And I liked it.
Every Wednesday night (10p ET/7p PT), sports radio hosts, producers, board ops, reporters, programmers and fans across the country are turning to twitter to chat about industry trends, new media, good guests, and share good practices, observations and tips.
Hmmm. Let’s sit with that for a second.
There’s a thought: use the power of twitter for good, not evil.
I think it is awesome that there is a weekly gathering of sports radio pros who help build each other up instead of tear each other down. And that is Chadd Scott’s intention behind the sports radio chats (#srchat), which started on May 8 with over 50 people participating.
“I didn’t want it to be a bitch-fest. I didn’t want it be, ‘I wish I had more air time,’ or, ‘this show sucks,’ or, ‘this show should be national’, or ‘this guy doesn’t deserve a show.’ I wanted it to be positive, productive and respectful.” And it has been.
Scott, Assistant Program Director of 1010 XL in Jacksonville and former producer of The Herd with Colin Cowherd at ESPN Radio, told me on the Radio Stuff podcast, “I hope this connects sports radio professionals, brings them together, and serves as almost a fraternal organization or somewhere we can all go to meet each other and exchange ideas.”
Scott hosts and moderates the weekly chats with KIRO Radio producer and “Steal This Idea” blogger Owen Murphy, who lives across the country in Seattle. They use the hash tag #SRCHAT, which you can access for past chats. One of the guys will throw out a question which is labeled “Q1” and anybody can chime in with a response by beginning “A1.”
It’s easy. Here’s a snippet of what went down last night.
Chadd Scott@ChaddScott15h Q1: How important is FM distribution to ratings success in sports radio? #srchat
Owen Murphy@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: FM distribution is huge, but AM shd not be dismissed. FM has much larger potential audience, but AM can win when combined w pxp #srchat
Amanda Gifford@AmandaLGifford15h A1. Certainly doesnt hurt, but people find good content no matter where it is. Ask Rush Limbaugh. #srchat
Chadd Scott@ChaddScott15h A1: FM distribution is CRITICAL to ratings success in sports radio, especially for new stations, especially w/ younger demos #srchat
Ingram Smith@IngramSmith15h @ChaddScott A1: content will always win – but the strength of FM signal, in particular when the sun goes down can not be understated #srchat
Owen Murphy@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: There are some markets where nearl 80% of the audience ignores AM. This makes MLB pxp a game-changer if you have AM stick. #srchat
The Gentleman Masher@GentlemanMashr15h @ChaddScott depends on the market. Good content will trump & streaming will eventually make it irrelevant. #srchat
Owen Murphy@TalkRadioOwen15h Hey @AmandaLGifford A1: A station needs marketing budget and q-rated hosts to win quickly on AM, as many listeners never visit #srchat
Heath Cline@heathradio15h @ChaddScott FM’s huge. Competitor loves to tout their AM signal’s strength. Only people hearing it are 50 – we crush them on 40k FM. #srchat
Larry Gifford@Giffordtweet15h #srchat a1 fm distribution is where 80%+ of the audience is but AM listeners listen 4ever. WFAN will feel pinch when CBS takes AM 660
Sports MBA@SportsMBA15h As a consumer, Im one of those. RT @TalkRadioOwen: A1:markets where nearl 80% of the audience ignores AM. #srchat
Larry Gifford@Giffordtweet15h #srchat a1 content is king, but when majority of audience doesn’t visit AM you’re only the tallest dwarf.
Owen Murphy@TalkRadioOwen15h A1: As w anything, it’s all about execution, budget and having great pxp partnerships, while poorly planned FM can stagnate. #srchat
Colleen Wall@ColleenWall14h A1: Since quality can be better on FM, that’s attractive to listeners. I tune to ESPN NY more often now that its switched to FM #srchat
Wells Guthrie@WellsESPN105114h A1: In small-mid size markets FM signal is vital. In large markets AM signals are more than enough. #srchat
You can read the entire #srchat transcript here. It’s exciting to me that smart people in radio are joining forces for the power of lifting the industry instead of tearing each other apart. It’s a trend I’m seeing more and more of and liking (see: Hivio. ) And the great thing is that anybody can set up a hashtag and a chat whenever you want. Do it. Invite your peers. Share ideas. Learn from each other. Lift each other up.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
I do not condone Rush Limbaugh’s word choice and characterizations of Sandra Fluke. No woman deserves to be called a “slut” or ” prostitute” or any other derogatory phrase. I do not condone ex-WDAE morning guy Dan Sileo’s characterization of three African American NFL players as “monkeys.” Howard Cosell was fired nearly 30 years ago for pretty much the same thing. I also heard the “n” word un-bleeped on a syndicated show last week, which I do not condone.
So here are my questions…And answers.
Why is this happening? How is this happening? Who is to blame? Who is responsible? How does this impact radio? How should radio deal with it?
Talk radio is a tight rope walk. We ask talent to spend three hours a day entertaining, informing, dishing big opinions and driving conversations. We want hosts to “cut through the clutter,” “be passionate,” and “take risks,” while simultaneously protecting our company brands. This is hard to do and mistakes will happen. This is why companies provide a net in the form of board operators and producers. Talent need to rely on and respect these roles more — and the people in these positions need to speak up and take action when a talent crosses the line. Here is an idea; use the dump button…or tell the host they’ve gone too far. If you sit there and laugh with them like it’s a 1960s fraternity house, the content will likely degenerate. This isn’t the producer and board operators fault, but it is their responsibility along with the host.
What frustrates me is that radio is getting beat up as a dying industry everywhere I look and these outdated, racist, sexist, and irresponsible comments reinforce those claims and further suggest the medium is irrelevant and obsolete. The reality is radio has been and can continue to be a remarkable platform for lively debate and conversation about important issues and help to provide understanding. At its best talk radio is informative, entertaining, compelling, thought provoking, in-the-moment, interesting, fun and relevant. As an industry we provide the sound track to people’s life, we start conversations, we tell stories of triumph and tragedy to better understand the human condition, we care for and take care of our communities, and we create an invisible, powerful, connective tissue through the lives of our listeners which creates an amazing bond that has helped stations across the country in the past year alone raise millions and millions of dollars for good causes.
That being said, we are in a business that requires an understanding that things will get said that shouldn’t be said. Mistakes happen. This is talk radio. We will provoke at times and upset groups of people. As a PD it is my job to be calm in the middle of the storm. Programming decisions should never be made in the middle of a fire storm. It is our job (my job) to listen to the people complaining, listen to the actual audio of what was said, and then formulate my response. If lines were crossed –apologies should be made (as insincere as you may think he was, at least Rush did this). And then after everyone takes a deep breath, ask yourself a couple of questions; is this show representative of the kind of show you want on your station? Does it attract the audience you are targeting? Is the host chronically crossing the line ( your line, the FCC’s line, the community standards)? and if so, is the reward ( ratings and revenue) worth the risk? We are in the radio business and we need to make business decisions.
Finally, radio needs a shot in the arm and not another punch to the gut. Somehow, someway everyone who believes as strongly in this medium as I do needs to be actively promoting its awesomeness. 90+% of everyone (a totally made up stat) listens to radio. They are already believers in the medium, let’s remind them of it. Tell your friends why you love radio (#iloveradio) and I will do the same. Together we can rekindle people’s passion for absolutely free, wireless, instant information and entertainment available nationwide at the touch of a button…that is still legal to access while driving.
I watched a TED Video this week on the origins of pleasure. Psychologist Paul Bloom argues that our beliefs about the history of an object changes how we experience it, not simply as an illusion, but as a deep feature of what pleasure (and pain) is. Which explains, in part, why some “heritage” radio stations and hosts across the country continue to get great ratings, despite the poor programming. People love (take great pleasure in) the idea of listening to the station that their Mom or Dad or grandparents listened to. It’s a connection to a simpler time, your childhood, and a shared experience with your parents/grandparents.
It also makes me believe that it’s important that each personality and radio station needs to have a story. Seth Godin coincidentally touched on this same idea this week with his blog post “Just a myth.” Godin concludes his blog by encouraging brands (which could be a personality, a show or a station) to create their own mythology (or story.)
So, if I were trying to invent a mythic brand, I’d want to be sure that there was a story, not just a product or a pile of facts. That story would promise (and deliver) an heroic outcome. And there needs to be growth and mystery as well, so the user can fill in her own blanks. Endorsement by a respected ruler or priest helps as well.
The key word, I think, is spiritual. Mythological brands make a spiritual connection with the user, delivering something that we can’t find on our own… or, at the very least, giving us a slate we can use to write our own spirituality on.
The most successful in broadcasting have these mythologies or stories that help define their brand; Oprah, Rush, and Howard Stern all have overcome great adversity to find success (triumph over tragedy.)
So, it begs the question. What’s your story? Start at the beginning and remember how your personality, show or station went from being a germ of idea to transforming into what it is today. What did you overcome? How are you spiritually serving your fans? If you’re a super hero – what’s are your special powers?
Taking the time to write your story / myth is an investment into being a something people listen to and being something people live for, experience and claim as their own.
“Updates? Sports? Talk host? Farm Report? I’m your gal!”
More than one applicant has told me, “I can do anything and everything. Just tell me what you want.”
That’s a warning sign to me. I believe talent is art, not manufacturing.
I want unique. I want different. I want authentic. I want clever, creative, and distinctive. I want someone who fits in to my station and stands out. I am always looking for talent who are true to themselves.
When I listen to demos I’m listening for talent who have found their voice, who are certain who they are and know what they do best. If talent tries to cater their demo to what they think I’m looking for, I can hear it. It comes across as trying too hard to impress, uncomfortable, uncertain, or as playing the role of a host or anchor, instead of being it.
How do you do that? Practice, practice, practice. And it probably takes 10,000 hours of doing radio to truly find your voice and personality. (see: Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule from “Outliers”). Your voice is an instrument. It takes time and reps to figure out all that it can do and how to do it. For me, the journey included re-learning how to breathe to better support my voice, how to use pacing, pausing, pitch, tone, enunciation, intonation and body movement, and how to write specifically for my voice and listener’s ears and not for my eyes.
The other thing to remember is one program director‘s opinion is just that — one program director’s opinion. What I perceive of your talent is personal to me and my experiences. The next program director that listens to your demo will evaluate your talent differently. That’s why it is so important to be yourself. Otherwise, you’ll have to reinvent your style and personality everywhere you go. That’s a lot of work and will make it very difficult to build your brand. Imagine if Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, Rick Dees, Carson Daly, and Ryan Seacrest changed who they were and what they did at every stop along their career path.
The balancing act as a talent comes when you get hired. It’s a delicate dance of being yourself and integrating your brand into the radio station brand. Ideally, the sum is greater than the parts (1 + 1 = 3). You AND the station are exponentially better. That means working with the program director and station colleagues to maximize results without compromising your art.
Every day I talk to hosts who strive to model themselves after someone who is already successful. They say, “I want to be the next Rush Limbaugh, Dan Patrick or Jim Rome.” Newsflash: Those shows already exist. Success isn’t found in the shadows of giants, it’s found under the feet of the most creative, entrepreneurial, daring, vulnerable, honest, talented and motivated amongst us.
So, here are the Larry Gifford Media six keys to success for a talk host.
1. Be yourself, which is to be different than everyone else. Individual perspective and experience is the catalyst for creativity.
2. Be a trailblazer. Build your show around your talent and then hustle to sell yourself and your show every day to the listeners, clients, staff, and management. Figure out how you can be a personality on the radio station instead of the host of a show.
3. Be bold. Take risks. Don’t fear failure, learn from it. Surprise your fans.
4. Be open. Give yourself permission to be emotional, impassioned, and wrong. Be self-deprecating. Allow the listeners to know who you really are.
5. Speak your truth. Enterprise your own content. Notice what you notice in the world. Have opinions, perspective, and insight. Challenge conventional wisdom. Be informative and entertaining. (and self-deprecating).
6. Surround yourself with people you trust, people who will challenge you and people who make you better. And listen to them.
We are more than 20 months away from the next Presidential election, yet yesterday there was Rush Limbaugh on the radio calming down panicked callers about a week-old story that Donald Trump may throw his hat into the ring as a Republican.
With all the assurance of a parent consoling a scared child, Rush’s words hugged his listeners, “Folks, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He hasn’t announced he’s running.”
Though you couldn’t see it, there’s little doubt Rush had a delightful glint in his eye and was wearing a cat-ate-the-canary smile. Rush knows the Presidential election will feed his show for years and he embraces it like a long-lost friend.
On the flip-side, before the Carmelo Anthony trade with the Knicks went down, speculation on sports talk radio was hot and heavy. As the trade talks lingered, the hosts got bored. I heard multiple hosts, locally and nationally, complaining that it was taking too long for it to happen.
One host said, “Can we put the Carmelo contract talk behind us. Just let me know where he’s going and when.”
Imagine if Rush Limbaugh took that attitude with politics;
“Folks, I don’t care who MIGHT be President. Wake me up when the election is over.” Said a Bizarro-World’s Rush Limbaugh.
A good rule of thumb is that once you start getting bored with a story, your audience is just getting interested in it. When the station is getting complaint calls, the P1s (heaviest listeners) are ready to move on, but the casual and new listeners are just starting to pay attention. Keep talking about it, exploring new angles, finding different discussion points, interesting guests and keep fanning the flames of speculation.
Never apologize for talking about a story so much. Never refer to it as “beating a dead horse.” Never stop playing the hit, because you’re bored with it. These lingering stories are the life blood of sports talk. The potential labor lockouts in the NFL and NBA are going to be stories that need to be talked about for months to come. These types of stories are sports radio gifts not albatrosses.
This is one of the times of the year when sports radio hosts like to go on the air and tell listeners that there’s nothing much going on in the sports world. I hear hosts calling this a “dead time;” right after the Super Bowl and before March Madness. When hosts do this they are not only turning off listeners and advertisers, they are telling them to go away.
Listeners are tuning into radio, in part, to escape the realities of their everyday life. No one wants to tune in to hear someone whine about how slow their day is going and babble on about nothing in particular. Strange as it is, this idea of a “slow time” only happens in the sports format. You never tune into a talk format and hear Rush Limbaugh droning on about how slow it is in Washington. I’ve never heard a rock DJ say, “boy this is a dead time for music, I really don’t have anything worth playing today.” Think about it this way, if you turned on CNN and they announced, “No real news today to report.” You would turn to another channel. Same goes listeners of sports talk.
Not only will announcing to the listeners that is a slow time for sports make your radio station more of seasonal listen than it already it is, it could also lead to less revenue. Advertisers are looking for the biggest bang for the buck. If I was an advertiser on a station and I heard a host lamenting about how it’s a slow time and there’s nothing to talk about, I would have to reconsider how I invested my ad dollars. I likely would cancel my order and place my commercials on a station that is excited about its content and is compelling fans to listen.
These are the days that hosts earn their money. This is when they prove their worth to a station and company. It’s a host’s job to make fans care about something. Regardless of what’s going on they have a responsibility to be creative, passionate and compelling. It may be a slower sports day than they like, but that is a YOU problem. Hosts need to work harder to find great story lines, tease them, develop them and pay them off.
Programmers, GMs and sales teams need to hold the hosts accountable to help drive ratings and revenue, not drive it away.