Broadcasters are trained to be fair and balanced and provide a neutral point of view to the audience. Whether it’s studying the industry in college or being taught by a mentor in one’s first media job, most people who do this line of work are challenged to check their fandom at the door and report and comment on nothing but the facts. They go as far sometimes as referring to themselves as journalists rather than entertainers and talk show hosts.
The reason I raise this point today is because I believe the lines are blurred and sports radio voices need to understand who they are and what they represent.
First, what television and print media do are very different from sports radio. A television anchor is on-air for a short period of time and the only introduction to their personality comes in the form of a funny line uttered during a highlight or during an actual game. They look to update viewers on what they missed in a timely fashion and providing opinions is frowned upon.
For writers, they absolutely are journalists. There is some divide though because a columnist’s role is different than that of a beat reporter but in either case, they’re on hand to report the story, obtain information from those involved in it and then interject opinion based on what they’ve witnessed. Most who write have no problem with their identity in the sports media universe.
When it comes to sports talk radio, unlike those other two mediums, we struggle with understanding our role and identity. There are a lot of people in this industry who also do television and print and that likely complicates things because it’s hard to turn off one part of yourself and be someone else. The reality is that when an individual hits the airwaves to host a sports talk radio show, they are there to play the role of an entertainer. LL Cool J once said “I’m not a rapper, I’m an entertainer” and the same rules apply to those who host sports radio shows.
The word “entertainer” can be seen as dirty or lacking credibility to some but the word isn’t intended to suggest that we’re there to discuss the latest drama involving the Kardashians. What it means is that your views on sports, the people who play them, social issues and your willingness to discuss the highs and lows of your own personal life while connecting with people are all part of your daily conversation. You are the listener’s companion every day and you spend more time with them then most other media outlets. In some cases you’re with them more than their own family.
What’s been exciting for me to watch the past 5-10 years is how sports radio has ascended while TV sports and the print media have become less relevant. In the past, people in this industry looked at print as the almighty media god and they’d look down at those who worked in the sports radio business. A radio host could walk into a press box and the perception was that they were “less informed and the voice of the idiots“. Now today, the roles have been reversed and sports radio has a stronger bond with its audience than that of most columnists and local TV sports anchors.
The reason for it is simple, everything we say and do is on display and the ability to connect with us is fast and easy, unlike those other platforms. You can call a show, tweet a host, text the station and find that on-air personality every day in the same place. You also learn everything about our people which makes them relatable. When it comes to print or local television, some anchors and columnists aren’t on every day or their work is digested so quickly that it’s forgotten just as fast. Many also hold back who they are which makes them difficult to form a bond with.
Try this. Read your local columnist’s piece today and time how fast you’re done with the story. Chances are you’ll be done in less than 5 minutes. Now put on your favorite talk radio host. You’ll find them delivering 45 minutes per hour of content. That’s the equivalent of 9 columns over the span of 1 hour and you don’t have to wait until the morning and then go another 24 hours before getting your next fix! If content is what you crave, then you’re more likely to choose 45 weekly columns from a radio show over 5 columns in print over the same duration of time.
The point of this piece isn’t to take shots at sports on local TV or local print outlets, it’s to illustrate how the profile of the sports radio star has grown by leaps and bounds and with that increased attention, it’s important for our people to recognize the role they play in the minds of our audiences. We are content generators and entertainers – not journalists. People seek us out for our opinions on the information, not for the information itself. Reporters dig for stories, we explain what the story means.
Listeners want to talk with us on our shows and through social media about the day’s hot topics and the things that impact our lives. They ask us to be their voice and use our access and influence to hold people in the sports world accountable because they can’t. They feel connected to us because we engage with them and acknowledge their existence and that’s an advantage our medium has that the others struggle to duplicate.
Not to be downplayed, radio people are also some of the finest content generators around and our host’s abilities to entertain, enlighten and strike a chord with local people is necessary. Maybe we don’t regularly exhaust history books for six stat examples to help our points and maybe we don’t talk to four or five sources for every opinion we share but we think on our feet, we’re well versed in all subjects we discuss and we have an ability to speak with authority and gain the public’s trust. That’s a skill that’s been undervalued and underappreciated for too long.
Today, I see a number of radio personalities looking at adding television or written assignments to compliment their work, rather than viewing radio as the nice little second job. For a radio lifer like myself, that’s exciting. No longer are we looking at our own business as inferior. We now see it as an impactful platform that can advance dialogue and effect change and that’s true because the public supports it and those who we talk about pay more attention to it, even if they say they don’t.
Where will the future take us? Who knows! I believe social media is going to continue to grow larger and larger and audiences are going to want content on-demand in a much larger fashion and as those trends develop, it’ll be up to us to be one step ahead and ready for all challenges. For now though, it’s nice to see the guys who have always worked hard to connect with people finally getting the credit their due. I guess being a leader of idiots has some benefits after all.