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Sports Commentaries

...with David Bernstein.

Q & A

Once again our friends at BMS asked one of the most important men in Talk Radio some candid questions about the state of the biz and how talent should approach the advancing of their careers

BMS: What are the most common mistakes you hear when you listen to Sports talk radio?

DB: Hosts who believe that every issue has to be right or wrong. There is no right and there is no wrong. It’s all opinion, how you express it, and how you engage the listeners.

BMS: As a programmer, what do you want to hear in the first couple of minutes of a show?

DB: I want to hear somebody who watched the same game as I watched. Who reads the same sports pagesas I read, and who forms opinions about the same things that I form opinions about. I want to know that the people I listen to are on the same page and have the same interests that I do; even if our opinions don’t agree. Then, I assess and compare my opinions to those of the host.

BMS: At what point do you want to hear interaction with a guest or a caller?

DB: The only person I ever want to hear talking to himself is me. I get bored real fast. You have to have an incredible story to tell me to keep me engaged without hearing other voices. One voice is monotonous. Listen to how short David Letterman’s monologue is. Put your premise on the table and then let me hear other people talk about it.

BMS: How should a host get the most out of a caller?

DB: Be curious. The host should ask questions such as , ‘’Why would you think that?’’  ‘’Why would anyone with an allegiance to a team do what you’re suggesting?’’ It’s two people engaged in a conversation, and it should be an honest, natural flow of questions; and when your curiosity is satisfied, say goodbye to the caller. If the caller is interesting, bizarre, nuts, then you let the caller do the entertaining, otherwise, keep the call short.

BMS: We have to always take the listener somewhere. How do we lead people to that destination? 

DB: We have to know where the caller wants to go or we’re leading them to the great unknown. I don’t want to lead the caller to a place they don’t want to go. Look at what’s in the news, look at what people want to talk about and talk about it.

BMS: What do you suggest people in small markets do to generate calls?

DB: Every few minutes say, ‘’I just want you to know that while I have the privilege of hosting the show, I like when this is a show for everybody, so if you would like to call and make a comment and not get into a debate, that’s o.k. also. You can’t tell me you’re listening to what I’m saying but you don’t have an opinion about it.’’ Make the caller realize they have opinions and invite them to get vocal about it and you have to make them realize you’re not going to jump down their throat, it might make them that much more comfortable to call in.

BMS: Good talk radio consists of knowledge and entertainment. Is it a 50/50 split between the two?

DB: I would say the show should be 60% entertainment and 40% knowledge. This is not to diminish the importance of knowledge, it’s to emphasize the fact that this is entertainment, it’s a show. The goal is not to convince someone who is the better third baseman, the goal is to make people enjoy listening and want to come back.

BMS: How much non-sports should be included in a show?

DB: All talk radio is made up of good stories and interesting information that listeners want to hear. Give it

to them. You should leave out the stats and talk about the philosophical issues that business people have to deal with every day. Every sport is a business. Talk about things that are relevant to the people who support the teams.

BMS: For PD’s who are reading this; what are differences they should be concerned with between their morning and afternoon shows?

DB: There are fewer differences than how things used to be in radio. Morning drive used to be about helping you get set up for the day. Now, people catch so much sports at night that they’re already set up for the day. You know what happened in sports, you know who’s pitching. Get right into the heart of the matter. Morning shows are fast paced, and afternoon shows are becoming that way. You’re better off targeting all your shows to have the rhythm and excitement of a good morning show.

BMS: Regarding updates, what’s over-kill per hour?

DB: Two is plenty. You don’t need three. Three tells the listener, ‘’here’s more of what you’ve already heard.’’ This fulfills the cycle of listening and the material becomes repetitive, which drives the listener away.

BMS: What style do you prefer when listening to an update?

DB: I will remember an entertainer before I remember a sportscaster or newscaster every time. So, if you can give me an entertainer who will make me smile and keep me informed, I’ll come back for more. If it’s somebody just reading updates out of a newspaper, I can do that myself. 

BMS: How much play-by-play do you want on your station?

DB: If there’s a major team in your area and you can get that team, that’s great, however, people come to sports talk radio for a number of things, and you can go to non-sports stations to listen to a game. There are plenty of talk stations and plenty of music stations that aren’t sports stations, but they carry the local teams. It’s the play-by-play itself that people will tune in for, not the programming around it. So if you’re doing sports talk, and you don’t have play-by-play, it’s no big deal. They’re not coming to you for play-by-play. They’ll find their team. They’re coming to you for sports-talk. Give them what they’re coming for. Play-by-play is a nice cume builder if it’s a good team, that’s all.

Radio veteran David Bernstein has worked as Vice President of Programming at Air America, and Program Director at WOR in NYC , WRKO in Boston, and WTIC in Hartford.




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