I recently had lunch with a friend from college. It’s one of those weird things where someone you knew 20 years ago and 500 miles away suddenly moves one town over from you. We were playing catch up, making small talk and reminiscing about the good old days.
He knows how long I have been in this business, so he asked me what radio stations in the area I would recommend. Before I could start making suggestions he launched into a tirade about a local sports morning show. He was upset that one morning on his way to work the hosts were interviewing a comedian and there was no sports tilt to the conversation at all.
“I mean, if you want to have on a non-sports guest, that’s fine! But these guys were talking about getting spanked by their grandmother and then comparing celebrity encounters. It’s like ‘who took the sports out of sports radio?’” my friend asked angrily.
So that is what I want to talk about today. Have we pushed the needle too far in the other direction when we talk about sports being a lifestyle format and their being more to our listeners’ lives than just scores and player transactions? Or is there just a segment of our listener base that will never be happy if we don’t all just stick to sports?
It is a safe assumption that our listener’s priority when they turn on the station is sports information. It’s also safe to assume that most shows are giving that listener the basics, so there is no real need for the format to have a “come to Jesus” meeting here. Surely we haven’t veered that far off course.
The challenge then is finding the balance, because our listener does have a wide variety of interests and he is looking to connect with you on a deeper level than just what you think of their favorite teams or players. I’ll give you an example from a recent family vacation.
We were in Disney World and I was in line with my kids to ride Pirates of the Caribbean. Behind us in line were two guys that looked to be in their early to mid-30s. They both had families, so it is possible they had just met in line, but they were both wearing New Orleans Saints hats, so it is just as possible they traveled to Orlando together.
There was a long wait to get on the ride, so I overheard their conversation for a good 40 minutes. When they first got in line they were talking about the Patriots trading former Saint Brandin Cooks to the Rams. From there they talked about craft beer, the video game Far Cry 5, then they came back to the Cooks conversation. After that they talked about who the Saints should draft, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, whether or not they should buy Pelicans playoff tickets, and then their kids’ respective souvenir budgets.
These two guys were the perfect picture of the target demo for sports talk and here they were, in a real world conversation that was initially about sports, but ended up all over the place. News talk radio is where righteous monologing lives. Sports talk radio has largely moved away from that, as hosts strive to sound more real and for our shows to sound more like a regular conversation.
That means there is plenty of room to deviate from sports. After all, here is a real world conversation I was listening to that proves you can get from draft pick compensation to whether or not Baby Groot is a reincarnation of the original Groot or if he is a whole new being altogether. But these guys kept coming back to the Saints. That was where this conversation started. Those kinds of topics are what bring people to our shows to begin with, so be aware of that.
I describe some of my favorite shows as “living in the sports world, but not afraid to travel.” You don’t have to be 100% sports-focused throughout the duration of your show, but you do need to be aware of the role you play in the listener’s daily routine.
Counterarguments to my position exist and are valid. “But Demetri, good content is good content, right?” Well, right but good content doesn’t always win. Don’t believe me? Go listen to the country or AC station that leads the market in mornings and then tell me if you hear anything on those shows that feels real or honest to you?
You play a role for your listeners. That doesn’t mean that your on air persona isn’t your real personality. It means that the relationship the audience has with you is based on a certain expectation and understanding of what a sports radio show is. If you fill their needs in that way, those listeners will be more willing to take whatever journey with you that you want as often as you want.