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Baseball Wants The Media Focused On Sticky Stuff

“Still, talking about it on the radio or a podcast, I have tried to make sure that I tell hosts that this whole controversy is a red herring.”

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This week, following baseball has been a bit entertaining.  I saw Sergio Romo attempt to undress.  I saw Max Scherzer attempt a similar act. In New York, rookie starter Tyler Megill was about to tip his cap after a strong performance against Washington to a roar from faithful fans only to see them change to boos before he got back to the dugout after umpires stopped to check him for “sticky stuff.”

I’ve covered Major League Baseball in various capacities since 1996.  In that time, baseball has sent me across the world, and I’ve been to nearly every ballpark, minus the very new ones.  This last week, whether hosting on KJR in Seattle or being a guest on various other stations, I have had so much trouble talking about sticky stuff.

“It has been weird to watch grown men drop their pants on the baseball field,” said Milwaukee radio host Bill Michaels. “That’s what’s been weird. The target is completely misguided. If you are not shooting a torpedo with the bow of the ship to take the ship down. What you’re doing is you’re firing little gnats over the edge to make the captain swat his face to make it look like there’s an issue upstairs.”

First, if you think I have lost one minute of sleep thinking that the game is scarred because of rampant cheating, you are kidding yourself. Guys have been scuffing the baseball, rubbing Vaseline, going to their hands for decades.  

I also am not sure Tyler Glasnow is on the injured list because of the crackdown, despite his pleas to the media.

Still, talking about it on the radio or a podcast, I have tried to make sure that I tell hosts that this whole controversy is a red herring.  For the umpteenth time, baseball is simply trying to show its fanbase that it has a plan for “fixing” the sport.  Only the broken things in the sports are not about sticky stuff.

“The players are laughing,” said Mark Miller, morning show host on FOX Sports Radio in Fort Myers, Florida. “Baseball doesn’t register on sports talk shows anymore. People don’t understand that it is not the national pastime anymore. This sport is a local, regional sport. The Minnesota Twins fans are phenomenal. Their radio network is great. Tigers fans, if they are at least decent, are great. But as a whole, the sport actually sucks.”

What happens when I’m asked about it, I immediately spin the conversation to spin-rates, launch-angle, and I stop and ask myself, is this what listeners want to hear?

When baseball was going through the steroid controversy, I actually felt like it was benefitting my career.  When I was working for MLB.COM, I got sent to the Capitol twice to cover steroid hearings.  As someone who originally saw political journalism as a career goal, attending hearings with the United States Oversight Committee and interacting with the late Rep. Elijah Cummings is considered a highlight for me.

Rafael Palmeiro Stands Firm That He Never Used Steroids – CBS New York
Courtesy: Mark Littl/Getty Images

Covering Cory Lidle’s tragic plane crash was also a weird experience. When he died, my producers and I reached out to many former teammates who did not want to say publicly nice things about him. They were not fans of him but did not want to speak ill of the dead.  That was an awkward time to be on the radio.

Lately, I have been labeled as a baseball insider who hates baseball. That is only half true. I hate what baseball has become. In 2015, when my best friend and former big leaguer Darryl Hamilton was killed tragically, I wanted to walk away from the sport completely. Still, after getting some really great advice from social media and Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, I tried to go back to the game with an open mind.

Starting in 2017, I saw something dramatically different. The game looked slower. I was concerned that after 25 years covering the sport, I was altered and my brain didn’t see the same game.

I began doing extensive research. I spoke with players, managers, broadcasters, writers about the changes in baseball. I learned that, unlike the steroid era, the analytics permeating the sport has had a weird impact. Sabermetrics have lead to great offensive output but has taken the emphasis off of contact and put it squarely on launch-angle.

The Spider-Tack investigations are going well.  The Athletic spoke to MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred the day after Scherzer and Romo undid their belts.

“Players, in general, have been extremely cooperative, the inspections have taken place quickly and between innings. “ 

“They’re trying to put the spider tack back into the tube,” said longtime Pittsburgh radio personality and columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Tim Benz. “Instead of putting the toothpaste back, put the spider-tack back because at this point it has gotten so big and it didn’t have to get this big. I think if they had addressed this and made parameters around it coming into this year because I know there were tons of articles about it last year. But what they’re doing now instead of before the season, I don’t think we would have this much controversy.”

Courtesy: AP Photo/John Raoux

I am not saying I won’t come on to talk baseball, but can we keep the sticky stuff chat to a minimum? I am running out of ways to spin it.

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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