Before we get into this, I’d encourage everyone to read Steve Gleason’s guest column as Monday Morning Quarterback on SI.com and support the Gleason Initiative Foundation’s efforts to find a cure for ALS, if you’re so inclined.
THE LEAD IN
When I was PD at ESPN radio, Colin Cowherd would tell me his that his job is make me nervous at least once a day and my job is to trust that he knows where the line is. That works most of the time. But, as demonstrated by the guys in Atlanta, it just takes 2:10 to erase everything you’ve done up until that moment.
I get it, PDs ask a ton from talent: be funny, relevant, insightful, entertaining, credible, unique, distinctive, opinionated, memorable, edgy, but not offensive, and appealing to a younger audience — for four hours, live, every weekday. And don’t say “uh.” And break on time. And promote the ticket giveaway. And tease better. And…
Talent will cross the line. It happens (see: Lex & Terry) . In most cases, I’ll defend the talent and I have in many cases. The Atlanta case is indefensible. It’s making fun of a guy who is dying a horrible death from an even worse disease.
RADIO SPITS THE BIT
update: Nick Cellini has deleted his twitter account.
Nick Cellini has changed his twitter bio to read “short order cook.” Nick was one-third of the Morning Mayhem on 790 The Zone, all of whom were fired yesterday for…this (Audio, transcript). Go ahead listen and read it before we dive in — context helps.
It’s a “stupid” gag they did about Steve Gleason, the former Saints player suffering from ALS. All three broadcasters; Nick Cellini, Chris Dimino and Steak Shapiro have apologized. Too little, too late.
Cellini tells AccessAtlanta.com that the dismissal is “a relief, really. The station is a sinking ship.”
Shapiro, who once co-owned the station under Big League Broadcasting also spoke out, “The ironic thing for me is that I’m an aficionado of the Saints and Steve Gleason. The bit was ill-advised.” He added the bit was not representative of the work they had done four hours a day for 16 years.
Dimino posted a long apology on facebook and realized, “how quickly a stupid and worse than that non thinking moment can change all of it (19 years in broadcasting, 30 years as a grown man, and 10 years of being a father.)”
HOSTS ALL A TWITTER
The bit had broadcasters across the country abuzz.
Rich Eisen (@richeisen) from NFL Network tweeted,
“I just heard the stupid ass Steve Gleason “bit” on the Atlanta radio station and it’s beyond appalling. Those guys deserved what they got.”
Mitch Levy (@kjrmitch), the morning guy on 570 KJR in Seattle had a string of tweets late in the day,
“While I’m sure that I’ve been over the line too many times to count, that’s about as mean-spirited & tasteless bit I’ve ever heard in radio. We all do and say things on-air at the spur of the “live” moment that we’d like to have back. But, this was a premeditated, thought out, pre-produced attack on a good man who’s losing his battle with perhaps the most vicious & senseless disease. Really had to image that someone at that station who was aware of the “bit,” didn’t say “stop” before it aired.”
Heath Cline (@heathradio) is the afternoon host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC,
“How could anyone have thought this was going to be funny. Thing is, I know those guys are capable of much better. I’ve heard them do it. Baffled how they misjudged things so badly today.” This is a spattering sample of the reactions. There were also a lot of “OMGs.”
Another interesting perspective on the mishap comes from Chadd Scott, APD and host at 1010 XL Sports in Jacksonville who was fired from an Atlanta sports station in 2011 for tweets. He claims his negative tweets about Delta Airlines, a major station sponsor, lead to his dismissal. He tweeted when he heard the news yesterday,
“Feel bad for friends @NickCellini & @chrisdimino. I’ve been in their shoes & know what today feels like.” “I only ever “wanted” to work at 1 station & it wasn’t ESPN, it was 790 the Zone years ago & I did. That WAS such a good station.” “All 3 made big $ for failing station & bit gave 790 a reason 2 dump salary.”
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THIS?
“What lessons are to be learned from this?” I asked on Twitter. Bean, from KROQ’s Kevin & Bean (@clydetombaugh) tweeted back at me,
“Morning show host truth: Your company has no opinion of anything on your show and probably doesn’t even listen. But, if somebody ELSE complains then it is easy for them to say it’s obvious what you did was wrong and stupid.”
How do you know when a bit has gone too far? Shan Shariff (@newschoolSS), the host of “New School” on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, responded.
“Larry, as you know, TOUGH question. Best answer I have is feel. If I wouldn’t even make the joke off-air to my buddies, I DEFINITELY wouldn’t say it on-air. What these guys in Atlanta did was just sick. Interesting side note: I actually sent this to my guys this afternoon as a warning to watch the line. We tend to flirt with it.”
The reality of the situation is, regardless of ratings or talent, most radio hosts walk up to around the “line” everyday. They are the stunt actors of radio willing to dive off the top of a building, walk through fire, or wreck a motorcycle to get a laugh, to get some ink, and to increase ratings. And we love them for it. From time to time, they’re going to cross the line. It’s going to happen. PDs need to be there more of than not. Truth is some will lose their job (See: Dan Sileo) and some won’t (See: Rush Limbaugh).
I’ve had to deal with many obscene, indecent, and profane incidents with varying degrees of controversy over the years. The hosts who I had to terminate are the ones who wander into at least two of these four areas: personal attacks, lack of filter, off-brand remarks, and negative intentions. Here are some ways to avoid your own “instant unemployment” in the future.
- Don’t Get Personal. Being edgy is okay (depending on your station brand), but know your target. Keep your sights on actions, decisions and behaviors and avoid getting personal. Nobody likes a bully. Attacking people’s traits, conditions, impediments, handicaps, etc. is just mean, not humorous. While there are some exceptions, people generally do not respond well when you ridicule or are disrespectful to someone who has been touched by misfortune.
- Appoint someone the “content filter.” One person on the show has to have 51% control and veto power on all content. If you don’t, no one on the team has the authority to kill a bit. If that person doesn’t green light the proposed piece, then re-edit, re-write and/or re-record it or trash the bit. Get it right before you air it.
- Be Consistent. Make sure the bit is reflective of your show and station’s brand. The Atlanta guys say this bit wasn’t what they typically do – so why do it? Be authentic to yourself and serve the expectations of the listeners.
- Have pure intentions. If your intentions are to honor someone with a parody, are all in jest, and in the spirit of camaraderie — listeners will pick up on that. If you’re vengeful, spiteful and trying to tear someone down – that too will come across. If you find yourself preparing a bit with a negative intention, might I suggest canning the bit? Otherwise, it’s likely to cost you your job.
Every station puts a different spin on Super Bowl coverage. Due to the NFL’s rules, we all find creative ways to tell listeners we are covering the Super Bowl, having a party, or holding a contest around it without actually saying “Super Bowl.”
In Atlanta, the Two Live Stews are throwing their annual “Stewper Bowl Party.” Around the country, there are a lot of variations of “The Big Game,” including Big Game Party, Big Game Sunday, and Big Game Break Down.
Some stations are hosting a “GameDay Super Party.” Others feature “Sights & Sounds from Dallas.” “SB45″ and “DFW XVL 411″ are clever too.
If none of these work for you, this year may I suggest you just call it the ”Super Brrr.”
This Super Bowl week, I thought it would be appropriate to share some inspiration and insights that I learned from one of the great NFL coaches Herm Edwards. When I was at ESPN, Herm was invited to speak to a group of managers and I was lucky to be included.
“Our greatest obstacles in life are created by people who try to put limitations on us.” This is how coach Edwards started his speech. Simply put, don’t let others define what is possible for you. However, he stresses the importance of going about your life’s journey with integrity and vision. We are all leaders. People are watching and following our lead. It doesn’t mean you have to make a big speech or even be liked. A true leader, according to Edwards, lifts people’s vision and performance beyond their normal talent level. Do you help make people exceed their expected potential?
Another area coach Edwards touched on was “accountability.” He says you need to know and do your job. Take responsibility. Hold yourself and others at a high standard. Do the right thing on purpose. Your words and your actions should match up.
And finally some parting words from coach Edwards…
- Stay true to your vision. Do not let circumstances distract you.
- Trust those who work for you and with you – and sometimes that means taking a risk.
- Set an example – perform tasks that you would ask others to perform. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
- Stay humble. There were a lot of great things accomplished before you were born.
- Remember, you chose your profession. It didn’t choose you.
If you don’t have a local sponsor or two or four for your Super Bowl coverage you missed an opportunity. There are a lot of ways to tie into “Super Week” or whatever you want to call it so you don’t get in trouble. Here are some that have been successful for me in the past…
1. Even if you aren’t sending a local show to radio row, own the “coverage” of the week with promos touting your team coverage. (ie. “690 The Fan is sending Mike & Mike and Colin Cowherd to North Texas for Super Week to get you ready for the Packers and Steelers, plus exclusive interviews and expert analysis with Smokey on Sports. It’s Super Week “team coverage” – brought to you locally by Gifford Tires on 690 The Fan.”) Notice, no mention that this station has the game, or that they are sending a local show. Just reselling what the network has already sold. Support this with sponsor liners through the show and live mentions during your local show whenever they talk Super Bowl.
Here is a promo I produced for last year’s super bowl for 710 ESPN LA: KSPN 011609 30 Countdown to Kickoff_Colin.
2. Host a listener viewing party for the Super Bowl and give away a lot of free stuff; tickets, game consoles, T.V.s, swag. Have a bar, casino or other establishment invest in the hosting sponsorship.
3. Partner with sponsors do a Super Week of Ultimate Giveaways leading up to the big game; Big Screen TV, Home Theater, PS3 with Madden Football, man cave makeover, tailgate party with all the fixins delivered to your house for the game, etc.
4. Punt, pass, and kick competition for listeners.
5. …or create your own event like 610 WIP in Philly…WING BOWL!
There was a time when it was necessary to give scores and schedules on the radio, because people were depending on radio to deliver that information. There was no internet, twitter, cell phones, smart phones, I Pads, etc. That was then, this is now. Nothing disappoints me more than when I hear a sports update that goes something like this…
“The Giants beat the Colt 37-3. It was the Bills over the Lions 10-7. Bengals fall to the Browns 27-7 and the Steelers stole one from Philly 21-20. Tonight it’s the Cowboys and Rams. Kickoff at 8:30.”
The score doesn’t tell the story. The fact that the Cowboys and Rams are playing is not a story – it’s a detail. Tell me a story. Here are some ways you might flesh out the scores (all made up scenarios)
“Peyton Manning is still scratching his head after throwing 4 interceptions and racking up negative 15 yards rushing in the Colts 37-3 loss to the Giants. The Bills and Lions account for an all time NFL low…a combined 135 yards of offense.Buffalo wins 10-7. The Browns rally, posting 27 unanswered points in the fourth to upend the rival Bengals 27-7. Philadelphia baubles a onsides kick and turns the ball over with 12 seconds to go. Steeler’s QB Ben Rothlisberger fakes the hand off, casually walks towards the sideline and then runs 44 yards for the game tying touchdown. The extra point is good for the win with no time on the clock. Steelers 21. Eagles 20. Tonight, The Rams look for redemption with the Cowboys. St. Louis hasn’t won a night game against Dallas in 10 years. Both teams are looking to stay above .500 on the season. Kick off at 8:30″
Tell me a story. Fill it with action. Keep in the active tense.
Ever watch Sportscenter? When was the last time they just gave you a score? Never. They make you work for it. SportsCenter goes through all the highlights in the game chronologically and then – at the end – tells you how it ended.
It takes more work. It takes more creativity. It takes more time to write. It’s also more entertaining, more informational, easier to listen to, and it makes you a sought after commodity. Make yourself relevent. Be a story-teller.
This week Westwood One launches its new show prep service exclusively for the sports format.
I checked out the soft-launch last week and am impressed. This is a great resource for producers and hosts, especially those who don’t have a lot of production support at their radio station.
During my test run, the first thing I was hit with links to the Top 10 stories of the day. Then I scrolled down sport by sport (NFL, NBA, NHL, College Hoops, Media, Kickers, and more) with more links and instant access to 3-5 post-game audio clips for each game and sometimes preview sound too. For instance, on Tuesday, following the Eagles’ shellacking of the Redskins on Monday Night, there were 11 different links to stories and columns and 10 audio clips, including post-game reaction from Vick, Reid, McNabb and Shanahan plus play-by-play highlights and audio from McNabb’s agent on his new deal. As a former host and anchor, I would have liked more than two play-by-play highlights, and more than the one piece of audio from Vick. But, there is no doubt this service will save hosts and producers a lot of wasted hours scanning the internet for stories.
Afterwards I emailed with David Brody about the new service. He’s excited about how useful the service will be. “We’re all searching for killer topics that we can turn into great radio, and our service will deliver those topics to you with one click of your mouse. No need to spend endless hours reading all the newspapers and searching the web for audio when we’ve done the work for you,” said Brody.
At Westwood One, Affiliate Sales EVP Dennis Green tells LET’S TALK ABOUT IT, “As a former producer, I’m convinced having this tool available is something that will make the job of a sports producer much easier.”
Green notes the response has been great. The service started in full on Monday and already 18 stations have signed up. Westwood One is offering free trials to any station.
For more information on the sports prep service, contact Westwood One’s Rich Burg at Richard_Burg@WestwoodOne.com
The Michael Vick Show is back on the air. After Vick’s unbelievable performance last night, I began to understand that he is truly a talented football player. Did he make mistakes? You bet. Is what he did to those dogs forgettable? Hardly. However, this is America, a land built on second chances; just ask Jimmy Carter, Mike Tyson, Jay Leno, and on and on and on.
It got me thinking, if Vick were a talk host and not an NFL QB, he’d probably have to be fired, because he’s too off brand, too hard to coach, too unpredictable, makes management uncomfortable, and he doesn’t appeal to the core fan. This happens everyday in radio. Vick may have just posted the highest ratings anyone can remember, but that success would be reasoned away by management as a fluke. (That’s what managers say when ratings don’t tell the story they need it to tell.)
I get asked often, where are radio’s next stars? I have to guess working in retail, telemarketing or serving burgers and fries, because they were turned away for being too unique, too different, too interesting, and possibly too talented. It may be time to dust off the old resumes and see if some of the talent you passed up for not fitting your mold, maybe ready to start for you now. Or, you can let your station’s Kevin Kolb continue to fill time. A Vick-style personality draws fans to him with his talent. A Kolb-style host inherits listeners who are fans of the station. A Vick-style personality will make you nervous as a manager. A Kolb-style host will make you comfortable. A Vick-style personality will generate angry calls to your office demanding he be fired. Fans won’t call about a Kolb-style host. In fact, they may not even remember his name. If you are reading this and are still wondering who Kevin Kolb is, I’ve made my point.
Be bold. Take a chance. Play to win. Hire a personality.