Fri. Mar 22nd, 2019

Be Your Listeners’ Friend

“When I introduce you, I’m going to say, ‘This is a friend of mine.’ That means you’re a connected guy. Now if I said instead this is a friend of ours, that would mean you’re a made guy.” Al Pacino delivers this line to Johnny Depp in one of my favorite films Donnie Brasco. This past weekend caused me to think about the importance of sports radio hosts being part of an extended family, a made guy if you will. Not necessarily part of the mob, but rather belonging to a family other than their own.

It was Father’s Day last Sunday. Many sports hosts, including myself, shared a quick story about their dad or mentioned something they’d be doing themselves to celebrate Father’s Day. It made me think, “Why don’t we do things like this more often?” It doesn’t have to be the life and times of each host every single show, but mentioning personal details gives the audience a chance to know us better.

Think about family members and close friends of yours. How well do you know them? Pretty darn well. You know their past — their joys, pains, experiences, and heartbreaks. That knowledge helps you care deeper for them. In order for people to truly care about a host, it needs to be known who they are and what they’re about. Sharing an opinion about Kawhi Leonard wanting to be traded or Phil Mickelson hitting a moving golf ball is great, but opinions by themselves don’t allow the audience to get a glimpse of who the host actually is.

In the movie Private Parts, which happened to be released one week after Donnie Brasco hit the screens back in 1997, Howard Stern made the comment, “It’s so apparent to me now what I should be doing. I should be talking about my personal life. I’ve got to get intimate. And every time I feel like I shouldn’t say something, maybe I should just say it, just blurt it out, you know? I just got to let things fly. I got to go all the way.” Many people know lots of things about Howard Stern. That didn’t happen by accident. He let the audience in and benefitted greatly by doing so.

I’ll never forget one of the very first phone calls I took when I first started hosting shows on FOX Sports Radio. A caller from Miami asked me, “So like, who are you?” He didn’t ask for my opinion about the Dolphins offense or request my Super Bowl pick. He just wanted to know a few details about who the heck I was. I said a few random things off the top of my head like my hometown is South Bend, IN and I’ve played guitar in a few heavy metal bands. It taught me a lesson though — the audience won’t know who you are unless you tell them.

My wife was randomly reading about Dolly Parton on Sunday. The lovely Christina was fascinated by the details she learned and was telling me all about them. Dolly is in an open marriage with her husband Carl Dean. Dolly has never been on a ride at Dollywood due to motion sickness. She made roughly $37 million in one calendar year recently. Now, Christina isn’t a gigantic Dolly Parton fan. Neither am I, but I’m actually more interested in some of Dolly’s music after learning these fun facts about her.

Isn’t that amazing? I’m actually more open to Dolly’s work after learning a couple of random details. It shows that people are interested in the stories and experiences of others. It’s one of the reasons why movies are so popular. We love good stories and strong storytelling. Why would a radio host deprive the audience of his/her own story when the listeners are interested in hearing about it? It’d be like a business saying, “In spite of our customers clearly wanting something specific, we just aren’t going to offer it to them.” That business formula is about as solid as Roseanne Barr tweeting.

In sports radio, opinions are like a salad. Hosts that reveal personal details about themselves are like salad dressing. It adds a unique flavor to the show when we understand who the person is that’s providing all of the opinions.

There are two things that bother me if I forget to include them during a show — revealing things about myself, and incorporating life while making a point. Both are tied to relatability. If listeners can relate to the things in life that are being described, they rarely lose interest in your thought. If the audience can relate to you, even better. There is some sort of connection that is made, like the host understands what the listeners go through. An audience is far more forgiving of a host when they feel like you get them.

This brings us back to the original thought — being an extended family member or a “made guy.” The best way for hosts to achieve this is to reveal things about themselves that the audience can identify with and relate to. Once they understand what you’ve gone through, the more likely they are to see you in a different light and accept you.

A radio station once told me that their city’s NBA team is treated like a family member by fans in the area. The team’s flaws and shortcomings are largely overlooked because of how loved they are. It’s such a luxury if an audience thinks of a host in a similar way. The best way to achieve this is to let them know who you are. Listeners will eventually disagree with what you say — possibly very often — but they’ll be far more open-minded to your views if they understand you’ve experienced certain things just like they have.

“So keep your nose clean. Be a good earner. Follow the rules. And who knows, maybe one day when they open the books, you get straightened out. Become a wise guy. A made guy.” This quote from Donnie Brasco also applies to sports radio hosts. Hopefully, the line that is most fitting involves your audience saying, “This is a friend of ours,” about you. Fuggedaboudit.

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