I had a conversation over the weekend with a host in a mid-size market. He was looking for some guidance on how to break out of ex-jock mode and how to be a little more human and relatable to the average bear. The guy doesn’t necessarily have his eye on hosting solo, but he wants to be able to do that if the opportunity were to present itself.
This is a guy that played big time college basketball and then had a cup of coffee, a shot of espresso really, in the NBA. We talked about his playing days and how he talks about them on air. We talked about how he sees a game and how he relates to his listeners what did or didn’t work when he is talking about his local team.
In short, he said that he knows he needs to talk less about Xs and Os and think more about the way a guy who has never watched basketball from a bench can understand the game. He told me that in the team shows he has done, he has tried working in some analogies, but his partner is always critical.
“Every time I try to do that I hear that I am ripping off Colin Cowherd,” he told. “Apparently doing that is Colin’s thing. I don’t f***ing know. When I leave here, the last thing I want to do is listen to someone else’s show.”
Colin Cowherd is very good at analogies. I have heard him tell GMs that their team’s ceiling is being the league’s Burger King. I have heard him tell fans that couples’ counseling offers all the explanation you need about the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. I have heard him say the Raiders are going to look at Khalil Mack the way he looks at the Apple stock he sold in 1990.
His creativity and his ability to connect dots is unmatched. That cannot be denied. But it doesn’t mean that Colin Cowherd is the only one that gets to use analogies in his shows.
This industry has bits and sayings and styles that are clearly associated with a single show or host. The Looks Like Game is property of Dan Le Batard. No other show can do it without being accused of thievery. Phrases like “rack him” and “grab a vine” came from the Jungle. Anyone not named Jim Rome that started using that language would be called a copycat on the spot.
Just finding a good way to relate to your listeners? Figuring out an easy way to get them on board your ship for the journey ahead? How can that belong to any one person?
If another host accuses you of ripping off Cowherd because you also said that you sold Apple stock in 1990 and you felt then the way the Raiders feel about Kahlil Mack now, then okay. That’s a fair criticism. If they accuse you of ripping off Colin because you made any analogy at all, that person is a dope.
I happened to be filling in on a station in the Southeast the day after Scott Woodward announced he was leaving Texas A&M to become the athletic director at LSU. At that point, Ed Orgeron had been the head football coach at LSU for one and a half unremarkable years. His being hired in the first place was seen as a disappointment by the fan base, so naturally the question was asked.
With a new AD in place, even with relative success thus far, is Ed Orgeron on the hot seat?
The internet was abuzz with opinions. Most of the nos came from the idea that you aren’t going to pay a nearly $9 million buyout for a coach who was 15-6 overall at that point. Most of the yeses mentioned this same fact and came with the caveat of “it is crazy but”. To me it seemed simple. Ed Orgeron wasn’t Scott Woodward’s guy. You don’t leave one good job for another without the ability to get your guys where you want them.
On air, I relied on my love of Star Wars and the general public’s familiarity with the most basic storyline elements. I said “you don’t agree to be the captain of the Death Star if they aren’t going to let you fire the big laser“.
The PD heard it and texted me when the show was over. He didn’t say “I am so embarrassed that I put you on my station and you so blatantly ripped off Colin Cowherd.” He said “I totally disagreed with you until you put it that way. Why would you want to be in charge of the Death Star if you didn’t get to blow up a planet?”.
Your listeners want to be entertained. Relating sports to something that isn’t sports is entertaining. Call me crazy, but I bet Colin Cowherd knows that and that is the reason he works analogies into his segments. There is no reason you aren’t allowed to follow that lead.
The former basketball player I spoke with over the weekend loves Dr. Dre. I told him that if you went to a break saying that The Lakers were supposed to be The Chronic, but they are turning into The Aftermath, don’t you think men in the target demo would want to hear what you have to say? Do you think that is a comparison that would even be in Colin Cowherd’s wheelhouse?
If the answer to the first question is yes, it doesn’t matter what the answer to the second question is. However, if the answer to the first question is yes and the answer to the second question is no, why would you think twice about using it?
Colin Cowherd is very good at his job. His ability to work analogies into his takes is a big part of the reason why, but they aren’t his exclusive property. I don’t think he would even try to claim they are. Just because someone is the best at a particular skill or strategy does not mean you cannot use it. You just have to add your authentic spin on that strategy. Analogies already involve thought and imagination. Just work a little bit harder to make sure your listeners hear something only you can come up with and the name Colin Cowherd won’t even cross their minds.
Media Noise – Episode 54
Demetri Ravanos welcome Jeremy Evans and Tyler McComas to the show this week. Topics include emergency programming, the streaming future of ESPN, and why the holidays is a good time to think about your upward mobility.
Breaking News Turned A Quiet Sunday Into The Busiest Week Of My Career
“We’ve set records at the station and listenership isn’t going down anytime soon. Plus, our social media following has boomed since Sunday morning.”
It started off as a completely innocent Sunday, which, you married men know, meant an afternoon Target trip with my wife. Earlier in the day, I was texting with Demetri Ravanos about the grind of doing sports radio during football season. That also included talking about Oklahoma’s loss in Bedlam to Oklahoma State. OU’s loss the night before meant I wouldn’t be doing a pre or post-game show on conference championship weekend. Football season was essentially coming to a close for me.
And then it hit. First it was a text from Cody Stoots of ESPN 97.5 in Houston. I’m good friends with Cody and respect his knowledge of college football, so it surprised me when he texted, “Oh no. Bummer about Lincoln. Coaching searches are fun though!”
Wait, didn’t Cody hear Lincoln Riley adamantly say he wasn’t going to LSU just hours before? He’s a smart guy. What’s he talking about?
I checked Twitter on a hunch. That’s when the madness officially started. I immediately knew it was true. We rushed out of Target. My crazy Sunday was just getting started. I cut an instant reaction video for my station’s Twitter page, where we have a sponsored segment called Sooners in 60. It’s a social media video that entails analysis and updates on everything OU. I uploaded it shortly after detailing my initial shock that Lincoln Riley was headed to USC. I couldn’t believe it. It was a complete shock to everyone.
As I kept my eyes on Twitter, I realized a reaction video wasn’t enough. That’s when Josh Helmer and I decided to record a 15-minute podcast on the breaking news. So via cell phone and in the front seat of the car, I gave my thoughts on the shocking development. But just as quickly as it uploaded, we realized we needed to do more. Our listeners deserved that.
Management at the station came together and realized we needed to get on the air. Granted, the postgame show the night before didn’t end until midnight, which meant Helmer and I would have to jump right back on the air, but this was too critical of a time to not be active. Especially since other stations in the market were rallying and getting people on the air. I had been looking forward to a calm Sunday, but I couldn’t be on the sidelines for this. Helmer didn’t want that either. We found a time that worked and decided we’d stay on the air until the bosses told us to stop.
At 5:30pm on Sunday evening, we hit the 94.7 The Ref and Sportstalk 1400 airwaves without a real plan. Sure, we’d take calls, but this was a show about natural reaction and how we felt in the moment. So as Helmer bumped us in with “California Love” we unleashed our anger towards Lincoln Riley’s decision.
It’s an easy way to create compelling content in that moment. You’re playing to the audience and they’re deeply interested in the story. Helmer and I wanted to be real and genuine, which meant addressing the crazy rumors around Riley’s departure, and slamming him for some of the things that were starting to emerge. We were given total freedom by management, trusted to react as strongly as we saw fit. So we did. And so did a ton of callers and even other co-hosts at the station that hopped on. It was the most exciting 90 minutes of radio I’ve ever been a part of.
We looked up and it was 7:00. We couldn’t believe how quickly the time had gone by, but we had to shut it down, because the Cleveland Browns were playing the Baltimore Ravens on our airwaves in just 20 minutes. We’re the Oklahoma flagship for the Browns so honoring our commitment to our partners was important. That being said, we could have continued the show all night. The live, raw reaction was incredible.
We signed off and received a text from our owner, thanking us for hopping on with short notice. After giving up a Sunday to help with coverage, that simple message was greatly appreciated. The day of work was over, but we knew an incredible week was coming our way. It was about to become a dream content scenario for talk show hosts in a crazed college football market.
Monday morning came with great news from management. The emergency show on Sunday night received the highest streaming numbers in station history. They were tracked from our app. The first real coaching search at OU since 1998 was starting to show its benefits.
So, as a station, we did what everyone else would do. We decided to capitalize. Recently, our station launched a merch store that has t-shirts, beanies, hoodies, etc.. Each have our logo on it, as well as special items that center around show hosts and OU game results. In all of the madness, former OU head coach Bob Stoops stepped in as the interim head coach for the upcoming bowl game. He’s always been beloved by the fan base, but this was next level loyalty. And we decided to make a t-shirt about it.
‘Bob’s Got Our Back’ is what the t-shirt reads with a visor at the bottom. I created it via the Canva app in my car in the station parking lot before our Monday morning meetings. As you can imagine, they’ve sold very quickly.
Monday’s day of radio was filled with anger towards Lincoln Riley, and excitement about who the next head coach will be. There was even a press conference that featured Stoops firing up the fans and ensuring everyone the program was going to be just fine. Sure, just two days before, an epic game between in-state schools broke out, but there was barely a mention of it. The bigger story had overtaken the actual game. It seemed like everyone in the state was listening to sports talk radio on Monday. I can’t speak for the other two stations in the market, but our listenership was so high, we maxed out the number of online listeners we could have via our app. We scrambled to find a way to expand the number of people that could listen to our stream at the same time. Thank God we did.
The past few days have been awesome. Sure, it’s meant endless time on the phone and exchanging texts with various people to try and chase the story, but any sports radio host during a coaching search should absolutely love the attention. We’ve set records at the station and listenership isn’t going down anytime soon. Plus, our social media following has boomed since Sunday morning.
The exciting part is that this story isn’t just a two-day fling. Anger towards Riley hasn’t stopped, nor will it, anytime soon, and the search for the next head coach has brought an incredible amount of interest. Madness happened on Sunday afternoon and it won’t stop until a new head coach is hired.
Ok, now I have to go. I think Brent Venables or Matt Rhule is about to be named the next head coach at Oklahoma. And yes, we have a t-shirt ready to go if that happens.
How Do You Break The Ice When A New Player Or Coach Comes To Town?
“How do you introduce yourself? What approach should you take? What’s the first thing you should do?”
It’s a season of change in many sports these days. College football coaches are changing teams. The NFL will surely have some coaching vacancies of its own soon enough. Don’t forget it’s also free agency time in baseball.
With all of that said, it’s also a crazy time for broadcasters. We need to start figuring out who the new players and coaches are and how to get to know these people as soon as we can. It’s as much about meeting the new folks as it is getting to know who they are in their jobs and as people. How do you go about this process?
Working in the industry as long as I have, it’s almost a given that every few years, it’s out with the old and in with the new. When you work in Chicago it seems to happen more often than that. Sometimes, from a broadcast perspective, the change is good. Other times it can be a little more difficult to deal with. I’ve been witness to both. But what matters at the beginning is you need to do your best to understand the change and adapt to the new way things may be done.
How do you introduce yourself? What approach should you take? What’s the first thing you should do? Well, it’s not that simple. Every case is quite different. Gathering information that will be useful to you is the best way to start the process. There are more than a few ways to accomplish this feat.
One of the first steps I would take when working in baseball was to contact fellow broadcasters that may have interacted with the new player or manager. The team announcing crews usually have the best insight into the nuances and personality of the person you are wanting to meet. They will have knowledge of how that player or manager likes to be approached. Is the player routine-oriented? Does he/she like to get the media business out of the way first, or do they want to wait until they’ve prepped for the game? That is the kind of critical information to have to develop a healthy respect for one another.
I also wanted to know from other broadcasters what their impressions of that player or coach were. Is this the kind of person you could joke around with or not? Was this a person that would open up to you, if they got to know and trust you? I would store this information in the back of my head, just so I was prepared. Even if a broadcaster told me to stay away from a particular guy, I would always try to find out for myself. I gave that new person the benefit of the doubt until they either proved the information about them was wrong or spot on.
Another method to introduce yourself to the new guy/girl was to make sure I was at the team’s first media availability. Whether it be a fan fest or just an introductory press conference, it’s important to have that person start recognizing your face and name.
I recall talking to one player that joined a team I worked for in particular at a fan convention. The informal setting of these events allows you to get some time with the new players and managers. In a casual conversation with this player, I wanted to find out when was the best time to approach him for pregame interviews. He told me that if he was seated at his locker facing away from the stall, feel free to approach. I’m so glad I was armed with that information, because I saw several fellow media members get turned away, when he wasn’t ready. I always tried to respect those wishes. The season went smoothly and he was a great ‘go to’ guy when needed because of that relationship we forged.
If you’ve been in the business a long time, you probably know a few of this new player’s former teammates. Many likely played for the team you broadcast and with the access you’ve had, introductions can be made or arranged. It’s always a better ‘in’ or ‘edge’ in the beginning of a relationship to have that extra cache of being introduced by one of that player’s peers. Most of these players respect one another and if you’re deemed ‘cool’ or ‘good’ by one, others will give you that chance to at least prove them wrong.
Every once in a great while, a team will put on a ‘meet and greet’ for a new coach or manager. It’s a way for those that regularly cover that particular team to get to know a new leader in a very informal manner. I recall one such time an NFL team put together a lunch for those that regularly covered the team to meet the new head coach. It was a completely off-the-record gathering, filled with stories and a lot of pizza too. The unfortunate thing was, the guy we met that day was only himself for about 3 months, then he became ‘the coach’ and the relationship changed. Still, it was a unique idea and approach to allow some of the media, he would be seeing on a daily basis to have a chance to relax and break bread.
Change is never easy to deal with, especially after establishing long relationships with previous players and coaches. But it is a fact of whatever game you’re covering, things are going to change and you must have the ability to change along with it. If not, you could get left behind and out of the information loop.
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