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Game Announcers Are Storytellers

Ross_at_Century_Link_smallerThere are a lot of young broadcasters who are in need of guidance when it comes to play-by-play. You may have been listening to games on radio since you were “knee high to a grasshopper,” but listening and doing couldn’t be farther away from each other when it comes to calling games.

Enter Ross Fletcher.

Recently, I hosted a conversation with the Seattle Sounders FC play-by-play announcer and some young broadcasters and he offered up some terrific advice and even shared his game charts.

He talked about giving the score every two minutes, making sure listeners know which team has the ball and where on the field it is and be prepared. But, what interested me more was how Ross defined the roles of the play-by-play announcer and color commentator, how he preps each game and his passion for telling stories. He’s given me permission to share some of his comments and sent some pictures to help deomonstrate how he approaches game prep. Soak it in.

Know your role. “The play-by-play guy is there to shape what’s really going on and the color guy is there to embellish, to add that little luster and explain things in a bit more detail from a step back seeing that overall pattern. I always think the best combination of color and play-by-play is where the play-by-play is comfortable throwing the color guy a few things and asking questions. I love to ask my color guy questions, because generally the color guy who is there has a breadth of knowledge to answer those and it gives you a good back and forth, a good banter. It keeps the color guy on their toes as well. I would say generally the mix for radio is 70% play-by-play, 30% color. And so the analyst can really focus on the bigger picture stuff adding the “WHY?” to the play-by-play announcer’s “WHAT?” For exciting moments, it is 100% play-by-play until the moment has fizzled out. I’m a bit of a purist. I don’t like the color guy cutting into the play-by-play because on radio you’re still painting that picture and if it’s an exciting moment that chances are the action is going to be very, very quick and so that is a really intense moment for a play-by-play announcer to be able to punch stuff out. Then the color analyst can come in with analysis of the play; why it happened and how it happened.”

Preparation: “I’ve developed over 15 year really how I want this page to look. The actual sheet I have for the in-game the in running play-by-play is a folder (11×7). It has the home team on one side and the opposition on the other. The way I’ve built it up there are individual sticky notes for every player on the squad. That’s a lot of preparation but it comes into its own.
Player LabelEvery single player has their own sticky label and then when I know the confirmed team news I can very simply stick it on to my piece of paper the players who are in the starting 11 in formation order and so that makes it easy to identify both where the player is on the field and which sticky label to look at depending on who you want to talk about. On the sticky labels are the players number, name, age, height, games played, goals and assists, that’s the very basics and that can get you through any play-by-play. Beyond that I do three little bullet points for every player below the basics which give me three different talking points on every player on the field.

Team PagesAbove that I’ll have the current record, where they are in the standings, and recent results with the goal scorers, and next to the players sticky labels some very brief points or simple stats about the club. On the bottom left hand point of the home team I’ll have information on the refs, a sidebar on the head-to-head records of the teams playing, and then I leave about a 1/2 page blank for the storylines I mentioned. I jot them down in capital letters so I can quickly easily read what I need. On the other side, the bottom half of the paper are in-running notes that I keep which is the score, who scored, and the chances it created. Usually, I’ll have enough room for all significant chances, which is a good way to remind listeners what’s going on through game, or recap action during a slowdown of play. You’ll be able to jot down those notes because your color guy will be talking about what happened and analyzing how it came about. That gives me everything I need to know on two sheets of paper.”

On Telling Stories. “You are storytellers and the more stories you have the better. As long as it’s relevant to the game, tell your stories. People love stories. Quite often the athlete’s back story is what is most compelling and not the season stats. People love to get to know personalities. If you feel you have a connection with the people who are out there performing on an emotional level then you’re going to buy into the broadcast more. When the time is right, tell stories, and build the characters, because great sports are built on great characters. It’s called “the beautiful game,” soccer, because it doesn’t really lend itself that well to statistics so in opposition it does lend itself well to good story telling.

What I would say is that great story telling can start in the pre-game show and then you can come back to it during the game. I’m comfortable with people telling stories during the match itself. A substitution is a great time to tell story, because somebody is coming on and the people who are listening want to know about the guy that’s coming onto the field. It is important that you know your “in” line and know your “out” line, and being able to tell your story in probably 15 to 30 seconds. Always have that in your mind about how you’re going to tell that story so it fits into the commentary and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the play-by-play.”

Ross Fletcher started his career at BBC Radio Darby when he was 16. He was the Saturday intern who spent his time filling out soccer score sheets when he wasn’t making the host’s tea. He’s been calling soccer on radio since he was 19. He did some commentaries of lower league and it’s how he got his break. (“I got my break actually by doing games in front of 300 guys and 7 dogs. But you bring that same kind of work ethic to it. Seriously, there may have been more dogs at some of those games than people.”) He spent his early career with the Premier League team Darby County, in addition to national radio reporting and play-by-play on all four divisions of English soccer. He’s been in Seattle for nearly three years.

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson Throws Out Some Radio Advice

Russell_Wilson_at_the_2013_Jessie_Vetter_Classic,_July_1,_2013“I want to be the guy who studies the most and be the smartest guy. I try to learn as much as I can about myself, about my teammates, and I think the biggest thing is I always want to learn something.”

– Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks quarterback

Russell Wilson is the star quarterback of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. This week, the second-year player is rebounding from his first ever loss on his home field. During his weekly press conference, he talked about overcoming the adversity and how he prepares to be the best he can each week. It occurred to me that in his role as quarterback he is both talent and manager and his advice is relevant to more than just NFL quarterbacks. So I offer up today,…

Russell Wilson’s Tips for Radio Talent and Managers

Focus on the positive. “I’m focused on what we can do extremely well. I try to really understand what I’m doing well and then I start looking at other things and try to see if there’s anything else out there.”

This is important advice. Too often in radio we focus on what went wrong. Try building on what’s going right, what works, and put yourself or your on-air staff in position to win every day.

Don’t dwell on the negative. “Sometimes, after a bad day, you need to get back to work, because that way you can put it away and move onto the next opportunity.”

Most times when things go bad everybody knows it. There’s no reason to keep beating a dead horse. Take a quick moment for everyone to acknowledge what happened and move on.

Don’t wait for feedback. “I watch everything I do; every little detail. I’m extremely critical of myself.”

In general, Program Directors and Brand Managers rarely give feedback effectively, specifically or often enough and many talent detest air-check sessions claiming to hate listening to past shows. Both sides need to step up. There’s no better way to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats than reviewing specifics of what happens on the air. If you’re not reviewing the air product with some regularity, you’re missing a great opportunity to be a remarkable broadcaster.

Be Curious. “I want to be the guy who studies the most and be the smartest guy, I try to learn as much as I can about myself, about my teammates, and I think the biggest thing is I always want to learn something.”

Curiosity is key in being better at your job from office dynamics and on-air chemistry to topic development and improving your skills and knowledge as a broadcaster. Sometimes we need to look at our life as a four-year-old and ask, “Why?” an annoyingly number of times.

Own Your Mistakes. “I just have to be better. That’s what it really comes down to. I’ll take the blame for it. I’m excited about that because I love a challenge.”

No one has time for finger-pointing, hallway whispering or co-workers who duck out of the way when trouble arrives. Raise your hand, admit your mistakes quickly and publicly. It quickly defuses the situation, builds trust and respect amongst your peers, and clears the negative energy of the office so success is possible.

Other quick insights from Russell Wilson you should follow:

  • Be able to adjust.
  • Be able to make things happen.
  • Study your craft.
  • Work with a sense of urgency.
  • Be poised.
  • Stay locked into the moment.
  • Keep believing in yourself no matter the circumstances.

Whether you are a talk host, DJ, manager or board operator – you are the quarterback of your domain. Take this advice and prepare yourself for a championship performance every day.

Counting Down the Top Posts of 2013 #15 to #6

LGM 2013 count down

As the New Year approaches we continue the 2013 Count Down of the year’s top blog posts (#25 to #16 here). Interesting to note, one of the blog posts below (#12) was written and posted in October 2010, yet still gets tons of traffic each year.  Another  (#15) was posted in May 2012.

#15 Brock & Salk Turn a Battleground into Common Ground

Despite being posted in May 2012, this post detailing the relationship and partnership of Seattle sports talkers Brock Huard and Mike Salk was popular, because Salk left the show for a gig in Boston this year.

#14 Does Internet Radio Value Radio More Than Radio?

Observations of a radio guy seeing signs of how the internet has hi-jacked the brand of “radio” that the industry has developed and earned through decades of blood, sweat and tears of building relationships with listeners.

#13 Recipe for a Paula Deen Parody

Oh, Paula Deen…

#12 Look Who’s Talking: Jim Cutler

Profiling one of the best voice artists in the world.

#11 The Producer Game Is Changing

I offer a response to a host’s open letter in Talkers about his producer and I offer 20 Tips on being a more effective producer.

#10 For Different Results – Change

In the wake of my resignation from KIRO Radio, I offer some observations. “Too often, I hear employees (hosts, producers, board ops, etc) want more, expect more, and demand more, but are unwilling to change to get it. There’s an overwhelming sense of entitlement in our business from the newcomers to the veterans…”

#09 Arbitron Panelist,”F— this!”

Real audio from a real panelist fed up with PPM.

#08 Wanted: A Passionate Disruptor or a Computer Literate Promo Assistant

One reason why traditional radio stations are having trouble attracting young, creative talent.

#07 77 Websites for Radio Hosts, Producers, Anchors and Reporters

A growing list of must-bookmark websites.

#06 The Keys to Sports Radio Success

The inspiration for this comes from a sports radio chat on twitter (#srchat). The question — what are your biggest pet-peeves of sports talk radio? — was posed to everyone on the chat including special guest Clear Channel’s VP of Sports Bruce Gilbert. I’ve taken their answers and turned-them-inside-out like a secret decoder ring to unveil the keys to sports radio success.

The top 5 posts of 2013 will be unveiled next week!

If Dan Patrick Was A Beer…

2013-07-06 10.57.56I stumbled upon a display of Redhook Ale Brewery’s Audible Ale this past weekend. A beer brewed in conjunction with the Dan Patrick Show that invites you to “fill your passion bucket with the ultimate crushable ale.”

Here’s the description: “Redhook has teamed up with Dan Patrick to brew the ultimate craft beer for watching sports: plenty of flavor and aroma, and crushable enough to make you want another — without making you sloppy by halftime. Listen to your thirst. It’s Audible.”

I can’t tell… is this a radio promotion? A Dan Patrick promotion? A Redhook beer promotion? (For the record, I’ve reached out to Dan Patrick and Redhook for more details on how the partnership came about.)

It really doesn’t matter – it works for all three. For Redhook, it’s a great way to get a new, beer loving audience to try your beer. It’s a great way to get DP fans to think of (and consume) him and his brand when they aren’t listening to him. Beer and sports are natural partners and actually help to reinforce each other’s brands. And a nationwide promotion for a radio show or host of any size is good for branding and exposure.

It made my wife say, “is Dan Patrick even on in Seattle?” He must be, I said. Upon further investigation — no. Actually, he’s not. But, we do like good beer in Seattle, so…

Regardless, I still love the partnership and would encourage radio to use this as an inspiration to think big and find creative ways to leverage brands against each other.

(Yes, it tastes great too. Not as bitter as Dan Patrick, though – <insert rim shot>)

Does Internet Radio Value Radio More Than Radio?

As “radio” attempts to “be everywhere” on all platforms, it is curious that internet radio is embracing the local brands and local content to reach the local listeners.

tunein

I saw this bus board while driving around the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle. While non-radio folk may not realize it, this is a TuneIn ad campaign. The ad is selling TuneIn “The world’s radio from Seattle to Sydney” to Seattle residents by promoting the fact that you can listen to Seattle’s heritage news-talker KIRO Radio through TuneIn — presumably instead of on your terrestrial radio. Not of little significance, KIRO Radio fans are likely in their cars listening to the station or experiencing the station’s very cool app, while being told there’s a new? better? different? way to consume it.

It’s a smart play by TuneIn who can actually afford to buy outdoor campaigns unlike most radio stations not owned by Clear Channel these days. Leveraging the exposure of the local station’s logo is very important for TuneIn and very appealing to the station — it’s not unlike giving candy to a baby. Radio stations just need to understand a stomach ache may soon follow.

2013-07-08 16.23.26

Wow.

Radio stations do not underestimate the value of your brand!

In my opinion, this definitely reinforces the power of the local brands in local communities. Services like TuneIn need these station’s dedicated, loyal, local listeners to build credibility, listening occasions, and drive awareness. Instantly, the association with stations like KIRO gives TuneIn a connection to a community and access to the trust and equity earned by the radio station which can be used to leverage the fan base into the digital platform to explore new, more, and different audio experiences. (Where do you supposed the time for all those new listening experiences comes from?)

Digital Platforms do not overestimate your relevance!

On the flipside, Clear Channel’s attempt to push “iHeart RADIO” on its outdoor campaigns in conjunction with local stations seems less impactful.

2013-07-09 08.34.37

This is KJR-FM‘s billboard a couple blocks away from where I saw the TuneIn bus board. Notice the bottom right corner tags iHeart RADIO and assumes people will know what that means. This is the equivalent of a “blink” in radio and is typically used for iconic brands. No offense, but iHeart RADIO doesn’t quite meet that threshold.

I heart

Don’t over-analyze, don’t close your eyes.

Internet radio services are quickly and intentionally blurring the lines between old and new radio and it’s to their advantage to do so.  Radio is sexy. Audio is stale. So, providers are trying to convince listeners that audio, regardless of how they consume it is “radio.” And it appears the radio industry is allowing these companies to leverage their heritage brands to do just that. Bully for them.

The radio landscape is evolving and changing each day. Many experts advise you to “be everywhere.” It’s not bad advice, just keep your eyes wide open, be intentional with your decisions to digitally distribute content, respect your listeners, and value the brand you’ve work so hard to build.

7/12/13 UPDATE: Listen to the discussion about this between Deb Slater and me on the Radio Stuff Podcast

Brock & Salk Turn a Battleground into Common Ground

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.”

Brock and Salk is heard weekdays 9a-Noon on 710 ESPN Seattle and on demand at www.mynorthwest.com and www.kiroradio.com/brockandsalk

A Picture For The Voice

For the better part of 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with big voice guy Jim Cutler (ESPN Radio Network, E!, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The CW, and gobs of radio and TV stations across the country including 97.3 KIRO FM and 710 ESPN Seattle). Jim and his awesome wife Dawn are on vacation and stopped by the Bonneville Seattle studios yesterday. If Jim wasn’t blessed with a big voice and the talent to use it, he’d likely be a professional photographer. He takes his Nikon everywhere he goes. Last night he brought it to the Mariners v. A’s game and has posted photos on his blog

Here he is taking some of the pictures…

In a previous blog I interviewed Jim about how what he has learned from photography relates to radio. It’s worth a read if you missed it before…

The other thing that struck me after meeting with Jim and Dawn yesterday is a great reminder that the more often you can work with and talk with people in this industry whose opinions and talents you trust, respect and challenge your own complacency – do it.