There was a radio conference in Nashville, TN earlier this year. I’m sure important radio people were talking about several important radio things. I didn’t attend the event, but I stopped by the beautiful Omni Nashville Hotel to speak with a radio friend of mine.
While waiting to meet up with him, I was mesmerized by a beautiful chandelier that was hanging in the lobby. I don’t typically find myself hypnotized by chandeliers. However, this one really caught my eye. It had the whole “Music City” theme going on. There was a treble clef that weaved its way around the entire design. The music notes really popped with the lighting and sparkly stuff. By the way, “sparkly stuff” showcases my lack of chandelier prowess.
I was dazed by this thing because I’m a huge lover of music. It went well beyond a cool piece of musical artwork that glistened though. It made me start thinking about why music is so popular. Why are people so closely connected to it? Why do many people lose their minds, throw underwear on stage, or start weeping while standing near their favorite artist?
Because music makes you feel.
It’s very powerful when an artist or band can express exactly how they feel. Whether it’s something happy and upbeat like Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” or something angry and dark like “Raining Blood” by Slayer (I do love me some Slayer) music always leaves an impression.
There’s a reason why music moves us. When emotions are triggered, connections are made. And sports talk radio works the exact same way.
Fans are emotional. If you ever see the crowd at a Philadelphia Eagles game on TV, they’re doing much more than simply golf clapping. If you ever attend a game, it’s emotion city. Booing, cheering, cussing, you name it. Your nerves get taken on a roller coaster ride. One of the main missions for a sports talk host is to spark the emotion that listeners are already wired with.
When emotions are triggered, connections are made — and ratings go up! Just like music, the performer’s job is to get the audience to feel.
And it gets even better. The true beauty of sports talk radio is that it actually holds a distinct advantage over music. When the audience hates what you say, they still listen (insert evil laugh here). This is the ultimate advantage for a sports radio personality.
Think about it, when is the last time you said, “Man, I hate that band One Direction. I’m gonna listen to their entire album today.” Never. It hasn’t happened once in the history of mankind. We don’t go out of our way to listen to music that we hate. We avoid it. Oh, but we will listen to a radio host that we strongly disagree with or dislike.
Remember the 1997 Howard Stern movie Private Parts? Good Lord, 1997? Two decades ago? There’s a scene where Paul Giamatti’s character says, “But if they hate him, why do they listen?” The response about Stern’s gigantic ratings was, “Most common answer? I want to see what he’ll say next.”
Being unpredictable is valuable, but the underlying truth here is that listeners will stick around if they’re moved emotionally — even if it’s a negative emotion. It’s very important to be aware of this concept in today’s sports talk climate. There are several emotionally charged topics these days: national anthem protests, Colin Kaepernick the free agent, Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension, refusals to visit the White House, etc. It can lead to heavy conversations that border on news talk.
Some hosts elect to stay safe and avoid the heaviness. Do yourself a favor, don’t!
A host’s #1 question before starting a show shouldn’t be, “How can I royally tick off my audience today?” But you also can’t avoid divisive topics entirely. Embrace them. If you consistently avoid topics with edge, you’ll be boring. Don’t be afraid to take chances because of the possibility that you might anger your audience. If they’re angered, that’s not the worst thing. You were able to make them feel something and that’s much better than feeling nothing.
The #1 question a host should ask themselves before starting a show is, “Will these topics get my audience to feel anything?” A topic like the Buccaneers-Dolphins game being moved from Miami isn’t likely to grab listeners emotionally. On the other hand, a topic like J.J Watt being aware of building his own brand while helping victims of Hurricane Harvey is likely going to spark an emotional reaction.
Make it a point to get your audience emotionally connected. Put Marvin Gaye’s “Just Like Music” on repeat or listen to Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” while you prepare your notes if you need to. Just realize that there isn’t one sports talk topic that lingers for weeks that lacks an emotional connection. Not one. That should tell you how important the ingredient of emotion is.
One of my favorite parts of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH is a huge wall featuring negative quotes. Angry words that were said about artists ranging from Elvis to Eminem appear on this wall. There was one quote about a famous band that really stood out to me.
“(They) have loosed a veritable flood of musical trash on a generation of young Americans. Parents have been shocked to see their daughters charged in a state of hypnotic frenzy, clutching at the long-haired slobs who twang, screech and thump in a mixture of unrelated noise.”
-John Birch Society, 1966
It’s a quote about a semi-successful band — The Beatles.
Being disliked comes with the territory for any unique artist. You can’t win everybody over. Many sports talk hosts try to win the audience over by being buddy buddy but it doesn’t work. Don’t shy away from controversy in fear of being hated. Do the opposite. Find ways to spark emotional reactions no matter what those emotions might end up being — even if it’s a negative feeling like anger.
This piece isn’t designed to help you make your audience angry. I’m not a coach gathering his team and saying, “Tick ‘em off on three. One. Two. Three. ‘Tick ‘em off!!’” The goal of this column is to make you aware of how every topic can make your audience feel. Getting listeners to experience a range of emotions such as happiness, disgust, sadness, joy, outrage, pity, and amusement can be HUGE assets for a host. If you prepare a topic and see that it won’t elicit a strong response from your audience, scrap it. They need to feel something.
You can’t get your audience to feel passionately about you, if they don’t feel emotionally passionate about the topics you’re introducing to them. If you aren’t constantly looking for ways to make your audience feel things emotionally, you’re losing.