I always find it interesting, a city like Houston with championship-level professional teams in the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball produces sports radio ratings lower than most top-10 markets around the country. There are multiple explanations you can point to, but I can comfortably say it’s not for lack of on-air talent.
At the start of July, I was a first-time “LoopHole” where my only previous experience listening to Sports Radio 610’s midday show hosted by Landry Locker and John Lopez was a segment with Shaun Morash. Without any preconceived notions of the show, I tuned in July 1, hour one to hear Locker recite a poem he wrote, and Lopez sing an original song recapping the unprecedentedly brutal first half of 2020. Shortly after, In the Loop played sound from Mike Francesa and I was officially locked in. Little did I know, those were going to be recurring themes throughout the month: originality, rhymes and sound. A lot of sound.
I generally enjoy shows that are hosted by former producers. That’s not to say hosts who haven’t produced don’t care about their craft and aren’t willing to put in the prep work. But there are hosts who get to the studio, flip on the mic and let their audience do the work. I’d be willing to bet most of those on-air personalities never produced a show.
Locker’s professional background is as a producer. Actually, it’s as a fireworks sales manager, but his start in sports radio featured production experience, including a near four-year stint behind the glass for 610’s morning show. Now hosting middays since 2018, In The Loop sounds like a show with a willingness to try new things, it’s organized through ample prep work, builds out each show block and features a lot of harvested soundbites. It’s not a coincidence that this occurs with a former producer behind the mic, someone who can be an organizer and originator.
Lopez adds his experience as a longtime radio host and columnist for the Houston Chronicle. His knowledge, having been around teams and players, provides excellent insight on topics such as whether NBA players will ditch the bubble for extracurricular activities. The frequent analogies from Lopez are timely, often comparing sports to work and relationships in a way the listener can relate. Not quite as creative as Colin Cowherd, but also not as occasionally bizarre. As a listener, I enjoy a good analogy, especially ones I don’t have to decode.
In The Loop’s producer, Figgy (Edward Gilliard) has his work cut out for him each morning, but credit both hosts for regularly showing appreciation for his contributions. Segments for 610’s midday show are frequently built around sound clips. Finding, organizing and playing the audio is likely a collaboration, but Figgy surely plays a large role in making sure the show is running on all cylinders.
Pulling content from other shows and platforms is often underutilized in sports radio. Media personalities make millions of dollars to spew their professional opinions for everyone’s entertainment and if Skip Bayless says something outlandish, you should debate it on your show. In The Loop does not fall short in using and localizing outside content to react to, if anything, they might overutilize it. Whether it’s audio from another show on 610 (which they do a great job of cross-promoting), an NFL Network segment from Charlie Casserly, or sound from yesterday’s Astros presser, you’re going to hear a lot of voices on In The Loop.
Playing, replaying, analyzing, scrutinizing and reacting to sound is a big part of 610’s midday show. As a listener, I like it for the occasional set up, but I don’t need it as a lead-in to every opinion. Too much can take away from the pure and instinctive beauty of talk radio. Unforeseen conversations and debate can be lost when so many segments are designed to feature outside sound.
Separate from the clips, In The Loop also plays a lot of background music. Talk radio has the ability to connect with listeners and make them feel like they’re part of the show. Entire segments with background music reduced the personal feeling of the hosts talking to me. Instead, it feels more like a national ESPN program than a radio show.
It’s common for shows to play the NFL Films soundtrack during picks, and maybe include something upbeat for a short rapid-fire segment, but when used for more than just a few minutes it becomes distracting. Understanding this is my personal preference and maybe 610 conducted a focus group determining Houstonians like cheesy music beds, but I say this as a compliment more than a criticism. Lopez and Locker already move at a good pace with plenty of natural entertainment value as a duo and it’s not because of a sound bed.
It’s a small note, but it’s great that the show named their audience. It inherently builds the communal feeling that surrounds a radio show: LoopHoles in Houston, TOLO’s in Dallas, Kirk Minihane’s Minifans, and the more common “(insert show host) Nation.”
Lopez and Locker use the text line frequently and take calls from LoopHoles occasionally. In The Loop picks their spots for opening the phone lines and it does a good job of adding unique conversation to show’s inherent organization. Callers also create the potential for finding sound drops. Hopefully the show saved Locker’s, “it’s not about the booty,” or “this is the whitest I’ve ever felt, and I go to Kenny Chesney concerts!” to be played at a later date.
In The Loop has so many segments worthy of a podcast. I already acknowledged Figgy has a lot on his plate, and don’t mean to suggest giving him another task, but I wish they broke down some of their podcasts as individual segments, not just full hours. Entercom pushes the RADIO.COM app and suggests hitting the rewind button, but knowing a show keeps a running list of their best segments will drive me to the app more than any other selling point.
Even as a P1, it’s rare that I tune in to all four hours of a show’s podcast, but I’ll certainly click on the highlighted 10-minute clips they offer. Lopez’s best analogy, Locker’s poem, In The Loop breaking down Zack Greinke’s enigmatic postgame presser, are all headlines I’d prefer over hour one, two, three and four. Give me 10-minute clips, if it leaves me wanting more, I’ll check out the full hour.
This was the first month of sports radio listening where there was actually sports to talk about since March, but I appreciate that In The Loop didn’t need it as a crutch. There was finally sports content to discuss, but Lopez and Locker didn’t focus solely on game recaps or interviews with beat writers, they always hammered the local scene creatively.
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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