Hosting a sports radio program in a market with professional teams makes the job less difficult. Each day you’re provided with local content from your local market’s franchise(s), interest from your local listening audience, and if your station is in business with a team, then you’re likely to leverage that partnership to increase your ratings and revenue.
But what do you do when you operate in a city that has no professional local market team? Do you turn your attention to the local area clubs that don’t produce a major impact? Do you focus more on college sports? Do you shift your attention to talking about national events? Or do you try something completely different?
Depending on where you are and who you work for, the line in those situations is constantly moving.
I thought it’d be interesting to gain the perspective of someone who recently went thru that experience firsthand. Jeff Pantridge served as afternoon host on ESPN Radio 94.1 in Norfolk, Virginia. Having moved to the market from Tampa, Florida, Jeff had to learn on the fly and figure out what did and didn’t matter in a city that had splintered interests.
For those of you who broadcast in similar situations or are preparing to go thru it for the first time, I think you’ll find Jeff’s takeaways on how to approach the situation very valuable. Be sure to connect with him afterwards. His contact information is listed at the bottom of this article.
Hosting in Markets with No Professional Teams
There aren’t many things more important in sports radio, or any form of radio for that matter; than knowing your audience. What teams and topics do they care about? For those who host sports radio shows in large markets; it’s easy. Large markets have multiple teams with large fan bases; so you fish where the fish are. But what if you’re doing a show in a medium-sized market with zero pro or major college teams? Where do you fish?
Do you do a local show or do you do a national show? Do you do both? An old colleague of mine once told me that the answer to 99% of the questions asked in this world is… “It depends.” What does YOUR AUDIENCE want? What do they respond to?
Every market is different, but it’s up to you to gather all of the information that your market provides and use it to create a show that they desire. I worked in Virginia Beach recently and I found out that our listeners’ tastes and teams were all over the place. For those of you that don’t know, VB is the largest city in Virginia and Virginia is the largest state (population wise) without a professional sports team. Norfolk, just 20 miles west, is home to the largest naval base in the world. What do beaches and military bases mostly attract? People that aren’t from there!
So, what do you talk about? If nobody is from the market that you’re talking to, then you just do a national show right? What if you have a AAA baseball team? Do you talk about them? What about a mid-major university? I wish I had a definitive answer for you, but I don’t. The best advice I can give you is to combine my two “I’s”. (I may or may not be stealing this from one of Barrett’s favorite guys, WWE Hall of Famer, Kurt Angle). Technically, he had three “I’s”. Intensity, Integrity and Intelligence. Unfortunately, I have none of those so I will give you my two… Information and Instincts.
Gather any and all information that you can with your program director. Are you seeing meter spikes when you talk about certain teams or topics? And when you’re done gathering and processing your info; use your gut man! Use your instincts! You know what drives me nuts? When I see managers in baseball making ALL of their decisions based on what a spreadsheet tells them to do. I get sabermetrics and why they have a huge role in today’s game, but when you’re in Game 7 and your pitcher is throwing a gem; don’t just assume you need to yank him because he’s about to face the lineup for the third time. What is your gut telling you? What are his performance, his eyes and his body language telling you?
If your phone’s light up when you talk about the Cowboys, then talk about the Cowboys. Here in Virginia Beach, we love NFL Football. The three most popular teams here are the Redskins, the Cowboys and the Steelers. (Probably in that order). With the information that I had gathered, the Redskins were the most popular of the three, but last year, my gut told me that they weren’t as compelling as they might have been in years past. Yeah, you had the Kirk Cousins angle, but that got to a point that I felt like I was beating a dead horse. I actually talked more Steelers because, not only were they good… they were INTERESTING! Big Ben hinted at retirement. Le’Veon Bell wanted to get paid. Antonio Brown through temper tantrums and damnit! Jesse James caught that ball! But, I digress. The Cowboys are always interesting and that certainly was the case last year. The Redskins were an uninteresting team without a lot of star power, that went 7-9. If I were hosting a sports radio show in Virginia Beach this year; would I go at it the same way? It depends…
Listening to your audience is very important, but it is not an exact science. Some people will tell you that you need to do more local topics and I believe that makes senses if it benefits the majority of your audience. But if doesn’t; how do you “sound local” without breaking down high school water polo? I believe the best way to “sound local” is to BE local. While 98% of your audience may not care about X’s and O’s of a minor league baseball game; there are other ways to talk about it. My radio station was the home of The Norfolk Tides; the Baltimore Orioles’ AAA affiliate. When I would talk about the Tides; I would talk about the experience more than the actual games themselves. I love going to baseball games! Always have. Would I do an entire segment on the Tides? No. But I would mix it in after after their games were promoted during our sports updates. Sometimes I would do a quick mention on how the team was doing or show them some love for their latest promotion. It’s a great way to not only support our station’s partners but to build a better connection with the audience. Whenever I planned on going to a game; I would tell my audience to come find me at the right field tiki bar.
Locals of mid-market cities appreciate it when you embrace their community. I certainly did when I worked in Hampton Roads because, 1). I loved living there. And 2). I feel that is important for your audience to connect with you in every way possible. Sports radio listeners aren’t stupid. They can sniff out the hosts that are using their market as a “stepping stone” to something bigger down the line. I always made a point of highlighting my experiences as a resident of the 757; whether it be at sporting events or concerts or restaurants/bars etc. If you see my social media accounts; you will see the hashtag #RepYourCity in a lot of my posts. We should all rep our cities and be proud of where we live. I certainly do and I certainly am.
Jeff Pantridge is a sports radio host and former producer. He has worked for WDAE, ESPN Radio 94.1, The Schnitt Show and the now defunct 98.7 The Fan. You can reach him on Twitter @PantsPartyRadio or by email by clicking here.