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What Can Sports Radio Learn From Counting Crows?

“Every song has a theme and a purpose and they are going to make that clear to you from the second Adam Duritz opens his mouth. Can you say the same about the way you approach every segment of your show?”

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Red Light Management

Counting Crows are one of those bands that has occupied a pretty enviable spot in the landscape of American pop music. I don’t know anyone that would say the band is their favorite, yet I don’t know anyone that claims to outright hate them either.

Counting Crows fly high for Meadow Brook show – The Oakland Press
Courtesy: Mezgarth

That is a position that can sustain you for years. Even if you never write another new song, you can tour of the strength of “Mr. Jones” and “Long December” for decades.

The band also does something very well that every sports talk host should take note of. So many of their songs start with strong opening lines. They paint a vivid picture. They use words that evoke emotion that the band intends to sustain throughout the song.

In short, Counting Crows aren’t dicking around. You know the mood instantly. You can picture the character we are following.

  • “A long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last.” (“A Long December)
  • “Step out the front door like a ghost into a fog where no one notices the contrast of white on white.” (“Round Here”)
  • “I wanted so badly, somebody other than me staring back at me.” (“Time and Time Again”)
  • “She sat right down on the sofa. Says “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you.” (“Hanginaround”)

Every song has a theme and a purpose and they are going to make that clear to you from the second Adam Duritz opens his mouth. Can you say the same about the way you approach every segment of your show? Are you getting right to the heart of what you want your audience to think about or react to the second you open your mouth?

We all have bad habits. We learned them from bosses that were stuck in bygone eras of radio or we picked them up from the people we listened to when we were younger. Maybe there was a time when these bad habits were best practices, but now we can more accurately track audience behavior.

Listeners have so many options for sports information. They have even more options for being entertained. Attention spans are short and you cannot count on someone waiting through you talking about the donuts in the break room for you to meet their needs.

Scott Masteller, program director of 1090 WBAL in Baltimore, agrees.

“Never assume and never make the audience wait,” he said in an email. “As soon as the segment starts go right to the topic with content that matters. Do not waste time talking about elements the audience is not interested in or you may lose the listener!”

Duritz is a hell of a songwriter. I find myself going back to Counting Crows’ first three albums, particularly Recovering the Satelites and This Desert Life, pretty regularly. One of the most attractive things about the songs on those records is that they just hit you in the face.

That’s not to say that every song rocks. In fact, most of them don’t. They instantly strike the emotional chord the band is going for.

I have often wondered if that is a result of producing music during the CD era. It was suddenly so much easier to be impatient with a song that wasn’t doing it for you.

Whatever the case, it is the way I wish more hosts operated. I don’t just mean that I want to eliminate the chit chat no one cares about. I also want to eliminate the formatic stuff that we only think we have to do.

There are so many opportunities to say your name. Your listeners likely aren’t going to be with you more than 10-15 minutes, so there is no need to tell them you have a great show. They likely own a phone, or better yet a window, so they aren’t waiting for you to relay traffic and weather information. All of that stuff is a waste of time. When a show opens, I want to hear the host come out with his or her best angle on the biggest story of the day.

Dave Tepper, program director of Altitude Sports Radio in Denver, agrees that there is plenty that can be eliminated. That doesn’t mean you have to eliminate everything that showcases your personality away from sports.

“Don’t repeat what the voice guy said, save your station promo reads for end of segment, save the funny story from the break for later in segment,” he told me. “Open fast with high percentage hit material and work in the rest as the segment progresses.”

If you’re in a PPM market, this is advice you really need to heed when it comes to teasing. How often have we been told that the goal of PPM is to carry people to the next quarter hour? That is what makes teasing so valuable. And if you are going to tease a thought or a topic before going to break, Tepper says you need to reward the people listening.

“Assume listeners sat through multiple minutes of commercials to hear you. Pay them back with urgency by paying off a tease right away, to jump into a topic right away.”

Terry Ford is the new program director of 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. That isn’t a PPM market, but he says teasing is ubiquitous in sports radio. There are rules we all need to learn and follow in order for our teases to be effective.

Terry Ford

He agrees with Tepper. In fact, Ford told me that he feels sympathy for his station’s listeners when he hears hosts dicking around at the top of a segment instead of launching into the content they promised before the break.

“I’m thinking about the listener who is sitting in their car, not going into the store, because they want to hear the pay-off of the tease,” he told me in a text message.

I never intended to write a series of columns on what various bands and rappers could teach sports radio. Really, this isn’t an idea that has been brewing in me, but here we are. Two years ago I wrote about Weezer. Last year I wrote about Run the Jewels. It’s turned into a comemorative plate series and I guess this is the entry for 2022.

The members of Counting Crows are all pretty dedicated sports fans. In fact, front man Adam Duritz once told me that in 2015, most of the iteneraries on the band’s European tour were built around being awake at 3 and 4 in the morning to watch streams of the Golden State Warriors’ run to a world championship. He and I have also argued over whether Matthew Delavadova is actuallty good, and as I understand it, he once wrote ESPN’s Bomani Jones a fan letter.

These are the kind of conversations you have with guests on rock radio.

Even with that kind of fandom, there isn’t a book’s worth of sports radio lessons I can write based on this band. I just happened to be listening to a podcast called 60 Songs That Explain the 90s and hear host Rob Harivlla point out how good the band’s opening lines usually are and it sent me down a rabbit hole.

60 Songs That Explain the '90s | Podcast on Spotify

The bar for a great opening line is so much lower for us in sports radio. They don’t have to paint a picture. They don’t even have to evoke an emotional response. That can come later.

Your opening line just has to be relevant to the listener. They are coming to you to be intellectually stimulated in some way. Meet that need and meet it quickly. It is the best way to insure they come back over and over.

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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