Listen to the inaugural “Radio Stuff” podcast with Deb Slater (@deb_slater and www.debslater.com) and me. This first podcast we listen to how different radio sources treated the Cleveland story about the three women found after years in captivity; WTAM, Fox News Radio, NPR, Rush Limbuagh, BBC, and Radio Australia. We also talk about Paula White who got drunk before her final Friday night shift at BBC Radio Stoke. We listen to News Talk 980 CJME (Regina, Canada) and host John Himpe’s thoughts on a would-be seriel killer allowed to watch Dexter. We listen to radio station imaging from 100.3 The Sound in LA and 99.3 The Vine in Wine Country. We talked to XL 1010 Jacksonville’s Chad Scott about a new sports radio chat on twitter #srchat, and we debate the decency of a Fresh N Easy commercial. There’s a lot here! Enjoy. Let us know what you like, what you want more of, and what you could do without. And please send contributions, tips, audio, insights to both of us at email@example.com
I wrote on Facebook and twitter today that I was still cringing from Steve Croft‘s interview with President Obama on “60 Minutes.” There are many things I would have done different. The whole point of having the President go on a show like “60 Minutes” is to have him tell the story from his perspective. In order to tell a story properly you need to start at the beginning BEFORE the moment of change or conflict of the story. This puts your interviewee chronologically in line with the events as they happened so he/she can take you through the emotional journey instead of reflect on events from a mental space. Thus, question #1 from Steve Croft to Barack Obama immediately put the President in a head space aside from being hyperbolic, and closed.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my Presidency, but I think for the United States since I’ve been President. Obviously bin Laden had been not only a symbol of terrorism, but a mass murderer who’s had eluded justice for so long, and so many families who have been affected I think had given up hope.
And for us to be able to definitively say, “We got the man who caused thousands of deaths here in the United States and who had been the rallying point for a violent extremist jihad around the world” was something that I think all of us were profoundly grateful to be a part of.
Notice how the President responds to the hyperbole “most satisfying week of his Presidency.” He down plays this point and takes the wind out of his own sails by putting a qualifier of “one of the most” on it AND pivoted from his Presidency to the United States of America. Talk about down playing the importance of an event in your career. Sheesh. Ideally you would start at the beginning of the story – maybe even 9/11 – and work your way through the events. IF you ask this question keep it open and let him define for himself.
What was this past week like for you?
How was this past week different than other weeks of your Presidency?
How satisfying was this week of your Presidency?
Similar mistakes are made in question #2.
KROFT: Was the decision to launch this attack the most difficult decision that you’ve made as Commander-In-Chief?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Certainly one. You know, every time I send young men and women into a war theatre, that’s a tough decision. And, you know, whenever you go to Walter Reed [Army Medical Center] or Bethesda [Naval Hospital] and you see the price that our young people pay to keep this country safe, that’s a tough decision. Whenever you write a letter to a family who’s lost a loved one. It’s sobering.
This was a very difficult decision, in part because the evidence that we had was not absolutely conclusive. This was circumstantial evidence that he was gonna be there. Obviously it entailed enormous risk to the guys that I sent in there. But ultimately I had so much confidence in the capacity of our guys to carry out the mission that I felt that the risks were outweighed by the potential benefit of us finally getting our man.
Again, the President qualifies his answer and down plays the difficulty.
The next question is actually three questions in one. I’m not sure Steve Croft could have given him more exit ramps to give an answer without giving an answer. The more questions you compile into one – the less information you get. The interviewee then has a choice to answer the question that’s easiest to answer. Ask ONE question at a time and keep it open-ended.
KROFT: When the CIA first brought this information to you . . .
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
KROFT: What was your reaction? Was there a sense of excitement? Did this look promising from the very beginning?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It did look promising from the beginning. Keep in mind that obviously when I was still campaigning for President, I had said that if I ever get a shot at bin Laden we’re gonna take it. And that was subject to some criticism at the time, because I had said if it’s in Pakistan and, you know, we don’t have the ability to capture ‘em in any other way, then we’re gonna go ahead and take the shot. So I felt very strongly that there was a strategic imperative for us to go after him.
Shortly after I got into office, I brought [CIA director] Leon Panetta privately into the Oval Office and I said to him, “We need to redouble our efforts in hunting bin Laden down. And I want us to start putting more resources, more focus, and more urgency into that mission.”
Leon took that to the CIA. They had been working steadily on this since 2001, obviously. And there were a range of threads that were out there that hadn’t quite been pulled all together. They did an incredible job during the course of a year and a half to pull on a number of these threads until we were able to identify a courier who was known to be a bin Laden associate, to be able to track them to this compound.
So by the time they came to me they had worked up an image of the compound, where it was and the factors that led them to conclude that this was the best evidence that we had regarding bin Laden’s whereabouts since Tora Bora.
But we didn’t have a photograph of bin Laden in that building. There was no direct evidence of his presence. And so the CIA continued to build the case meticulously over the course of several months. What I told them when they first came to me with this evidence was: “Even as you guys are building a stronger intelligence case, let’s also start building an action plan to figure out if in fact we make a decision that this is him or we’ve got a good chance that we’ve got him, how are we gonna deal with him? How can we get at that?”
And so at that point you probably had unprecedented cooperation between the CIA and our military in starting to shape an action plan that ultimately resulted in success this week.
Look at it again. The first of the three questions – WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION? – is a great question. But, the President picked the easier of the three and latched on to it, “It did look promising…” – and then he went straight to talking points. When you offer a closed question like this the interviewee can only affirm your personal hypothesis of what happened. In this case the answer is either yes or no. This is interviewing on a hope. You HOPE the interviewee expounds on what they’ve answered. Unfortunately for “60 Minutes,” the President didn’t. He went from 2010 and leaped back in time to before his Presidency in 2007 and talked about how this was a campaign promise and how hard he worked to get this done from day one.
That’s just the first three questions. I could go on and on. Croft asked if it was hard to keep the secret, did he want to tell Michelle, did he tell Michelle? The President ducked the answer with a general statement. Never answering if he talked about it with the First Lady. Again, too many options or exit ramps for the President to escape direct questioning.
When preparing for interviews have a goal, start at the beginning, ask one question at a time, refrain from hyperbole, ask open-ended questions, and don’t test personal hypothesis. You’re conducting an interview to get information, perspective, insight or reaction that you don’t already have – so don’t try to guess the answers. Get out-of-the-way and let the story be told. Great questions to use in an interview include…
- and then what happened?
- how did that make you feel?
- when did you know?
- why did you do that?
- how was that?
Ask lean, neutral, open-ended questions.
…and don’t interview on a hope.
One of the most common questions I receive from aspiring play-by-play announcers is, “How often should I give the score?”
The short answer is, “as often as you can.”
“When it comes to radio you can never tell the score, and the time and location too much. There’s old stories about Red Barber and egg timer and things like that, but really what we try to do is make sure we set down and distance once if not twice, give the formation of receivers whether they are right and left, what kind of formation the running backs are in, but also be mindful the time and score is most important thing.”
“For sure after every made basket obviously you want to give the score. I think after every possession change you certainly want to give the score. Also when a team has a possession and they gain an offensive rebound and kind of reset for a new possession I try to give the score as well. I don’t think you can give enough, I really don’t.”
Why so much? Keels explains.
“Because when people are listening on radio, a lot of times they are listening while driving, they listening while doing one thing or another and so the focus is not always focused in on everything that comes out. You just try to point out those elements as much as possible. Sometimes we hear complaints that you give the score and time too much. Well, the reply is you know what the score and time are so you’d much rather over do it that way than under do it the other way.”
“I knew when I was 7 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up with all the specificity of I wanted to be the announcer for the Dodgers.” Steiner continues, “The big thing, more than anything else, was hearing this disembodied voice coming out of the speaker and beneath the voice you could hear the crowd cheering, you could hear the guy selling, ‘Peanuts! Popcorn!’ and I’m just sitting there like a dopey little kid listening and listening and listening. I think it was my Mom who said, ‘You know that’s his job.’ And I said, ‘You’re kidding me!’”
This season marks Steiner’s seventh in the Los Angeles Dodgers radio booth, which he will share again this season with Vin Scully, who is entering his 62nd season behind the microphone.
Paul Keels grew up in Cincinnati in the late-60’s listening to Jim Mcintyre call Reds games alongside the then-recently retired Reds lefty Joe Nuxhall. He also recalls Dom Valentino describing the action for the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals games and Marv Holman providing play-by-play for Ohio State football.
“Just being able to listen to the games on radio, keep up and learn about the sport, learn about athletes and keep track of what was going on kind of gave me a great feeling of how wonderful it was to have something provided to you almost as if you were at the event. It gave me the feeling: wouldn’t that be nice to be able to be the go-between for other people like others had been for myself and my brothers while we growing up listening?”
Keels is in his 32nd year of broadcasting including stints with the Reds, Bearcats, Bengals, Pistons and he is in his 12th season as the voice of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Spero Dedes was a huge Knicks fan as a kid and used to tune into Mike Breen’s call of the games.
“I recall at some point I stopped paying attention to what was happening in the game and started paying more attention to what the announcers were saying. My passion for play-by-play started there and just grew.”
I talked to Steiner, Keels and Dedes for the Larry Gifford Media “Let’s Talk About It” newsletter to get a better idea of what it takes to be a successful play-by-play announcer. The entire interviews are available as podcast downloads at the conclusion of this story.
GIFFORD: All three men were inspired to be play by play announcers when they were young fans and listeners. So, I asked them what their obligation to the fan is going into each game.
STEINER: Tell the story as truthfully and accurately and photogenically as you can on the radio. You have to paint the picture, because there is someone stuck on the freeway, there’s someone working in a kitchen and (that person) doesn’t have access to television. I have to “A” paint a picture and “B” be as accurate and precise as I can be.
KEELS: When you’re describing a game, it’s about what’s going on, on the field. It’s not about you; it’s about the listeners, players and coaches on the field. Be mindful of those people who are listening. They can’t see what you.re seeing and you need to describe it as best as possible so they can.
DEDES: The obligation is to give as much information as we can and present it in a way that is unique. With the access we have to the coaches and players every day, we can go into the locker room, talk to the guys, we.re on the airplanes with them, we travel with them on the road; I think our obligation is to give them that behind the scenes look and take advantage of the access that we have.
GIFF: All three guys talked about how important preparation is. They all read newspapers, websites, blogs, stat sheets, and media guides. They all talk to players, coaches and other announcers to get information. So, what are they looking for?
DEDES: Just stuff that stands out. I’ve never been a numbers-driven play-by-play guy. I think numbers work better on TV than they do on radio. I try to look for story ideas, little nuggets we can play into the broadcast in a conversational way. Throwing numbers out there on radio…it doesn’t translate as much.
KEELS: It starts with trying to get as much biographical information (on the opposing team) and organize that in a way that’s suitable. Try and, as much as possible, view the opposing team on TV at least once or twice. DVR has been a great thing because you save some of these games and watch them over and over to get more familiar with people. And as much as possible talk with the other team’s radio announcers, sports information directors and pick up what you can and read sports pages and newspapers that cover the teams on the Internet. And have all of that as best you can at your disposal while the game’s going on.
STEINER: (Listen: Charley Steiner No Sh-t Philosophy) I have a “no sh-t” philosophy. Well, what’s that? “A” I don’t want to put any sh-t on the air. And “B” any stuff I put on the air I want to get a reaction from the fans, “no sh-t?” That’s it. You want to be relevant. You don’t want to beat folks over the head with inane statistics and inane chatter; make it interesting, make it entertaining. At the end of the day – especially broadcasting a baseball game – make it fun.
GIFF: What advice do the these three pros have for aspiring play-by-play broadcasters?
KEELS: Be mindful of the people you work with. Try not to burn bridges, but do the best at the job you have. Don’t always be putting more effort into the job you want that’s not there in the moment than the job you have in the present time.
DEDES: Try to figure out what your strength is early and try to develop that talent or skill as best you can. And then, once you establish that, you want to become versatile. Writing is imperative, I think, to anything in this field that you want to do; even as a play-by-play guy. I like to sometimes write something that I’m going to say…one of our game opens. You always have to be able to write. During the course of a game you want to cap a call with one phrase or one line of commentary and those are writing skills. Maybe not pen to paper writing skills, but skills with words. You have to convey through the spoken word during play-by-play.
STEINER: Our business is one of the very few on Earth where it is a prerequisite that you must have fun. If you don’t have fun, sure as hell your audience won’t. Leave your issues at home if you have any. Leave your ego at the door if you have some. Go out and a call a game. If you can go home at the end of the day, look at yourself in the mirror and say I told them the best story I could today and go again tomorrow. Mission accomplished. It’s been a good day.
The podcasts of my interviews with Paul Keels, Charley Steiner and Spero Dedes are available for download and include more details on how they prepare for each game. Plus, Charley talks about eating dinner each night with Vin Scully and what it was like to create an iconic “This is SportsCenter” commercial. Spero discusses the most intimidating moment of his career — taking over the legendary Lakers announcer Chick Hearn.
Dodgers radio play-by-play announcer Charley Steiner was seven years old when he first heard Vin Scully calling Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games while growing up in New York. Today, he is friends and colleagues with Scully and has dinner with him before every Dodgers home game.
“I pinch myself. It can’t be much cooler than this.”
In an interview with Larry Gifford Media, Steiner’s voice is filled with all the excitement of the same little boy who huddled around an over-sized Zenith radio in his Mom’s kitchen to listen to Scully’s poetic description of the Dodgers all those years ago. And at times, Steiner finds it hard to put what it means to him into words.
“It’s one of those things where I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have done what I’ve done, to end up where I have been and to have dinner with whom I have dinner. It’s…it’s…it’s….it’s Alice in Wonderland.”
“I freely admit I get to play pepper with Babe Ruth every day. It ain’t bad.”
Every Dodgers home game, Steiner, Scully, Rick Monday and Billy Delury sit down at the same table, in the same seats at the same time (“5:30, like clockwork”) at Dodgers Stadium. For 45 minutes, the four men talk about the issues of the day.
“Vin reads every section of the newspaper every day. So we will spend as much time talking before a game about life, about a political issue or whatever, as well as how well ‘he’ hung the curve ball in the sixth inning last night.”
Spending so much time with Scully has helped Steiner develop a wicked good impersonation of the Hall of Fame announcer. His voice jumps from the depths of his belly to the top of his nose and dances out of his mouth like ice cream cone dripping down your hand on a hot summer day. Imitation is the finest form of flattery and Steiner doesn’t hold back.
Steiner continues, “You know that old sports cliché: the game speeds up for young guys and slows up for veterans? The game comes slow to him. I mean that in the highest regard. His brain is working a mile a minute. It’s like Keanu Reeves’ character in Matrix, deflecting bullets in slow motion, that’s Vin!”
The lessons learned from Scully for Steiner reach far beyond the broadcast booth.
“I’ve learned as much off the air and how he conducts himself as I have on the air. There’s a sense of composure both on and off the air. There is a separation between the on-air persona and who you are and being able to leave that other stuff at the door when the game begins.”
On March 31st, Steiner will be in the booth as Scully opens his 62nd season as the voice of the Dodgers. Scully will call the first three and last three innings on Talk Radio 790, KABC radio in Los Angeles, with Steiner and Monday doing the middle three innings.
Charley Steiner on Vin Scully - Listen to Steiner’s comments on Scully
Charley Steiner Interview Podcast-40 minutes - Listen to complete interview with Steiner
By now you’ve seen the coverage of Charlie Sheen on the Dan Patrick Show. It was on CNN, Fox News, Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Tonight, USA Today, New York Post, LA Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Times of India to name a few. Not bad exposure for The Dan Patrick Show on one guest.
So how’d they book him? They asked.
My sources say the Danettes had Charlie’s number from a previous appearance, gave him a ring, and asked if he’d come on the show. He said yes.
So what are the lessons to be learned from Charlie Sheen?
- Ask for what you want. Sometimes the biggest obstacle in front of your success is just asking for what you want; asking a guest to be on your show, asking your boss for a promotion, asking anyone for help of some kind, etc. In this case, asking Charlie Sheen to join the DP Show for a few minutes. Just make the call, ask the question – the worst thing that can happen is that you’re told “No.”
- Keep records. Hosts and producers need to keep every number of every guest, regardless of how important you deem them in the moment. You never know when you may need it again.
- Spread the word. When a guest makes news on your show, in this case Charlie Sheen saying he’s ready to go back to work, tell everyone about it. Don’t assume everyone who cares about it heard it on your show. Immediately, the audio and a news story about the interview appeared on www.danpatrick.com, the producers were twittering about the interview, and undoubtedly a press release was quickly written and released. This is cheapest, most impactful promotion you may ever have for your show.
So you may ask how this guest was appropriate for the Dan Patrick show. Charlie is a big sports fan, resonates with the core demo with his movie and TV roles, and recently talked with the UCLA baseball team (a.k.a. the timely hook.)
When it comes to winning a championship Kobe Bryant knows a thing or two or five. And after listening to him today, on 710 ESPN’s Mason & Ireland Show in Los Angeles, I believe Kobe can help talk show hosts be better too.
Kobe talked about how the basketball season is an evolution.
“It’s about getting better,” said Kobe.
“It’s a gauge; what areas have we improved and what areas have we slipped? It’s always a gauge. You have to check your compass everyone once in a while.”
Kobe is also constantly thinking about the little details. When asked what one thing the team needed to improve on between now and the playoffs, Kobe couldn’t narrow it down.
“There’s like 20 things. All of them are important; defensive rotations, offensive execution, rebounding patterns, the list goes on and on in my head. There are three things; defending, field goal percentage and not turn the ball over. Whoever does that best will be champion.”
What sticks out to me is that at the highest levels of pro sports, players and teams continue to challenge themselves to be great. Kobe Bryant is regularly analyzing his play, focusing on the details and looking to improve every game.
How many radio hosts do this? Are you?
- When was the last time you gauged your progress or checked your compass?
- Are you getting critical feedback or conducting critical self evaluations following each show?
- Are you regularly applying new strategy, skills or techniques when hosting?
- Do you consider your show a static element or an evolution?
- Do you recognize and address the details of your show?
I know from experience on both sides of the mic that these things don’t happen nearly as much as they could or should. Kobe is a proven winner; a champion and future hall-of-famer. And he still wants to be better, still gauges his performance from game to game to game, and still sweats the small stuff.
Seems like a good game plan whether you’re on the court or behind the microphone.