A little while back, a Philadelphia sports fan called the Mike Missanelli show to explain how role players were going to help the Cleveland Cavaliers win game four of the NBA finals.
Caller: “The role players are going to step up.”
Missanelli: “What role players? What role players are capable of stepping up on this team? Give me one.”
Caller: “Iman Shumpert is gonna step up.”
Missanelli: “Iman?! He STINKS! I don’t even wanna see him on the floor!”
Caller: “He’s got pride.”
Misanelli: “He’s got pride?! He’s got no game! Pride doesn’t put the ball in the basket. He STINKS !”
Shumpert played 12 minutes and took just one of Cleveland’s 87 field goal attempts in the 137 to 116 win.
Meantime, on 94 WIP, the afternoon show was discussing the following topic:
Does Kevin Durant deserve the title of champion?
“Bill” from Bear, Delaware called in:
Bill: “Hey… wassup guys?”
Chris Carlin: “How you doing man?”
Ike Reese: “What up Bill?”
Bill: “Uhhh… good. Hey, Golden State.. boy, they pulled it out in the end. LeBron should have took it to the hoop.”
Carlin: “Yeah, you know, listen, my partner has certainly been all over that one today. When you’re the best player in the sport, it’s hard to argue against. Myself, I didn’t have as much of an issue with that, as I pointed to the fact that the Warriors were unbelievable in winning that game.”
Bill: “Oh yea. KD just.. just took over.”
Great stuff there from Bill, who really elevated the conversation.
That’s my problem with sports talk radio in this town. There are too many cringe-worthy, momentum killing phone calls from listeners who add nothing to the show.
The best way to improve Philadelphia sports talk radio is to stop taking phone calls.
It won’t hurt the product and it won’t alienate listeners.
I went up to Toronto last year to cover the Philadelphia Union playoff game and spent the drive home flipping back and forth between Sportsnet 590 and TSN 1050. I was able to get their signals as far south as Orchard Park, the Buffalo suburb where the Bills play.
Not once in that two hour drive did either station take a phone call. One had a 20-minute interview with Maple Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock. The other had an ex-Raptor on the line. The rest of the time was filled by intelligent, analytical sports discussion, and it wasn’t just about one topic. Both stations talked Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays, a bit of CFL, and even touched on the MLS playoff game from the previous night.
I also lived in Atlanta for a bit and listened to John Kincade (no relation), the Broomall native who regularly appears on Angelo Cataldi’s show.
Last year, Kincade did an enjoyable podcast with Crossing Broad, saying this about the nature of Philly sports radio:
“What (program directors) want to do is ‘Bill from Roxborough,’ ‘Joe from Fishborough,’ – pound calls and everything. There’s no talent in that. You have to entertain. You have to inform. You have to engage in debate. I don’t take one phone call, ever, in my entire career, where I’m taking a survey: ‘Call up and tell us your favorite Phillies moment!’ I hear this crap all the time and I immediately turn it off. ‘Who is the worst Eagles coach of all time?!’ Really? You got out of bed this morning and you’re taking a paycheck and that’s what you come up with? That’s lazy ass radio. It really is.”
The solution is easy: more guests, broader topics, and fewer listener calls.
One problem with putting fans on the air is that they kill pacing and flow because they aren’t public speakers and they don’t communicate for a living.
How many times have you heard something like this?
Jon Marks: “Brian on a cell phone, you’re up.”
Brian on a cell phone: “Hello?”
Marks: “You’re up Brian.”
Brian: “Oh, okay. Just wanted to start off by saying that I love the show.”
Marks: “Thanks Brian.”
Brian: “Yea, no problem. First time caller, longtime listener.”
Marks: “Thanks Brian.”
Brian: “Yea, so, I wanted to talk about Fletcher Cox skipping OTAs.”
Marks: “Yea, go ahead.”
Spit it out, please.
The other issue is redundancy.
Callers make the same points over and over again because they’re only listening to a four-hour show in 20- or 30-minute blocks. Listeners fade in and out, so you hit a snag when Andy from South Philly, at 3:45 pm, says the same thing that Bob from Interboro said at 3:15 pm. You also get people who, no offense, don’t know what they’re talking about and make moronic statements, such as the guy who said the Sixers should trade Jahlil Okafor to Portland.
Skipping OTAs is absolutely unforgivable. The Eagles should release Fletcher Cox
— FakeWIPCaller (@FakeWIPCaller) May 31, 2017
When you discuss the same topics over and over again, you’re only going to pigeonhole yourself into predictable content with the same phone calls from the same crop of listeners. It’s the Eagles, the Sixers, LeBron James, and pretty much nothing else. Both stations are incredibly conservative and work off of the same football-heavy format with little risk or invention, a design that allows the sales department to pay the bills, but doesn’t do much for someone who enjoys the Flyers, Phillies, Union, MMA, golf, NASCAR, Temple, Villanova, Penn, Saint Joe’s, or Drexel.
There are a ton of people behind the scenes at both stations who are worn out on the Eagles and would rather talk about something else.
Another thing is the unenviable task of producers and other folks who work behind the scenes.
You’re trying to do 20 hours of weekly radio while making wages that are comparable to an entry-level desk job. If you’ve ever worked a nonlinear gig with crappy pay, you understand that motivation and creativity are ephemeral concepts.
Why would I chase a first-time interview when I can just book Sal Paolantonio for the 500th time?
The best Philly radio is when you have an interesting interview with a unique guest and the hosts have actually done some prep work instead of rolling into the studio wearing sweatpants at 5:50 am.
Morning poll of the day if you could re-do the draft…
— 975TheFanatic (@975TheFanatic) June 14, 2017
There are, however, well-produced segments on both stations that allow listener interaction without destroying the flow of the show.
Mike Missanelli’s “Sound Off” is a rapid-fire compilation of rants and raves. 97.5 also runs the “Nooner” and “15 Seconds of Fame,” which are always good for a few laughs. You’ll hear similar segments on WIP, like “Time’s Yours,” which runs at 1:45 pm every day.
It’s an easy way to filter out the vapid phone calls and control pacing, while still being inclusive. A lot of podcasts involve listeners in this way since they don’t have the hardware to take live phone calls. You’re not shutting the door on your audience entirely, just changing the format of interaction.
Obviously you’re going to need calls as a time filler in certain cases. No one can solo anchor the 10 pm to 2 am shift on WIP with a four hour Mike Schmidt monologue. On the evening and night shift, callers can generally stay on for 3 or 4 minutes before getting booted. Most dayside calls are cut off at two.
If you listen to a lot of different shows, like I do, you’ll probably agree that evening and weekend callers are more intelligent than your average dayside jabroni.
You also see the time problem in television, where Fox 29 has to fill 17 hours every morning with “Good Day Philadelphia.” You can’t possibly produce that much content with contemporary staffing issues (i.e. everyone is cheap), so you need Mike Jerrick to “vamp” instead.
For what it’s worth, my favorite show on Philly sports talk radio is weekend mornings with Glen Macnow and Ray Didinger. There’s no bullshit and no hot takes. It’s just solid, educated sports talk from two veterans who know their stuff. I also listen to Rob Ellis and Harry Mayes over on 97.5.
That show is well-produced with good interviews, but it’s also lighter and provides entertainment while also being informative. Tony Bruno’s show with Mayes was the same way, where you found yourself laughing out loud while still learning something along the way.
And isn’t that why we do sports radio anyway? To entertain and inform? That’s the whole point, as Kincade suggested earlier.
Unfortunately, “Tony from Mayfair” adds nothing to the conversation.