The radio industry has come under great scrutiny lately. Is it a dying medium, akin to newspapers? Are radio advertisers still investing in the business? Will online and personal entertainment systems signal the end of broadcast radio as we know it?
Amongst all of this panic, recent research puts the radio broadcast industry at $17 billion in gross revenue (yes that’s billion with a big old B) and growing.
True, it’s not growing in huge leaps and bounds, instead at about 2% over the last 5 years, but the point is clear – the death knell for radio has been rung prematurely.
One particular niche of the radio industry has seen even more remarkable growth – dedicated sports radio stations.
Sports radio stations have grown 64% over the last 10 years and more and more stations are, to use a sports analogy, jumping to the big leagues from AM to FM.
“We’ve gone from a time when the industry openly ridiculed the idea of a full-time sports station to an environment where some markets have three or even four all-sports radio outlets,” said Tom Taylor, a radio industry analyst with Radio-Info.com.
The move to FM has helped introduce 24/7 sports talk to a younger audience and that younger audience has helped fuel the growth of sports radio stations by just doing what they do best.
“I think a big part of this growth is social media,” says Travis Demers, host of ‘SportsNight with Travis Demers’ 7-10 PM weeknights on ESPN Sports Radio 1080 The FAN in Portland, Oregon.
“Everyone has an opinion, and everyone now as an opportunity to connect and get their opinion out there. In the ‘old days’, you had to wait on hold sometimes for an hour or more to get your thoughts out there to the host and people listening. Today, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook and other outlets give everyone a chance instantly to be a part of the discussion.
“With sports media in general growing, and more and more content being available, listeners can’t get enough. “
But how can you capitalize on the growth of sports radio stations? It’s simple, learn from someone who has already done it. Here’s more with Travis Demers:
After college you knew you wanted to work on-air in sports radio, what was your strategy to make the dream a reality?
Demers: I had interned the second semester my junior and senior year at ABC Radio Sports in New York, and they hired me as a freelance producer of their Sportscall service when my second internship ended.
I didn’t want to produce, I wanted to be on air, so after graduation I sent out hundreds of resumes and tapes, and got a job calling small town high school football games in Astoria, Oregon. So I packed up, moved cross country for my first professional on air job.
I decided it would be better for me to live in Portland and try and get a job there, while commuting the 100 miles once a week to call games.
I got a job as a stringer with Newsradio 1190 KEX, gathering audio for Portland Trail Blazers, and Oregon Ducks football, and after a couple of months I got an interview with 1080 The FAN.
They hired me as a play by play board up, and quickly began to work my way up the ladder. I started doing updates shortly after, and gathering audio at local events.
These jobs are competitive, so many people want to work on air, why do you think you were able to break in? What was it about your professional portfolio that you think stood out to The FAN?
Demers: When I sat down with Allan Davis, who was the program director at the Fan at the time, I was 21 years old and didn’t have a clue what to expect.
He listened to my demo tape right in front of me, which was one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life. He stopped my play by play tape about two minutes in, and paused for a moment, which seemed like a lifetime. He said “you got it”, and proceeded to tell me about his experiences working with Dan Shulman (Now with ESPN), in Canada.
He brought me on as a part timer, doing off air work, and gave me a couple small opportunities here and there to get on air, and I made the best of them.
You began doing play-by-play for the Portland LumberJax Indoor Lacrosse team – how did doing play-by-play for a niche sport help you refine your talent?
Demers: This was a really interesting experience.
I had done high school football play by play for a couple of years, to go along with the three years of play by play I did in college. I had called a couple of outdoor Lacrosse games, but was relatively unfamiliar with indoor lacrosse.
I was forced to learn everything I possibly could about the sport, the team, the history of the league, the players… anything and everything I could learn, I did.
The opportunity absolutely taught me how to prep. Not just for play by play events, but for everything. I wanted to make sure nobody listening would be able to say I sounded uninformed, and I’ve always prided myself on sticking to that.
Most on-air talent will tell you early in your career gain experience any way you can – do you agree that just getting more and more reps can be incredibly helpful?
Demers: There is no question about this. I was fortunate enough to have 3 years on-air experience in college before I started looking for professional jobs. I have listened back to my first tapes from school, and there is no way anyone would have hired me hearing that.
The more experience you get, the more you learn what your style is, what works, what doesn’t, why confidence on air is so important.
I was always very shy growing up, so having an opportunity to refine my skills, and my confidence, was critical. Without those reps, I wouldn’t have the career I do right now.
Almost 10 years after graduating college, you got your own show on ESPN sports radio in Portland – how did this come together?
Demers: I had left 1080 The FAN in March of 2011 to take a job at SiriusXM in Washington, DC, as an update anchor and fill in show host, and eventually had the opportunity to do a weekly show on SiriusXM College Sports Nation.
In May of 2012, my old program director at the Fan, Jeff Austin, gave me a call and gauged my interest in returning to host a new mid-day show they were launching. It was a really tough decision for me, I was working in national radio, much closer to my family in New York, but ultimately, a daily show in a top 25 market is so difficult to come by, that I couldn’t say no.
I went through an interview process over the phone, and was offered the job later in the month. For the third time, I packed up everything I owned, and moved cross country.
With my experience hosting nationally, and my knowledge of the teams in the market, they felt it was a natural fit, and so did I.
Tell us about your show prep – what is your process for getting ready for air?
Demers: I’m a sports junkie. I’m always watching sports, reading about sports, and talking about sports with friends and family.
I usually get into the office a few hours before the show starts, around 4pm, and most days I already have a pretty good idea of what I want to talk about. I go over things with my producer, Mike Lynch, and put together a rough outline of where I am going to go with my topics.
We usually discuss what we are going to cover on the show so we can flush out some ideas, and he gives his input as well. We just recently got a TV in our cubicle area, so we are able to watch what’s going on in the evenings, so when we hit air, we know what is going on.
Doing a show in the evenings is much different than the mid-day show, as there are games finishing up, and more reaction than prep sometimes.
Because I come on when I do, most of the daily topics have been talked about so much, that I don’t want to just repeat the same things everyone else does. I take pride in having a different take than everyone else, and coming from a different angle. It can be a challenge sometimes, but I never take another side, or a different angle just to be different.
Other than voicing your sports opinion on air, what are the secondary parts of your role that most people wouldn’t associate with working on air?
Demers: One of the biggest parts of my job is attending events. Whether its Portland Trail Blazers, Oregon Ducks, Oregon State Beavers, or making the three hour drive to Seattle, I love going to games and seeing things first hand, and talking to the players so I can have a first-hand account of things.
I don’t do as many appearances as I used to, but there have been many times where I have gone out on a promotional event to a local restaurant or bar. There is also a lot of behind the scenes preparation, and discussion with my bosses to make sure that everyone is on the same page.
I also have discussions with sales, to make sure we are hitting all the necessary elements to satisfy our clients. I still do a high school football game of the week on the Fan, so every week during the season, I am putting together my charts, doing research, sometimes watching film or talking to coaches.
The radio and TV broadcast world seems to be gravitating towards a “constant debate” format – which makes sense since that is the heart of sports, debating with friends – do you and your co-host ever have to manufacture an argument to make things interesting, or do you tend to have opposing views naturally?
Demers: Generally, I don’t like to manufacture points of view just to create debate. In my previous show, my co-host Josh Wilcox and I had incredibly different perspectives on things given he is a former pro athlete, so we had a natural give and take there.
I try to look at things differently, and make people think, but much more often than not, it’s my natural honest opinion of things. If you agree on everything, it can get boring, but nobody ever agrees on everything. If you do, listeners won’t so there is always some built in confrontation, in a good way.
If someone came up to you and said “I really want to work in sports radio” what advice would you give them?
Devers: I would tell them be ready to struggle. Nothing comes fast. Everyone has a different path and different timeline, so you can’t get caught up with what other people are doing.
Being informed is a big part of it, but you have to be able to show that you have a personality and are able to relate to as many people as you can. As you asked about previously, getting reps is so important. The more you can do, whatever it may be, you have to do it so you can expand your skill set.
Many stations are downsizing their staffs, so you have to be able to do everything and anything, not just on air, as you will often have to produce your own content. You have to be flexible, open to everything, work harder than everyone else, and be willing to change.
Networking is also incredibly important. Sometimes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, so meet as many people as you can, and make contacts.
If you have questions you’d like to ask Travis about working in sports radio add them to the comments below – or just let him know how much you love his show!