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Laurence Holmes Still Gets Something Out Of Performing

“What I’ve always thought about radio and sports radio is look, we know that the marquis is the teams that we cover. That’s the star of what it is we do. But the connection that people have with the hosts of their station is significant.”

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I typically leave myself out of these Q&A interviews for Barrett Sports Media. It’s not about me; it’s about the people I’m interviewing. Well, I need to violate my own rule to make a point. I grew up in South Bend, Indiana. Because the signal was strong enough to reach my hometown, it allowed me to hear a lot of Chicago sports radio over the years.

One of the hosts I always enjoyed (and still enjoy) listening to is Laurence Holmes. I appreciate his approach and conversational style. He doesn’t sound like your parent giving you “the talk.” He sounds like your cool uncle telling you about sex in a way that never makes you uncomfortable.

Laurence Holmes reminisces about the time he almost (kind of) became a pro  baseball player in this week's Chat Room - Chicago Sun-Times

Laurence has been at The Score for 23 years now. That’s right; the year he started in Chicago began with a 19, not a 20. When a smart dude — which Laurence certainly is — has that much experience, best believe he’s acquired plenty of knowledge along the way. Come to think of it, one of the smartest things Laurence does is avoid sounding like he believes he’s the smartest person in the room. In our interview below, Laurence explains how his strategic approach to podcasting can differ from sports radio. He talks about teaching young broadcasters while learning from them as well. Laurence also touches on a lesson he teaches students at DePaul that he had to learn on his own. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: I’ll start a little broad; what do you enjoy most about being a sports talk host?

Laurence Holmes: It’s funny, I was having a conversation with someone last week where I was talking about how I still, as much as I love podcasting, and I do, there’s still something to the live aspect of it. There’s nothing like a Monday after a Bears game, or going on the air after Giolito’s no-hitter. Being there for the listener in that moment, there’s a real juice to it. It’s so much fun. The interaction and the connectivity of it is pretty terrific.

BN: On the flip side, what annoys you or is the biggest drawback of being a sports radio host?

LH: I still think that the amount of time that we have to break — and I get it, I understand it because I worked in sales, it’s important to make sure that we have advertisers — but sometimes it breaks up conversation. That’s why I think you’re seeing a lot of hosts being drawn to the world of podcasting because it’s uninterrupted. You could have the best intentions sometimes of trying to carve out a topic for your listener, and then it gets interrupted. You’re like I’m going to do this great tease, and people are going to listen to it, and then you come back and you’ve lost your place. I still think that’s one of the challenges is the balance between making sure that the station is paid for, which is super important, and the content not being interrupted as frequently.

BN: The approach to podcasting and sports radio is interesting to me. For example, sometimes I’ll record a game that I mean to watch later, and normally I’m like, ehh it’s old, and I won’t feel like watching it. Some podcasts can burn quickly. Do you approach podcasting strategically where your pod is still going to appeal to people even though it might be old?

LH: Yeah, I’ve been debating how much of the daily stuff that I do on the radio, would I, or should I do as a podcaster? I tend to lean towards trying to do more evergreen topics on the podcast because you lose something as you get farther away from it. The listening is different. I’ll tell you right now, I’m three weeks behind on Le Batard’s show. If they were doing well let’s react to the biggest games of the week, if they were doing that type of content, I would just delete that episode and move on to the next one. Luckily for me they don’t really do that. It’s their own type of thing that they’re doing, so I’m cognizant of it when I’m doing podcasting.

That’s why I prefer to do a longer-form interview with someone when I’m doing podcasts because it can live longer and people can come back to it. I have episodes of the podcast from almost three years ago that people are still downloading because that type of content is evergreen. I also know there’s going to be a difference in the amount of downloads that happen and when they happen.

If I break down the Bears-Saints playoff game, yeah 4,000 people are going to listen to that in 72 hours, but then they’re never going to listen to it again. But if I sit down and do an interview with Mina Kimes — I had Mina Kimes on my podcast — people will go back and listen to that episode to hear us interact, to hear us not talking about a breakdown of a particular game.

Yeah, I think you have to be very cognizant of how you’re programming your podcast and what your listeners respond to. I don’t regret doing a podcast after the Bears-Saints playoff game, that’s great and people want that content, but you have to know that you can’t do that unless that’s your goal.

BN: Do you think that’s the main reason podcasts lend themselves to interviews so much? 

LH: Yeah, I do. I went back, I love [Marc] Maron’s podcast because of some of the people that he’s able to get on and interview. He interviewed Rhea Seehorn from Better Call Saul. I’m a huge fan of that show and it just was like one of those things where it got by me.

I think this interview was in November. I listened to it last weekend. I found out all sorts of great stuff about her and about the show and about Bob Odenkirk. If I’m behind, and I’m really behind on Maron, I will scroll through. But what happened was I ended up listening to two more episodes because they were evergreen. Maron reacts to what’s going on in his life and the world, but the interviews themselves will hold up no matter how long they’re available.

BN: How about as a listener, not so much as a performer, but listening to either sports radio or podcasts, what do you find yourself doing more?

LH: I don’t sample live shows around the country as much as I used to. I do if they are people that I like. I will check out what they’re doing from a podcast standpoint. What I’m looking for as a consumer, for the teams that I talk about and I cover, I’m looking for people who know something that I don’t know. I’m a big fan in Chicago of the Bulls Talk Podcast. I’ve never really covered the Bulls even though I’m around it. They have a really smart crew.

Jason Goff, I think is one of the most talented people in America. He’s my favorite host. Having him along with K.C. Johnson, who’s been covering the NBA for 30 years, and hearing who they’re talking to, and what they think about what happens, that’s more valuable to me. Big picture stuff that can then be broken down granularly is more important to me than, alright guys let’s talk about what happened with the Bulls in the third quarter. Like that’s my job as a host to do some of that from day to day.

Haberstroh’s podcast is dope. He goes in all sorts of different directions. He did an episode that got me to get him on the radio show. He was breaking down the GameStop thing. He did this incredibly layered, nuanced breakdown that could not have been done on radio. He ended up doing it for me on radio, but that was after he had done 50 minutes on the subject and I knew what kind of questions to ask him to get a 10-minute version of that conversation.

To have the space to spread out and really dissect something sports wise, those are the type of sports podcasts that I find myself drawn to. Tell me something that I don’t know. Take me inside of it. Those are the things that’ll get me more so than just react pods.

BN: I saw some of your comments following George Floyd’s death. I’m just curious what your thoughts and feelings are as that police officer is preparing to go to trial.

LH: I don’t want to talk about it as far as my own personal feelings on the subject. I’ll talk about it from an industry standpoint. I was happy that we saw a loosening of some of the restrictive nature of sports radio over that stretch of time last summer. Whether we’re talking about ESPN on a national stage or locally what we were doing, I was happy to see that program directors around the country — and there were a couple who pushed back. I know there were some people in Cleveland, actually I think it’s one of my old associate program directors Matt Fishman, it was one of his places where they had gotten to a point where they said okay we’re only going to focus in on sports.

What I’ve always thought about radio and sports radio is look, we know that the marquis is the teams that we cover. That’s the star of what it is we do. But the connection that people have with the hosts of their station is significant. Strangely enough, they do care about what you think on some of these subjects.

What’s bothered me is that a lot of programmers across the country have reacted to a vocal minority that have decided that they’re going to determine whether or not I can talk about subjects that matter to me, that are sometimes a bit uncomfortable. In situations where it might not make someone uncomfortable, like if I’m talking about Avengers: Endgame, it’s totally fine for me to go off script and do some of that stuff, or to talk about donuts because I love talking about donuts. I can do some of that stuff.

Laurence Holmes: The Score radio host speaks out - Chicago Tribune

I’m glad that we were in a space for the summer that allowed us — and I think that a big part of it was there wasn’t a lot of sports that was going on — I thought that as an industry I was very proud of what we were accomplishing, that we were doing that as well as any talk show hosts in any other genre. We were talking about it from the perspective of athletes in the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, NASCAR, we were talking about it in those ways. But we were also given some license to talk about how we were affected. I don’t know how anyone — and I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing, leave your own problems at the door when the light comes on — I don’t know how anyone during that time, how you weren’t affected. It’s disingenuous to act like you’re not. It’s disingenuous to treat the audience like they’re stupid and that they don’t know all of the stuff is going on.

That’s where I go back to the idea of programmers are always trying to sell the personality of the people that are doing their shows. Like hey you should listen to this guy or this woman because they do this, this, this, and this, and they’re your friend in the afternoon. Well, now your friend needs to talk to you about some real shit. Now your friend needs to tell you why they’re bothered.

I thought that we, as an industry, did a good job of really allowing people to be themselves on the air. I know I’m grateful to my PD. There was never once, not once, that he told me to pull back, that he told me that what I wasn’t doing was compelling. He went out of his way to say we support you talking about these things. We know that you know how to program your show and it’s okay for you to open a vein for your listener.

I think my favorite thing that happened this summer outside of us talking about some of these really big picture issues, is more of my listeners learning what Juneteenth was. I had a bunch of them that said to me, why do I have this day off? They had never had this day off and I did a whole segment on the history of Juneteenth, on The Score, in Chicago. I got text messages from listeners saying thank you, I didn’t know that that’s what this was. I was explaining how I think it should be an American holiday. The support that I got behind it was really awesome. It was cool that in a moment where you don’t think you can go outside of the regular sports radio discussions, it was cool to have that moment and then have the validation of people saying, oh cool, Laurence taught me something today, and it wasn’t about playing Cover 2 defense.

BN: In terms of teaching, why is it important to you to teach young broadcasters about the business?

LH: I’ve been teaching media at DePaul since 2012. I love it. I love it because one, I’m probably a better talk show host in the quarters when I teach because I’m going over some of the fundamental stuff with my students. The other part that’s great for me is I’m seeing how younger people approach media. What is their consumption like? How does it differ from what I watch? How are they looking at baseball? They think it’s boring but they’re still consuming at least from a digital standpoint and I’m seeing that. I’m seeing what they think is important in reporting, and where their ears and eyes gravitate towards. I think that there’s value in that, in trying to understand younger people and their habits. It’s something that our industry is desperate to figure out; how to grab those listeners and never let them go. That’s a big part of this. Being able to sit in a room with them — when you could sit in a room — and discuss some of these things with them, I find it fascinating.

BN: Is there anything that you teach the young broadcasters that you had to learn on your own?

LH: Wow, that’s a really wonderful question. I guess I had to learn this on my own, but it’s more of an observational thing. With social media being what it is now and the emphasis on social media, teaching them about the First Amendment is really important. To me the part that I enjoy teaching them is that it’s not a catch-all. It doesn’t protect you from consequences; it protects you from the government. It’s interesting to see the light come on for students when you explain that to them; that the First Amendment doesn’t necessarily protect your right to keep a job.

Rob Curley: The First Amendment doesn't necessarily mean what you think, so  here's how it really works | The Spokesman-Review

If you say something that’s out of pocket, your employer has the right to pull your contract, to take you off the air, to fire you. That is an important moment for them, because I think there are so many people that take the First Amendment and misuse it horribly as a way to, “Well I can say what I want, I have First Amendment rights.”

You’re damn right. You can say whatever you want, but as far as the private sector goes, you are not protected from the consequences. I try to explain to them — I’ve allowed them to see portions of my contract. Make sure that you read your contract thoroughly so that you understand where your employer, what rights they have to terminate your employment.

It can definitely be a difficult thing to understand. It’s a target that keeps moving on some of these subjects, but students need to understand that they can’t hold the First Amendment up as a shield against their employer. They can try to do it against the government, but they can’t do it against a private employer. I think that’s probably the most important thing where you have to learn about that from watching the way that your entity where you work, how they handle some of these things, and knowing your rights. I think that that’s a really important aspect of the job.

BN: As far as goals go; you’ve got the Chicago gig, the podcast, you’re now doing Sunday mornings on CBS. Is there anything you want to accomplish down the road that you haven’t yet?”

LH: Yeah, getting a chance to do a national show is a big deal for me because I always wanted to be able to talk about a bunch of different topics. I still love doing the local show, but doing it nationally has been a real blast. It’s been so much fun and I’ve gotten to interact with listeners from around the country, which is cool. I find that I’m really starting to love content creation podcast wise, building my podcast, House of L, and working with people.

I actually am digging the consulting aspect of my job now where people will come to me and say, hey I’m thinking about doing the podcast, what do you think I should do? Sitting down and helping — I’ve helped launch four or five podcasts this year. To know that I have peers that respect me in that way is really gratifying. I guess it’s an offshoot of teaching, where I’m taking my experience and I’m lending it to someone else, and they’re adding their unique abilities to the advice and coming up with something incredible.

BN: Do you see a future in the teaching/consulting area?

WSCR-AM's Laurence Holmes moving to middays: 'I can't wait, I'm so happy' -  Chicago Tribune

LH: I think there’s a chance that could happen. I still love performing. I still get something out of performing, but as I age out of the demo — I’m 45 now, so I’ve got some time — I do think that that’s probably where I end up. Kind of creating a business on content creation where I’m helping people do their thing instead of me doing mine. I’ve been working at The Score since 1998. I’m 23 years into the game at this point. I still have a lot that I want to do on air, but I’m fascinated with people who are coming up now and how they can creatively tell stories. I want to be able to help them do it.

BSM Writers

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.

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USA Today

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.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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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.

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