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Every Format Has Its Hits And Every Host Has To Play Them

“Playing the hits on sports talk radio should be a fun challenge that forces you to go deep and find new, interesting angles to explore the biggest story of the day.”

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Pulse Films

Ask any program director in any format their advice for choosing great content, and it is a safe bet you will hear these three words: Play the hits.

The message is pretty clear. Give the people what they want. Make them comfortable with what we are doing here. That is how you turn listeners into fans.

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For DJs and personalities on music stations, playing the hits can be tiresome. Take it from someone that spent 18 years in rock radio. There is no variety to the hits. If the playlist says to play “Seven Nation Army,” brother, you’re playing “Seven Nation Army”.

Are there better songs than “Seven Nation Army”? Sure. Are there better White Stripes’ songs than “Seven Nation Army”? Absolutely. But the masses know and love “Seven Nation Army,” so that is what you’re gonna play.

Hits in sports radio are topics. The Monday after the first full weekend of NFL action comes with an expectation that you are going to be talking about the biggest stories from the game with the most local relevance. There is no mandate on what you are going to say. Playing the hits on music radio is tiring because it is always the same song. Playing the hits on sports talk radio should be a fun challenge that forces you to go deep and find new, interesting angles to explore the biggest story of the day.

Q Myers programs Lotus’s sports stations in Las Vegas. He also came from a music format. He was a little bit more enthusiastic about playing the hits than I was in my music days. That has helped guide how he talks to talent about why we keep going back to the top stories of the day.

“Especially to me with my music background, I know it’s all about the hits,” Q told me. “What is the hot topic? What is important in my market and how many ways can you talk about it to keep it fresh? I look at is an ‘A’ record. How can I play this ‘A’ record but still make it sound hot and fresh? How creative can I get to allow my audience to embrace it like it’s brand new?”

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“I want the host to hit the big topics every 40 minutes. We are competing with too many audio sources that I don’t want the talent ever more than 40 minutes from a hit,” Gregg Henson, program director of 910 The Fan in Richmond told me. “We are moving more and more to preparing a one-hour show and repeating it every hour. Nobody is listening for three or four hours. The presentation should vary per hour but the content shouldn’t.”

For Gregg, those big topics will always lean towards the Washington Football Team and Virginia’s college football and basketball teams. News and speculation about those teams are the lifeblood of Richmond sports fans.

Steven Spector disagrees. He programs 610 Sports in Kansas City and told me that he hopes his hosts can recognize times there may not be a hit to play.

“A Monday after the Chiefs comeback to beat the Browns requires playing the hits but it doesn’t mean that every NFL Monday is the same,” he told me in an email. “On the days when there is not a 1a story, then you need to make people laugh. Entertain them. And if you keep the pace moving, you’ll get to the stories and opinions people want to hear.”

There are all kinds of exercises for taking those hit topics and mining them for content. Sports radio’s go-to is Bruce Gilbert’s topic tree, but there are other options. Have you ever seen Steve Reynolds’ wheel of content? Are you a list maker? Maybe you follow a pattern that forces you to change things up. You give your thoughts the first time the topic comes up, then you go to a guest, then you take phone calls.

No right or wrong answers exist. This is purely about preference.

Spector says he doesn’t care which tool his hosts and producers use. What is more important is that they know they are expected to recognize when a “1a story” exists and get the most mileage they can out of it.

“I think if you set a general philosophy for the radio station when it comes to content, then it’s known before the day starts and before show prep starts. Then it’s about daily/weekly check-ins with your guys to make sure they’re following the philosophy. Generally speaking, I believe the talent & producers know when there are ‘those days’ where you don’t stray from 1a.”

Myers thinks about the hits in a number of different ways. Sure, he wants his team talking about the Raiders today. He wants them talking about the Raiders a lot, but he told me that a story doesn’t have to happen in Las Vegas in order for it to be a hit with a Las Vegas audience.

“That’s a question I always want my team to be thinking. If something happened like a legendary player or coach dies for example, do we have someone locally who played for or with or against them that can add a unique perspective? I always try to bring our national stories and give them a local feel, so it means more to our audience.”

The hits matter. As a host or producer, it is understandable that talking about the same thing for an entire show or an entire week can be boring. That is why it is on you to make sure you aren’t stuck on a single angle or detail of a story.

Is that on the host and the producer? Ultimately yes, but just like Spector, Gregg Henson believes that motivation comes from the top. A staff will only place as much value in playing the hits as a programmer does. That is why he wants to see the show prep being done and how it shakes out.

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“As a PD, the best way to ensure that a host is hitting the A topics is to the set expectation in advance and make sure the show sheet matches the mission,” he says.

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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