The Sports Radio Imaging Battle
October 24, 2011 7 Comments
Our extensive coverage of “The Sports Radio Battle” in Cleveland, between Good Karma’s “ESPN 850 WKNR” and CBS Radio’s “92.3 The Fan”, got noticed by someone well-qualified to talk about the respective stations’ sound.
And we mean “sound”…as in “overall station sound”.
After all, Ken Dardis of Cleveland’s Audio Graphics, Inc. was directly responsible for WKNR’s first “sound” in the 1990s, when he was the sports station’s first creative/production director.
Ken adds a much less important title with this item: OMW Guest Columnist, with his take on the imaging side of sports radio in Cleveland in 2011, and just how important that overall “station sound” is.
And we thank Ken for his patience with this rather rag-tag operation…that operation being your Mighty Blog of Fun(tm). So, let’s hand the keys, virtually, over to Ken…
By: Ken Dardis, president, Audio Graphics, Inc., former creative/production director, Sports Radio WKNR (1990-1997)
My caveat for what follows is that it is easy to comment on another person’s work, especially when you have no knowledge of the limitations within each radio station.
There’s been a lot of chatter at Ohio Media Watch over the sports battle now being waged. WKNR and WKRK are competitors in a town that’s not big enough to support two sports talk stations. That neither of these stations has rights to broadcast any of Cleveland’s major sports teams’ games makes this fight brutal.
I’ve read comments at Ohio Media Watch that this is a battle of sports talk stations. In my opinion this war will not be won by the hosts – though they do impact each station’s image. Referring to callers as “idiots” (as I heard on one station) and expressing outrage that callers do not have “common sense” (which a host allegedly does on the other station) are not ways of building a following.
I commented to “Your Primary Editorial Voice(tm)” that this contest boils down to how each station positions itself through imaging. I received a request in reply: “Can you provide me with your current take on both stations’ imaging?”
Being responsible for creating the image of WKNR between the time it went on the air (December 1990) and when it was sold to Clear Channel (December 1997) gives me the latitude to comment on this subject.
In its early days, WKNR was the most-listened-to sports talk station in the nation, four consecutive years (Arbitron). Also, for the first five years WKNR operated without a program director; our General Manager was Jim Glass, Jack Callaghan was News Director, and I acted as Creative/Production Director responsible for what happened when the hosts stopped talking.
After a week of listening to WKNR and WKRK, with the intent of digesting how they are positioning themselves today, I’m left with a sense that neither station invests much time in painting a picture of what it represents.
The only promotions I was exposed to were a few recorded promos – on both stations – that recycle listeners to another daypart. The quality of production was simple voice-over-music, with a clip from the show and a tag of “(host name) on (station name) at (time of day).”
When it came to the act of “positioning,” though, there is a void and it doesn’t matter which station you’re tuned to.
Having stated my opinion, I’ll now mention some immediate adjustments that I would make. (Keep in mind my opening sentence.)
Have the hosts speak about other hosts, and what those “other hosts” are talking about. I cannot recall hearing this happen even once.
Speak about what you’re speaking about. Many times I heard ten-minute stretches of talk with no reference to anything other than the thoughts carried by the host – and no comment on what the conversation was about as it progressed. It was as if the host expected me to have been listening at the onset of the talk, and if I didn’t hear the opening lines it was up to me to figure out what the topic was.
Don’t dwell too long on the same subject. Imagine one person talking for ten minutes on one subject with no outside comment, then place yourself at a bar in a group that includes that person. It gets boring, quickly. (One day I heard nothing but conversation about Hillis sitting out a game, despite the NBA having cancelled pre-season play.)
Someone on staff should carry a recorder to Cleveland sports events and get some soundbites from fans, to use in promotions. Integrating fan comments into promotions, and during programs, ties a station closer to its listeners. Here’s an example of how we handled this concept, which was present in 60% of our promotions – http://audiographics.com/audio/fans.mp3
What caused me the most head-shaking was hearing every sports talk host, on either station, refer to the station name as simply “92.3 The Fan,” or “WKNR.” There was no emphasis, no pride, no attachment to these words or letters as being representative of “bigger than life.” Say the station’s name with conviction. Equate this to meeting someone at a party, shaking their hand, and introducing yourself with enthusiasm.
Finally, it would help audience attention deficit to occasionally mention something other than professional sports. The listeners do have a life outside of sports. They have a family, go out for meals and entertainment, and may even have children who are active in a school or amateur sports program.
The sports talk radio station that walks away with the prize in this fight is going to be the one that positions itself as the heavyweight sports-talker most closely tied to the fans.
Both stations currently focus on the hosts, at the expense of building the station’s image. And, IMO, these hosts sound too caught up in their own importance to place the station’s name above theirs on the marquee.
Imaging is not simple, but it is effective. So far, it’s a draw in Cleveland’s new sports-talk war – with the listener losing.
Here are a few examples of promotional spots I wrote and produced (sometimes voiced) at WKNR. Joe Kelly provided the balls-in-the-throat vocals on most of the copy.
Ken Dardis is now President of Audio Graphics, Inc., a Cleveland based analytive, metrics, and music company focusing on the internet radio industry.