Thu. Jul 19th, 2018

No Fence Sitting Allowed

When you listen to sports talk radio today you’re likely to find a number of different styles in the personalities you hear on the air. That’s what makes each host unique. What shouldn’t be disputable though is the understanding and importance of giving an opinion!

Search around the country and listen to some different stations and personalities and see if you can pinpoint the following types of hosts.

  • A) The caller-driven host who puts the power of the show in the audience’s hands.
  • B) The guest heavy host who fills a 9 segment show with 7-8 guests.
  • C) The comedic host who offers jokes, bits, parody songs and downplays the importance of a serious topic. They often sound uninformed or uninterested in sports talk.
  • D) The stats/historian host who crunches numbers, shares old stories and is quick to highlight everyone else’s opinions and use them as a shield to avoid giving their own.
  • E) The strong opinionated personality who speaks their mind confidently and earns praise from supporters and criticism from detractors.

barkleyThe beauty of this format is that there are multiple ways to inform and entertain but of the 5 styles listed above, I find myself more drawn to E. The host who has something to say and defends their position with good sound evidence and is willing to engage in a compelling conversation with callers, guests, texts, tweets and colleagues, will always catch my attention first. I don’t have to agree with you, I just need to be moved by your opinion.

I can’t even count how many times I tune into a show somewhere across the country and hear a personality say “we’re going to talk about the Super Bowl” or “let’s chat about these coaching changes” and then spends the majority of a segment reading off the information and waiting for calls without providing their own point of view on the topic. It absolutely drives me nuts.

Of course you’re going to talk about the Super Bowl or coaching changes if they’re a timely story but why does it matter to you? What do you want me to think about? Be specific.

manincarPeople are usually in a car dealing with non-stop traffic, aggravated from a long day at work and they want a mental distraction to make them laugh, help them learn or get their blood pumping. Your style, presentation and view on the relevant material is what they care about when they put you on. If the subject matter is broad and you don’t define your position, they’re going to lose interest.

Anytime you’re on the air, you’re expected to share your perspective on the news, not break the news. That’s what reporters do and what sports updates, your website and Twitter are for. What you think of the information matters more than the information itself. Your opinion is what grabs people’s attention.

20 years ago people in sports talk focused on the result of a ball game and did the typical box score breakdown segments. Today the world is much different. People care much more about what happens outside the lines than what happens inside the lines. Case in point, there’s been more talk this week about the Patriots deflating footballs than the actual game itself vs. the Colts. Last year at this time, people spent more time discussing Richard Sherman’s post-game interview than they did recapping the Seahawks-49ers game. Need any more proof?

interesting2I understand that every personality does prep work and values their credibility so being right and informed is important but rather than worry about being right, the bigger focus should be on making people think and being interesting. That starts with a strong informed opinion and having the courage to stand by it and defend it with smart rationale and great research.

What sometimes worries me about our format’s future is when I hear newer broadcasters coming up the ladder, not focused on delivering opinion and instead worried about how many guests they have booked or how many people have called their show. To this day I have never hired someone who set a record for most calls taken on a show and I’ve never hired a host based on their guest list. I care more about what they do with a guest and caller than how many they can get.

I’m not going to say guests, calls, being funny and having information doesn’t matter because of course they do. They’re all valuable parts of a show but when you step back and look at a 9-12 segment show, there should be more focus put on delivering opinion on the content/stories of the day and telling the audience why you feel the way you do than anything else. The opinion is your main course, the guests, calls, soundbytes and extra bits of entertainment are your sides and appetizers.

fencesitting2During my years as a PD I’ve told a number of hosts that there is no “No Fence Sitting” allowed. I recognize that the only thing we control is our words and if we don’t take positions, defend them strongly and make our audience think, then we’re just background noise and people can find that in many different places. Standing out from the clutter is not easy and it’s even harder if you don’t take strong defined positions on relevant material.

The last thing you should want to be as a personality trying to connect with an audience is the equivalent of elevator music. Our job is to be clear, concise and definitive with where we stand on various issues and confident enough in our own skin to defend them, while also being open minded to hear the other side of the discussion.

Does it matter if the listener disagrees? No. What about if a team, player or front office executive doesn’t like it? Are they paying your check or controlling your brain? No. So stand up for yourself but be smart enough to avoid getting personal and open enough to give them a forum to counter your point of view. Good banter on a topic with multiple viewpoints makes for compelling discussion.

opinions2What if your peers think you’re crazy? Just be crazy enough to have a position and good rationale for why you feel how you do and they’ll get over it or come around to your way of thinking. It’s about delivering interesting content and when you are firm with your thoughts and prepared with information to support your position, more people will connect with you than tune you out and after all, that’s the name of the game.

Sometimes personalities lose sight of this and need to be reminded how important it is and to get their attention over the years I’ve been known to dish out a few silly gimmicks that get their attention. In a few instances I’ve pulled out a green pillow and offered it to a few hosts so their asses would be well protected while sitting on the fence. Usually it’s led to a good laugh and a host realizing that they need to be more authoritative and not dance around the subject.

I’ve also given out a few nails and dollar bills to let a person know they nailed an opinion or provided something great and I’ve given out a compass to ask them if they knew where they were going with their stance. While it may be hokey, the point is to make one think of how their position has come across on the air. Most hosts forget that nobody wants them to succeed more than the PD that put them in the studio in the first place but sometimes even the best need a reminder that something wasn’t as sharp or as strong as it could be.

comfortzoneBased on my experience, usually it’s athletes who are just transitioning into the format who take the most time getting comfortable in this arena. Fortunately though, once you tell them they’re quick to adapt because they appreciate and respect coaching and want to make an impression rather than sound too guarded. That said, being comfortable taking strong positions does take some people time and while it may not always feel great, it’s critical to one’s presentation.

If there’s one thing to leave you with, it’s to remember to always have something to say and a good sound reason for why you feel the way you do. Listeners can get information from a myriad of places but those who stand out are the ones who are confident and comfortable enough to give an opinion and make it interesting.

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