Sat. Aug 18th, 2018

Sports Radio Lessons From a Five Star Hotel

If I were trying to impress you I’d say I am currently between radio gigs. If I were being more honest, I would tell you I parted ways with SB Nation Radio in July and had to find something else to fill my time and pay some bills, so I am currently working at The Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary, NC.

There’s a very real chance you’ve never heard of us, but it is your loss really. The Umstead is a Forbes Five Star hotel. Conde Nast just named us the best hotel in the South and one of the top 50 hotels in the whole world. So, you should probably check us out.

Now look, as a town, Cary blows. It’s an upper-class suburb of Raleigh and the thing that it’s best known for locally is that the town requires the sign for every business to be green and white. After reading that sentence, how charming do you think Cary is? Okay, now dial that down by about 20% and that’s how charming Cary actually is.

So then how does The Umstead Hotel and Spa have such a sterling reputation? How do we make our hotel the kind of destination people will go out of their way to experience? Simple, we put a focus on service and highlight the natural attractions around us.

There are a number of lessons I have learned working in a Five Star hotel environment that can be applied to sports radio. Here are five of them.


If you read my piece about the radio station not being your jukebox, this will sound familiar. If you haven’t, go read it now.

I work in the reservations department of the hotel, so I deal with calls all day long. There is certain information I have to give and receive from callers. In an ideal setting, I can find out if they are celebrating anything, if they have any allergies we can help them avoid in their room, and make sure they are aware of our cancellation policies, but the one thing that I’ve learned is that sometimes callers just want to get off the phone. Real Five Star service isn’t about following all the rules to the letter. It’s about respecting the caller’s time.

In radio, we want to tell every detail of the story. We want to get in every joke. But you have to respect the listener’s time. Tell your story. Get in the relevant stats and the best jokes. Remember to make your point clear up front. We respect the listener’s time by not burying the lead, by saying “this is where I’m going with this, come with me.”

If you’re going to tell me why Papa John should get a say in the way the NFL polices player protests, you better lead with that thesis. I am not waiting through jokes and sales figures to get to a point I don’t agree with, but if you make your point up front I am more likely to stay with you. If I like you, I want to give you the chance to convince me. If I don’t like you, I want to hear your justification for such a dumb stance.


If you call a hotel to make a reservation and they ask if you have a floor preference it’s not just the agent being nice. It is something that has to be asked in order to get all of the points on the Forbes Five Star test. If the agent repeats the date that you said you want to check in and says “is that right?” It’s not because they didn’t hear you. It’s because the agent wants a record of you acknowledging your agreement multiple times to legally protect the hotel.

Yes, what we do gives a certain appearance. That appearance will either enhance or enforce the reputation of the hotel. The fact is though, that every word I say when talking to a potential guest serves a specific purpose. The same should be true of your radio show – maybe not with every single word you say, but with every segment you plan.

Why do we deliver the same bit at the same time every week? Because it creates appointment listening opportunities and those provide more chances to expand the listener’s TSL. Why do we have benchmark guests? Because we know that those guests will deliver good content and reliably good content presents sales opportunities.


Afternoon tea service is one of the most popular offerings at the Umstead Hotel and Spa. We usually ask guests to call for reservations at least three weeks in advance, but if you called me tomorrow and asked me to find you the first availability for afternoon tea, I would be looking well into December.

I tell you that to share a story with you. Last month I got a call from a woman in New York. She was paying for her daughter to stay at the hotel to celebrate the girl’s graduation. She bragged about our tea to her daughter and wanted her to experience it. The problem is that she was calling on the day that her daughter was checking in. She would only be at the hotel for two nights, and on one of them we weren’t serving tea. When I told the woman how popular the tea service was and that there was no availability for her daughter, she told me I single-handedly ruined the trip.

Was it really my fault? Of course it wasn’t. It was the mother’s fault for not doing her homework. She didn’t make the effort to learn what she needed to know.

In preparing for interviews, never be afraid to ask colleagues and friends what they would ask if they were conducting the interview. Maybe you’ll discover an interesting angle you were unaware of. When you move into a new market, seek out market veterans to learn the history of the rivalries and teams you’ll be covering. You won’t ever be able to fake being a local, but learning what you need to know before you ever crack a mic will earn you a lot of points with a new audience.


Did I mention our afternoon tea is very popular? Great, because here’s another story about it!

Last weekend a woman that was staying at the hotel called the reservations center. She wanted me to set up a banquet room for her to host tea for a group of 20 that were in town for a convention that day. The request would be impossible to grant. Not only was the banquet staff not working (because there was no banquet scheduled), but we do not have 20 set ups for tea.

When I told her this, the lady got pissed. She told me that her husband was the president of the company hosting this convention and our hotel embarrassed her. Not only could we not make tea work for her, but she also was told she couldn’t make 20 same day reservations in our spa, which like our tea, is quite popular.

There is only so much others can do for you. If your ratings are down, there is only so much installing a new clock can do. If listener panels come back with a negative opinion of your show, there is only so much new imaging you can do. No one has more influence on the product you are trying to deliver than you. Stay informed. If there is a vision that you are trying to execute, make sure you have done all you can to make it a reality before you start focusing on how others are not helping you.


Like I said earlier, I work in the reservations department. On an average day, I don’t interact face-to-face with guests. I am trained though to also work as a concierge and a front desk agent if necessary. Days where the hotel is running at 95+% occupancy can really put a strain on those two departments and if everyone decides to show up right at 3pm, which is check in time, those departments will need a lot of support. So, even though I go to work each day anticipating sitting in front of a computer, I have to be prepared to be face-to-face with guests.

Sports radio shows have to be ready for anything. Do extensive prep for every show, but know that if news breaks, you have to be ready to throw all that prep out. So while you are prepping a segment on the College Football Playoff rankings, keep an eye on what is happening in the hot stove, because if your local team makes a major move, you need to be ready to talk about it intelligently.

That is the case with any show built around current events. The key word is “current,” right? If my guests at the hotel are stuck in long lines waiting to get what they need, you can bet they will let the hotel know about their dissatisfaction. In this day of social media, all it takes is one person to make air their grievance publicly and the hotel’s reputation will suffer. All it takes is one show where you sound out of touch and you’ve created detractors.

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