I have been in my car a lot over the past week. I went from Raleigh, where I live, to Winston-Salem (a three hour roundtrip) on Monday for the NSMA Awards Dinner. On Wednesday I drove to Charlotte (two and a half hours one way) for a meeting and to review Spider-Man: Far From Home (It’s quite good.). Then on Thursday, I drove down to Columbia, SC (90 minutes from Charlotte and then three and a half hours back to Raleigh on Friday) to fill-in for Heath Cline for a couple of days on 107.5 the Game.
As you can imagine, all of that time in a car gave me plenty of time to clean out my iPhone’s podcast app of just about anything and everything I have been saving.
One show I had been holding on to was an episode of Disgraceland, in which host Jake Brennan interviewed Elton John. The show usually recaps stories where true crime and the biggest names in music overlap, but this was a straight interview to promote the movie Rocketman. Sir Elton is apparently a fan of Disgraceland and requested that Brennan do the interview for iHeart Media.
I’ve always liked Elton John, and I think Jake always does his research and is prepared to tell any story he chooses on Disgraceland. I had never heard him do an interview, but still was optimistic.
What I heard was really bad. It was so bad that I started scribbling down notes as I drove about where Jake went wrong. Let me be fair to Jake. He said in the show’s intro that there were certain questions he had to ask in order to get audio that could be distributed to iHeart stations, but for anyone that works in radio or any other field that involves doing a lot of interviews, it was a tough listen that inspired this list of ways we over-prepare and make what should be good interviews sound boring.
1. PREWRITING ALL OF YOUR QUESTIONS
As I listened to the Disgraceland episode with Elton John, the biggest problem was that it all sounded so scripted. Whether or not the questions he was asking were written by Jake Brennan or by someone else, they were clearly written and he was clearly reading.
Elton John isn’t a boring guy. This is a guy that was the biggest rock star on the planet in the 70s and 80s and is a living legend to this day. He did most, if not every, drug under the sun, and during the height of his fame, he was living in the closet. There’s a reason you make a movie about a guy like that. He has a story worth telling.
Having your questions pre-written makes it hard to pivot or explore a little deeper when the interview subject says something that piques your curiosity. More than that, it makes the interviewer sound aloof and disconnected.
It is good to want to be organized and give yourself reminders of things you want to cover. Instead of writing down the questions exactly how you want to ask them, simply write down the subject you want to hit. It forces you to be in the moment and keeps you from falling into the trap of tunnel vision, shutting yourself off from being able to go with what the subject gives you.
2. DECIDING HOW THE INTERVIEW IS GOING TO GO BEFORE IT STARTS
This is a trap even the most entertaining host can fall into if they aren’t ready to pivot at any moment. Sometimes we have a legendary story we want the subject to tell, or a particular moment we want a player to relive that we can get laser-focused on it. It’s understandable to want to bring the story to your listeners, but if it is clear the subject isn’t giving up the goods, it is impossible to create good radio by staying the course.
There are stories celebrities from all walks of life are known for and feel like they have said all they possibly can on the matter. We have all asked players and coaches to describe a moment or a call and been met with “You were there. You saw what happened.”
No one will ever say there is anything wrong with being a bulldog to get information, but if you are in a situation that is a full interview and not just trying to get a sound bite, your goal has to be to move the conversation along. Focusing on a topic the interviewee doesn’t want to talk about risks making the whole conversation worthless.
3. BEING STARSTRUCK
Elton John is a pioneer and icon of rock n’ roll. Jake Brennan isn’t used to talking to people of that stature. It is understandable that he might have been a little thrown.
This doesn’t happen often in sports radio, but it does happen. When I was at the NSMA event, I talked to a host that was taken aback by Tony Kornheiser agreeing to be on his show. I saw plenty of professional interviewers struggle to ask Doris Burke for a photograph.
Think about that time you got to talk to a hero from your youth, who was on the interview trail promoting something. Think about the first time after moving to a new market that you came face to face with someone who until now was only an image on TV.
Maybe you weren’t fully starstruck, but you had to reset yourself and quickly adjust to the fact that this was a reality and you are at work. You had a job to do and couldn’t use airtime to fawn over a hero. That is only interesting to you.
4. LETTING THE INTERVIEWEE BOGART THE CONVERSATION
We all have a name in mind when we read that headline. All of us can think of someone that takes three minutes to answer a single question. They may be an unimpeachable expert on the sport they cover, but they talk for so long that listeners forget the question that the host asked in the first place.
Elton John was going to tell Jake Brennan every thought or feeling he had ever had about anything, and look, that’s fine for a podcast. You’re not clicking play on that episode for a quick introduction to who Elton John is and what he’s all about. I just couldn’t help but think of how that would sound in a radio context.
Letting an interview subject steamroll you puts him or her in total control. They get to decide what questions get answered. They influence the way your listeners think about the segment. We always want a guest to be comfortable. We just don’t want them to feel like they can move in and make the show their home.
5. REFUSING TO CUT BAIT
This one has nothing to do with Jake Brennan’s interview with Elton John. It is just something I thought was worth mentioning, because of something I heard a local show do while I was on the road.
The hosts were talking to the coach of a local women’s soccer team about the Women’s World Cup. The coach clearly knew her stuff, but she was just really boring and giving two and three word answers to every question. As I listened, the hosts scrambled to stretch the conversation to fill their entire ten minute segment.
It reminded me of Dan Patrick’s interview with Kyler Murray. It was done during Super Bowl week. The Oakland Athletics’ draft pick and Oklahoma quarterback had not yet made a final decision about what he was going to do regarding the NFL Draft.
Patrick pressed and Murray continued to deflect. Actually, he didn’t deflect so much as giggle and try and kill time. Patrick, being a master interviewer, was able to turn things around and get an entertaining segment out of it, but maybe you don’t have those kind of interviewing skills. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with admitting defeat.
Will you look like a dick? Maybe in the very short term, but if it stops the bleeding then bite the bullet, look like a dick, and cut off the interview. If you can be more entertaining without the guest on the phone then you can by keeping that conversation going, then you owe it to your listeners to get that guest off the phone.
Interviewing is an art not a science. Everyone is going to create interesting content in a different way. The roadblocks to doing great interviews are common across the board though. Recognizing what they are will help you avoid them.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.