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Meet The Market Managers: Joe Bell, Beasley Media Philadelphia

Philadelphia loves its sports and is devoted to sports talk radio. The ratings battle between 94 WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic is certainly never boring. It is the perfect market to start the new season of Meet the Market Managers.

Joe Bell oversees Beasley’s Philadelphia cluster. He isn’t just making decisions for The Fanatic. He is in charge of one of the market’s most successful clusters.

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He came to Philadelphia from Miami, where he was in charge of a cluster that included WQAM. Those are two very different sports and sports radio cultures.

The radio business has taken Joe Bell all over the place. His last two stops have been major markets, but his 50 year career has seen him lead groups in small markets across Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina. That’s not too bad for a guy that started at 19 because a friend told him radio was a great way “to get chicks to call you.”

In our conversation, Joe Bell talks about why the Philadelphia Flyers don’t mind not being on the Fanatic when their games conflict with a Sixers game. It is a real testament to the powers of the brands he runs. He also talks about how relationships are changing as the pandemic subsides and why it isn’t impossible for outsiders to succeed in Philadelphia.

Demetri Ravanos: You were part of a panel at the BSM Summit last month where you talked a bit about surviving the pandemic and being in a good position coming out of it. You pointed out that you were the only one on the stage talking about it from a sales perspective because everyone else was a programmer.                

So, The Fanatic has made some programming changes since you’ve been the leader there. When you have conversations like with Chuck Damico, when you’re thinking of making him the program director, with John Kincade, when you’re thinking about bringing him in for mornings, what do programming candidates need to know about The Fanatic’s sales goals when you start talking with them? 

Joe Bell: Well, first of all, I don’t consider myself a sales guy. I have always considered myself a radio guy who could sell. I got in the business through programming. If I did it better, that’s what I would still be doing. I look at it a little bit different. I am excited that folks like Mike Thomas and, Chris Olivero get the shot to be market managers. For a long time, everybody came from sales, right? This is such a programing driven business. It’s all about content.     

I manage eight radio stations here, and while ratings are important, sports radio is a much more emotional buy. There are so many opportunities to attach your clients to programming for them to get direct results. So it’s a lot different than selling ads on a music station. There are just so many ways to involve a client through sponsorships, whether that’s attachment to the teams, personalities, and/or live endorsements.        

Our sales effort is so closely aligned with our programming that sometimes it’s hard to separate them. Kincade is the best I think I’ve ever seen at being able to weave a liner into content to where you really don’t realize that’s what he did.        

To me, sports radio is reality radio. It’s like reality TV before reality TV. It changes every day. It’s live every day. I mean, things happen and you’re on it. So it’s been a lot of fun. I did sports radio in Miami with WQAM, so it’s been a big part of what I’ve done my whole career. 

DR: So I do want to come back to a couple of different things you said in there, but you mentioned some of the guys that have gone from programing into the market manager side of things. And I wonder, as somebody that is a market manager right now, how do you scout talent for future management? You mentioned this. It would be so easy to say, “Oh, well, that seller has the best numbers. They should be leading and teaching everyone else.” But you need more than that. So what are you looking for in either sellers or programmers that makes you think it is worth investing your time in helping them take the next step? 

JB: That’s a great question, because first of all, they have to want to do that, not everybody does. I work with some sales people who have no interest in doing anything other than their doing. They’re awesome salespeople. They make a lot of money.          

Same thing with talent. A lot of talent does not want to be management. They’re really good at being on the air. They enjoy it.       

I think the first thing is identifying what somebody’s goals are longterm and how can we help them get there. But we’ve got two or three people that work here right now that I’d be shocked if I opened the trades in 10 years and they weren’t market managers.

DR: You mentioned your history running a cluster in Miami that included WQAM. Obviously, that is night and day as a sports market compared to Philadelphia. Did you have enough of a background in sports radio coming into Philadelphia that it didn’t necessarily change your expectations for what sports radio could do in a marketplace, do you come in, see the how much the city revolves around sports conversations and immediately raise your expectations?

JB: Yeah, absolutely. If I were to pick my favorite radio station of all time that I did not manage. It’s probably WLW in Cincinnati. They did a lot of play-by-play and sports talk. I mean, going back to Bob Trumpy and people like that. So I’ve always been a huge consumer of the format.         

You’re right, Miami is a great place to live, but it doesn’t have the passion for sports that exists here in Philly. So many people are not from Miami, they’re transplants. They’re interested, but they don’t live and die with as we say here, four-for-four.

DR: I really like that term. I’ve never heard that before. 

JB: That’s big here. Our guys ask all the time, are you four-for-four? And you know, Philly is not unlike Boston and New York in a couple of markets that support more than one very successful sports talk radio station. 

DR: Very true. That brings me back to something else you said at the Summit. You talked about how important it is to build and service relationships with the teams you broadcast. For you guys, it is the Sixers and the Flyers.        

I want to talk specifically about the Sixers here because I do wonder how you capitalize on something like this. I mean, the never-ending story around that team this year from a sales perspective, is that just pitching to clients that they want to be a part of the excitement? They want to be a part of everything Sixers in the 2021-2022 season? Or do you start to talk to them about how you can make moments like the Harden trade special specifically for them? 

JB: It’s more of what we do around the team. We’ve got a tremendous relationship with the Sixers and the Flyers. My whole theory is that your partners are partners. If one of the teams asks me to do something and we can do it, we do it. I think the teams pretty much do the same thing.              

You’re at the mercy sometimes of the momentum the team has. And right now, I mean, the Sixers have been red hot. It’s been a great ride the last few years, but it just gets better and better.         

We are always brainstorming about how we can take what we do and take it to the next level. We do a shoot-out, a knockout tournament, every year. It turned out that this year it was on the night of Harden’s first game. We have a hundred listeners on the court after the game trying to win a prize in a knockout tournament. And so, we look at all different kinds of things.

The other thing is our hosts are very embedded in the marketplace, and with the teams. Gargano, Kincade, those were local guys. It’s not an act. They grew up here, they’re big fans, and I think it comes across on the air. 

DR: When you are doing both the NBA and NHL, they’re both the top league in their sport and they play at the exact same time. So, what are the negotiations like between the two? How do you make them understand, “Hey, they’re going to be nights you’re playing on the same night and here’s how that’s going to work.”? 

JB: The Sixers are always on the Fanatic. Oddly enough, and this deal was already in place when I got here, we carry the conflict games for hockey on WMMR, which is the number-one-rated station in Philadelphia. When you take a look at the audience of MMR, as a rock and roll station, a lot of males are in the audience, and it hasn’t hurt the ratings at all. As a matter of fact, I know the Flyers like the fact that when they can’t be on The Fanatic they are on MMR. So it’s a really good combination. There’s about 20 games a year, I would guess, that we have to put on MMR, but it’s been a good situation for everybody. 

DR: A legendary station to be associated with too. That’s not a bad consolation prize when the sports signal isn’t available. 

JB: Absolutely! In terms of play by play, unless the team is really hot at the moment, your numbers at night probably aren’t going to be as good as your daytime numbers. What it does is it fuels conversation and interest and passion. The Sixers have been driving content on The Fanatic. It’s all people want to talk about in a city where they usually just want to talk about the Eagles. 

DR: When you talk about capturing the moment for partners and teams, I think about Anthony Gargano. I can’t tell you how much mileage we got out of that video of him learning live on air about the James Harden trade. That was that was such an authentic kind of moment. 

JB: That’s who he is. You know, each of our guys are that way. Kincade is pretty slick and comes across different. I mean, he’s a Philly guy. I ask him how many cousins he has because everybody that calls the station says they’re related to him in some way.          

I tried to hire John for a couple of years when he was in Atlanta. Every time I talked to him, he’d say, “You know, I’m going to end up back in Philly, but today’s not the day.” He had a daughter in high school but when they blew up his former station, I called him the next day and I said, “Is today a good day?” He starts laughing and says “Today would be a great time to talk.”

He’s been a huge addition to the station. Gargano and Mike Missanelli were both newspaper guys. That generation of sports talk talent, so many of them came from print locally. You know, that means they’re so invested in the area and well know. It makes us a lot of fun. 

DR: You mentioned that on-air, listeners really crave that authenticity. I think that is part of the reputation of Philly being kind of a tough sports market, right? They want to hear from their own Who are you to talk about the Eagles if you didn’t grow up in Jenkintown, right? You know what I mean? 

JB: Oh, that’s right on. Listen, Anthony Gargano is more Philly than a good cheesesteak. 

DR: So what about the clients? Why do local voices matter when you are going out to sell The Fanatic?

JB: Well, the first thing is our guys get results for people. I think that’s one of the real attributes of spoken word. If done right, whether it’s sports or political or whatever, people develop such a close relationship with the talent and believe what they say. It works really well at generating results for the client. You can spot phony a mile away and our guys are really authentic and love what they do and it comes across. 

DR: So what about with your sellers? Can a seller from outside the market come to Philadelphia and find success? 

JB: I think so. Somebody told me when I came here that your talent all had to be from Philly. Preston and Steve are doing 20 shares in the morning on MMR. Neither one of them are from Philly, but they’ve been here for 100 years. I think the key, if you’re coming in from outside of the market is to understand what makes the market unique and what people love about it.

What people don’t want to have is somebody to come here and tell them what’s wrong with it. That’s the thing here. If you don’t like it, go back to where you came from.

I think it’s a great market. I love it. Growing up in southern Ohio, around Dayton and Cincinnati, I see the same kind of people and same work ethic. People love it here. Very few people leave Philly, and if they do, they oftentimes come back. It’s very provincial. 

DR: So you mentioned MMR several times, I want to talk a little bit about the fact that you have Chuck Damico involved with both The Fanatic and WMMR. Maybe you have already given me the answer to this with how much crossover there is, but why is it important to you to have someone involved with The Fanatic who also has experience with WMMR? 

JB: The reason that I made Chuck just the PD of The Fanatic is he was instrumental in the development of Preston and Steve. He still does some producing for them. He gets storytelling and understands how to build talent. I think those are two attributes he really has. When you get right down to it, that’s what we do, right? We tell stories.          

I tell our guys all the time that it’s not about the scores. You can get your scores on the phone, and once you know the score, what more is there to know about that game?           

What they want to know is what happened. What’s going to happen? What do you think might happen? That’s storytelling and Chuck is really good at developing talent and teaching them to do that. So, when I saw what he had done with Preston and Steve, I thought ” you know, we have a tremendous PD at MMR in Bill Weston. Hopefully Bill’s not going anywhere anytime soon. So Chuck was in the number two spot and did a great job with talent. And we talked and I said, “could you handle both?” and he said, Absolutely.               

We have a really strong APD on The Fanatic in Eric “Coach” Camille, who also executive produces the morning show. So it’s about having really good people and making sure you get him in the right spot in the lineup. 

DR: So how much of an asset is it to have somebody that has so much influence on both brands when you are putting together these big multi-station campaigns? Because MMR and the Fanatic like that Venn diagram seems like it should be a perfect circle of listeners. 

JB: Even though we have some people involved in both, we operate them totally separate. In the last monthly ratings, we have four of the top six stations in the market, 25-54 primetime. So we’ve got strong brands and we do try to keep them what we call “wingtip to wingtip”. You want them not getting in each other’s way. We want all of them to be as strong as possible. 

DR: At the Summit, you talked about coming through the pandemic that it was a real opportunity to strengthen the relationship with local clients and to reach out and say, “How can we help you right now?” So here we are, we’ve passed the two year anniversary of the world turning upside down and you go out and it looks like we’ve either learned to live with it or at the very least, COVID 19 has faded into the background in a lot of people’s lives. I wonder if the same thing has happened with the strength of those relationships at all. As that uncertainty and that threat subsides, do you wonder if the memories of how you helped those clients, whether it was keep their doors open or just make one specific thing happen, do you worry that those are going to start to do the same? Time just seems to have that effect on everything. 

JB: That’s a really good question. I think this cluster, even when it was Greater Media, before we bought it, had a very, I guess you would call it, “servant style” sales operation. What can we do to help you?  We’ve carried that through. The pandemic intensified that.           

Our whole thing has always been creating partnerships and programs with clients that goes a lot further than selling spots for a specific timeframe. 

Demetri Ravanos
Demetri Ravanos
Demetri Ravanos is a columnist and features writer for Barrett Media. He is also the creator of The Sports Podcast Festival, and a previous host on the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas in addition to hosting Panthers and College Football podcasts. His radio resume includes stops at 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 or reach him by email at [email protected].

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