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What Does Chemistry Even Mean In Radio?

“Is chemistry between two or three people the kind of thing you just know when you see and hear it or is it something you can describe?

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University of Pennsylvania

This is both an exciting and crappy time of year in radio. Stations are evaluating their future and their current standing in a market. That means some people are going to lose jobs. It also means new shows are being built.

There’s a word we hear a lot when teams are being assembled. Whether it is on a field or court or inside a studio, the guy picking the players will always talk about trying to find chemistry.

UAH - College of Science - Chemistry
Courtesy: UAH

What does that mean exactly? Is chemistry between two or three people the kind of thing you just know when you see and hear it or is it something you can describe?

“There’s no exact science to putting a show together,” Sports Radio 610 PD Armen Williams tells me when I ask if chemistry is something he looks for on-air and off when he is trying to find the perfect pairing. “There are top-rated shows where the hosts are best friends, on and off the air. There are top-rated shows where the hosts hate each other and only talk directly to the other when they’re on the air.”

In the classroom, chemistry is a very specific thing. If Williams is right though, when you use the term to describe the relationship between two people, you will drive yourself mad sooner than you will accurately describe the definition. So let’s throw the dictionary out and just see what the people looking for chemistry are looking for when they are trying to build a show.

ARMEN WILLIAMS – SPORTS RADIO 610 (HOUSTON)

When Ron “The Show” Hughley auditioned with Clint Stoerner, Clint immediately told me afterward, “Hey, this is a guy that could run with my crew.” That says a lot. If these two would naturally connect on a level where they’d hang in a setting outside of the office, then once you turn the mics on and tell them to entertain the audience? It can be easier.

Going into an audition, there’s a balance between giving the hosts a little direction on what we’re envisioning for the main dynamic of the show, but also just allowing them be themselves and seeing how it unfolds. The magic happens when the second part comes together.

Armen Williams (@ArmenWilliams) / Twitter

Every radio show is a sitcom. Gilligan couldn’t have had two Gilligan’s on the same cast. That would have been annoying. Instead, he’s surrounded by all these characters who complimented his role and enhanced the conversation and storyline. That’s the goal when putting hosts together.

ANDREW DOWNS – KXnO (DES MOINES)

You need chemistry, sure, but you need another dynamic to go along with that. It can’t just be people who think the same way or see the world in the same fashion, there needs to be some friction there as well. The chemistry comes from being able to argue on-air, or passionately debate an issue, and still smile and have fun and move on to the next topic. But a differing viewpoint is often necessary to have a complete conversation, and can even help sharpen one’s own argument to the contrary. 

Media Timeout: Downs in KXNO driver's seat

I’ve found when two hosts feel the exact same way about something it can come off as preachy and dismissive to any audience member who doesn’t align with that viewpoint. We try to come at things with sincerity and honesty, but at times someone needs to play devil’s advocate to have a compelling and complete conversation. 

BRAD CARSON – 92.9 ESPN (MEMPHIS)

“Chemistry”, show “mojo”, show back and forth “understanding”, “dynamic”, show “energy”, etc. all are essentially in the same wheelhouse. They are areas of focus to understand show roles for cast members, the specific time within a show where a cast member talks, and what a host brings to a conversation or show. Successful shows are always refining this based on what we learn about cast members. For example, we learned here on 92.9  that Bennett on Gary Parrish’s show likes making small wagers… suddenly “Big Bet Bennett” arrives on the scene. Lol

In the case of sports talk, hosts should want to “add to” the conversation, the show. The chemistry for a show might include an “anchor” who brings the station in and out of breaks and is the primary driver. For example, Max Kellerman is now the successful driver during Keyshawn, JWill and Max.  You can easily hear that and understand it.

Entercom Memphis Promotes Brad Carson to Operations Manager of Sports  Brands - Barrett Media

One cast member might be the energy force on the show.  In this same show example, Keyshawn Johnson is that. He brings energy and spark. He’s also the lead NFL personality. Ask about USC?  You might know what type of energy is coming.  

Focusing even more on this particular show, Jay Williams would be the basketball lead and then play off the other two cast members for other topics.

A show with successful team chemistry understanding has personalities who work well together using their defined roles. Occasionally breaking that role (and the key word being occasionally, which can offer limited appeal). Shows demonstrating bad chemistry might have cast members who don’t care to understand their place on the show and what is needed to make it more successful.

DAVID WOOD – 93.5 & 107.5 THE FAN (INDIANAPOLIS)

As you know, I just did this. Chemistry can mean a lot of things. Two people can hit it off and be deemed to have chemistry. However, two people laughing and having fun together doesn’t neccesarily define on air chemistry to me.

Wood Named Emmis Indy VP of Programming - Radio Ink

I’ve seen shows where the cast members were great friends and loved to spend time together on and off the air, but the show wasn’t very interesting. I’ve also been around shows where the talent didn’t have a deep relationship off the air, but on the air, they seemed like best friends because they were engaged with each other, communicated well and trusted each other.

I see on-air chemistry as a relationship where two (or more) people have the right mix of contrasts and similarities that create a product where the sum is greater than the parts. Two best friends who are too much alike are not nearly as interesting as two people who get along “okay” but have different perspectives and can have fun sparring about it.

TERRY FOXX – WFNZ (CHARLOTTE)

Entercom Names Terry Foxx as Brand Manager for WFNZ in Charlotte - Entercom

When I put a new show together with more than one person, the word “chemistry” is undoubtedly the first thing that pops in your mind.  But it’s more than that—You want compelling contrast between a team of people.  It’s the Michael Jordan vs Lebron James theory.  You want your hosts to sound like they are just a group of people sitting in a sports bar with different opinions on the subject while telling a story to your audience.  It must be entertaining, compelling, and factual.

BSM Writers

The Best Defense Against An Ornery Subject Is A Good Question

With the right question, a reporter never has to assume an antagonistic stance or role.

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Screen cap from @timandfriends on Twitter

A question should be constructed to get the best answer possible.

This was the guideline I learned as a newspaper reporter, which makes sense. You don’t hear the questions in a story. You don’t usually read them. The questions operate off-stage, the unseen lever that pries out the good stuff from the subject.

The dynamic changes when the interview is conducted in public, though. I learned this first-hand when I transitioned from reporter to radio host in 2013. Suddenly, my questions were part of the content being consumed. This is increasingly becoming the reality for anyone covering pro sports now. Not only have the press conferences themselves become a part of actual sports programming, but those press conferences are increasingly the only access to professional athletes, given post-pandemic locker-room restrictions.

But any time I start to think that it’s important to consider how a question sounds to the audience, instead of focusing on the answer it gets from the subject, I will inevitably be reminded of where that thinking leads. This week, it was Jim Matheson, a veteran Canadian hockey reporter in Canada, confronting the Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisaitl over being non-cooperative. 

On the one hand, this kind of tension has existed for decades in pro sports. It’s inevitable, really, that the people paid to play the games will at times be at odds with the people paid to critique their performance. The difference now, as Ian Casselberry pointed out here at BSM yesterday, is that the tension is increasingly visible. 

Personally, I love these moments. Seeing someone get sensitive in public is catnip to my shallow sensibilities. But professionally, there is something to be learned here by going back to the question that started each impasse. Let’s start with Matheson.

“Lots of reasons for why the Oilers are playing the way they are, in terms of winning and losing,” Matheson said. “What do you think is the number one reason for the losses now? Is there one thing, in your own mind, that you’re saying, ‘We’ve got to get better at that’?”

It’s a bad question for two reasons, the first being that it is actually two questions. “Double-barreled” is the term used by John Sawatsky, a Canadian journalist, an absolute prince of a man, and an unrivaled expert in improving interview skills. In two days, John taught me more about good interview tactics than I’ve learned in 20 years of weekend workshops and workday brownbags. This won’t be the last time I mention him in my posts here at BSM.

The best piece of advice John offers is also the easiest to institute and provides the most immediate results: Ask one question. Just one. If you add a second question — either out of nervousness or because you try to phrase it better — it will confuse even a cooperative subject. If you have an uncooperative subject, it provides an out. An opportunity to answer the less difficult question and then stare right back at you to indicate it’s your turn.

That is exactly what happened to Matheson. Here was Draisaitl’s response: “Yeah, we have to get better at everything.”

Matheson asked if Draisaitl was willing to expand; Draisaitl was not, adding a sarcastic aside that Matheson could add to it because he knew everything. Jameson then asked Draisaitl why he was so “pissy.”

“Hmmmm,” Draisaitl said, raising his eyebrows as if he hadn’t heard.

“Why are you so pissy?”

“I’m not,” Draisaitl said. “I’m just answering your–” at which point he was cut off by Matheson.

“Yeah, you are,” Matheson said. “Every time I ask a question.”

Now, it’s likely that Draisaitl’s issue has nothing to do with the question Matheson asked. It’s possible that no question Matheson asked was going to get a good answer. But because that question was poorly constructed, it left Matheson cornered into the choice of accepting Draisaitl’s terrible answer to his poor question or creating a confrontation. He chose the latter, and while I don’t think it was wrong, per se, or crossed any lines, Matheson looked like the aggressor. And I suspect that will be the last piece of useful content he ever receives from Draisaitl.

This is the point where my column was initially going to end. Then I saw Ian’s post, which included an exchange between Gary Washburn, a reporter at the Boston Globe, and Celtics guard Dennis Schroder, who was every bit as uncooperative as Draisaitl. It provides the perfect example to see how a better question changed the nature of the impasse.

Let’s go to Washburn’s first question: “Dennis, in Philly, you had one point, but the game before in Indiana, you had 23. It seems like you’ve been up-and-down a little bit. Are you starting to feel comfortable? You had the COVID protocol, you had a lot of things happen this week, are you starting to feel a little bit of comfort in the offense?”

Washburn’s question wasn’t perfect. There are technically two queries, though I’d argue he really just restated his question about being comfortable. It was also a yes-no question, which doesn’t tend to be as powerful as a question that seeks an answer about how or why something has occurred. I’m nitpicking, though. The strength of this question was revealed when Schroeder bristled.

Schroeder: You with us or you with Philly?

Washburn: No, I’m just asking.

Schroeder: You with Boston? You work for us?

Washburn: I cover the Celtics. I’m just asking if you’re feeling any more comfortable over the last couple games.

Schroeder: It’s just a stupid question.

Washburn: My fault. Are you feeling any more comfortable? How did you feel like you played today?

Schroeder: Not good enough for you, huh?

Washburn: No. I’m asking about the bounce back.

Schroeder: We won, so that’s all that matters. I’m a team player, so end of the day if I’ve got 40 points or one point and win the game, I’m going to be happy with it. So end of the day, I’m a team player, trying to win some games. And in Philly, we didn’t come out right, we played right, and that’s it.

Washburn: Thank you.

At no point in that back-and-forth does Washburn have to do anything other than restate his question: Are you feeling more comfortable? Schroeder has the choice whether to answer it, and ultimately talks around the quesrion without addressing it.

Washburn never has to say he was dissatisfied with the answer or call out Schroeder for being uncooperative. He never has to assume an antagonistic stance or role. He’s courteous and even accepts responsibility for a question Schroeder doesn’t like. In the end, Schroeder’s defensiveness speaks for itself. And that is important given how many people are now watching not just the answers that athletes provide, but the hearing and in some cases seeing the questions that provoke them

When Ian wrote about these situations on Thursday, he concluded with a very poignant observation: “Tensions are now out in the open, when they might have previously happened in a corner, away from everyone’s attention. And when these dialogues become public, people feel the need to take sides with the reporter or the athlete. Which side you’re on as a fan likely depends on your perception of the media.”

He’s absolutely right, but I would provide one addition to that. A well-constructed question is your best defense against not only an ornery subject, but also those audience members predisposed to blaming you for antagonizing the athlete. 

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BSM Writers

What is The Next Evolution For Nickelodeon And The NFL?

“The NFL and Nickelodeon are a perfect marriage. An expanded package of games is the ideal next step.”

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No matter how you look at the results, the NFL has hit a home run with a playoff game getting kid friendly packaging on Nickelodeon each of the last two seasons. Parents are watching with their kids, it’s driving an online conversation, and the league is letting a creative group of people have fun.

The NFL Playoffs on Nickelodeon work! So what do you do when something works?

You start to think about what the next step is. Those are conversations both the NFL and CBS/Viacom, Nickelodeon’s parent company, should be having.

To me, the next step for the NFL is pretty obvious. Give us a package of kid-friendly games during the season.

It doesn’t have to be a full 18-weeks, but think of it like ET with Reese’s Pieces. If the idea is that you are using the caché of Nickelodeon characters and graphics to get kids to watch football, doesn’t it benefit you to do that, or something like it, five or six more times during the season? Isn’t that the trail of Reese’s Pieces that could get the little ETs watching football more regularly?

It could be a revenue generator too. Something like the kid-friendly NFL package really does seem tailor-made for a bidding war. After all, every streaming service needs content. You could absolutely see the NFL going to Disney to see if they wanted to counter with something Marvel or Star Wars themed, right?

I think it would be a mistake to put this package of games on the open market. CBS has assembled the right duo in Noah Eagle and Nate Burleson and Nickelodeon has created the right aesthetic for the game. It is goofy. I enjoy watching Patrick Star’s face go from concerned to elated when a kick goes through the uprights just as much as my kids do. I don’t know that I would be as invested in trying to defeat Thanos with football or whatever the counter would be.

Photos & Memes: Nickelodeon's NFL Broadcast Returns, Hilarity Ensues

Make it worth CBS/Viacom’s to up their spend. Take care of the company’s other TV properties somehow. Give them priority for the next Super Bowl bidding.

I don’t know the exact right answer. What I know is the NFL has a GREAT thing here and it should be focused on cultivating it.

So that brings us to the next obvious question: what is the next evolution of this model for CBS and Nickelodeon?

Oh man, some of y’all are gonna hate this shit!

PUT SLIME ON EVERYTHING!

I am serious! Give me a kid-friendly version of The Final Four. Dump slime on the winner of The Masters. Every week the SEC is on CBS, have Young Sheldon pop up to explain to the audience what a bag man is.

Obviously, I am giving you the extreme version of the plan, but you get the gist, right? We just ran a guest piece from Joe Ovies that discussed how leagues are learning to meet the needs of younger fans. Well, here is a chance to do that with the help of a network partner.

Golf is looking for a way to bring back the fans that used to tune in on Sundays to see Tiger Woods close out a big win. It is a shame The Masters is the least likely to let CBS and Nickelodeon help, because it is the event that could use it the most.

CBS is way more likely to get the cooperation of the NCAA Tournament. You would probably have to limit Nick’s involvement to the Final Four, or even just the Championship game, but it would be worth it. Basketball is popular with kids. Those games are played in cavernous domes with plenty of space for an extra broadcast crew. Plus, the players are young enough to be excited about a project like that.

Broadcasting and sports are both built on innovation. When an idea comes along that can truly change the trajectory of how business is done, you have to embrace it. That is what we are looking at here.

The NFL and Nickelodeon are a perfect marriage. An expanded package of games is the ideal next step. If the NFL isn’t interested though, CBS/Viacom cannot let this thing go to waste. It has created something sports-loving parents can do and watch with their kids that aren’t entertained by competition alone. That describes most kids now.

One side, hopefully both, recognize that this is a chance to invest in their respective futures. Not every kid-targeted game or broadcast can look the same, but you have a proof of concept. You know your formula works.

Now get out there and do more of it!

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BSM Writers

Five Down and Dirty Ideas For Gaining Radio Sales Advantage

Tie into the local team and have two ads ready to go. One if they lose and one if they win.

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VaynerSports

Sometimes, salespeople need a new twist on an old idea to close the deal with a client. Here are five bold, down and dirty, ideas to beat out the competition and stand out in your market:

1. Sell an endorsement

Make sure you sell the sponsorship in 13, 26, or 52-week increments. There is no way you want to burn your talent on a category because the client didn’t run long enough.

Start selling spring advertisers right now. Patios, pools, and landscaping makeovers. Maybe sell an advertiser on a community makeover for a prominent retired community person and have the on-air person lead the effort. Sell a crypto or NFT sponsorship to a host and let them learn all about it on the air.

Make sure the talent also posts on social for the client.

2. Update your copy!

Sell copy changes as a benefit to the client. Tie into the local team and have two ads ready to go. One if they lose and one if they win. Your traffic person will hate you, but it can happen!

Produce bad weather spots now. Insert them at a moment’s notice. Buy your traffic person dinner because they will have to re-con the logs. So what. Think “in the moment.” Your listeners do that and it’s the best way to relate to them.

3. Do you have several car dealers, heating and cooling, roofing, or restaurants on the air?

Help them stand out on the station by branding them on weather, traffic, or top-of-hour IDs. This is a great way to pound the advertiser into the listener’s consciousness and separate them for the pack. Consider bonusing them the IDs if they committed to an annual.

4. Sell some NIL

If you have a famous college athlete in your market and a local NIL deal, suggest adding a radio campaign. Dr. Pepper did it. Or sell one to a local sports bar and have the player go there after the game and do an appearance on your post-game show on site.

This concept works well when sold with your CHR or New Rock stations. The rules have changed and you can do a lot more now. Schools, in some cities, are even more than willing to help you! They are doing anything to show other recruits how much love they will get in their town.

5. Super Bowl bet

Get two non-competing advertisers to take sides for the big game coming up. Set it up so if one team wins, listeners get a discount and vice versa. A Heating and cooling guy vs. a plumber could work well. You know how to say “Big Game,” “green and gold” for Green Bay, and the “red team” for Kansas City.

Just find the clients who care about the game. See if your shows would let them do a call-in. Let them cut up a bit and give them some promos, make them part of the Super Bowl hype.

If one of these doesn’t work, sell like Tom Brady.

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