Over the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to relax, reconnect with friends and family in NY and simply enjoy broadcasting without dealing with the pressures of operating a brand each day. While the competitor in me enjoys the intensity of this business after nineteen years of day to day battles, a mental break was necessary.
While getting reacclimated in NY, I’ve had the benefit to simply sit back, watch/listen and allow myself to be entertained. When you work in this industry and live and breathe the job 24/7, it sometimes becomes difficult to appreciate the content being created each day and the people who are delivering it.
Unless you’ve been asleep for the past thirty days, chances are the name “Donald Trump” has appeared either on your television, radio dial, social media page or your mobile screen. It seems impossible for the news media to go a full day without reporting something the man has said or done.
As I’ve watched the latest news events unfold, I’ve become more and more fascinated with what I’ve seen take place and I’m not talking about political stances, debates or voting records. I’m talking about the brilliance of creating public interest.
Say what you will about Donald Trump and his arrogance, no holds barred opinions and bad haircut but he has simply created demand and curiosity and in doing so, there’s something to be learned from it.
First of all, he put himself out there by taking a strong position on illegal immigration. The second he announced he was running for President of the United States, he came out swinging by stating that Mexico was a mess and if he’s elected he would build a wall and have Mexico pay for it so illegal immigration changes could begin.
Some found the remarks offensive and some found them refreshing but everyone knew they had been said. In a time when other politicians were delivering white noise and talking generalities about making the country better, Trump came out and said “this is what I will do if elected“.
Then the firestorm began. Looking to seize the opportunity of burying the man and gaining some attention for their respective businesses, Nascar, Macy’s, NBC and Univision all pulled their associations with him. Heck, even Emmitt Smith announced he was departing as a judge for Trump’s Miss America pageant.
And here’s where things got really interesting – those who share his views on the country and believe in the freedom of speech, increased their support for him. As polling numbers rolled in, Trump’s went up!
Rather than tuck his tail between his legs at the first sign of trouble, Trump stood up and faced the heat from a large number of corporations and promised he’d not back down. Instead of being crushed by media soundbites and personal agendas, the people responded and asked for him to keep fighting. And he hasn’t stopped since.
What does this matter to sports radio you ask? Well it’s actually really simple – the best personalities in this format, locally and nationally, usually are known for speaking their minds and taking strong positions. When you stand for something and speak with passion and conviction, you cut through. You’re going to have your fair share of outspoken critics and public enemies but they’re all coming to the arena to see you perform because they know you matter.
Somewhere though over the past 10 years, since social media became a major force in our lives, it’s become harder to be yourself and share your views without being immediately taken to task. The second an uncomfortable opinion is spoken, the social media police are out, sales people are running scared out of fear of losing business and executives at the highest levels are quick to react rather than support. I know, I’ve had many sleepless nights over it myself.
Take a look around the world today and it’s becoming a case of everyone thinking their opinion should change the law, the way a company operates or the way we should all live. Whether it’s the reaction after a public shooting, the response to gay marriage being approved or a baseball player getting busted using steroids, the second a story is reported, the vocal minority are out there demanding change.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely a difference between saying something uncomfortable and saying something offensive and irresponsible. You can’t go on the air and curse or deliver racially divise commentaries and expect to be supported. That’s poor judgement on the part of a personality. Case in point what Hulk Hogan was caught on tape saying last week was reprehensible and he deserved to be terminated for it.
But most of the time, the great personalities who stand out in this format usually are brash, honest, controversial and unafraid. We ask our hosts to deliver compelling content and get audiences to listen for long periods of time but then want them to tone it down when it creates public chatter. If you didn’t see this story about ESPN asking Keith Olbermann to dial down his commentary, read it. It’s the type of situation I’m referring to.
What I find hypocritical is when a company hires a provocative personality but then terminates the relationship because they were bothered by the host’s uncomfortable positions. Why would you hire a controversial talent who lives on the edge and then ask them to not be who they are? If you signed up to put someone on your air who you knew would make a ton of noise and ruffle some feathers, and by the way grow your audience, then why are you surprised when they do?
Look around the world today at who’s standing out from the crowd – personal interests aside, there’s no doubt that Colin Cowherd, Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann all make noise and create a reaction. Yet they’re all soon to be gone from ESPN. Two others at the four letter network who make noise and fit the description are Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless yet First Take is probably the most criticized show on the planet.
Take it beyond ESPN and you’ll remember the opinions of Jim Rome, Mike Francesa and Charles Barkley. There’s a reason, they’re colorful, candid, confident and uncompromising. That’s an art and it should be applauded because they have the guts to speak honestly rather than worry about the potential consequences they may face as a result of taking a firm position.
Switch formats to news and you’re usually talking about Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage. What are they known for? Creating a stir, making you think and evoking emotion. Yet anytime there’s a demand for someone to be ousted from a news network, those names are usually in the conversation.
Can you imagine if social media was around when Howard Stern began his reign of terror on terrestrial radio? Do you think CBS would’ve supported him the same way? Maybe they would have but given the way the world has changed the past few years, it’s very debatable.
So to bring this back full circle, look at the impact Donald Trump has had in less than a month. It’s undeniable that he’s become a daily conversation in most parts of the country and that my friends is due to his being willing to stand out from the crowd. People want to hear what a personality thinks and whether they agree or disagree is not the point – it’s that they’re listening, consuming and being emotionally moved by the message.
Think about this for a second. If Donald Trump was a radio personality, would he be supported for the comments he’s made over the past month or would the industry turn on him like Macy’s did at the first sign of controversy? I’d like to say that we’d stand by his right to an opinion but I’m not sure that’d be the case. Yet who’d be at fault – Trump for being outspoken or the operator who hired him?
Remember folks, we pay people in this business to give strong opinions. Those who do so are going to have loyal fans and dedicated critics. I like SportsCenter as much as the next guy but I can’t recall the last time an opinion was shared on the program that got people talking. Yet, the second a personality like Bill Simmons speaks out about Roger Goodell, it is being discussed everywhere.
When you’re managing a brand, you want people to listen as much as possible but you also have to be true to yourself and stand up for your brand, beliefs and people. I’d rather tell a listener “I’m sorry we don’t have the type of product you’re looking for, have you tried some other options” than ask my people to create content that isn’t representative of who they are.
Everyone wants to be liked and receive positive feedback but it’s impossible to please every individual. Everyone today wants to feel empowered and believe they have the power to change what a brand or personality does and while I want the audience to have a voice and share in the creation of our content, I also believe that personalities, programmers and producers are hired because they know how to do a job and it’s important to give them the support and freedom to be creative, honest and comfortable. Former Utah Jazz Head Coach Jerry Sloan once said “I love the fans but the second you start listening to them for advice, you’ll soon be sitting with them“.
There’s this thing called a radio dial in every person’s car and if someone doesn’t like what they’re hearing, they have the right to change it. Most of the time they’re also paying zero to listen and we’re not only in the business of satisfaction, we’re in the business of creating compelling sports talk radio to drive listening occasions and ratings which will help us sell higher ad rates.
If nobody listens, personalities and operators will receive the message and make adjustments. This is a business and without ratings, there’s less advertiser interest, and with less interest comes less revenue, which means the likelihood of a contract extension and salary bump for a personality also becomes less.
I saw a line last night that really stuck with me and it was by professional wrestler Jeff Jarrett. He said “To a critic, no explanation will do. To a fan, no explanation is needed“. That’s a really good line and it makes me wonder, if we’re not standing by the people we hire through challenging times, are we really fans of them in the first place”?
I know this, regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, you likely have an opinion of Donald Trump and you’re going to pay attention the next time he says something. That’s called cutting through and the Trump factor will be the reason why Fox News delivers record ratings next Thursday night for it’s Republic Presidential debate. That’s something we need more of in sports radio.
Anyone can fill air time and relay information, scores, facts and stories and if you have a strong guest booker, they can load you up with 6 guests to fill a show. But it’s those who paint pictures and share their true convictions, sometimes in a way that makes people cringe, that truly stand out. One line I like to use is “Say something worth stealing“. If you present yourself that way on-air each day, you’ll have the audience eating out of your hand, even when they’re not hungry.
At the end of your show you should be able to recall 2-3 positions that you took that made the audience react and think. Here’s a good way to get a read on it – ask your producer to write down three headline opinions in the show that create promo worthy material. If they can’t, and they’re sitting in a room across from you for 2-3 hours, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your content presentation or the producer.
You don’t have to listen long to Donald Trump to find 3 promos. It’s amazing what can be created and accomplished when just one personality believes in something and is willing to say it! And whether you agree or disagree with it doesn’t matter – it’s that you’re listening to it!