Hank Aaron was a national treasure that lead by example. Every baseball fan knows what a master the man was at turning the other cheek, because by now the amount of racism and the number of death threats he received as he closed in on Babe Ruth’s home run record is common knowledge. Even weeks before his death, there was Hammerin’ Hank at an Atlanta-area hospital receiving the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. He was happy to have reporters and photographers follow him, in hopes that it would influence older members of the Black community to do the same.
You can’t really call Aaron’s passing a shock. The man was 86 after all. That doesn’t mean it didn’t cut a lot of us very deep.
Aaron and I share a hometown. It’s part of the reason that I named my son after the man. Baseball fans in Milwaukee mourned. Broadcasters from a variety of networks shared stories of their interactions with Aaron and their memories of watching him play. Nowhere was the loss felt deeper than Atlanta.
Hank Aaron was already a perennial all-star when the Braves left Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1966. He had already won his only World Series title and his only NL MVP award. That didn’t matter. Atlanta threw its arms around Aaron. He was the icon of the franchise even long after Glavin, Maddux, and Smoltz made the team fixtures atop the NL East.
That means that on Friday, no station had more of a duty to tell Aaron’s story and grieve alongside their listeners than 680 the Fan. The Dickey-owned station is the Braves’ flagship and has been an institution for Atlanta sports fans since 1995, the last time the team won the World Series.
“Devastated,” morning co-host John Michaels answers when I asked him how Atlanta felt after the news of Aaron’s death was first reported.
“This is the 3rd person associated with the Braves to pass in the last few months and Aaron is the most painful. Everyone had a story or a moment where they met Mr. Aaron and you can tell how much he impacted everyone’s life in a positive way. What he did for this community and baseball in general cannot be understated. He is one of the great humans and ambassadors for the game of baseball.”
Chuck Oliver, who hosts the station’s afternoon show, Chuck & Chernoff, agrees that it is a city-wide tragedy. As someone born and raised in Atlanta, he says this feels like a truly personal loss to him.
“We’ve never not had Hank,” he told me in an email. “I interviewed him in 2004 and he and Jim Craig are the only two interviews I’ve ever been part of where I don’t think the person being interviewed really understood how important he was. Not talking ‘great at whatever sport’ or All Timer etc, but truly important to people in what he accomplished and what he meant.”
The world learned of Hank Aaron’s death on Friday afternoon. That meant Michaels and his co-hosts on The Front Row were long off the air by the time Fan hosts started talking about Aaron.
Hosts and producers worked their personal contacts to get on people that could speak poignantly about one of the greatest ballplayers to ever live. Being the Braves flagship helped that effort, Michaels says, because the franchise would never turn down the opportunity to glorify Hank Aaron’s contributions to his sport and his city.
“Our shows on Friday did an amazing job of bringing on guests ranging from Chipper Jones to Bob Costas to Al Downing and many others. With the relationship with the Braves we typically have a pretty big Rolodex of Braves guests lined up and no one was saying no on a day like this,” Michaels said.
Michaels and The Front Line would have to wait their turn. That meant that between the announcement of Aaron’s death and the next time the morning show cracked a mic on 680 the Fan, we would know who was playing in the Super Bowl, the Hawks had played twice, Arthur Smith added more coaches to his staff with the Falcons, and tons of mock drafts had come out predicting what the team would do with the 4th overall pick.
None of that mattered. This was Atlanta. Michaels says there is no way he could have come in on Monday morning and not talked about Hank Aaron.
“We absolutely carved out a segment to talk about Hank Aaron. Had it happened Friday while we were on the air, we would have dedicated the remaining portion of the show to talk about his life and memory, but it would’ve been a disservice to our listeners to not address his death as soon as we could. The NFL and the Super Bowl were front and center on a Monday morning but we didn’t forget about Hank .”
In a strange coincidence, Olive had already been thinking about Aaron’s legacy for a week before the Hall of Famer died.
On Wednesday of last week, Don Sutton passed away. While the four-time all-star never pitched for the Braves, he was part of the club’s broadcast team from 1989 until 2006. Sutton is part of the Braves’ Hall of Fame in addition to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Upon Sutton’s passing, Oliver sent his show staff an email that he was kind enough to share an excerpt from with me.
“I was sad yesterday, but I also was reminded again of a valuable opportunity we have,” he wrote “We need to make more about Hank Aaron. We need to celebrate that man, we need to come up with someway to honor him even more than we are already.”
Olive told me that program director Matt Edgar had already decided to dedicate February 5 to honoring Aaron and what he meant to both Atlanta and baseball.
The entire Friday edition of Chuck & Chernoff belonged to memories of Aaron from guests and callers alike. The hosts shared their personal feelings on the event. It might be too early to say it was a chance for the city to come together and heal, but it was certainly a shared moment of grief for the city’s sports fans.
I asked Chuck if he could ever see that sort of community mourning happen again. Hell, had he ever seen it happen before? Is there anyone in the history of Atlanta like Aaron, a man that the city would take a collective moment of silence and remembrance for?
“No, and not certain what would, surely nothing from a sports standpoint,” he said. “There are plenty of very real reasons Ted Turner should be celebrated, he played a huge role in us becoming a legitimate international city, he and Maynard with the airport. But Ted’s kinda different, personal interaction-wise, and also has almost no visability in Atlanta anymore. Last time I saw Ted he struck me as pretty much done with being famous, and it’s been at least a decade since he’s had any interest in talking about his time in sports in Atlanta.”
It is hard to think of a titan left in baseball after the passing of Hank Aaron. I mean, who is the biggest name from the sport’s history still alive and also with an untarnished reputation? Nolan Ryan? Cal Ripkin Jr? Ken Griffey Jr?That is probably why Aaron’s death resonated around the country the way it did. It felt like sports fans were losing something precious.
The staff of 680 the Fan deserves a tip of the cap. MLB Network, ESPN, SiriusXM, they all could do the day long tributes to Aaron. They all could go out and find former opponents and teammates to talk about what he was like on the field. The Fan took on a special challenge though. They found the right way to serve an audience that was mourning one of its own.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.