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Content Grab Bag: Let John Michaels Be Your Guide

“The best in our business are story tellers, they are entertainers, and they provide a fun distraction while the real world is dealing with problems that we have never seen before.”

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Good hosts and shows aren’t struggling for content right now, but who knows how long it will be before we get live sports again? Hell, we’ll have been without sports for nearly a month and a half at that point.

We’re all in this together, right? That’s why Barrett Sports Media has created a content grab bag and we’re asking everyone to pitch in.

Got an idea that can help someone else? Do you have a perfect bit in mind, but maybe your situation has changed and now you have nowhere to pull it off? Don’t let it go to waste! If you want to contribute, reach out to Demetri Ravanos on Twitter.

John Michaels, who used to co-host the mid-day show at 92.9 the Game in Atlanta, is this week’s writer. He delivers a lesson worth understanding during this seemingly endless sports void. Listeners will still look for your content if you give them a reason to.

Falcons Win and John Michaels Sings – CBS Atlanta

Many people have asked, how can you host a 3 hour sports radio show when there are no sports? The answer is simple, be entertaining, be engaging, and talk about topics that the audience wants to hear about.

Covid-19 has provided a roadblock that many sports radio professionals were not ready for. Many hosts rely on the games being played for topics and the blueprint for their show on a daily basis. Terry Foxx, who was my former PD, used to always say “anyone can open up their phone and get the box score, you need to give them a reason to listen to you”, and that is something that’s always stuck with me when formatting a show.

The games are obviously the backdrop to our profession, but they don’t always have to be the main course. Entertainment and relatability should be the meat and potatoes of the show, and that’s what will drive listeners to keep the show on even without the sports we all love. 

The best in our business are story tellers, they are entertainers, and they provide a fun distraction while the real world is dealing with problems that we have never seen before. 

When sitting down to put together a rundown, often the first thing I think of is, what are other shows doing today, and what can I do to differentiate myself from those shows? How much Coronavirus coverage do I want to add, and will that bog down the show? The problem with the Virus coverage is that we are inundated with it at every turn, so unless there is a reason, like baseball coming back, or the NBA allowing players back to the facilities, loading a show with speculation is just redundant. 

The second part is how can the show continue down the path of a normal day to give people the escape they are desperately seeking? Landmark segments are your friend, and even the smallest bit of actual NFL or college football news can be needed at this time. Finding great audio from players, owners or coaches can enhance the topics that are being talked about. Having an A list guest also gives appointment listening, and with players not playing, hosts and producers should be pushing for these type of people to come on the show. 

The most important element is relatability. 

Mike Bell and Carl Dukes at 92.9 The Game in Atlanta have always had a wildly successful show because they are “men of the people”. The two of them are season ticket holders and are often tailgating with fans before every home game for the Falcons or Atlanta United. During the pandemic they have the great idea of doing #tailgatefromhome every Friday where the 2 of them, plus Beau Morgan(producer) and Mike Conti solicit listeners to tailgate with them from home. All four will create tailgate food at their houses, post video blogs, and show the finished food before the show goes off the air. Listeners have flocked to add their own food and pictures via social media which has given Atlanta a sense of normalcy, a sense of togetherness, and a sense of community that has been needed. If I’m a listener, I want to listen more to them than your normal host who is spewing the same regurgitated story over and over again.

Telling stories about what you are going through is also a great way to connect with the audience now when they need you the most. My kids needed haircuts, they needed to be taught classes, and we were all stuck at home like everyone else. Being able to convey this message to people let’s them know that you are no different than they are, as long as it’s not done in a condescending way. Local businesses are in need financially, so connecting with them could be huge at this time. Many businesses are facing extinction if they don’t get customers to frequent their locations any longer. 680 the Fan in Atlanta has started putting local business owners on to promote that they are open, which in turn can get not only patrons through those doors, but also potentially develop an advertising partner down the road. 5-10 minutes of air time can do wonders for everyone involved and is a great “outside the box” idea. 

Be an originator, and not a follower. If you were still doing new brackets in mid April, you had completely missed the window to give your audience something new and fresh. You had become the stale and redundant host who took an old idea and was late to the party. On the flip side, if you started original fun brackets as soon as the virus took away sports, a few days or weeks worth of content was right at your finger tips.

More than anything this is the time to stay away from lazy sports talk cliches. No one wants to hear about Jordan vs Lebron, or Brady vs Montana. These are topics that have been beaten into the ground for decades, and your take is not going to wow the market, it will instead get them to change the channel. Be fresh, be original and actually do some research before that mic comes on. 

Do Online Research | Pointers For Planners

One of the great compliments I’ve ever been given by listeners is that I was very easy to listen to, that it always seemed like I was one of the guys just talking amongst friends. This is a time where our listeners need friends, our sponsors need partners, and our management needs a reason to keep us.

Find fresh ways to be entertaining, to be engaging and relate to your listeners in a way you may have never done before. The best will thrive even when the chips are down, and the ones that can’t will be doing something else at the end of 2020. It’s your time to shine. 

BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 44

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This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.

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BSM Writers

Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio

“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”

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Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon.  Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight. 

Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.

A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show.  Especially in sports.

Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.

On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.

First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.

On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly.  Never interrupt the guest with an ID.

Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.

“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”

In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.

We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up.  He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.

Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard.  It was a really inciteful chat.  Never was on the podcast.

Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.

“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”

“Have you seen a life for you after football?”

“How much do you hate a certain player?”

All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.

Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.

ShinStation - Game Over - #017 - Wrap it Up - YouTube
Courtesy: Comedy Central

I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway.  The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.

I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.

Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.

Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.

Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.

(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)

The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming. 

Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks. 

They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.

Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.  

Quality shines through the speakers.  The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.

How to Start a Podcast: Podcasting for Beginners - RSS.com Podcasting

The podcast industry is continually evolving.  Radio needs to evolve as well.  Then, it can be a fair fight.

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BSM Writers

National Voices Can Work For Local Clients

“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”

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Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.

I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.

In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.

Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area.  The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen. 

Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!

If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.  

Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it. 

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