Sun. Sep 23rd, 2018

Don’t Just Play The Hits, Be a Hit

How much do you bench? It’s a common question that men love to ask men. It’s been around so long that I can picture cavemen asking other cavemen how much they benched. What’s interesting about that question — when someone asks how much you bench, they aren’t asking how much weight you can rep out 10 times. They’re asking how much you can bench just one single time. Basically, how good are you at your very best?

There isn’t anything wrong with gauging someone’s value at their very best. The problem is that it’s overvalued. Many look down on Hall of Fame baseball player Craig Biggio for being a “compiler” while gushing over a player that does something incredible on the SportsCenter Top 10. Consistency is easily taken for granted. Wow moments are often blown out of proportion.

Which quarterback do you prefer? Quarterback A has 3,676 more rushing yards and 22 more rushing touchdowns. Quarterback B has 9,424 more passing yards, 50 more touchdown passes, a better passer rating, and much better playoff numbers. If you chose Quarterback B, you actually chose Alex Smith over Michael Vick.

Without the blind resume test, many people would pick Michael Vick over Alex Smith. Why? Simple. Michael Vick produced more wow moments. He made many more jaw-dropping plays than Alex Smith. It doesn’t mean Vick was more productive. It just means that being a walking highlight reel can create the illusion of higher value. Vick was called “Starship 7” while Smith received the dreaded “game manager” tag. Like it or not, this is human nature — we marvel at “wow” and yawn at steady.

Which is more important in sports radio? Is it better for a host to be consistently good, or for a host to be average while showcasing occasional brilliance? Before you answer that, consider a few things.

Alabama beat Georgia in an unbelievable National Championship Game on Monday. Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos badly missed a game-winning kick at the end of regulation. Do you realize that he actually made a 41-yard field goal earlier in the game? I don’t remember it either.

Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw one of the worst interceptions you will ever see and made an awful decision by taking a costly sack in overtime. Those plays will be completely forgotten about because he did more than enough to make up for the mistakes. His iconic game-winning touchdown throw was so stunning that you’d roll your eyes in disbelief if you saw it in a movie.

The common thread — signature moments leave the greatest impression. The good kicks by Pappanastos are just minor details compared to the bad ones. The bad decisions by Tagovailoa are completely swept away because of his legendary throw at the end.

This directly relates to sports talk. Signature moments create the biggest waves. We’ve all heard the stories of radio bits gone wrong that lead straight to the unemployment line. On the flip side, great audio is occasionally posted on this very website. John Canzano of 102.9/750 The Game in Portland told an interesting story about how he and his Asian wife are treated at restaurants. The Musers of The Ticket in Dallas conducted a funny interview with Fake Jerry Jones after the Cowboys Week 1 win.

Jason Barrett didn’t post links to every segment from those shows over the past five months. He posted a link to a single show. It’s impossible for each segment of every show to stand out, but the ones that do need to be more like Tagovailoa and less like Pappanastos. (May the pronunciation gods bless you with those names).

I fully intended to stress the importance of consistency in this column. If you host an awesome show on Monday followed by four duds the rest of the week, your ratings will stink. While that’s true, the more I think about it, the more the counter makes sense — if you host five good shows with nothing great involved, the ratings will also be lower than desired. So which is more important: consistency or occasional greatness? The answer is occasional greatness.

If a host is occasionally great, that same host is fully capable of being consistently good the rest of the time. Even if consistency is lacking, occasional greatness still matters more because it’s what we value most. We value it with bench pressing for cryin’ out loud. We value it with sports and music. Kendrick Lamar performed at halftime on Monday. Can you name all of the songs on his latest album? Nope. I bet you’d be able to recognize a hit song though.

While I love the song “My Friend of Misery” by Metallica, another song on the same album called “Enter Sandman” carries just a slight bit more weight — like 50 tons more. Sandman is played during sporting events 27 years later. Misery is a song that only big Metallica fans even know about. There’s a reason there are compilation albums called “Just the Hits” instead of “Just the B-Sides” — it’s what people flock to most. Hits make the biggest impact.

In sports radio, the suits always preach to “play the hits” — to talk about the top stories. That’s great advice, but what doesn’t get talked about enough is how you need to be a hit yourself. Don’t just play the hits — be a hit. We celebrate athletes that make us say wow. We love musicians that make hit songs we instantly connect with. Why would sports radio work any differently?

I got to sit down with ESPN Program Director Louise Cornetta once. Right after saying hi to each other, she immediately asked me, “What makes you different?” That’s a tough question to answer on the spot. My over-analytical mind started racing. I thought that if I were to describe Colin Cowherd as having strong opinions, is he the only person on Earth with strong opinions? No, and that doesn’t really express just how unique he is. I did the best with my answer, but I’m sure it was choppy and unconvincing.

It boils down to this — beyond your own unique traits as a person, how can you talk about a subject in a way that hasn’t been talked about before? Can you provide a unique example? Can you add a personal story? Can you bring up a comparison or an angle that hasn’t been discussed? Did you say something that was different or just the same as everybody else? If you don’t think along those lines, you’re going to have a bunch of B-side sports takes without any hits. You’re going to blend in instead of standing out.

Think of ways to create signature content that’s the equivalent of a hit song. Hosts will be remembered and judged on their number of wow moments, or their lack thereof. It isn’t just about playing the hits. It’s about figuring out ways that you can be a hit yourself.

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