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What Does Chemistry Even Mean In Radio?

“Is chemistry between two or three people the kind of thing you just know when you see and hear it or is it something you can describe?

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University of Pennsylvania

This is both an exciting and crappy time of year in radio. Stations are evaluating their future and their current standing in a market. That means some people are going to lose jobs. It also means new shows are being built.

There’s a word we hear a lot when teams are being assembled. Whether it is on a field or court or inside a studio, the guy picking the players will always talk about trying to find chemistry.

UAH - College of Science - Chemistry
Courtesy: UAH

What does that mean exactly? Is chemistry between two or three people the kind of thing you just know when you see and hear it or is it something you can describe?

“There’s no exact science to putting a show together,” Sports Radio 610 PD Armen Williams tells me when I ask if chemistry is something he looks for on-air and off when he is trying to find the perfect pairing. “There are top-rated shows where the hosts are best friends, on and off the air. There are top-rated shows where the hosts hate each other and only talk directly to the other when they’re on the air.”

In the classroom, chemistry is a very specific thing. If Williams is right though, when you use the term to describe the relationship between two people, you will drive yourself mad sooner than you will accurately describe the definition. So let’s throw the dictionary out and just see what the people looking for chemistry are looking for when they are trying to build a show.

ARMEN WILLIAMS – SPORTS RADIO 610 (HOUSTON)

When Ron “The Show” Hughley auditioned with Clint Stoerner, Clint immediately told me afterward, “Hey, this is a guy that could run with my crew.” That says a lot. If these two would naturally connect on a level where they’d hang in a setting outside of the office, then once you turn the mics on and tell them to entertain the audience? It can be easier.

Going into an audition, there’s a balance between giving the hosts a little direction on what we’re envisioning for the main dynamic of the show, but also just allowing them be themselves and seeing how it unfolds. The magic happens when the second part comes together.

Armen Williams (@ArmenWilliams) / Twitter

Every radio show is a sitcom. Gilligan couldn’t have had two Gilligan’s on the same cast. That would have been annoying. Instead, he’s surrounded by all these characters who complimented his role and enhanced the conversation and storyline. That’s the goal when putting hosts together.

ANDREW DOWNS – KXnO (DES MOINES)

You need chemistry, sure, but you need another dynamic to go along with that. It can’t just be people who think the same way or see the world in the same fashion, there needs to be some friction there as well. The chemistry comes from being able to argue on-air, or passionately debate an issue, and still smile and have fun and move on to the next topic. But a differing viewpoint is often necessary to have a complete conversation, and can even help sharpen one’s own argument to the contrary. 

Media Timeout: Downs in KXNO driver's seat

I’ve found when two hosts feel the exact same way about something it can come off as preachy and dismissive to any audience member who doesn’t align with that viewpoint. We try to come at things with sincerity and honesty, but at times someone needs to play devil’s advocate to have a compelling and complete conversation. 

BRAD CARSON – 92.9 ESPN (MEMPHIS)

“Chemistry”, show “mojo”, show back and forth “understanding”, “dynamic”, show “energy”, etc. all are essentially in the same wheelhouse. They are areas of focus to understand show roles for cast members, the specific time within a show where a cast member talks, and what a host brings to a conversation or show. Successful shows are always refining this based on what we learn about cast members. For example, we learned here on 92.9  that Bennett on Gary Parrish’s show likes making small wagers… suddenly “Big Bet Bennett” arrives on the scene. Lol

In the case of sports talk, hosts should want to “add to” the conversation, the show. The chemistry for a show might include an “anchor” who brings the station in and out of breaks and is the primary driver. For example, Max Kellerman is now the successful driver during Keyshawn, JWill and Max.  You can easily hear that and understand it.

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One cast member might be the energy force on the show.  In this same show example, Keyshawn Johnson is that. He brings energy and spark. He’s also the lead NFL personality. Ask about USC?  You might know what type of energy is coming.  

Focusing even more on this particular show, Jay Williams would be the basketball lead and then play off the other two cast members for other topics.

A show with successful team chemistry understanding has personalities who work well together using their defined roles. Occasionally breaking that role (and the key word being occasionally, which can offer limited appeal). Shows demonstrating bad chemistry might have cast members who don’t care to understand their place on the show and what is needed to make it more successful.

DAVID WOOD – 93.5 & 107.5 THE FAN (INDIANAPOLIS)

As you know, I just did this. Chemistry can mean a lot of things. Two people can hit it off and be deemed to have chemistry. However, two people laughing and having fun together doesn’t neccesarily define on air chemistry to me.

Wood Named Emmis Indy VP of Programming - Radio Ink

I’ve seen shows where the cast members were great friends and loved to spend time together on and off the air, but the show wasn’t very interesting. I’ve also been around shows where the talent didn’t have a deep relationship off the air, but on the air, they seemed like best friends because they were engaged with each other, communicated well and trusted each other.

I see on-air chemistry as a relationship where two (or more) people have the right mix of contrasts and similarities that create a product where the sum is greater than the parts. Two best friends who are too much alike are not nearly as interesting as two people who get along “okay” but have different perspectives and can have fun sparring about it.

TERRY FOXX – WFNZ (CHARLOTTE)

Entercom Names Terry Foxx as Brand Manager for WFNZ in Charlotte - Entercom

When I put a new show together with more than one person, the word “chemistry” is undoubtedly the first thing that pops in your mind.  But it’s more than that—You want compelling contrast between a team of people.  It’s the Michael Jordan vs Lebron James theory.  You want your hosts to sound like they are just a group of people sitting in a sports bar with different opinions on the subject while telling a story to your audience.  It must be entertaining, compelling, and factual.

BSM Writers

Don’t Make Assumptions to Fit Your Sports Opinions

Curiosity leads to asking questions instead of making assumptions.

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I also thought San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel was white.

Maybe “assumed” is the better term, given the saying of what that does to you and me.

But I — like this guy Sean Beckwith — saw those videos from McDaniel’s press conference last week on Twitter. I legit thought it was a comedy bit at first. When I realized he was, in fact, the offensive coordinator, I thought it made sense that the NFL’s first flat-brimmer of a head coach would have a super-chill OC who sounded like a dude accustomed to microwaving burritos at 3 a.m.

I also learned McDaniel was childhood friends with Dan Soder, a comedian whom I enjoy on Billions. I was informed by people who know better than me that McDaniel is a well-regarded young coach in the league and that’s about where my opinions on the phenomenon of Mike McDaniel stopped.

If only Sean Beckwith had done the same, he might have avoided a major embarrassment. He might still have a Twitter account. Instead, he took even less information than I had, shook vigorously, and poured it out into a story published on Deadspin that warned McDaniel was about to become the next white guy to jump the line.

Except McDaniel is not white. Yeah. This fact is painfully embarrassing for the author, the website that published it, the people who own that website, and just about everyone concerned with equity in the hiring practices of NFL coaches.

I’ll include myself in that latter category, and I’ve cringed at how this story has been used as an example of the problems that come with including race in the discussion of sports, though. This is actually an example of the problems with including race in the discussion of sports when your head is firmly wedged in your hindparts as Beckwith’s seems to have been.

That was the real issue here, and while mislabeling McDaniel as white is an inexcusable and unconscionable mistake, it wasn’t the only problem with this particular story. Brandon Staley was included as one of the young white men hired to be a head coach because of his offensive pedigree. Staley is a defensive coach. Matt Rhule was cited as an example of a young white man hired to be a head coach because of his offensive pedigree. Rhule is not particularly young and as a former college head coach at Temple and Baylor, he certainly doesn’t fit the hiring pattern Beckwith was describing.

The problem at the root of Beckwith’s approach was that he wrote that story with a confidence both unearned and unwarranted, and while it’s easy to write him off for being unbelievably careless, it should give anyone who talks or writes about sports for a living a moment’s pause to consider the number of assumptions that are made in formulating content.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of things I try not to assume:

1. Whether a woman is — in fact — pregnant. A friend of mine said her rule was that she wouldn’t mention pregnancy until she actually saw evidence of the baby, at which point the question of pregnancy would actually be moot.

2. Someone’s mental health. But I covered that earlier this year with regard to Antonio Brown, who — by the way — said to Bryant Gumbel this week that he has “mental wealth.”

Race should probably be on this list, too, but it’s usually not. Most of us go off what we see, and I include myself in that category. Like I said, I thought McDaniel was white, and I initially didn’t realize David Culley was Black when the Texans announced him as their next head coach. Of course, I didn’t go out and formulate a story based on my assumptions, but like I said, Beckwith’s error provided a reminder of the dangers in just assuming what I think is true.

Now, I’m not recommending that we go and ask each and every person we talk about to fill out a census form. I am stating that we should be very careful about taking what we see — or what we think we see — and then cramming it with both hands into a storyline that we’ve heard or even one we believe. Each person we talk about has their own unique story, their own personal background, and the more we assume to know about that without actually having done the research, the more liable we are to make a career-changing mistake like this one.

Be curious. The character Ted Lasso said that in one of the better scenes from the first season of that show, though I’m somewhat reluctant to mention it for fear I’ll come off like one of those fans of this particular show who I’ve found just will not shut up about it. (For the record: I liked the show. Thoroughly enjoyed the first season. Haven’t watched the second season and somehow I’m doing just fine, thanks.)

Curiosity leads to asking questions instead of making assumptions. Curiosity might lead you to look up more about the coach in particular or hiring trends in general. Curiosity is what keeps us searching for a more complete understanding of the sports figures we’re writing about and the trends we’re discussing instead of adopting a smarmy tone of the know-it-all, which is especially dangerous if you’re not even a know-it-some.

In this case, being curious might have led Beckwith to search for more about McDaniel and find the story from Matt Maiocco — a great reporter for NBC Sports Bay Area — in which McDaniel discussed his background. Being curious would have led Beckwith to find out who Andrew Hawkins is instead of using ignorance of the former NFL wide receiver to dismiss his praise of McDaniel’s coaching acumen as an example of Internet groupthink.

Now, I’m not sure if being curious would have kept Beckwith from believing he had a better handle than Hawkins on how race might impact the promotion and hiring of NFL coaches. Curiosity almost certainly wouldn’t have prevented Beckwith from snidely referencing the quote regarding racial justice that is in Hawkins’s Twitter profile.

But that gets back to the root of the problem in Beckwith’s column, which is the confidence with which he presided over a subject of which he was regrettably ignorant.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 59: Paul Finebaum

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How much Alabama can we pack into one podcast? Demetri Ravanos talks to Paul Finebaum about Finebaum’s rise in radio, how he feels about his callers being used for content by other hosts, and college football’s year-round spot in the national sports conversation.

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BSM Writers

10 Ways to Make Sales Work From Home Productive

Create a home workspace that is pure business. Post quotes and keep track of your sales. Let this be your workplace and concentration zone.

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Do you need the energy of others around you to work harder or smarter? Are you the type who struggles to contribute to Zoom meetings? Do you lose focus quickly? Then maybe you need a check=up from the neck up about how you work from home.

For me, the challenges of working from home mainly stem from interruptions from pets, spouses, delivery people, and home chores. I need more discipline to stay on track to hit sales goals and not get distracted.

Here are 10 ideas for radio sellers adapted from Dan Disney of LinkedIn fame.

1. To-Do List

You need a plan for your day, just as you would at work. But building in some household chores would be wise. Remember, you are trading in the morning rush out the door and afternoon drive home for a walk to your computer and then to the TV at the end of the day.

For most of us, that’s at least an hour a day saved by staying home. Spend it as you wish but make sure you schedule it outside your prime selling hours.

2. Stay in Touch

This shouldn’t be hard for most of us with a corporate CRM tracking our moves. But don’t forget to plan social time with people from work who you enjoy.

3. Be Self-Employed

We are who we are when nobody is watching. This is your opportunity to have your own business and work independently. A promotion from work could be next if you conquer this stage.

4. Take a Break

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You took them when you were AT work, so why change? Don’t forget the internet surfing you did, the errands you ran, and the time you wasted hearing about your workmate’s problems. Try to make those breaks more productive by cleaning, paying bills, or playing with the dog. It’s good for your mental health.

5. Get Help

If you need help keeping things quiet for client calls, negotiate with anybody you have at home to help you. If you live alone and have a pet who interrupts things, consider taking your dog to daycare once a week so you can schedule your calls on that day and help guarantee you won’t be distracted.

6. Create an Office

Create a home workspace that is pure business. Post quotes and keep track of your sales. Let this be your workplace and concentration zone. If you pick up a paper, book, or report, don’t put it down in any other place but where it belongs! Please keep it clean each day you are done and all business.

7. Let Your Hair Down

If you have a good client who you have known for a long time but has never been to your home, here is your chance. Show ’em around! Take a Zoom call on the phone and show them your backyard, BBQ, or home theatre room. Let your dog bark at them or have your partner say hello.

8. Take Rewards

You are home and it will be easier than ever to achieve some personal goals by focusing on some self-care. Eat better. Exercise more. Be calmer. Maybe even consider the gas you are not buying as savings for a big night out.

9. Be Positive

Let positive quotes, blogging, and motivating YouTube hits be your distractions. You need positive reinforcement and will have to work at getting some.

10. Train

Study Zoom, social media, and other forms of prospecting. Dig into this new reality and see if you can make it work for you AT HOME.

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