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The Only Role You Have to Play is Yourself

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There isn’t a PD in any format of radio that would readily admit that he or she is asking the station’s hosts to play a role. No matter how formulaic the morning shows on music radio are, every single one uses the words “real” or “genuine” to describe themselves. I can’t explain to you why AC program directors think their listeners want every female morning show host to constantly not know what to do with her male co-host, but apparently they do.

I understand that image matters a little more than content in some formats. Everything about a music radio station is meant to sound a certain way. In the case of AC or Hot AC or Country radio, the sound is built around a mom that is always on the move, but still finds time to indulge in her pop culture fascinations. A guy that has never seen an episode of The Bachelorette isn’t going to fit in with the overall vibe, so I get why a program director has to cast a show in a certain way. I just don’t get why all of these morning shows have to sound the exact same.

Sports radio certainly isn’t immune from shows that sound like cookie-cutter reproductions of a certain formula. It’s a phenomenon I call “role-play radio.”

Look, I’ll be honest. I was never the world’s biggest Mike & Mike fan, but I’ll be the first to admit that Greeny and Golic found a way to make role play radio work for them. The know-it-all asked the right questions about the biggest storylines and the big dumb jock added the perspective an average fan wouldn’t have to those same stories. They may have been playing roles, but they were also checking all the boxes ESPN Radio’s flagship show should.

There is no more meaningless or stupid advice you can get in this business than “just be yourself.” If you can’t figure out that you are going to do a better show being yourself than you would by trying to play a role you aren’t comfortable with, then you are probably destined to do a bad show.

I won’t name names here, but there is a show I sample a lot. It is hosted by two regular guys. Neither are ex-jocks. One of them is the show’s fun guy. He makes a point of not knowing all the names or the stats. He’s going to talk about sports because sports are awesome and so is he. The other guy is a numbers nerd. He knows every player at every position on the local teams. He knows their stats and the scouting reports on all of them.

These guys can be fun to listen to. They have good chemistry. Their enthusiasm for the job is infectious. It’s just that they have created these very narrow lanes for themselves.

Earlier this week I was listening to this aforementioned show and the funny guy was making a very good point about the local college football team and what the expectations should be for them in 2018. This is a team with a divided fanbase and the funny guy was making some really solid points about fans that love to complain about how much the team sucks and then say there are too many easy wins on the schedule for them to not make a bowl this season. The point the host was driving at was “How can both be true?”.

Even though it was easy to follow what he was saying, I found myself waiting for the punchline the whole time. Why would I expect anything else? The show is set up to make me think anytime this host is talking a punchline is just around the corner.

The detriment of role play radio is that at some point you are going to have an opinion that doesn’t jive with the role you are trying to play. Expert and funny guy, host and jock, or old guy and young guy are perfectly fine dynamics for sports radio. If one of those dynamics naturally produces fun radio and positive results, than by all means, stick with it.

Just don’t let whatever part of the equation you are become your whole persona. When I hear an old guy/young guy show, I tend to dismiss old guy’s opinions on certain issues. When I hear funny guy/expert shows, I tend to tune out the expert.

Why wouldn’t I? Leaning on tropes conditions your audience in a certain way, and whether you mean it to or not, sometimes it weakens your position in their eyes. So the advice is dumb but valid. If you can’t figure out that being yourself on air is the best course of action, I honestly don’t know how to help you.

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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