Success is never an accident. It requires a ton of hard work, skill and most of all, patience. Bo Mattingly found all of this out when he started in the radio business at the young age of 19. There’s nothing glamorous about starting from the bottom when you get your first opportunity. For Mattingly, it meant waking up at 4am to call a transmitter, thus turning on an AM religious station on the air near his home in West Palm Beach, FL.
Soon after, at the age of 20, he was riding in an airplane, giving traffic updates for a number of stations in the market. He would move on to other roles such as country music DJ, providing morning sports reports, and interning at a local TV station. Mattingly was the guy that never said no to any job. And that attitude helped him eventually catch his first break.
It’s been 20 years since Mattingly arrived in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Though he’d start his journey in the Natural State on the TV side, he eventually moved into sports radio. For the past decade, SportsTalk with Bo Mattingly has been the dominant show throughout the state. His show is syndicated by 10 stations, including ESPN 99.5 FM in Northwest Arkansas, KARN 920 AM The Sports Animal in Little Rock and 105.5 FM in Nashville, just to name a few.
Not bad for a kid from Florida with big dreams, huh?
Truth be told, I could have picked anyone to do my first Q&A on. That’s one of the many reasons I love writing for BSM. Jason gives us the freedom to write about whatever and whoever we want. So, for me, the choice was easy. I’d never met Mattingly before, but I already respected him. Having no affiliation to Arkansas or the Razorbacks, I found myself listening to his show on a nightly basis, via Podomatic where a one-hour podcast is compiled with his best segments of the day. When I spoke to him for the first time I had my list of questions ready, eager to find a couple of things I could use to help my own career. Boy, did he ever deliver on that.
Have you ever heard the phrase “nice guys finish last?” Of course you have. Well, Mattingly disproves it when referencing sports radio. In his mind, it’s all about how you treat people. A big ego can cause many problems. Having too big of a chip on your shoulder can also get in the way of success. However, it’s the ones who treat people the right way and work hard, that seem to be the eventual success stories in our industry.
At 27, I’m young in the sports radio business. With that, comes occasional frustration. But when you come across people like Mattingly, who add great insight and perspective, it leaves you with a lot to look forward to.
TM: The Razorbacks are struggling and fans are unhappy. Head Coach Bret Bielema is a guy who you’ve established a relationship with. How do you separate the line between being close to the head coach and giving your honest assessments on his performance?
BM: You just have to be fair. Anyone that’s your friend and asks you to do your job a certain way is probably not the kind of friend you think you had. I don’t ask Bret Bielema to do his job a certain way and he doesn’t ask me to do mine a certain way. I don’t get on the air and try to protect or change what the story is, I just try to really understand what it is. I want to be right, but I’m more concerned with getting it right. I want as much information as I can get so that I can give you an educated opinion. The more educated I can be, then the better I’m going to be able to do my job. If you like someone, you don’t like having to say they’re not doing a good job, but you have to aim for the story that’s true. You can’t change the narrative of what’s true.
TM: From listening to your show, I love your crew. Bart (Pohlman) has a huge role, as does Sawyer (Radler) and I think Pete the Intern is hilarious. What benefits are there to having a show where everyone has a clear and defined on-air role?
BM: One thing we decided on was that we were going to spend more money on staff than most people would, especially in this market. It’s important to us to have a content driven show. Tell me something I don’t know, give me something I can use, make me laugh, make me cry, make me feel. That’s what we’re aiming for. To do that, you’re going to need great help, and Bart has been with me for almost seven years. Sawyer has been with us for six and they’ve both proven that good people are invaluable. You just can’t do it all by yourself, especially if you plan on growing.
Those guys have been huge and a big part of the show. Sawyer has done an incredible job with production, which gives our show a national feel. I think Bart is a professional. He understands journalism and is a great writer. He’s got some quirkiness to him that works and adds a different dimension. Those guys are here all day every day. They get in at 8am and don’t leave until after 6:30. They’re committed, loyal and I love them. The work they do makes me look a lot better than I really am.
TM: Some hosts refuse to take phone calls. However, you take them and they’re very entertaining. What’s your philosophy on using the phone lines?
BM: I look at phone calls as content. You just have to take the content where you want to go. If you feel like it’s getting boring then you have to move on. But if you get a crazy caller with a wild opinion or they’re half drunk and it’s entertaining, then we’ll leave them on a while longer. If not, then we’ll, politely as possible, move them along as quick as we can.
I look at the show, segment by segment, as what’s the best thing we can possibly do? If it’s a caller, great. If not, then let’s unveil this research that indicates something interesting. Mishandling a phone call or a bad phone call can kill a radio show. But I feel like people are listening, because they also want to hear what other people are saying. If you can blend that in while giving them stuff they don’t already know, then that’s the idea. I like to give a mix of interviews, callers and our own content that we create. When you get a good topic that gives you callers with different flavors, it helps you give a good show.
TM: What do you think we, as sports radio hosts, can do a better job of?
BM: For me, it’s about trying to make sure I know what I’m talking about. Granted, I don’t know what I’m always talking about but I try to. I think we can all do a better job of taking it one step further. A lot of us stop on the surface of something, instead of digging down three steps below it. For instance, we know the offensive line isn’t good, but why? Is it recruiting, the coaches they hired, where’s the why in it? If that means getting a guest that knows more about the subject, then we’ll get them on. Instead of just ranting or raving, have an opinion that comes from a point of education. I think we can do a better job of that. It also drives me nuts when people guess on the air. If you don’t know, just say you don’t and that you’ll come back to it after you find out. Instead of having three guys comment about something they don’t know, let’s look it up and find the answer.
TM: At any point in your career, did you find yourself frustrated?
BM: Yeah, all the time. One of the things that’s tough about this business, is that people are always looking for more. You want more. If you’re a self-motivated person you’re always looking for that. From a frustration standpoint, looking back at my younger years, knowing that I had some talent probably hurt me more in some ways than it helped me. When you’re young in the business, the older people are worried the younger person is coming to take their job for less money. Because you start to have a chip on your shoulder and it makes you have a bit of a cocky attitude. Looking at others in the business that remind me of myself, that can really hurt you.
TM: What do you consider more enjoyable about working in a smaller market compared to a bigger one?
BM: I think that it’s really noisy in big markets and more difficult to make your mark. There’s so many other guys, and that makes it harder to develop relationships with coaches and administrators. I’ve never really dealt with life in a big market, but it’s not all different than what we have in Arkansas. It’s a one-horse state with the Razorbacks so every media outlet of consequence is at every game, practice and press conference. It’s still competitive with a lot of people wanting to do a lot of different things. In big markets, you probably get crushed more for every mistake. And if you have a good job, everyone is out to get you.