Life has been busy for Patrick Johnson recently. In a span of just a couple of months, Johnson said wedding vows to the love of his life, as well as taking the plunge back into sports radio. An argument could be made on which is the more stressful of the two, but Johnson’s life has surely changed over the course of the summer.
There’s never been an area of radio that Johnson has discriminated against. In fact, he’s served many roles behind the mic, including news, sports and calling play-by-play for numerous sports. If anyone can be considered a ‘Swiss Army Knife of Radio’ that dubious distinction may belong to Johnson and all his past experiences in the business.
Most recently with WPTF News Radio 680 in Raleigh, Monday was Johnson’s first day on the air at 94.3 The Game in Greenville, NC. No matter how many ‘first days’ you’ve had, it’s never easy to walk in on day one and come out feeling you put best show together. That’s how Johnson felt after his inaugural show on The Game. However, he seemed to be alone in the opinion that the first edition of The Patrick Johnson Show wasn’t a huge success, judging by the reactions of both the audience and his co-workers.
A first day can be a lot tougher if you’re a new voice in the market. But seeing as his vast radio experiences in North Carolina has created a following, Johnson’s voice was familiar to many on Monday afternoon. Like most in news talk, the coverage of the 2016 election really benefited Johnson’s ratings and show following. Along with that, his unique ability to get high-profile guests, such as celebrities and politicians, surely raised his status as an on-air personality in the area.
But how does one so smoothly translate from news talk to the sports side? Well, in Johnson’s case, there’s a couple of reasons why. Most notably, is his involvement in the play-by-play world. Even during his stint in news talk, Johnson was always able to keep fresh in the sports side by calling a multitude of sports at the college level. Also, factor in that he lives in a family full coaches. Yes, covering debates and political elections was a big part of his daily life, at one point, but sports was never far from his mind.
Though Johnson’s journey in the business has taken him to new cities, stations and opportunities, that doesn’t mean he’s been immune to setbacks. At one point, Johnson relied on freelance work for an 18-month period, a tough way to make ends meet for anyone that’s ever done it. Several other setbacks have come and gone alone with the way, but an extensive resume and never saying no to any opportunity, never made the tough times last very long.
Today, you can hear the Patrick Johnson Show on 94.3 The Game in Greenville, NC. A far cry from covering stories in the most dangerous neighborhoods in the state of Florida, a position he recently held. Though it took him several years and many unexpected turns, Johnson is where he sought out to be: in the host seat doing sports radio.
TM: Do you think you’re more likely to talk about politics in sports on your show, seeing as you have an extensive background on the news side?
PJ: No, I don’t think the two should mix. I understand why they do and why they should, but I grew up a coach’s son and look at thing’s more from a coach’s perspective. I’m from a part of the country that’s more driven by college athletics, so the coaches are icons. It’s not the players, we’re not in a town with a pro market. Again, my sensibility is more from the manager or coach side of things.
TM: Did being around the coaches in your family help your transition back into sports?
PJ: Well, I was still doing commentary, too. It wasn’t at the highest level, but I was getting opportunities mostly notably in college basketball. I was still covering a lot of college sports during my news talk stints.
Doing play-by-play, you’re more describing what’s going on and not really giving an opinion, like, today I did my first show and felt it went awful. But everyone else seemed to like it. It’ll get better and I’m sure I’ll eventually feel more comfortable giving opinions out, but I was just trying to get through the first show (laughs).
TM: What’s the excitement, nervousness, anticipation, what’s all that like doing a first show at a new station?
PJ: The audience knows me because I’ve worked in the market before. I sort of really wanted to come out and do a good show for them. It’s a Top 100 market, but it’s smaller and in a college town, but you don’t want to come in and do a half-ass job.
After the first day, I think the show will get better because it will get more fluid and more personable. It will just be more natural. I was worried about covering all the bases. I’m a guy that thinks there needs to be a lot of sound, experts on the show. I’d rather talk to someone that’s more well-versed on a subject than me just firing out an opinion.
TM: Was it a blessing that you get to debut your show on game week for college football?
PJ: Well, I did get married a couple of weeks ago, so I was on my honeymoon. It kind of just worked out that way, but we actually ended our honeymoon early so I could be on a show last Saturday that kicked off the season for the station. But yeah, it helps to have the built-in content with football.
But as a sports radio host that’s trying to get back into this, it would have been really rough if we started this on June 23rd. It would have been tough. I’ve got a good producer and if we can get to where we’re both thinking alike, it’ll be good.
East Carolina football is the big deal in town and you can’t go wrong talking about it. You can’t go wrong with having even other notable names from the community, such as a high school football coach that’s been one of the most successful in the state’s history. Everybody knows those names and it draws people in. You can’t go wrong talking football. The challenge will be during college basketball. I have a lot of contacts in that sport and love the product, but it isn’t a big draw in this market.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.