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Attacking The Airwaves With a Purpose by Joe DeCamara

To succeed in Philadelphia as a sports talk radio host, one must broadcast with passion, knowledge, and confidence, and possess the ability to adapt to any situation. It’s a competitive market and one bad quarter-hour performance can be the difference between finishing ahead or behind the competition.

Over the past year and a half, Joe DeCamara has won a lot. The evening host on 97.5 The Fanatic has found himself in the top spot often, much of it the result of presenting good content, well thought out opinions, and forging a strong relationship with his listeners. Having a strong lead-in from Mike Missanelli also hasn’t hurt.

Equally as important though is that DeCamara understands the ratings game. While studying topics and trends in sports may be what he needs to do to elicit an emotion out of his audience each night, he also builds his show by taking into account what he needs to achieve in order to gain ratings credit. Performing and connecting with his listeners may be what moves him but it’s the preparation and strategy that help maximize a talent’s return on what they produce through the speakers.

Having known Joe for the past decade, I’m not surprised by his success. He lives and breathes the format, yearns for the microphone, and takes his responsibility of connecting with an audience and delivering results for his radio station seriously. Having previously worked as an Assistant Program Director, Executive Producer, Producer, and Anchor, he’s seen all sides of the business. That undoubtedly has prepared him to be successful in his current role as a talk show host.

As you dive into Joe’s column, I’d encourage you to pay special attention to some of the things that have been isolated in bullet-point form. Whether you’re hosting, producing, or programming a show or radio station, these items can be very helpful in determining how to develop your game plan. They can even serve as a great tool in the future when you feel off of your game and need a reminder to help you get back on track.

Here now is a first hand account of how to attack your air time and maximize your opportunities courtesy of Joe DeCamara.

Attacking The Airwaves With a Purpose

Sports talk radio is a fascinating medium. For the purpose of this commentary I’ll speak from my own perspective both as a sports talk show host for 97.5-FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia and as a longtime observer of our industry both locally and nationally. One thing I am convinced of with sports talk radio is that there is more than one method for success. Just as Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson had vastly different styles during their phenomenally successful head coaching careers, so too can different methodologies lead to outstanding success in sports talk radio. Of course varying methodologies can also lead to failure.

Most successful sports shows are either driven by a host’s dynamic personality or by exceedingly strong sports content. It’s virtually impossible to succeed in sports talk radio without excellence in at least one of those two areas. The best shows often blend excellence from both tracts.

As a host, my self-imposed mandate every show first and foremost is to discuss the key subject matter of the day. I have to talk precisely about the subject people are thinking about — and I aim to do so while presenting compelling, and sometimes unique angles, within that subject matter to drive discussion and debate. I want to get the audience thinking and I want to grab my listeners’ attention in the process.

I usually host one of two types of shows:

1) The show where at least 95% of people are passionately on-board with the same opinion positively or negatively.  These shows do not occur often, but they happen every Monday for sixteen weeks in each NFL market.

2) The more nuanced show where opinion is much more split on a subject matter. In this far more frequent occurrence, I look to get right to the heart of the matter by identifying the fault line of exactly where people disagree. I don’t do this for divisive purposes, but because identifying that fault line and soliciting reaction from callers on both sides creates the most passionate and compelling conversation.  In the process, I always state exactly where I stand on the subject. That alone creates an entire extra wave of reaction from listeners as well.

Interviews in my opinion are at times leaned on too heavily by hosts. Great interviews serve a fantastic purpose. Good interviews also add value. However, if a host does not feel that an interview will either be good or great then the host shouldn’t bring the guest on.

I am not of the mindset to “fill-up” time, but rather I think in terms of attacking my time on-air. I only have 45 minutes on-air each hour because of our commercial inventory so I sure better make every single second count. I am always striving to keep the listeners I’ve had with me for an extended period of time while simultaneously seeking to grab listeners that just tuned in during the past five seconds. Every listener (specifically every PPM panelist) is my ticket to either success or failure depending on my conversion rate of keeping him or her listening.

Other concepts I am a big believer in which I take an enormous role in shaping include:

  • No sports updates and little to no stagers or promos in my show (let’s maximize in-segment content)
  • Getting in and out of break quickly, but having a short effective tease going to break to hold listeners
  • Voicing the Legal ID myself at the top of the hour when it makes the most sense
  • Setting times for guests and features, and clearly pre-promoting those times frequently
  • Prioritizing commercial placement each hour relative to PUMM (Persons Using Measured Media) for a given hour

Preparation is another critical element to success. Dick Vermeil once said to me “there is no substitute for preparation.” He is 100% right. Preparation is what enables me each day to confidently and effectively navigate my show. It’s not just about being knowledgeable about sports. Preparation is thinking each day before my show about the following concepts I need to consider:

  • How am I going to win with today’s show?
  • What am I going to say to differentiate myself from all others discussing the same subject matter?
  • What am I going to do to engage my listeners and draw out callers?
  • Who are the top 3 guests I can target to get on today’s show and enhance the experience for the listeners?
  • What complimentary elements aiding the discussion will I prepare before the show to utilize during the show in order to sustain myself — to keep me locked-in to the key subject matter of the day — in the event that the phone call volume drops for a brief period of time?
  • What audio from a guest on my station earlier today or from other sources around the nation can I utilize to enhance the presentation and further develop the conversation?

Everything I do on-air has purpose, and preparation before the show is crucial to it all. Much like how before a game a pitcher in baseball may visualize going through a batting order, I too visualize my show before it begins to prepare to win that day.

A mystifying element to me of our industry is how many talk show hosts simply don’t know the rules of the game – i.e., how ratings are determined. Every single Program Director should spend the necessary time to teach each host about ratings and strategies that can lead to enhanced listenership. Ratings are, after all, the scoreboard!

Could you imagine if a batter in baseball didn’t know if one strike, three strikes or ten strikes constituted a strikeout? If the batter didn’t know the rules of the game how could he most successfully strategize before and during his at-bat? Radio ratings are no different. Executives would be wise to teach their hosts the rules of the game to help them strategize how to win.

Analytics is another incredibly underutilized tool for success in our industry. If you know where to look, how to look, what the data means, and how to apply the intel moving forward, a host and radio station can create an enormous competitive advantage.

The final thought that I would like to share is how fortunate we are to work in the sports radio industry, and how I try to connect with my audience through the shared experience we have of being passionate and lifelong sports fans. Sports at its core is supposed to be fun. When we were five years old, the reason we enjoyed holding this thing our parents told us is called a “bat” while trying to hit this object coming toward us called a “ball” is because for most of us sports is more fun than sitting at a desk in class. Sports is supposed to be fun.

As adults we are well aware of the many complexities and unfortunate dark sides involved with professional and collegiate sports. We discuss them because they are an inevitable part of the landscape, and those elements infringe on both our enjoyment of sports and the ability of teams to win or compete fairly at times.

Nevertheless, I cherish the positive elements of sports and I am quick to discuss them at length on my show. History has taught us time and time again that people at their core wish to be inspired. There is no question that sports has a unique ability to inspire all of us who love it. I embrace the drama of the action, the incredible athletic ability of the players, the passion of the fans, and the great role that sports continues to play in captivating our imagination.

Joe DeCamara is a sports talk show host for 97.5-FM The Fanatic in Philadelphia.  His show airs weeknights at 6PM and was ranked #1 in the Philadelphia market in 2015 and continues to be ranked #1 in 2016. He seasonally hosts a show once per week with Ron Jaworski and another program with Adam Caplan. He has hosted national shows on ESPN Radio, is a published author, and serves as the TV play-by-play announcer for the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League on The Comcast Network and Comcast SportsNet. Follow him on Twitter @JoeDeCamara.

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