When it comes to sports radio, Chris Plank can do it all. Whether it’s hosting local shows, national shows or even doing play-by-play, few people in the business can match the workload that Plank has on a weekly basis.
It’s probably normal to greet someone you know with a simple ‘hi’ or ‘hello.’ However, whenever I see Plank, my normal greeting to him is a ‘hey, what are your thoughts on phone calls during the top of an hour?’ or ‘what do you think about this idea as a promo?’ Needless, to say, Plank has become someone I highly respect and really enjoy bouncing ideas off of, but maybe I should ask how his family is doing more often instead of spouting off radio questions. He believes in quality and the craft of the business and I highly respect that.
Plank started off where just about every successful host ever began – at the bottom. During his first year of radio in 1997, he produced St. Louis Cardinals games in Tulsa, OK. Soon after, he would get the opportunity to host 30-minute shows early on Saturday mornings with the same company. Fast forward to today and you can now hear him on several different platforms. Each weekday he hosts The Plank Show from 9a-11a CT on the Sports Talk Network in Norman, Okla. On Sunday nights, he’s heard on Fox Sports Radio hosting a national show with co-host Arnie Spanier. What I love about Plank, is that he was excited about this article and could talk sports radio for hours. Here’s a look into his career and the direction he thinks the business is headed.
TM: You began your career in Tulsa and developed a strong foothold, but why didn’t you ever leave for another market?
CP: I fell in love with the area and I realized Oklahoma was the home for me. Also, I got married and I started doing national shows from Tulsa. It became a place where I lived, had my home, had my kids, had my wife and I was able to do all the things I had ever wanted to do in my career from Tulsa. I didn’t have to move somewhere to make that happen.
TM: You mentioned Tulsa was the place you started doing FOX Sports national radio, how did you get into it?
CP: Back in 2007, I reached out for advice to Andrew Ashwood. Basically, I just was looking for clarity and to see if I was any good. When I did, we hit it off. He gave me a couple of opportunities to fill in and eventually I was given the opportunity to do an overnight show on the weekends, which I loved. It’s an underrated shift that gives you the opportunity to cut your chops and learn. I did that for a while and then Andrew passed away. Radio kind of went in a different direction for a while and then after a couple of years, I was given the opportunity to jump back on in a fill-in role for Fox Sports. After doing that, they teamed me up with Arnie Spanier back in 2011 and it took off from there.
TM: Being frustrated early in your career is something most sports talk show hosts go thru. What were your experiences and how did you handle them?
CP: That’s kind of hard, because I’m not happy now with how I handled adversity when I was younger. It wasn’t anything with my co-workers it was just the way I would handle things personally. You’re in a job where you’re always seeking approval. Even if you have ratings, you want your boss to tell you you’re doing a good job. If you don’t have ratings, you always think the end is coming near. For me, I didn’t really handle it well at a young age. As you get older, you start to find more things in your life that you can embrace and are more important to you.
TM: This is something I think a lot about: How do you handle phone calls and where do you think the future of radio with the using phone lines is headed?
CP: I really like them, I do, because interaction is key. But I do a two-hour show and if I came in and just took phone calls for two hours, am I really serving my listener base and my employer? If I came in every day and begged for phone calls for two hours, what good am I doing? I’ve had great bosses in my career and some think it’s the only way to go and others that think you have to be cautious and lead every call down the right direction. If I’m doing a show and we’re in the midst of a Heisman Trophy conversation and there’s a guy on hold that wants to talk about the NFL, what good is that? It comes down to good call screening and it comes down to getting the listeners to answer the questions you’re throwing out there. If you’re just coming on and saying ‘call me’ I think you’re doing a disservice to the craft. I think radio is turning into the host bringing up a really good topic, setting the points for that topic and then taking a phone call if there’s something to be added.
TM: I like to get reactions on social media because it’s quicker and more efficient, but where’s the line on giving a bunch of your thoughts on Twitter and saving them for the show?
CP: I’m very addicted to Twitter. I like to tweet my thoughts out because I love getting instant analysis. Do I think you need to hold some things back? Sure, but your followers and your fans come to expect instant reaction. I dig the idea of giving your thoughts during games. Now, should you hold some back for the postgame show? Yes, but there’s still a need and want for instant reaction.
TM: You’ve been around a lot of successful sports talk hosts, what’s one thing you could say they all have in common?
CP: A true passion for sports. I know that sounds goofy, but I’ll give you an example: My daughter had a dance recital two weeks ago on a Sunday when the Raiders had just put forth the worst performance that mankind has ever seen, when their season depended on it. It was awful and I wanted to fire everyone. And here we are, the game is at noon and the recital is at 5:00. You would think, oh, that’s great you can watch and have balance, but no, I’m mad! I love football and I’m angry and I can’t wait to get on the air and destroy that awful coaching job on my Sunday night Fox Sports show. So, even if you have that balance in your life, to still have that passion about sports and good radio is key.
TM: What’s the difference in having a program director that knows what he’s doing and in your corner, compared to one that isn’t?
CP: I’ve had them all. I was a program director for 16 years and I would consider myself as an offensive coordinator that didn’t call his own plays. I was an OC, but I had someone in our operations department that I really respected. You know when you have somebody that’s out for your best interest. I think the guys I work with now at Fox Sports Radio such as Scott Shapiro and Don Martin, these guys provide you a platform that allow you to be as opinionated as you want and as creative as you want. They’ll give you that room.
For those that are involved, it’s really easy to take shortcuts in radio. It’s the easiest business there is to take shortcuts, because you have so much that’s done for you by the national networks. Even if you have a program director that you don’t think is in your corner, it’s amazing what communication can do. The program director’s door, that general manager’s door, should never be locked and you should never be afraid to balance an idea or a thought. That’s the idea of being the best you can be.
TM: Who’s a host out there that’s under the radar and should be getting more attention?
CP: I have three. First, is Jonas Knox of Fox Sports Radio. He does the overnight show and it’s such a fun listen. He does such a good job of creativity. I would love to say any of the guys on The Ticket in Dallas, but all those guys are so well known I can’t pick just one. But those guys have created a certain mindset to where they’re so good at being irreverent, that you want to be that and you’re envious of it. Lastly, I would say what Jeremie Poplin in Tulsa and Toby Rowland in Norman do, it’s good to see guys that take their preparation and approach seriously, but when they get after it, aren’t so arrogant and all-consuming that they have to be right all the time and they have to be the only person talking.