Two hours and fifteen minutes. That’s how long ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd says it takes him to actively prep for his show. “I go into a show ready with eight different ways to approach four topics.”
Cowherd talked exclusively with LarryGifford.com about how he prepares each day for his show “The Herd.” His active prep time estimate does not include watching games at night, catching up with SportsCenter in the morning, or all the work that his team puts into the show before he arrives and after he leaves each day.
Colin says he leans on three guys: board operator “Fish” is the ears of the show and in charge of audio; associate producer Tom finds stats, stories and support information; producer Vince is helping Colin with creative writing and content development.
Out of the two hours and fifteen minutes, about twenty minutes is used to write the opening rant. He also previews the available audio and works with his team to develop multiple angles to the big stories of the day.
“You’re writing a sitcom. Everyone is throwing out ideas, and I’m editing saying, ‘Yes! That’s good. Vince that’s a good line.’ We just keep building,” Colin says, describing his 7:15 am meetings. So, when the dust clears and the ‘on air’ light turns red, what’s the goal? “I do believe, going into most segments, you have to take the audience somewhere. Take them somewhere emotionally. I say this often, ‘Make them ‘blank.’ Make them laugh, make them mad, make them annoyed, make them think, make them cry. Make people ‘blank.’ Take them somewhere.”
Armed with the same information about the same teams and games that everybody watched, the same stats and the same audio as every other host in the nation, how does Colin create something new and different that takes his audience somewhere?
Colin explains one of his strategies: “It’s not about the team, it’s about the star player. People like Kobe, not the Lakers. It’s not about the Giants, it’s about Eli. It’s not about the Packers it’s about Aaron Rogers. I get criticized for it and get a lot of attention for it. I take on the athlete. So, I will find a player and I’m with him or against him. I’m on his side or I’m not. It gets really personal. I think everybody in this business talks about the team, but research shows people buy the jersey of the player. I find, the more you talk about a player it’s much more interesting radio. People take sides, there are lines in the sand, it’s a verbal tug-o-war and it’s very compelling.”
He also says he creates a theory or strong opinion for each branch of each topic and writes it down. He refers to this during breaks and then has it in front of him while he’s talking about it so he can refer back to it periodically during the segment and stay on topic.
Colin stresses the importance of playing the hits. “ESPN is very much like the weather channel. When a hurricane hits we all go to the weather channel. When Michael Vick’s in trouble we all go to ESPN. In my business, I’m rooting for dumpster fires. I’m rooting for messes. I’m rooting for controversy, because that’s what my audience loves.”
Listen to the full interview here, including Colin’s revelations on PPM, how personal you should get on the air and how he judges his own shows.
As a programmer, my response to this common host complaint was, “I don’t care.” It’s true. I don’t care what Joe on the West Side thinks about a topic. I want to know what the host thinks and why. If you want to use callers as one of the weapons in your arsenal, to further emphasize why you believe what you believe and advance the discussion of the topic, that’s great. If you want callers so you can judge the success of your show, you are misguided. Most listeners don’t and won’t call the station. The ones who do are likely calling the other stations in town too.
However, if your goal of a segment or show is to get callers, here are some tips.
1. Don’t throw out empty solicits. Here’s what that means, “If you want to call the show, here’s the number…we can talk about anything you want!” – This is lazy, unfocused, and not entertaining. It also isn’t often too successful. You are in control of your show and what’s discussed, not the callers. Play the hits and make sure the callers stay on topic.
2. Take a position and defend it. Too often I hear talk hosts asking questions out loud as a way to “cover” stories (Why is this team so bad? How did this happen? Is this good or bad? What do you think they should do?…). Stop it. These are all valid questions, but instead of asking them, you should be answering them. Your answers, formulated before the show, become the topics / angles of your show. People are much more likely to have an opinion about your opinion than about the topic itself. It’s the difference between asking someone what they think of flowers … or saying, “I hate flowers. They are a waste of money, they’re messy, and they make me sneeze.” The statement is going to evoke more of an emotional response than the question
3. Put the listeners to work. When asking for phone calls, put your listeners to work with a specific task.
- BAD Example: What are your thoughts on Brett Favre?
- GOOD Example: What will Brett Favre‘s legacy be?
- BETTER Example: If Brett Favre were to die today, what would be the first sentence of his obituary?
4. Make lists. Rank stuff. People love this stuff and will argue with you about it for hours. You want callers? Rank the top 10 sports moments of 2010. Make sure you declare and defend what is #1.
5. Give the phone number. Say the phone number slowly. Repeat it. I have air-checked shows after a host complained there were no calls only to realize he never gave out the number or said it so fast and infrequent, I couldn’t even write it down. *remember Smart Phones don’t have letters associated with the numbers like older phones do…so 1-800-Say-ESPN doesn’t work as well as it once did.
That’s how you get callers. How to screen them is another story to be told later.
PPM is about four years old and we continue to learn more about how to use the insane amount of information it provides and what strategies to use to maximize ratings. Inside Radio and Research Director Inc. just released a new study on PPM based on the top 30 markets. Research Director Partner Charlie Sislen talked to LarryGifford.com about the study (click here for the full study) and he provides strategic tips for programmers who are struggling in this new world.
One of the findings in the study which may be disturbing to programmers of spoken word formats is that CUME is more important than was first thought. “Everybody knows in the PPM world CUME is important, but when you look at top skewing radio stations they are all really CUME and not TSL driven. We really believe it’s the P1 CUME that’s doing it,” says Sislen.
Sislen notes that play-by-play can help the spoken word format draw in CUME, but it is not a magic bullet; the success of play-by-play depends on the team and the market, and in many cases it can be a detriment. “What a programmer has to recognize is that this event is an important launching point for your radio station to recycle this audience back in. Take them from being P4s and get them into regular listeners. Give them a reason to come in to the other day parts and give them a reason to come back the next day, the next week, some time outside of that play-by-play.”
So how can you win with PPM? Sislen offers the three “C’s” for talk hosts;
“If you’re not crisp, concise and compelling and you’re spoken word, the listener is going to go away, and the moment the listener goes away the PPM knows it.”
For programmers, Sislen stresses the importance of building occasions. “For sports, to put it in perspective, the typical P1 spends 6:44 with the radio station (per week). You get four more occasions (of at least five minutes within a quarter-hour) from those people that 6:44 has gone to 7:44. That’s massive. We’re just talking about your P1s and we’re getting them to come in just four more times in an entire week.”
The other hot issue is clocks. How many spots are you running and where are you running them? Some suggest two breaks per hour straddling the top and bottom quarter-hours and Sislen doesn’t disagree. “In a vacuum, absolutely that’s true. However, we don’t live in a vacuum and the spoken word is different than a music format and you’ve got to know what your competitions clocks are. Study your clocks and make sure you understand the rules that you need to garnish to get credit for a quarter-hour.” Once you figure out your competitors clocks, Sislen says you should be going into content when they go into commercial break. It’s that simple.
Listen to our entire conversation, including the importance of marketing your show and station, how buyers and sellers still need more education and what’s next for PPM.
**UPDATE 05-01-2012: Dave Rothenberg is now hosting 7p-10p on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM in New York City.
Programmers are always asking me “Who’s out there?”, “Where’s the next talent?” So, periodically, here on the blog, I’ll be shining a light on rising stars in radio.
Dave Rothenberg is “who’s next” today. Dave, a New Yorker by birth, has recently picked up some shifts on 1050 ESPN in New York. He’s tells LarryGifford.com that he’s excited for the opportunity, “It means everything. I am a born and bred New Yorker with a crazy passion for the New York sports scene.”
Dave has a familiar story. 13 years ago he started running the board and providing the halftime show on high school football broadcasts on WGCH-AM 1490 in Greenwich. He was a weekly football expert on WALE-AM 990 in Providence, RI. He skipped around with stops at Air America, Sirius, and Cablevision. in October 2007, he moved to Raleigh, NC to help launch 99.9 FM The Fan. He was recently a casualty of budget cuts.
So, how’s a guy who’s laid-off in Raleigh end up on 1050 ESPN in New York?
Dave says, “The key to having any success in this business is perseverance. I have always tried to make good connections and stay in touch with them. The problem with sports talk is there are always decisions made that make you scratch your head. I had the number one sports talk show in a market and lost my job. My last check included my ratings bonus. But, no matter how little sense things make at times, you need to keep positive and look ahead to bigger and better. I set up a meeting on a trip to New York City with Justin Craig, the PD of ESPN New York and I guess impressed him enough to land this great opportunity.”
Networking. Networking. Networking. Should I say it again? Networking.
Dave has a marathon on 1050 ESPN starting this weekend: Sunday, December 5th 7a-9a, overnight Sunday into Monday Midnight to 5am (part of the Jets 24 hour pre-game show), and then overnight Monday into Tuesday. Take a listen (online at www.espnnewyork.com)
Today, we dive into the mind of Owen Murphy. Full disclosure: Owen worked for me at the ESPN Radio Network. Owen is a 15-year vet of radio; producing, hosting and PD-ing. He’s worked with some of the most forward-thinking brands in the biz; MTV, MLB.com, ESPN (Mike & Mike, Dan Patrick) and KIRO, among others.
Larry Gifford: When you started in radio, what were your expectations?
Owen Murphy: I had no expectations. Only excitement regarding the opportunity placed in front of me. This was in 1995 as digital editing was beginning, and to see sound waves go across a computer screen was incredibly exciting. My first radio job was producing a college radio show for MTV. Artists like Elliot Smith, The Wedding Party, Frank Black, etc., all came through to record interviews, acoustic sets and to play DJ. Then they would leave and I would get to mix their music to my satisfaction. It was an incredibly creative endeavor, as is talk radio now, and that in itself is the main reason I love what we do.
Giff: You’ve produced, hosted and been a PD for sports talk. What about these jobs excites you most?
Owen: Seeing others maximize their potential and then hearing it in the speakers.
Giff: What are key factors in producing remarkable content?
Owen: In terms of talk radio, the most important factor to producing great content is talk talent. It begins and ends with them. How one supports and coaches them is also critical, and through a series of successes and failures, I’ve come to understand that there is no substitute for positive reinforcement.
Giff: What happened that made you understand that so well?
Owen: Two things:
1. Watching great talent struggle at times to create content…and sometimes I was at fault. It caused me to really simplify my approach to coaching talent by giving them very simple instructions and goals thus allowing them to hit those goals and win on a daily basis.
2. Co-hosting a sports talk show and both doing a great job of preparing and delivering great content while also getting that pit-in-the-stomach-feeling that I had not done a good enough job of preparing.
Giff: You mentioned “great talent.” How do you define great talent?
Owen: Talent that is energetic, unique, entertaining and thought-provoking. There’s so much you can do with someone like that. I don’t need “pipes” or someone who is smooth…I want someone who stands out and delivers while not following perceived rules of talk radio. Kevin Calabro is a great example of this. He’s a Seattle superstar because of his time as the voice of the Sonics, and he built a name nationally by being quite possibly the best NBA play-by-play guy in the country via passionate and unique calls. There is literally no one on radio like Kevin, thus I built an imaging campaign around that idea. “There’s only one Kevin Calabro, and you can only hear him on 710 ESPN Seattle.” Give me a year with someone like that and I will give you a top-5 show. The Kevin Calabro Show is consistently now a top-5 show, and often top-2 and top-3 and he’s only scratched the surface of what he can do.
Contact Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his cell 206.478.6357
TOM: Preparation – you need to make sure you’ve dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s. Your on-air crew will have prepped all week on the opponent’s stats, injuries, etc., but your support staff needs to be doing the same thing. Is the imaging ready and current? Is your pre-production edited and ready to go? Are the broadcast lines (ISDN and POTS) ordered and tested? Have you communicated to your on-site engineer that they need to be set up and connected no later than 1 hour before the broadcast start time?
Execution – Is your board op prepared with all the info they need (pre-recorded interview info, highlights, etc). Communication with the crew on game site is crucial both before AND during the broadcast.
GIFF: As someone who has produced play-by-play events for many years, what are some of the detailed items that elevate a broadcast from good to great?
TOM: It’s the small things:
Great production – You’re PxP talent is doing their best so why not surround them with the best. The production is the first thing your listeners hear. I tend to image our sports broadcasts like rock radio. It builds excitement before the talent even says a word.
Use of highlights – Too many broadcasts forget to take advantage of this. You can tell your fans how that play happened OR you can let them hear it for themselves again. We like to build broadcast opens that use highlights from previous games to help set the stage for that day’s game.
Good equipment – You can have the best talent in the world but if you have them using mediocre gear it will show. It’s the old saying “You get what you pay for.” You don’t have to break the bank but invest in a good headset, mic and mixer. Flash recorders have really become affordable as well. Do yourself a favor and get a good one and make your pre-produced interviews sound as good as your live stuff.
Great prep – Build a format structure for your pre-game ahead of time. This doesn’t mean script your show, just have the structure of where you want to go and how long each segment should take. Then be ready to be flexible if need be. I encourage talent to put together bullet point thoughts and not full scripts.
GIFF: You talk about using highlights. We’ve all heard highlights on-air that were too loose, upcut, too long, or used for sound’s sake. What are your guidelines for editing highlights?
TOM: As a standard we capture and archive:
- Our team’s scoring plays
- Defensive takeaways (int/fumble recovery)
- Any offensive play in the air or on the ground of 30 yards or more
- Any game-changing play at the end of the game
A good highlight should be 12-15 seconds in length, 20 seconds max. I only like an analyst to be in the highlight if he gives a “verbal explanation point” (“what a play”……”that’s the way it’s done,” etc.). I like using highlights in postgame coming back from breaks to help set up a postgame segment. My biggest pet peeve is the PxP voice setting up his own highlights. If you have a strong analyst, they should be doing that segment in the postgame.
GIFF: What are the differences between working on play-by-play events at Learfield vs. for a radio station or directly with a team?
TOM: My role with Learfield is different than when I produced the Dodgers Radio Network. Learfield Sports produces the radio networks for 43 schools. Since we aren’t a 24-hour radio station operation, we can focus on the production of our play-by-play product and weekly coaches shows. I think this allows us to laser focus our attention on the little things that make a broadcast great. Of course the flip side is handling the workload for 43 schools, which can become even more excessive when football overlaps with men’s and women’s hoops and hockey.
In the end I think we have an advantage in producing play by play broadcasts because it’s our specialty.
GIFF: There are a lot of aspiring play by play announcers looking for advice. What insights or guidance are you willing to pass along to them?
TOM: First and foremost is CALL GAMES! Take your recorder up to the top of the bleachers at a local high school or college event and call the game. Nothing beats repetition. Make sure you’re “painting the picture” for the listener. It sounds cheesy but the best PxP announcers do exactly that………they paint the picture. When I listen to demos I close my eyes and try to visualize what the talent is trying to tell me.
Fans really only care about a few things:
- What’s the score?
- Where is the ball?
- How much time is left?
Outside of this is a bonus. They like insight about the player or a good stat but essentially they want the basics. Good talent gives them what they want and sprinkles in a little of the rest. If you’re working with an analyst you’ll need to perfect the back and forth or “the dance.” In football, for example, the PxP voice should call the play, the analyst should jump right in with the “why” and as soon as the team breaks the huddle the analyst needs to be done and the PxP voice needs to jump in with the next play. Those are the basics.
Contact Tom Boman: email@example.com, 573-556-1294 office
“Beck’s motives do not reflect religious ideas, unless your concept of God is as a being who wants anger, disorder, and mob reactions to prevail over peace and harmony.” – Deepak Chopra
Seriously, why are all the news channel anchors questioning each other about how much sleep they got or didn’t get last night? One of CNN’s anchors just started her interview with Wolf Blitzer, “Before we get to the election, I have to ask, ‘Did you get any sleep last night?’” Really, you have to ask? You couldn’t have waited until a commercial break?
Radio hosts, please take a note. I don’t care about how much sleep you get following the Super Bowl, how bad your commute is this morning, or that you forgot to eat dinner. Trust me when I tell you when I stop listening/watching you I am not racing to the bar or chat room to tell my buddies, “I’m really concerned for Johnny Touchdown on 590 The Homer, he’s tired. Do you know he was up until 4am covering the game last night? He should get a day off.” No, I’m looking for insider information, unique observations, and compelling opinions to steal from you to use as my own. I’m investing time into your show. Time is money. The return on my investment is the content you create. Stop wasting my time. You go to cool sporting events, talk sports all day and get paid for it. It’s hard for your listeners to care that you’re tired.