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Listener Interaction Only Works If It Works For You

“Is less more? Will listener interaction spur more listener interaction? There are so many competing philosophies that I decided it was best to ask hosts and producers what they think.”

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Two years ago, we did a poll on the site. We asked listeners what they value least when listening to sports radio in the morning. They had four options, which included guests, updates, and basic information like news, traffic, and weather. None of them came close to the top spot.

Overwhelmingly, listeners told us they hate hearing another listener on the air. In a poll with four options, more than 50-percent of the people that responded said callers have the least value to the sports radio audience in morning drive.

Does that mean no one should ever take a phone call? If I am being honest with you, that is my mind set. I have written several times that the only person that cares about what Chet in Dunwoody thinks the Falcons should get back for trading Julio Jones is Chet in Dunwoody.

Not all shows are built the same though. And the issue of how best to use phone calls has changed. Now, we all have to figure out the best way to use fan interaction. For some that will mean phone calls. For others that will mean texts. If this were still 2002, we might be talking about faxes or IMs.

Is less more? Will listener interaction spur more listener interaction? There are so many competing philosophies that I decided it was best to ask hosts and producers what they think.

In the national sports radio landscape, if I say phone calls, you are thinking about one name: Paul Finebaum. I want to hear less calls. He can’t imagine the Paul Finebaum Show without them.

“The callers are the most important element of the show. They are the show,” Paul told me in an email. “There are countless very sports show across the dial and available on many platforms. There are far more knowledge and talented hosts. But I don’t think there is another program in the country that matches ours for the authenticity and passion of the callers.”

Report: Auburn Superfan, Finebaum Caller Tammy Killed In Car Crash
Courtesy: SEC Network

Look, I can’t argue with that. I grew up in Alabama listening to Paul. Some of my memories of sports news unfolding in front of my ears involved his old show. I am talking the pre-JOX days. I go back to the WERC days of Paul reading the Sports Illustrated story of Mike Price’s visit to a Pensacola strip club live on air in absolute shock.

You may jump to the extreme when you think Finebaum callers. Hell, if you aren’t from Alabama and don’t know any of them by name, you probably know Harvey Updyke. But that show is not that show without I-Man and Legend and Tammy and Phyllis and the Jims (both the Tuscaloosa and Crestwood versions). Those are the callers Finebaum is adamant he could not do his show without, the ones that are every bit as important a part of his work family as his wife Linda is to his actual family.

“I’ve the given the eulogy at several funerals of our callers and the thing that has struck me is how the other callers have always shown up, people they only knew as a voice on the radio, but who felt like they were a part of their own family,” he said.

When you think about sports radio in the Northeast, it is hard not to think of phone calls. Cabbies loudly yelling into a brick of a cellphone about why a manager should be fired for the way he handled a pitching change is the stereotype sports radio was built on.

Tyrone Johnson, who produces and co-hosts Mike Missanelli’s afternoon show on 97.5 the Fanatic in Philadelphia, doesn’t like that the entire region is lumped together, but does admit the city’s loud-mouthed fanbase is an asset.

“What works in Boston or New York doesn’t automatically work in Philadelphia and vice versa,” he says. “There are no hard rules, but Philadelphia fans expect interaction in my opinion more than some others.”

Courtesy: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Johnson knows that the trend in sports radio is moving away from phone calls. It isn’t something he quite gets though. He struggles to see how eliminating listener opinion makes shows better.

“I think people overthink it by eliminating them completely based on a bit of self importance. While the hosts’ opinion is most important, stating things with no feedback or no pushback to me isn’t great radio either.”

So Johnson, and the rest of the behind the scenes staff on Missanelli’s show make sure the calls they take work for what is happening. He told me that as far as he is concerned, there are two rules for making the air if a listener picks up the phone during afternoon drive.

“#1 the call has to be about the topic. There are shows that sort of do open phones and that makes no sense. #2 calls are wanted but not needed, no individual caller is important enough to derail what is going on. There is a screener and then I have to view the person after that, so it is basically double screened. As far as when to hang up, normally shorter is better within reason. The biggest mistake people make is letting calls go on too long.”

Geoff Calkins doesn’t take callers often. His show on Memphis’s 92.9 ESPN is thought out and strategic. He knows where he wants to go. He has to know that the time is right before he asks for phone calls, but when he does, he is rarely disappointed. It is something he attributes to the makeup of his city.

<strong>Columnist Geoff Calkins discusses the Tigers on our podcast.</strong>
Courtesy: Daily Memphian

He told me that on Tuesday’s show, he had a specific question about the Grizzlies’ playoff performance. That lead to a call from a truck driver working for Baskin Robbins and suddenly, his show was all about ice cream.

“Maybe the best calls come when I ask about the really hard issues, involving race or politics. Or the calls we took during the early days of the pandemic,” Calkins says. “I think most people know which way I lean on these things (I’m a lefty) but the show is respectful enough that people call in with all sorts of perspectives. It struck me that there aren’t a lot of places where that happens these days. Too often, Americans only want to hear from people who mirror their own views. I feel lucky that we’ve been able to do something different. I hope it helps the broader dialogue.”

Should listeners read anything into Calkins not taking a lot of phone calls? Does it say anything at all about how he feels about their opinion? After all, the guy estimates that he takes phone calls “about once a week. And often it’s just for a segment.”

Remember, this is someone that likes asking his audience to think. He wants to hear what they have to say in response to big issues and hard questions. Those don’t come up everyday. When they do though, he makes more time to let the public speak. He used last summer’s protests as an example of when he thought it was right to let listeners steer the ship.

Other times, Geoff Calkins finds other ways to get listener opinions on the air. But that is the key. They have to have opinions and those opinions have to matter. He doesn’t want to ask people to share a thought as a way to kill time.

“We’ll do Twitter polls occasionally, and read the answers as they come in. But we’ll do that, too, strategically. Never just have a poll to have a poll,” he says.

No one I spoke with was afraid to give the listener a voice. No one wanted to hear as much of those voices as Finebaum does though.

“I will always fall on the side of going too long as opposed to being short,” he said. “You never know what the next thing that will come out of a person’s mouth will be. They may have a great sports take or reveal something about their life that affects or influences the entire show. For many, it may be their only time ever on a radio show. It may be one of the most important moments in their life. Not that many calls end up in the Smithsonian. But my attitude as a host is to be insanely curious about every caller, without fear or favor.”

Courtesy: ESPN Images

So maybe listener interaction isn’t useless. Your fans are turning to your show to be entertained. If you do that by turning over the airwaves to other entertaining people, so be it. You’re still accomplishing the end goal and who am I to say boo to that?

I think the key is that everything you do on air has to put you in the best position to best serve your listeners. When you shine, they are more likely to connect to the show. How you use other voices and opinions should almost always be about how each one helps you accomplish your goal from segment to segment and show to show.

BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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