Identifying Hit Stories

“Go find a group of guys in your target demo, eavesdrop on them, and listen to what they’re talking about.”

rick scottThat’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?”

Hernandez Topic Tree

Aaron Hernandez Topic Tree Sample

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.
  1. July 9, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    I eavesdrop ALL the time! And I’m amazed that there are hosts who aren’t getting the PRIME material from this story. Whether you are “topic tree-ing” or “mind mapping”, its a plethora of good material. Thanks Rick & Thanks Larry!!

    I’ll have to be at this weeks #srchat

    – Bower

  2. Heath Cline
    July 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM

    It’s been better than a 2, as fresh details on other incidents (including some back to Hernandez’s college years) have kept the story alive, but it’s not what you guys think it is for every market either. Audiences in SEC markets without a pro team like Atlanta or Nashville just don’t respond to the NFL the same way as a lot of the country. One size doesn’t fit all. You know I have tons of respect for you, Owen and Rick – but heavy doses of Hernandez talk is not what they want here.

    • July 10, 2013 at 10:07 AM

      Heath, thanks for the comment. I appreciate more dialogue on this. You’re right radio is not one size fits all. The key is that it’s not a two. You hit on an important point – the more you immerse yourself in a story, the more interesting it becomes — more details, etc. The essence of the post is to make sure great hits aren’t dismissed out of hand. Local isn’t as local as it used to be and is more about mind and heart than location. (If its on my mind or I’m passionate about it — it’s local to me).

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