or doubt the severity of the difficulties he may have faced.
He decided he didn’t want to play in Philadelphia anymore. Was that a sign of his inability to face the weaknesses in his game? Perhaps it was evidence the franchise mismanaged this player?
He was able to essentially force a trade by refusing to report to work. Is that evidence of players possessing too much power over where they play or a reality that teams have to adjust to? Is it fair for a player to force a trade? Should the team have forced him to report before dealing him?
Will Simmons be better off without Embiid? Will the Sixers be better off without Simmons?
Each of those angles offer an opportunity to explore what happened, to scrutinize the motivations and actions. None require you to make a judgment on another individual’s mental health in a situation where it’s all but certain you don’t have the necessary information nor the expertise to make an informed assessment.
It’s a choice to turn the trade into a referendum on Simmons’s mental health as Howard Eskin did.
So much for Ben Simmons mental illness. Amazing how that was just fine once he got traded. Insulting to those that really suffer.
A couple of things to consider.
1) We don’t know how someone else is feeling in general.
A video clip of someone appearing happy isn’t proof that he’s fine now, and it doesn’t tell us how that person was feeling in the past. One of the truly difficult things about having a mental-health condition is that when you do get to a place where you feel better — which is what everyone should hope for, that your condition improves — there’s an underlying suspicion that it must not have been so bad to begin with if you’re fine now.
2) We don’t know how Simmons felt specifically.
There’s virtually no public record. Simmons himself has not talked about the issue no the record. Team officials have been diplomatic. Any attempt to reconstruct what happened requires sifting through contradictory reports that are rife with anonymous sources and also account for the clear conflicts of interest that can be observed in the summaries from nationally prominent reporters.
3) There’s a problem with the terminology here.
Eskin uses the term “mental illness,” which refers to a disorder or psychiatric problem. It is NOT a synonym for mental health. To my knowledge, Simmons has never discussed a diagnosis of mental illness. In fact, I have not seen Simmons discuss his mental health in anything but very general terms. After Simmons failed to report to the Sixers this season, his agent — Rich Paul — said reporting to the team was not conducive to his mental health, but never used the term “mental illness.” Is Eskin offering a diagnosis himself here? Is he relaying one? Or is he just being sloppy — and I would say reckless — with his terminology?
4) What are the limits of discussion someone else’s mental health?
I’m not talking legality or made-up HIPAA concerns. Let’s take the subject away from Simmons here because we don’t know the specifics. I have dealt with depression most of my adult life. I was formally diagnosed 15 years ago, I’ve taken daily medication for more than 10 years. I’m comfortable talking about this, but what if I wasn’t? Is it ethical to talk about the fact I have depression if that’s not something I want disclosed publicly? Just because you can say something doesn’t mean you should.
There are some facts of a person’s life that we generally agree are theirs to disclose. A disease like cancer can be one. Instances of abuse. A family tragedy. In the media it’s considered wrong to “out” someone by discussing their sexual orientation if they haven’t indicated they’re comfortable discussing that publicly thought I want to make it clear I’m not equating sexual orientation to a condition or saying it should be something someone is reluctant to discuss. I am simply pointing out that there are specific personal facts that we generally agree are private unless the individual chooses to make them public.
5) The hogwash about this being an insult to people who really suffer from mental illness.
While it’s possible that someone who suffers from a mental-health condition will be angry at the possibility that someone would use that as an excuse, it’s much more likely that someone with a mental-health condition would look at the way Simmons has been scrutinized — and in this case attacked — and decide it’s better to suffer in silence than to have someone with Eskin’s platform posting a short video of Simmons and pointing to it as proof that any mental-health concerns were overblown and maybe even outright invented.
Howard had company, though. Here’s his WIP colleague Glenn Macnow.
Of all Ben Simmons' sins – and there are many – the biggest is feigning mental illness in an attempt to get paid under the CBA.
And another guy with lots of consonants in his last name:
Seeing tweets that Ben Simmons will join the Nets on their road trip in Miami tomorrow. He claimed mental illness was his reason for not playing, yet miraculously has been cured the minute he’s traded. What a middle finger to those who actually battle with mental health.
It doesn’t have to be like this, guys. Honest. You can be mad that Simmons decided not to play for your team anymore. You can say that it’s really about his fear of failure or his inability to be a complementary piece to Joel Embiid. You can say that you think it’s wrong a player is able to force a trade the way Simmons did.
Are you really that mad the Philadelphia 76ers may have paid his salary in these months he didn’t play? Because usually, people don’t care about the money the owners spend. The money they don’t spend? Yes, that can be infuriating, but it’s unusual to see so many people furious about the money they do spend except in this case because it’s going to a guy that plenty of people don’t like. I guess they want to see him suffer so badly they’re angry at the suggestion he’s already suffered. It’s that last part that is unfortunate and utterly unnecessary.
None of us really knows what Simmons has gone through and what he has felt. We don’t even know what he’s told the team. We know what some national reporters — with a clear bias toward his agent — have reported. We know what some folks like Eskin have said, presumably reflecting the team’s skepticism. But we don’t know how Simmons actually felt, and if you’re so mad at him that you’re incapable of realizing the limits of your own information then that’s something you should probably spend some time thinking about. Questioning someone else’s mental health is a choice, and it’s an entirely unhealthy one in my opinion.

Danny O’Neil is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously hosted morning and afternoon drive for 710 ESPN Seattle, and served as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He can be reached on Twitter @DannyOneil or by email at [email protected].
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