Audience interaction is going to be a moving target forever in sports radio. Do phone calls still add value? Is Twitter a more organic way for audiences to weigh in now? What does Twitch add to the proceedings?
Although I have never been a fan of listener calls, I certainly realize that listener interaction is the backbone of sports radio. That live element of being able to respond to an interview or opinion in real time is what separates our business from podcasts and what every new digital sports platform is trying so hard to copy.
For today, let’s focus on text messages. They have become so ubiquitous that a station that doesn’t have some sort of texting platform now seems lacking. Texts are a perfect communication tool. They are concise and easy to integrate into a segment. It isn’t hard to see why hosts flock to them for listener interaction.
Is it possible that texts are too easy? In the past couple of weeks, I have listened to multiple shows where hosts spend the majority of segments reading other people’s thoughts. The advantage of texts disappear if you mindlessly read everything in front of you.
This is one of those situations where producers have to produce. In an ideal world, I think the producer needs to be a literal gatekeeper. Take the text message screen away from the host and let the producer be the one to decide what is worth bringing on air. Think about it. If you are using texts to replace phone calls, don’t you want the host’s reaction to them in real time? If you have a whole commercial break to formulate your response, where is the spontaneity? Don’t you start to second guess if your honest opinion is one that keeps your overall point moving forward?
What I have always hated about phone calls on the air is that they can hold the show hostage. If calls aren’t properly screened or callers aren’t given parameters for being on air, the host has no reason to feel confident that what will come out of the caller’s mouth will actually benefit the show.
That is why communication and coaching matters for producers. They keep any goober with the station’s phone number from turning afternoon drive into open mic night. Why wouldn’t a programmer want to put the same safe guards in for texts?
As a listener, I don’t need to hear the same though multiple times just because it was sent in by multiple people. I don’t need the throw away comments or contributions that hosts just throw in because they are right in front of their faces. Have a reason for everything you decide to put on air.
My advice would be to use no more than three text interjections in a segment. That can mean three texts or if there are two or three texts that work well together, you can package them together and count that as a single interjection. I say this a lot, but I think it is always worth repeating. I turn on Petros and Money because I like Petros and Money and are interested in what Petros and Money are saying today. I don’t really care about Danny in Glendale’s thoughts on the Clippers. So if Danny is going to get his say, the hosts and producer have to make sure it doesn’t take up too much of the time I could be hearing from the hosts that I turned on the station to hear in the first place. Quarantining these interjections in a way that they aren’t just coming rapid fire, but instead create individual, interesting conversations accomplishes that goal.
Three is just a number that works for me. Maybe your audience can be a little more lenient.
Some stations like to have a question of the day that they encourage people to answer via text. These can be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, for some hosts, they can also become a crutch. Responses to those kinds of questions don’t need to be included in every segment. Remember, audience interaction needs to work for you. If you don’t read a text right away, the person who sent it may not hear it on air, and you know what? That is just fine. Your goal isn’t to put a spotlight on everyone’s opinion. It is to make the best radio you can.
Listener interaction isn’t going away. Sports radio will always find a way to make sure the voice of the fan is amplified. But as new technologies make it possible to rethink what listener interaction is, it is important to remember that the end goal is always quality. That is why texts need a gatekeeper just like phone calls do.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.