For five years, John Fricke and Hugh Douglas have been a top-rated morning show with Atlanta’s 92.9 The Game. On-air from 5 – 10am each day, totaling 25 hours a week, it might not be fair to fully judge their show while most professional leagues remain shut down. But as we approach four months without pro sports and no guarantee they’ll survive through the fall, hosts have needed to adjust.
Content has focused on when and should sports return during a global pandemic. Many shows have taken these months to reminisce, while others welcomed the opportunity to dive into topics outside sports. And as sports continues to intersect with social issues, it can sometimes present an uncomfortable scenario for hosts and listeners.
With Drew Brees’ comments on protests during the national anthem, NASCAR banning the Confederate flag and a noose found in Bubba Wallace’s garage, some hosts may prefer sticking to sports, but it’s impossible to ignore the issues of racial injustice. For Fricke and Douglas, they seemed at their best discussing these topics, offering measured, honest commentary.
Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce has become a leading voice in the city while fighting social injustice, and his interview with 92.9’s morning show regarding the issue of racial inequality was short, but insightful. Two days later, Douglas, a former NFL defensive end, offered an emotional response to Brees’ comments that he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag.”
“It’s not about the flag, it’s about being treated equal,” Douglas said through tears. “It’s about making sure that when my son drives through the city, he’s not going to get killed.”
To hear a former First Team All-Pro express that type of emotion and fear, allowed listeners to connect with the host in a way they probably didn’t realize they could. Many people believe someone like Hugh Douglas, who made millions in the NFL, doesn’t experience social hardships at this point in his life, but after hearing him speak Thursday, June 4, it would be ignorant to continue that assumption. Douglas made himself relatable to the audience and Metro Atlanta’s Black community, a city with racial inequality even though it touts the slogan of a “city too busy to hate.”
With local teams in the three major professional sports, NFL, NBA and MLB, it was interesting to hear how much soccer Fricke and Douglas mixed in. The Atlanta United have a partnership with the station, which gives reason to emphasize their local MLS club, but the hosts’ interest sounded genuine.
In New York, for example, the only time you’ll hear soccer on sports radio is during the World Cup. A local radio station might offer a quick spot to focus on matchups and countries, but very few discussions will include specific players.
When Mike Conti joins John and Hugh to discuss the Atlanta United, they break down specific players which gives me something to watch for. If I turn a game on after hearing the interview, I have a stronger connection with the United because I recognize players on the field. As Major League Baseball burns relations with its fans, 92.9 The Game’s MLS coverage is timely.
My favorite segments from John and Hugh were ones that brought in additional voices. For hosts like Colin Cowherd and Jim Rome who plan and organize each show block in detail, less on-air voices can be more. But for a local morning show that reacts to yesterday’s headlines, the segments that welcomed additional personalities offered a more communal listening experience.
Daily segments such as the Morning Mashup and Morning Menu introduced a variety of topics for the hosts to react to and included producers Abe Gordon and Orin Romain. Fricke and Douglas speak with smooth, easy listening tones, but sometimes the addition of a third voice can break the morning monotony with a quick shot of enthusiasm.
There were some bits that fell flat, such as a guessing game of what are Douglas’ five favorite drinks in the summer. It felt like filler radio, although my attention did spark when Fricke asked if a mixture of “Red Bull and Sprite” made the list – Red Bull and Sprite?
The rest of the show was equally confused. The ‘Pick 6’ segment, ‘list the six Heisman winners with the worst NFL careers since 2000,’ was slow to start simply because Douglas didn’t have the last 20 Heisman winners in front of him.
I would still encourage more creatively built segments, especially at a time when local sports topics were thin. As listening habits change and people like myself spend more days working from home and less time in cars, I look for content that withstands time. Rehashing last night’s headlines won’t always succeed in convincing me to listen live or download a podcast.
There are radio shows and podcasts that were released last week, month or even year, and when you listen, you forget the date they were recorded. Not every live show will be Dan Le Batard, where I can listen back to an episode from five years ago and be entertained for hours, but in the current digital and work-from-home age, timeless content is essential.
Just as I enjoyed the influx of personality from Orin and Abe, involving the listening audience can provide similar depth. During my hours of listening to John and Hugh, I did not hear one caller join the show, and can’t remember a listener text, email or tweet read on-air. (I admittedly did not listen to all 110 hours of the show during the month of June.)
There are varying opinions on taking calls in sports radio, but being from New York where WFAN built its show model around that input from the audience, I see its benefits. The Morning Show w/ John and Hugh isn’t alone in its decision to stick to the hosts. At the 2020 BSM Summit, 92.9 The Game afternoon host Carl Dukes discussed how his show takes very few calls and didn’t express much of a desire to implement more listener interaction.
But especially during a time without sports, there’s room to involve the audience. Fricke and Douglas introduced a variety of discussions from their personal lives about housework, first apartments and children mooching that would be enhanced by audience involvement. The opportunity is there to ask listeners for unique stories on the topic, either through a phone call or tweet.
Speaking with conviction during those personal stories, regardless of how basic they may be, will provoke the audience to participate. It’s natural to be confident when you’re offering a sports opinion, but not all hosts speak with the same tone when they’re telling a personal or funny story.
Fricke and Douglas keep the show moving with short segments and a lot of topic changes. During my month of listening, it was rare that a single topic became a focal point of the show. The rundown of headlines can limit a discussion from branching out and building through the addition of new thoughts and opinions. You’ll certainly find highlights with this sports-first show during the course of a five-hour morning, but like many hosts, the duo will benefit from the returning scoreboard.
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
National Voices Can Work For Local Clients
“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”
Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.
I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.
In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.
Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area. The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen.
Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!
If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.
Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it.
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