After spending all that time in the car with my sports-talk listening wife last weekend (when “the 50s on 5″ wasn’t on- I mean, we are baby boomers), I can’t help but compose another blog about the guys who spew sports knowledge over the air. Maybe I’m sensitive because I’ve done that job before. Not for a living, more as a substitute for a friend, or as a post game call-in host.
My first experience was in 1971 when I was a grad assistant at Vermont. It was the first time I’d ever hosted a sports talk show, substituting for a friend of mine who did it everyday, three hours a day, six days a week. Occasionally, he took an R&R day and this was one of those days. What I did is what I’m not hearing now on sports talk and that is being prepared to comment about what is going on in the sports world. Sure, I was only filling in for a night and these guys are doing it for a living but you owe your boss and your listeners a 100% effort. When I went on the air (for a three hour segment), I had enough “filler”, i.e. interesting sports information, to put on a compelling show if no one called.
Instead, today’s guys seem to possess one essential characteristic: they’re all highly opinionated. They bluff their way through shows, often repeating phrases they’ve heard from coaches and players to make themselves sound educated. One I caught was: “”Having a running game in the NBA is great but in the playoffs, teams make you play half-court.” Yet I’ve never heard one of those talking heads (not counting former coaches or players, of course) explain to a listening audience how, exactly, that’s accomplished. Another that’s in vogue is, “one change that could be a major factor in the football team’s success is the change from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defense.” Other than the obvious (assuming it is obvious), never have I had described to me what the difference in coverage is and why, after all these years of 4-3, is 3-4 the “right” move now.
The one I like best is the low-risk, high-reward prediction of “I know they’re huge underdogs but I have a good feeling today.“ This bold statement is usually made by the sports guy on the station for the local underdog, trying to create an upbeat atmosphere. It’s also a ploy for a big, national contest where one guy sticks his neck out and goes contrary to the rest of his colleagues. If the guy is right, he gets to bask in his own prognosticating brilliance, as well as remind everyone in the listening audience that his “gut” just told him something. If he’s wrong (it’s mainly a “he” game now, but women will be settling into those seats soon enough), hey, it was just a “feeling.” Or, simply never bring it up again.
This on-air “knowledge” isn’t really new. I can remember how you’d hear about the wisdom of pinch hitting righties against lefthanders and vice versa. Back then, though, the guys in the booths were actually told that by the coaches and players. They actually could explain about higher percentages of success. Then people like Tony LaRussa, Jim Leyland and Billy Beane started doing things their way - and they weren’t about to tell anybody why.
Back to my first sub role on a radio talk show. As stated, I had all kinds of tidbits to keep people entertained and informed. Then, I got my fist call. It was about race car driving, the subject that would rival “mating rituals of the yak” as the topic I know least about. I had to admit this to the caller, only to have the next two callers ask about the same subject. My response was, “Of all the subjects you callers could ask, you bring up race car driving. I don’t even know how to drive a car with a stick shift!”
The moral of the story is:
“Stick to talking about what you know.”