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.
I find it interesting how talk show hosts are quick to call for the firing of coaches and quarterbacks when they under perform, but these same hosts can’t understand how and why they are yanked from the line-up, when it’s obvious they don’t prepare for their show, create compelling content and/or grow ratings.
You are the coach and quarterback of your radio show. Listeners have the same expectations for your show as you and other fans do for Wade Phillips, Phil Jackson, Brett Favre, and Lebron James. Hosts bang on Shaq for not being good at free throws, but cringe when PDs bang on them for failing to prepare for an interview or fall flat on basic formatics.
You get out of your show what you put into it. If you “wing it,” it will sound like it. If you didn’t watch the big game, the listeners will know. If you don’t care about what you’re talking about, neither will anyone else.
Huh? That doesn’t make any sense. Why would Fox News stop talking about this election?
One anchor said, “I’m just sick of talking about the Tea Party and Obama. Frankly, I’d rather talk about the top five teachers of all time.”
Okay, if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is made up. Smart people at Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and others have decided no matter how much they’ve talked about, opined, dissected and interviewed experts, you can’t talk enough about the election. But, for whatever reason, in sports radio our hosts arbitrarily decide they are sick of talking about Brett Favre, the Yankees, Tiger Woods, steroids, or whatever the “hit” of the day, week or month happens to be. I have heard hosts declare “Favre Free Fridays.” This is short-sighted. Your listeners are not as engrossed in the story as you are. They aren’t listening to you every day. They are craving more on these stories, your opinions and insights, and if you’re not talking about them they’re going to scan the dial until they find someone who is.
At the ESPN Radio Network, Programmer Pete Gianesini asks aloud if The Weather Channel would stop covering a hurricane after three days because they were tired of talking about it. I can imagine the meteorologist opening his weather report with, “This is a hurricane free Tuesday. I’m tired of hearing about Hurricane Henry, instead we’re going to focus on the partly sunny skies over Denver.”
Favre, Bonds, Woods, Yankees, and whatever the next big story is are “hurricanes” or “elections” for sports talk radio. Bust out the Sports Doppler 5000 and the panel of experts and break down these stories from the inside out. Be THE place for the BIG stories and not the place that ignores them.