We football fans who find ourselves jonesing for high impact sports competition, a week removed from the Super Bowl, often use football analogies to excess as a way to express ourselves. “We need to get to the endzone.” “Move the ball down the field.” “That’s like being sacked by a 245lb linebacker.” “We’re heading into overtime on this one.” I am one of those lost souls. I already miss the game. I’m crossing of days on my calendar waiting for the NFL draft.
There have been times when I’ve been able to combine my career and my passion for sports. One such time was when a radio station owner and client of mine asked if he could introduce me to a family friend of his and offer some advice on how the young man could get into sports commentary. The young man was Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch. Eric played College ball at Nebraska where he Quarter Backed the team to a National Championship and later went into the NFL for the St. Louis Rams, Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs. He had most recently finished his playing career as QB for the Toronto Argonauts following injury.
What ensued was a chance to talk sports, broadcasting and career goals. Through a friend we were able to visit the ESPN Campus in Bristol, Connecticut. It gave Eric a chance to be interviewed on radio, television, for their magazine and to record content for their digital platform. It gave me a chance to watch the infamous “Carwash” where they moved an athlete from program to program and platform to platform to be interviewed and recorded. We were invited back for Eric to spend some time on-air with then ESPN Radio talent Amy Lawrence. She’s now on CBS Sports Radio.
The synergy within the hallways of that campus was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The treatment of sports celebrities was impressive. They used every part of the cow. Some of what I learned through observation are things that I’ve used and expanded on for my own clients. Remember the words of the famous studio announcer Don Pardo. “Amateurs borrow. Professionals steal.”
We talked about teams. The year we spent time together was when the Cleveland Browns were in the midst of another long losing season. I said to Eric that I bet “the Ohio State Buckeyes could beat The Browns.” He quickly snapped “No. No college team can beat an NFL team.” He went on to explain that only a few members of any college team get a chance to play in the pros. He said that every pro team is made up of the best of the best. Every NFL team is at a markedly higher level than the best college teams. Even the worst NFL team is better than the best College team.
Crouch shared with me how important it is to have the very best players at every position. It’s important that they play as a team. In unison. One objective. One goal. Having the skills and the direction on how to accomplish that goal. Lots of coaching. Coaches that can lead and motivate. Practice. Lots and lots and lots of practice. Being in great shape. Most importantly … the skills to play at that level being the best of the best.
Thinking back on what he said, and equating it to radios challenges today, it’s no wonder we’re seeing audience erosion. In the face of ever-increasing competition, we have eliminated players and left their positions unfilled. Stations eliminate their night talent and overnight talent and fail to fill it with syndication or voice-tracking. It’s music, a produced sweeper, commercials, and music. No personality. Nothing that makes the station an attraction. We might as well have run a promotional message encouraging a listener to turn-on a streaming service.
The same can be said for weekends. Middays Saturday and middays Sunday remain high usage days for radio. There are stations with no talent, no syndication, nothing networked or voice-tracked that could hold a listener. We don’t play enough music to compete with a streaming service. What we do, when we don’t have All Pros on-air, isn’t unique enough to attract a passionate listener. It’s, to be honest, lazy. It’s not saving money. It’s signaling that nothing matters outside of weekdays 6a-7p.
The news is eliminated. Traffic isn’t presented as critical or accurate. Weather is a throwaway. Features presented because they can be sold. Not because they’re informative, entertaining or engaging. Promotions and contests that fail to sell the fantasy of winning. Automation or a streaming interface that can be counted on for one technical sounding glitch after another. These issues, unaddressed, are akin to putting peewee league players up against the pros.
When your station accepts less than All Pro performance. You fail and someone else wins. When you ignore nights, overnights and weekends – you fail and someone else wins. When you think that the music you play doesn’t matter – you fail and someone else wins. When you think that you don’t need show prep and the talent don’t need to prepare – you fail and someone else wins. When the talents see coaching as an unnecessary tool – you fail. When you fail to lead by example – you fail. The list goes on.
The message is simple; the only way to win is to have an All-Pro approach to what comes out of the speakers.