I am a firm believer that every show that is personality driven and either free of music entirely or plays only very little of it needs a good third mic. It goes without saying that a great host is needed to steer the conversation, and of course you need a co-host that is a master at his craft, whether it is adding perspective or fun to the proceedings. But if you can put a third voice on your show, that voice can take the proceedings to a new level.
That third voice can be an on-air producer, like Mike Ryan on the Dan Le Batard Show, or a rotation of regular guests. That is what Sports Radio 610 in Houston has said it will do for its afternoon show, The Triple Threat, after the departure of Ted Johnson. Some stations simply go with a three host show. That is the set up for successful shows like 3HL on 104.5 the Zone in Nashville.
1. IT GIVES THE LISTENERS MORE OF THE SHOW
I’m a big fan of Petros and Money on AM 570 in LA. I like the show because I like the hosts. I like the cast. It’s not that I don’t want to hear them take calls or interview guests. Hell, Lance Romance and Friday Night Film Fight are two of my favorite caller-driven bits in sports radio, but I became a fan of the show because I find its cast super entertaining.
More voices makes a show sound bigger, like a party even. Think about sitting at a bar with a buddy after work. it is just the two of you and you’re arguing about sports. That’s an intimate conversation, right? Well, it’s meant to be, let’s say you’re in that situation and another guy at the bar overhears you debating MJ vs LeBron. If he’s a basketball fan chances are he won’t stay silent. He might chime in with the case for Kobe. His argument is stupid because, I mean…come on. But he’s a part of this now.
More voices in a discussion invites more ears. You and your friend debating can stay one-on-one. It can be a very exclusive thing, but add that third voice and suddenly the bartender needs to tell you that rings are all that matters and Jordan has 6 of them! That invites the old barfly that has been sitting on his stool since at least 2 hours before you came in to shout that if rings mean everything, you can all kiss Bill Russell’s ass! And that leads us to point number two.
2. A THIRD MIC FUNCTIONS AS THE VOICE OF THE LISTENERS
Like in our bar scenario, everyone wants their voice heard. A third mic doesn’t need the same credibility or access that the show’s anchor does. A third mic is free to be divisive with his or her opinions. They’re free to be uninformed and shoot from the hip. It doesn’t damage the station or show’s credibility because it can be positioned as the third mic is an outsider.
One of the best third mics I’ve ever heard, regardless of format, is Jim Norton. Now he hosts his own show with Sam Roberts on SiriusXM, but he started in radio as the third mic on the Opie and Anthony Show.
When he was on that show, I once heard Norton talk about his prep routine as none at all. “I might read a few stories in the paper or on my phone, but I just want to come in and react to what those guys are saying.” It may sound frustrating to hear that a guy on a show that big walked in the door five minutes to air time as part of his strategy, but that’s what made Jim a perfect voice for the listeners.
Your listeners aren’t steeped in the details of every story you talk about. They don’t have the connections that can give them inside information. You give your opinion. They likely are hearing it for the first time and want to react to it. Having someone in the room that is thinking the same way is a great way to connect with your audience without turning your show into three hours of you reacting to phone calls about who the Bills should start at quarterback.
3. THERE’S SOMEONE IN THE ROOM ALWAYS THINKING ABOUT THE NEXT STEP
You could read that headline and think it only applies to shows that do bits and take a very silly approach to sports. Maybe you’re right that having someone always thinking about where to go next with a topic is more valuable to that kind of show, but every show can benefit from having someone in the cast that is the designated long-term thinker.
I once interviewed for a third mic position on a show that was still being assembled. The PD asked me why he would want me in that chair. I told him because I’m funny and I’m always thinking about the third day of a topic.
That’s not to say I am the world’s best third mic. I didn’t end up getting the job, after all, but if I were designing a show, I would want at least one person thinking about what angle we can take on a topic when it’s something every sports media outlet has already been talking about for two days.
Let’s use Jalen Hurts’s recent comments about the Alabama coaching staff not talking much with him about the team’s quarterback situation during training camp as an example. If I’m a PD in Alabama and I have already heard my morning show talk about how Nick Saban will react, what it means for Jalen’s future with the team, does this divide the locker room, and what does the school owe a player like Jalen Hurts, it feels like the topic is pretty exhausted right? But this is still the biggest local story three days later.
If people are still talking about it, I guess you could rehash some of those same conversations. Personally, I would want to have someone on the show that can say “You know what we haven’t talked about yet? This is the same thing Blake Barnett said in 2016 when he left and the same thing Cooper Bateman said last year when he left. Does a third quarterback saying this about Nick Saban send up red flags with high school coaches? Is this the kind of thing they might pay attention to and a reason they might tell their top quarterback prospects to steer clear of Alabama?”.
That is the kind of role that a strong third mic can fill. His or her only roll is to ask the question. It’s up to the producer (who may be the same guy) to find the guest that can answer it. It’s up to the host to provide the knowledge to answer it. It’s up to the co-host to provide the perspective that gives the answer some weight.
I fully subscribe to the idea that when it comes to radio, bigger is better. A show is always more entertaining when there are more voices. Two hosts are usually better than one and some PDs are content to settle there, but adding that third voice cuts down on the need for callers and guests and gives listeners more of what they tuned in for: THE SHOW!