Late Sunday evening I took a friend of mine to the airport in Sacramento. On my way back to the house, my wife called to find out when I’d be home. That was when I first learned of what was unfolding in Las Vegas.
When I arrived home a few minutes later, I could see the devastation on her face as she had just finished watching the first video posted on Twitter. After a tragedy like this happens, it instantly captures the attention of the entire country. Every sports talk show in America must decide how to handle it on-air the next day, and in most cases, whether it’s something like this or a natural disaster, you address it by recapping what happened, sharing your personal feelings about it and letting the audience know that you plan to provide a distraction from the surreal scene that continues to play in everyone’s head.
But what do you do when you live and broadcast in the city that endured such a devastating event?
I decided to check in with the afternoon drive show on ESPN 1100 in Las Vegas – Cofield and Company. Steve Cofield is a veteran broadcaster who’s been hosting his radio show in Vegas for over a decade and I was very impressed with how he handled the start of his show on Monday afternoon. Steve and his co-host, Adam Hill, were in a tough situation. Not only did they need to find a way to balance a tragedy and somehow do a sports radio show but they were broadcasting live on-remote from a local pizza restaurant (which is never an ideal scenario regardless of the circumstances).
From the start, you can clearly hear that Steve was not the most energetic person on the air that day nor would anyone expect him to be. His voice conveyed what the entire community was feeling – sadness. Before the show got going, Steve pitched it to a press conference with the Mayor, Sheriff, etc. to bring his listeners the latest updates. The news got worse as the death toll continued to rise along with the total number of people injured. Steve then brought in Adam and asked him to share what he saw when he left his house last night after the shooting. Adam talked about how empty and eerie the strip was and how weird it was to see casino floors empty. Slowly but surely, Cofield and Company did what they had to do, and moved on to doing what they do best, talking sports and providing that needed distraction.
No matter how bad the situation is, it’s important to remember that sports radio provides fans with a break from many of the overwhelming feelings that come when tragedies like this take place. In my 20 years of producing and programming sports radio, I have never lived in a city where such a catastrophe has taken place but there are two situations that I can compare it to.
The first was 9/11. In 2001, I was the board-op on the Grant Napear Show on KHTK in Sacramento. That day was felt across the country like nothing I had ever seen or heard before. Then in 2013, I worked in Denver at 104.3 The Fan and I heard stories of what it was like on-air the day after the theater shooting in Aurora the year prior. Just hearing my former co-workers talk about that day was extremely tough especially since one of the people killed use to work at The Fan.
I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for Steve and Adam and any other local sports broadcast to go on the air this past Monday in Las Vegas. Normally at this point I’d bring everything full circle and let you know why something worked well but here’s the thing, I don’t think there is a textbook or “right way” to handle something of this magnitude when you’re hosting a sports talk show. My advice is this; recap what happened, keep people updated with the latest and provide listeners with a way they can help those affected. Most importantly though, speak from the heart and let your listeners know that you care and that you’re right there with them. Let them know that you’re human and that you too were devastated and just want to know the answer to the same question as them… why? Steve and Adam did just that.
To hear the start of Monday’s edition of Cofield and Company click here.