Off-topic conversations on sports radio shows continue to be a growing trend. Whether it’s ranking the best breakfast foods, sharing a story about your uncle who had too much Jack Daniels in his eggnog at Christmas, or even discussing the best vacation spots in the United States, both hosts and listeners alike have come around to the idea that shows can be more than just about hard-hitting sports talk.
Sure, there’s always going to be #StickToSports guy, but relating to your audience and letting them take a look into your daily life is sometimes more powerful than breaking down a football game that’s four months away. Simply put, if it’s done correctly, there’s a place in sports radio for fun off-topic conversations.
Outside of NBA free agency, the news cycle in sports is kind of dull at this point in the calendar. Unless you’re hosting a show that’s in a heavy MLB market, this is probably the toughest time of the year to come up with strong content on a daily basis. That’s where off-topic content can be key.
While listenership may be down during the summer, there is something you can do to draw people back in. Discussing broader topics that most can relate to, have an opinion on, share on social media, and weigh in on thru either the phone or text line allows your show to be interactive around things more interesting than the day’s news and that can make a difference.
Like, everything else in sports radio, off-topic conversations have to be presented and done the right way. The shining example of that in our industry, has been 1310 The Ticket in Dallas. Hilarious bits and off-the-cuff moments have been a huge part of the station’s success and prove, when done correctly, off-topic conversations can help a station thrive.
Another good example is Fox Sports Radio morning host Clay Travis, and his love of incorporating an ‘Animal Thunder Dome’ conversation into his show. It’s fun, it makes you think, and most importantly, he keeps it entertaining. It seems that national hosts are more likely to stick to talking solely about sports, but Travis’ willingness to go outside the box has greatly benefited Outkick the Show.
Connor Happer is a proponent of using off-topic conversations on his show ‘Happer and Stephens’ on 93.7 the ticket in Lincoln, Nebraska. Aside from breaking down the upcoming season of Husker football, topics can be hard to come by during the summer months in Lincoln. That’s where Happer and his co-host, Tom Stephens, like to use their time to show off their personalities. What they lack in local content in the summer is made up for with fun, off-topic conversations that make the audience laugh. It’s a recipe that can work in any market at any time of the calendar.
But will off-topic conversations continue to grow in the sports radio format? What’s the biggest no-no when trying to steer away from sports? Happer shared his opinions on a subject matter that most hosts find themselves pondering during the summer months.
TM: How does your show approach off-topic conversations?
CH: We really just mix it in when the timing feels right. Most of the time, it’s just little stuff while going back into breaks. If I was going to put a percentage on it, I’d say we do it around 20 percent of the time, it’s just a way to have fun and show some personality to the listener.
TM: Would you like to see more off-topic conversations on sports radio and do you think that happens?
CH: I think if you can find something that’s off-topic and not about sports that you’re passionate about, the listeners can feel it. They can hear it. I think any time we get a chance to do that and get out of our comfort zone it help us. I mean, I’m definitely not against it in any way. I find that when I listen to other sports radio shows, those are the more interesting conversations that end up happening.
TM: In your market (Lincoln, Nebr.) there’s no MLB team around and the news cycle is slow. Is this the time of the year you’re heaviest on off-topic conversations?
CH: Definitely. Yeah, more so now than any other time. If there’s something in sports that we normally don’t talk about, like the NBA with its current free agency we don’t get a chance to talk about that sport a lot during football season because we’re talking Huskers, so I would even consider that off-topic. But yeah, summertime, we do things differently around here because the news cycle isn’t very strong. We’ve hit the wall a little bit with a lack of news, so we’re really hitting the off-topic stuff, for sure.
TM: If the news cycle in a certain market was so dry that nothing felt relevant, would you frown upon someone during an entire show centered on off-topic conversations?
CH: You know, I don’t think it’s my style. I wouldn’t frown upon it, that’s for sure. Our afternoon guy, Brett Kane, he tends to get a little more outside the box, but he’s really good at it and it leads to interesting conversations. It’s not necessarily my shows identity to do a whole day on off-topic, but I absolutely wouldn’t frown upon it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It keeps people entertained, as far as I’m concerned.
TM: This football season is unique because of the arrival of Scott Frost, but once football season hits, will you eliminate all off-topic conversations from the show?
CH: No, I don’t think so. We still try to break it up a little. Our market demands the best football talk, but I feel that if you have enough hard-hitting football talk, it’s good to break it up. I find that it helps keep the hosts fresh, not just the listeners. It keeps them entertained and us engaged, so we’re not falling into the trap of saying the same thing every day. We’ll keep it around during the season.
TM: What’s the best off-topic stuff you’ve seen that’s really been a hit?
CH: We have a younger and older dynamic on our show. My co-host Tom is 52 years old, so it’s interesting with that age gap. If we find something that will appeal to the younger crowd and not so much the older crowd, or vice versa, we give each other a hard time. I think we get into it about food a lot, then there comes jokes about being a picky eater. I think you get a little more personal when it comes to things like that, which shines the light on who we want to be, which is just us.
TM: Do you feel like you see a ton of off-topic responses from listeners on the text line, Twitter, etc.?
CH: Absolutely, there’s no doubt about it. We get normal feedback on everyday things like Husker football and basketball, but people always have an opinion on some weird food preference that we might have and they feel they have to chime in. I’ve actually found that we get people that text in only about that stuff, and it’s the only time they ever interactive with the show. Maybe they’re only there for that reason? But this time of year, we always get great reaction from off-topic stuff, we read it and it works out.
TM: Are there any big no-no’s when brining up off-topic stuff?
CH: I think there’s a time and place for most things. We barely got into political stuff that revolves around sports. I think different time slots will treat these differently, but sex and topic like that, you just have to be careful with kids being in the car. There’s a certain time of the day where that works and certain times where it doesn’t. You just have to be cognizant of that kind of stuff. Don’t take it too far, I don’t think you want to push a conversation that doesn’t have any legs, especially if it’s off-topic. If you got everything out, then there’s no need to go any further.