“Go find a group of guys in your target demo, eavesdrop on them, and listen to what they’re talking about.”
That’s one way Sports Radio consultant Rick Scott of Rick Scott & Associates suggests you know if you have a hit story on your hands. I called Rick up after the arrest of ex-Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested and charged with murder. To me, it seems like manna from heaven for sports talkers who typically have a hard time finding talk-worthy topics in June and July.
“It’s life. Sports is a microcosm of life.”
Rick agrees, this is a whopper of a story, “When it happens in sports there is a magnifying glass on it because all of these athletes are special performers who make a lot of money, they’re in the spotlight, and like any other celebrity people have an interest of what’s going on.”
What surprised me is the lack of interest outside Boston and some other select cities. On the Wednesday night’s #SRCHAT on Twitter, hosts weren’t engaging with the story. Owen Murphy recapped the conversation on his ”Steal This Idea” blog here, but among the highlights were these gems.
- One host said: Scale of 1-10 it’s a 2 in my market. People are amazed it happened, but it won’t be a day to day listening driver.
- Another said: it was a news story, but I found it a difficult topic to drive a show with today
- And another said: it’s not that big in (my market). It’s fun to riff on but not attracting new audience
Rick doesn’t buy it,
“Anybody who says that I think is being naïve.”
During our interview on Episode 8 of the Radio Stuff podcast, Rick points to the speed of these stories circling the globe as being a major reason why markets who aren’t seemingly connected are still interested. Fans have access to all the news now and they’re interested in hearing what local hosts think about these big stories. (He joined us at 39:00 into the podcast to discuss a radio ideas festival and then Hernandez. You should listen to the whole exchange.)
Once you know you have a hit, what do you do with it? Rick has taught many hosts and PDs the “Topic Tree” method of topic development. Imagine the trunk of the tree as the core story and the branches are all the different ways you could talk about it.
“You sit down and say what are the various angles? You may want to take it from the angle of him being an athlete, you may want to take it from an angle that he’s had a troubled past and this isn’t the first time he’s been into trouble, you may take it from the standpoint that athletes don’t get exceptions — nobody gets a free pass, and you just branch it out from there. There are so many different avenues you could go and that’s what is great about it – we each have different views and opinions and take it down a different path. And that’s really what the audience is looking for – that insight, that perspective — what does this mean?”
There you go.
- Play the hits.
- Find a way into the story.
- Make a topic tree.
- If you don’t think your listeners care, eavesdrop on them.
- Don’t be naïve.
When political advisor and forever Boston sports fan Mike Salk and former NFL QB Brock Huard were teamed together in 2009 it was all about winning, but they didn’t know how. They didn’t know each other and didn’t agree on much. It was an awkward 30-minute demo or so they say – no one seems to have listened to it since. Now Brock & Salk on 710 ESPN Seattle is one of the most successful and popular sports radio shows in the country. I sat down with Brock & Salk for a 60 minute interview as part of an on-going series of interviews called Inside the Bonneville Studios to find out how they did it.
Huard remembers the beginning, “I wanted to win arguments. He wanted to win arguments. And our station was just trying to find its footing. It wasn’t until we went to Phoenix (a year into the show) that we realized we weren’t winning, we weren’t really growing.”
“Look, we are different,” Salk tells me. “Politically, religiously, background, coasts, everything was different.”
In Phoenix, for the first time, they sat down several nights in a row and had dinner and got to know each other and discovered a relationship built on common ground.
They agree, “The thing we have most in common is our competitive obsession.”
Huard isn’t convinced it could have happened much sooner, “I think it just takes time, like with anything you’re trying to build. We had to prove to ourselves that we enjoy doing this, I enjoy coming to work with you. It’s not a battle. Even though we are vastly different we can find some common ground.”
And so they did. Now they aren’t battling to win each argument between them or with the audience.
“You’re not going to win every battle. Your not going to make people agree with you,” Huard says. “Whether it was right to put Ken Griffey Jr. on the bench, and you believe that and you can back that up and your thesis is right, there’s going to be a part of the audience that won’t believe it. They don’t want to hear it from you. Even if the facts are right in front of them, they’re not going to want to hear that. And I think a couple of years ago it drove Mike crazy, now it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to convince them. If I keep pounding and beating my head in what good am I doing?’”
Brock & Salk arrive at the studios a couple of hours before show time and ask each other what stories they like that day. They have a conversation. It’s a collaborative effort. But, they don’t prep nearly as much as they used to.
“(Sports radio consultant) Rick Scott told us at that same trip to Phoenix, ‘You guys will know it’s going well when you don’t get to 75% of what you prep for.’ We didn’t believe him.” Salk says they were preparing the show so thoroughly it was actually hard to have a conversation about topics. It was over-prepped. About the time a topic or story was getting interesting it was time to move to the next story, because that’s what was on the show rundown. They moved to topic after topic regardless of how good or bad it was going.
Since that time, they’ve stopped prepping so much and narrowed the focus of the show to the one or two topics they want to hit hard.
Mike admits, “Once we started leaving things on the cutting room floor, it was better.”
“Payoff” is quickly usurping “Play the Hits” as king of buzz words among news-talk and sports programmers and consultants. Both are important concepts for driving ratings, but the terms are used so frequently the meaning is becoming muddled.
I asked a handful of people – programmers, producers, and consultants — to help me define “payoff.”
So let’s be clear. We are not talking payola. No money exchanges hands in the type of payoff we are talking about unless a listener wins a contest or your payoffs are so good your ratings go up and revenue flies through the door.
Martin continues,“My definition of a payoff from a programming stand point, is the call to action tease that your talent uses to keep your audience through commercial breaks.”
When I coach talent about payoffs, I describe it as something that prompts a response from a listener. The goal is to take the listener somewhere they’ve never been so when they get to the destination they react unconsciously – audibly or internally. That very well could be the lack of action too or not changing the radio station for a commercial break, because you want to hear the story that was just teased. That’s the infamous “driveway moment.”
Pete Gianesini, a programmer at the ESPN Radio Network, defines payoff this way.
“A strong, genuine reaction from the listener… could be a belly laugh, could be anger, could be bewilderment, could be a piece of information that I now can’t wait to share with someone else (a real-life re-tweet).”
I love the idea of a real-life re-tweet. I also call it social currency. It’s what the listener earns in return for investing time into your show or station.
Rick Scott at Rick Scott & Associates adds, “A payoff is simply content that has value for the listener. It can be entertaining, informative, or insightful.”
The trick to this is that the value Rick talks about is perceived by the listener not the host or station. So it’s important to reinforce the value of your content to your listener through branding and positioning. Don’t be afraid to tell listeners that what they are hearing is special.
“Payoffs happen when the team has managed to achieve one of two goals. Either building up the image and the brand of the station, or bringing a positive effect on the ratings. The biggest and best payoffs accomplish both, but you don’t need to have both for it to be considered a success.”
Nate is right. The goal of payoffs is to increase listening to the station. Listening increases when people feel there is a value to spending more time with the station. So, as ratings increase it’s fair to assume revenue will increase and the brand of the station grows accordingly.
“I would define a payoff when a promotion, tease, or on-air bit has the right amount of build-up creating interest and then is effectively paid off.”
This is an important point. Listeners don’t always discern the difference between payoffs. They don’t even know they are waiting for a payoff. We use that word; they don’t. So, a promotion can definitely provide a payoff. A station event or remote can also provide a payoff, as well as traffic reports, weather reports, and news or sports updates, but again only if the listener perceives it as a value.
One example of a payoff that stands out to Gianesini is how Colin Cowherd handled Aaron Rodgers following the Super Bowl.
“After not buying into Aaron Rodgers as an NFL superstar, Colin had him on the day after he won the Super Bowl. Aaron was very much aware of Colin’s position and put Colin on the spot during their piece. It was just the right mix of lighthearted, yet uncomfortable, to be very compelling. And completely unscripted. That’s the hard part. While I believe you have to plan your show and promote specific elements more than ever and further in advance than ever, you can’t be SO committed to the minute-by-minute that you don’t let spontaneity happen. That’s where the magic is.”
Sports radio consultant Rick Scott hosted a panel on sports talk with heavy hitters; ESPN’s Scott Masteller, Fox Sports Radio‘s Don Martin, CBS Radio‘s Bruce Gilbert and Fox Sports Radio talent Stephen A. Smith. Here are the consensus five keys to success for sports talkers.
Talent, Talent, Talent Talent is your life blood. It is what makes your station unique and creates all the original content you need for all the different platforms.
“A PD’s respect of talent is important to establishing trust.” – Stephen A. Smith
“Hire really good people that are smart, engaging and compelling and let them do their damn job. Get out of the way.” - Bruce Gilbert, CBS Radio
“PDs need to understand: number one, you need patience and number two, you need courage. Patience for PPM and courage to hire people you’re going to back. Quit over-programming talent after you teach them how ‘radio’ works.” -Don Martin, Fox Sports Radio
Play by Play Obtaining rights are key to driving CUME. If you can get the NFL, get it.
“Football is king!’ - Scott Masteller, ESPN
Credibility Some sports stations venture into guy talk, which is fine as long as you don.t miss a big sports story.
“You can’t just do this job, you gotta live it… I came out of the womb opinionated… I’m a personality you can reach out and touch. I say what I say, I believe what I say and I stand up and defend what I said. I’m approachable. I go to games and interact with the people. I was a beat writer for a decade – I’m known for breaking stories. Hate me or love me, as long as your listening, I don’t care.” – Stephen A Smith
Seize the Moment When something is given to you, ride that pony until it’s out of breath. You may be sick of Brett Favre talk, but your fans can’t get enough of it.
Event Programming These will drive ratings (Super Bowl, Lebron Press Conference, etc.), but you must have a plan to drive listening and capitalize on the additional CUME through recycling.
Weclome to the blog. Larry Gifford is a radio management consultant and talent coach. He is available for ongoing or project based consulting for U.S. and International radio groups, stations, and talent
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