Two years ago, we did a poll on the site. We asked listeners what they value least when listening to sports radio in the morning. They had four options, which included guests, updates, and basic information like news, traffic, and weather. None of them came close to the top spot.
Overwhelmingly, listeners told us they hate hearing another listener on the air. In a poll with four options, more than 50-percent of the people that responded said callers have the least value to the sports radio audience in morning drive.
Does that mean no one should ever take a phone call? If I am being honest with you, that is my mind set. I have written several times that the only person that cares about what Chet in Dunwoody thinks the Falcons should get back for trading Julio Jones is Chet in Dunwoody.
Not all shows are built the same though. And the issue of how best to use phone calls has changed. Now, we all have to figure out the best way to use fan interaction. For some that will mean phone calls. For others that will mean texts. If this were still 2002, we might be talking about faxes or IMs.
Is less more? Will listener interaction spur more listener interaction? There are so many competing philosophies that I decided it was best to ask hosts and producers what they think.
In the national sports radio landscape, if I say phone calls, you are thinking about one name: Paul Finebaum. I want to hear less calls. He can’t imagine the Paul Finebaum Show without them.
“The callers are the most important element of the show. They are the show,” Paul told me in an email. “There are countless very sports show across the dial and available on many platforms. There are far more knowledge and talented hosts. But I don’t think there is another program in the country that matches ours for the authenticity and passion of the callers.”
Look, I can’t argue with that. I grew up in Alabama listening to Paul. Some of my memories of sports news unfolding in front of my ears involved his old show. I am talking the pre-JOX days. I go back to the WERC days of Paul reading the Sports Illustrated story of Mike Price’s visit to a Pensacola strip club live on air in absolute shock.
You may jump to the extreme when you think Finebaum callers. Hell, if you aren’t from Alabama and don’t know any of them by name, you probably know Harvey Updyke. But that show is not that show without I-Man and Legend and Tammy and Phyllis and the Jims (both the Tuscaloosa and Crestwood versions). Those are the callers Finebaum is adamant he could not do his show without, the ones that are every bit as important a part of his work family as his wife Linda is to his actual family.
“I’ve the given the eulogy at several funerals of our callers and the thing that has struck me is how the other callers have always shown up, people they only knew as a voice on the radio, but who felt like they were a part of their own family,” he said.
When you think about sports radio in the Northeast, it is hard not to think of phone calls. Cabbies loudly yelling into a brick of a cellphone about why a manager should be fired for the way he handled a pitching change is the stereotype sports radio was built on.
Tyrone Johnson, who produces and co-hosts Mike Missanelli’s afternoon show on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia, doesn’t like that the entire region is lumped together, but does admit the city’s loud-mouthed fanbase is an asset.
“What works in Boston or New York doesn’t automatically work in Philadelphia and vice versa,” he says. “There are no hard rules, but Philadelphia fans expect interaction in my opinion more than some others.”
Johnson knows that the trend in sports radio is moving away from phone calls. It isn’t something he quite gets though. He struggles to see how eliminating listener opinion makes shows better.
“I think people overthink it by eliminating them completely based on a bit of self importance. While the hosts’ opinion is most important, stating things with no feedback or no pushback to me isn’t great radio either.”
So Johnson, and the rest of the behind the scenes staff on Missanelli’s show make sure the calls they take work for what is happening. He told me that as far as he is concerned, there are two rules for making the air if a listener picks up the phone during afternoon drive.
“#1 the call has to be about the topic. There are shows that sort of do open phones and that makes no sense. #2 calls are wanted but not needed, no individual caller is important enough to derail what is going on. There is a screener and then I have to view the person after that, so it is basically double screened. As far as when to hang up, normally shorter is better within reason. The biggest mistake people make is letting calls go on too long.”
Geoff Calkins doesn’t take callers often. His show on Memphis’s 92.9 ESPN is thought out and strategic. He knows where he wants to go. He has to know that the time is right before he asks for phone calls, but when he does, he is rarely disappointed. It is something he attributes to the makeup of his city.
He told me that on Tuesday’s show, he had a specific question about the Grizzlies’ playoff performance. That lead to a call from a truck driver working for Baskin Robbins and suddenly, his show was all about ice cream.
“Maybe the best calls come when I ask about the really hard issues, involving race or politics. Or the calls we took during the early days of the pandemic,” Calkins says. “I think most people know which way I lean on these things (I’m a lefty) but the show is respectful enough that people call in with all sorts of perspectives. It struck me that there aren’t a lot of places where that happens these days. Too often, Americans only want to hear from people who mirror their own views. I feel lucky that we’ve been able to do something different. I hope it helps the broader dialogue.”
Should listeners read anything into Calkins not taking a lot of phone calls? Does it say anything at all about how he feels about their opinion? After all, the guy estimates that he takes phone calls “about once a week. And often it’s just for a segment.”
Remember, this is someone that likes asking his audience to think. He wants to hear what they have to say in response to big issues and hard questions. Those don’t come up everyday. When they do though, he makes more time to let the public speak. He used last summer’s protests as an example of when he thought it was right to let listeners steer the ship.
Other times, Geoff Calkins finds other ways to get listener opinions on the air. But that is the key. They have to have opinions and those opinions have to matter. He doesn’t want to ask people to share a thought as a way to kill time.
“We’ll do Twitter polls occasionally, and read the answers as they come in. But we’ll do that, too, strategically. Never just have a poll to have a poll,” he says.
No one I spoke with was afraid to give the listener a voice. No one wanted to hear as much of those voices as Finebaum does though.
“I will always fall on the side of going too long as opposed to being short,” he said. “You never know what the next thing that will come out of a person’s mouth will be. They may have a great sports take or reveal something about their life that affects or influences the entire show. For many, it may be their only time ever on a radio show. It may be one of the most important moments in their life. Not that many calls end up in the Smithsonian. But my attitude as a host is to be insanely curious about every caller, without fear or favor.”
So maybe listener interaction isn’t useless. Your fans are turning to your show to be entertained. If you do that by turning over the airwaves to other entertaining people, so be it. You’re still accomplishing the end goal and who am I to say boo to that?
I think the key is that everything you do on air has to put you in the best position to best serve your listeners. When you shine, they are more likely to connect to the show. How you use other voices and opinions should almost always be about how each one helps you accomplish your goal from segment to segment and show to show.
Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call
“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”
I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.
The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.
Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.
Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.
We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.
I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.
You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.
People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.
How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.
Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.
If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.
In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.
Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.
What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.
Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!
“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”
Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?
Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.
To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:
#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?
#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?
#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?
If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!
Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.
Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:
#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.
#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.
#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.
#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.
#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.
Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!
Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas
“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”
Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?
Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!
One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.
Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.
There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.
Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.
I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.
Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.
It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?
Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.
If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.
Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.
A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.
“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.
We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.
As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.
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