It’s days like today where I don’t envy being the program director at a sports radio station. That’s because days like today mean sports are on the back burner and the topic shifts to something nobody can agree on: politics.
Today, as a program director, your mind might be racing as what to do. Do I tell my hosts to stay away from election results, or do I give them free reign to talk about what they want?
Do I allow callers to express what their opinion is?
What if my actions cause people to tune out the radio station?
Those are just some of the thoughts that might be on the minds of program directors across the country, today. But ultimately, it’s about trusting the situation you’ve put in place. Hosts are passionate about sports, but some, even more so, about politics. There’s a fine line as a PD to letting your hosts have free reign to express their opinion, but also allowing the other side to have their voice.
But what do you exactly tell your hosts on such a unique day like this?
“We really don’t say to stay away from politics or dive all in on politics,” said John Mamola, PD at 95.3 WDAE in Tampa Bay. “But it is pretty purple, at least our county and surrounding areas are, can’t say that for the rest of the state. That’ll be the top topic Wednesday. It’s not going to be the focus of conversation, but if it gets there, the only thing I tell my guys is you have to be accepting and at least welcome the other side of the argument. Whether there’s a result or not, whether there is a winner or not, if you’re going to go that route in your content, just make sure that it’s balanced. As long as you can do that, then I think everybody wins. Then everybody has a chance to share their voice.”
Totally ignoring the election is a disservice to the audience. Do some people just want to skip the nonsense and hear about sports? Yes, but a majority of your audience will still be interested in one of the most interesting elections we’ve ever seen in our lifetime
“In the end we’re still a sports station,” said Jason Ross, PD of 1140 KHTK in Sacramento. “I still think some people would want to hear our hosts opinions but also hopefully everybody is respectful of either the outcomes or other sides beliefs and feelings, because it’s obviously a very trying and a very sensitive election.”
Do days like this make PD’s nervous? As previously stated, maybe there’s a host that’s known to aggressively defend one side, which can cause controversy with the listeners. Does that change when controversial sports takes turn into controversial political takes?
“I wouldn’t say nervous,” said Ross. “Ultimately you still have to have the trust of the people you have on the air but I think if anyone is bothered by something, unless it’s something one of your hosts says that’s completely outlandish, people are going to disagree, even if it feels as down the middle as it comes. It’s almost finding the balance, because I hear people say, hey, I’m listening to you for sports. So it’s kind of playing both sides a little bit, because there really isn’t a bigger story than the presidential election. We’re not a news source, where we’re totally breaking down each state and what happens, but I think to ignore it was also a little bit shortsighted.”
Many stations across the country are still active with the phone lines. How does that change when people will likely want to talk about the election, especially in a purple state such as North Carolina?
“We don’t get those kinds of callers, actually,” said Terry Foxx, PD at Sports Radio WFNZ in Charlotte. “To be honest with you, our callers are calling about sports, man, because they probably want to get away from this election fatigue. I think that’s kind of the mindset, which is even though we’re in North Carolina, which is a battleground state, our listeners are calling us to talk sports.”
Luckily, if you want it to be, election season being the fall, means football can always be a change of pace or even distract from the political news that’s surrounding the country. Again, don’t pretend it’s not happening, but it’s perfectly ok to mix in football talk to keep the right balance of sports and politics.
“We’re a sports station,” Mamola said. “The Bucs play the Saints on Sunday Night Football coming off a short week that was a win, even though it wasn’t the greatest. I’m sure that’s going to be a main topic for tomorrow. Plus you have the NFL trade deadline coming up, and the Bucs have added all kinds of pieces such as Antonio Brown. That’ll be the focus of the day.
“But we’re not going to purposely make segments or topics surrounding the election. But again if people want to voice their opinion, I mean I have hosts that lean left and hosts that lean right, it’s fine if you’re very passionate about it but as long as you understand that if you decide to go into that route, just be sure to make it balance so people aren’t tuning out.”
The main point is to still remember what sports radio is all about, which is to always discuss what people want to hear about the most. Today, that means politics. Will that be the case tomorrow, next week or even next month? Probably not, because sports is still the ultimate distraction. But for today, it’s about the most important thing going on in our country.
“You cannot avoid it,” said Foxx. “This is a big national story. Even at a sports station, of course we’re not going to break down and talk news, but I told my guys to have fun with the thought process if it comes up in conversation. But it is something that’s top of mind, so you have to sort of pay attention to it and we will integrate some of that into conversation. We have promos promoting WBT, our sister station, which let’s listeners know for all their complete election coverage, throughout the process, is at WBT. That’s how we’re handling it.”