When the pandemic hit in March 2020 – and sports immediately shut down – my radio partner, Ray Didinger, and I joined every sports talk host in America wondering, “What are we going to talk about now?”
We really did not want to do throwback shows – despite being two veteran guys who’ve been around since the advent of 24-hour sports talk radio. We had no stomach for Mount Rushmores, nor all-time teams, nor any other familiar crutches that, hey, I’ll admit to falling back on during my career.
So we decided on another tactic: Let’s allow our favorite sports legends to tell us their stories. In detail and at length. From childhood to present time.
We kicked off “Tell Us Your Story” (clever name, eh?) on 94-WIP the second weekend of the shutdown by spending 45 minutes each with Philadelphia legends Merrill Reese (the Eagles radio broadcaster since 1977) and Charlie Manuel (manager of the 2008 champion Phillies).
Manuel, one of 12 siblings, told a compelling story of his youth. His ill father committed suicide when Charlie was in high school, leaving a note asking his oldest son to take care of the family. So Charlie turned down an academic scholarship to Penn to embark on a baseball career that has surpassed five decades.
It was the kind of story that’s impossible to work into the standard 10-minute radio interview. And told at Charlie’s relaxed southern pace (with the two radio hosts basically silent), it was gripping.
One advantage of the shutdown: It became far easier to book big names because, well, our guests had a lot of time on their hands. Who was going anywhere?
So we heard the life stories of Philadelphia Hall of Famers like Dick Vermeil, Bernie Parent and Jay Wright. We branched out to national figures. George Foreman told us how he started boxing as a kid because he was being bullied in the neighborhood. Herschel Walker got choked up telling of his battles to overcome stuttering.
One of my favorites was 1980 Olympics hero Mike Eruzione, who told us how he started playing hockey in his older sister’s figure skates. “So, I learned to play hockey and fight at the same time,” he said.
To be fair, Ray and I have a big advantage over many other hosts. At this point of our careers we’re on the air only on weekends. So we only need to fill six to eight hours of programming a week, as opposed to 20-plus by many of our colleagues.
And, being on weekends, we know our audience is a bit different from M-F. It’s comprised more of guys listening while working in their yard or running errands, rather than people dashing to get to work. In other words, they’re more likely to be able to stick with us for a longer feature.
Ray and I figured last year that we’d keep “Tell Us Your Story” going only until sports reopened last fall. We also expected to run out of worthy legends to interview.
But our audience let us know how much they like the feature through positive feedback, as well as through the number of listeners who show up when our show is podcast. So we’re still at it, using it as a standing feature every Saturday at noon.
In recent months we’ve talked to Brian Dawkins, Al Michaels and the Phillie Phanatic. Bob Clarke was far more effusive than I’ve ever heard him when he discussed fears that a diagnosis of diabetes would keep him from a pro career. Franco Harris broke down the “Immaculate Reception” in detail although, alas, he still wouldn’t reveal if he actually caught the ball. Gene Steratore, the head referee for Super Bowl LII, went through every moment of that game from his perspective, including the “Philly Special,” the greatest play in our city’s history.
We’re now 77 interviews in. Most of our subjects come from the four major pro sports, but we’ve featured stars from college basketball and football, boxing and broadcasting.
It’s long form radio, essentially a podcast that we can bring to FM, and Ray and I know how fortunate we are that WIP management allows us the opportunity. I think a lot of program directors might decide their audience doesn’t have the attention span to stick with an in-depth interview that covers most of an hour.
So, thanks, Spike Eskin – even as you’re walking out the door.
I’ve got a list of names that I hope to get for “Tell Us Your Story” – local and national, Hall of Famers and one-time heroes. As long as they keep saying “yes,” and our audience keeps listening, Ray and I will keep it going.
Glen Macnow has spent nearly thirty years talking sports in Philadelphia for 94WIP. He’s also a former sports writer and best-selling author. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @RealGlenMacnow.
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.