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Be Your Listeners’ Friend

Brian Noe

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

BSM Writers

Does FOX Need West Coast College Football Success?

“I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”

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Don’t believe them. Don’t believe those people that try to sell you on the idea that a given sport is better if a given team in said sport is good. You know, college football is better when Notre Dame is good. Maybe they tell you college basketball is better when UCLA is good. Might they say the NFL is better when the Dallas Cowboys are good? Let me tell you, whoever the they is saying those things, they are wrong. FOX isn’t living or dying on it?

I am not here to tell you college football is better when USC is good. The Trojans are ninth all-time in FBS wins with 866 victories, they claim 11 National Championships and 39 conference championships. There is zero doubt they are among the elite, blue blooded programs of the college football world. With all of that said, USC hasn’t contributed to college football’s national championship discussion in more than 15 years. But, now Southern California is back and in College Football Playoff contention.

With only Notre Dame and a PAC 12 Conference Championship left to play, 10-1 USC is in excellent position to earn the first College Football Playoff bid in school history. The Trojans would be the third west coast team in the playoffs, 2014 Oregon played in the inaugural edition and 2016 Washington was the only other PAC 12 participant. It has now been five playoffs since a PAC 12 team has been in the top four.

That brings up the obvious question, how important is it for the health of the College Football Playoff to have west coast teams involved, especially one based in Los Angeles? L.A is, of course, the second largest media market in the nation. College football is well down the list of priorities in the City of Angels but having a team in the mix might help the overall national rating.

College Football has long been criticized for becoming too regional of a sport. The results thus far do lend themselves to that belief, the only team from outside the South to win a national championship was 2014 Ohio State. The SEC has twice had two teams among the four playoff teams and two of eight championship games matched Alabama and Georgia from the SEC. 

So, does the College Football Playoff need West Coast teams for long term health? FOX is one of the rights holders for PAC 12 football and the main FOX college analyst, Joel Klatt, doesn’t think it is necessary. “I don’t know if it matters this year. This is like the last two years in an eight year term for a president,” Klatt told me on my show, The Next Round, “I think we are all looking forward to the twelve team playoff and I don’t know if it matters as much as it did in the last eight years.”

To Klatt’s point, the College Football Playoff seems to be screeching towards that twelve team format and a bigger media rights deal. That deal will almost certainly include multiple networks, not just ESPN/ABC, and will be worth significantly more money than the current deal. So, it is not as if the lack of a presence west of the Rockies has hurt the attractiveness of the College Football Playoff to the networks.

On the other hand, the playoffs have never reached the lofty ratings they had year one. Was the 2014 edition just ratings lightning in a bottle or has the regional nature of the product hurt those ratings? The 2014 semi finals did fall on New Year’s Day which meant the games were played in the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl which has proven to be the most successful schedule in terms of ratings success.

The college football lover in me couldn’t get enough of FOX’s Saturday night USC-UCLA telecast. There’s something about both teams wearing those classic home colors and playing in that historic stadium under the lights. They put on a great show, the show also would go on without them.

I want as many people as possible exposed to college football; it only makes the sport healthier. If that means more West Coast teams need to be in the playoffs, I hope they earn their way in. An expanded playoff will only make it easier. Until then, just keep telling people college football is better when your team is good

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BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast: Rich Eisen, NFL Network

Jason Barrett

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Rich Eisen reveals how he ended up partnering with Stuart Scott, the moment he knew he made the right move joining the NFL Network, and the influence standup comedy had on his broadcast career.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3nTJC5K 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3z9hErM

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3oyi0U0

Google: https://buff.ly/3vh7Tqu

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3w9hqAh

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BSM Writers

HBO’s ‘Shaq’ Docuseries Tells Shaquille O’Neal’s Story With Style, Personality

What ‘Shaq’ wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts.

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Screen cap via HBO Sports

From the very beginning of HBO’s Shaq docuseries, Shaquille O’Neal tells us how important storytelling is to him. Just recapping a sequence of events isn’t enough for the Hall of Famer. As the man puts it himself, “sometimes when you tell a story, you wanna add a little barbecue sauce.”

Director Robert Alexander (The Shop, A Man Named Scott) adds plenty of barbecue sauce to O’Neal’s life story, especially in the first two parts of the docuseries. (Shaq runs four episodes, with the opener debuting Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max. Each of the following three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday.)

Nothing less should be expected from a gigantic personality like O’Neal. This isn’t a dry documentary that simply chronicles a series of events. Alexander mixes in stock, news, and archival sports footage to add embellishment and punctuation to many stories and important points. Music, creative set design, and animation also play key roles in keeping the narrative moving and the audience engaged.

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Each episode has a visual theme to it. Part 1 emulates a music video. Several comic book elements are incorporated into Part 2. Part 3 is meant to invoke a classic stage drama, a Shakespearean tragedy. Unfortunately, Part 4 is less focused in that regard, though some fun video game graphics are produced. Editors Freddie DeLaVega, Lenny Messina, and Ted Feldman deserve significant credit for making all the pieces fit together into a cohesive visual trip that gives the documentary an energy not seen in many projects like this.

Much like The Last Dance did for Michael Jordan, Shaq helps define a basketball icon for newer generations more familiar with the athletic giant from being part of TNT’s Inside the NBA panel and his many, many commercial endorsements.

The documentary begins with an adolescent O’Neal growing faster than his body and mind could handle. He wasn’t a phenom who was a superstar from the very moment he took the court, despite his obvious size advantages. And his path to major college basketball didn’t take the typical route.

Eventually, however, viewers see what those of us old enough to have watched O’Neal play at LSU remember. He looked like an adult among boys. His dunks were ferocious, raising his knees as he bent the rim to his will. And, as you might recall, young Shaq was much thinner than the diesel he became late in his professional career.

The first two episodes of Shaq chronicle O’Neal’s rise to superstardom, from college sensation at LSU to No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick by the Orlando Magic, developing into a force for whom there was no match on the court on the way to NBA championships. O’Neal was so dominant that the game had to adapt to him. Rival teams stocked their rosters with three to four big men that could each spare six fouls roughing O’Neal up and sending him to the free throw line. The NBA’s defensive rules changed to allow more double-teaming.

Parts 3 and 4 of the docuseries are less fun, as the second pair of episodes follow O’Neal’s fall from the ultimate heights of his career and difficulties in his personal life. His relationship with Kobe Bryant deteriorated and took a championship dynasty down with it. A major factor in those tensions developing was O’Neal’s reluctance to stay in shape during the offseason, continuing to put on weight, and eventually having toe surgery right before the 2002-03 season.

This is where O’Neal’s involvement and cooperation probably hurt Shaq the most. Unlike the first two episodes, when everything was going well for him, the big man doesn’t offer as much insight into his shortcomings. Particularly frustrating is his lack of accountability. At one point, O’Neal flat-out says he’s not talking about what went wrong with the Lakers.

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Looking right into the camera and accepting responsibility for his role in the demise of two championship teams (later including the Miami Heat) would have been riveting. Instead, others are left to try and explain O’Neal’s actions, which feels dishonest as teammates like Rick Fox and longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti try to cover for him.

What Shaq wants the audience to know is that success wasn’t easy for the man, despite his physical gifts. Basketball did not come easily to him as a youth, nor did championship success in college or the NBA as he grew up. But like so many great athletes do, O’Neal channeled criticism from the media and slights from opponents including Dikembe Mutombo into major aggression on the court. (His words for the 1999-2000 NBA MVP voter who prevented him from the league’s first unanimous win are profanely hilarious.)

O’Neal makes it clear that strong figures in his life provided discipline and guidance — beginning with the military-influenced upbringing of his stepfather, then coaches who could teach him how to be a great player like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley — made him who he is. He has always been a personality and time has been kinder to some of the behavior that was once considered brash. Now he’s a worldwide brand known even to non-sports fans. Those viewers, along with diehard basketball fans, will enjoy getting to know him better in this docuseries.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Part 1 of Shaq premieres Wednesday, Nov. 23 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Each of the three episodes will premiere on the subsequent Wednesday, through Dec. 14. The docuseries will also stream on HBO Max and be available on-demand, with repeat airings on HBO networks.

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