When I returned to college in 2006 it was to pursue a degree in broadcasting. I have always been a huge sports fan, and I thought that my knowledge along with my radio voice (notice I did not say radio face) could help me land a job somewhere talking about sports. Life sometimes gets in the way of dreams, and with a son on the way in 2010 I decided to finish my degree, but put the sports talk career on hold before it started.
During that final semester in early 2010 I interned at a local sports talk station in Ann Arbor. I manned the phones from 7am-10am three days a week, and earned the nickname “Silent Bob” because the host thought I looked liked Kevin Smith. Having a nickname that starts with “Silent” is probably not the best thing in radio, and may have led to my limited amount of time on the air.
I was there for four months, and I picked up a pretty good rapport with the regular callers. Even knowing when they would call. After I left the station the way I listened to sports talk changed, and I noticed some pretty distinct characteristics of sports talk radio callers.
Here is a breakdown of five different sports talk radio callers. For this breakdown I thought we could use a sports scenario to help some of you understand: The Detroit Tigers are currently in first place, but have lost four of their last five games. Last night they lost to the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1. The team committed two errors and only produced two hits against the Blue Jays best pitcher, Ricky Romero. Manager Jim Leyland pulled starter Rick Porcello in the sixth with two men on, one out and the score 2-1. Reliever Octavio Dotel gave up a three-run home run, and Phil Coke finished the game giving up only one more hit.
Ex-athlete or current coach (sometimes these are one in the same): The first thing this caller lets you know is that they played or coach organized sports. Usually at the high school level, but occasionally the college level. The second thing they say is that when they were playing the coaches would not have allowed the errors to go without benching the player. The coaches say that they would have benched the players committing the errors, or that they always make their players work on “fundamentals.” Fundamentals is a word that gets thrown around a lot on sports talk, but when you reach pro levels in sports fundamentals get tossed to the side somewhat. The speed, size and ability is at such a high level that an athlete needs to think and react quickly.
Example Call: “Hey guys. I used to play ball at Brother Rice, and currently coach little leaguers. Leyland needs to sit these guys down and teach them some fundamentals. There is no excuse for that error Raburn made. Get in front of the ball!”
Typical host response: “That ball was hit so hard I don’t think Raburn would have got him anyway. And do you think Leyland isn’t talking to these guys?”
Game breakdown: When I was in Ann Arbor we had a caller who would call after every Michigan basketball game, and break it down. He must have been taking notes during the game. These callers will find the tiniest detail of the game, and focus on it. Usually because they believe it is the reason for the loss or win, and everyone else is missing it. In reality that tiniest detail is forgotten because most fans realized it was of little importance. That caller drove me crazy, and they drive me crazy when I listen today.
Example call: “Guys it’s Michael. Did you notice in the top of the second when that ball got past Jackson in center? He was playing too shallow. And then in the third why did Leyland not call the hit and run? Perfect time to do that. Tigers hitters are batting over .400 with runners on first and one out before the fifth inning.”
Typical host response: “There was no one on base, and Bautista didn’t score, so no harm there. Do you really want a hit and run with Peralta?”
Fire everyone: This caller is a favorite of mine. In Detroit we have playoff teams (Lions, Tigers and Red Wings), and a rebuilding team (Pistons), but someone calls weekly wanting a coach or general manager to be fired. They never have an answer for who to replace these people with, and sometimes even want players demoted or sent packing.
Example Call: “First time, long time. Fire Leyland. This guy pulls Porcello with only 80 pitches thrown, and puts in Dotel? C’mon. They should send Raburn back to Toledo to learn how to field, and fire Dombrowski as well for having a $200 million payroll, and nothing to show for it.”
Typical host response: “Who are you going to replace Leyland with? Or Dombrowski? Raburn is batting .275 with 15 homers, and you want to send him to Toledo for flubbing a missle? We should be happy it didn’t kill him. Porcello looked tired, and couldn’t get a pitch over the plate, and Dotel made one bad pitch to Jose Bautista, arguably one of the best sluggers in the game.”
Mimic: There are two kinds of mimics. Jim Rome is known for his callers that give their “take” on the day’s events. These callers sound like Rome, have the same cadence as Rome, and they are annoying. That is the first kind, the caller who wants to be the host. The second basically takes what has been said and rehashes it. I do not know if this is because of nerves, or the fact that they have no original ideas and just want to be heard on the radio. These guys are the worst because they do not add anything to the conversation.
Example Call: “Guys. Love the show. This team is still in first place. Who would replace Leyland? Seriously? Raburn and Dotel made one mistake each. This team will be fine.”
Typical host response: “Right. Next caller.”
Subject Changer: The station I worked at in Ann Arbor was pretty set in their format, and rarely veered away from University of Michigan sports. The station I currently listen to has open lines, which means anyone can call about any subject. Sometimes these subjects have nothing to do with what is currently being talked about, and sometimes they have nothing to do with sports. These callers are fine if the subject is dull or nearing the end of discussion, but there are times when these callers are coming out of left field. Usually this has to do with someone listening, but not being able to get on air for a length of time.
Example Call: “Guys. You were talking about what Rush Limbaugh said. Last time I checked there was freedom of speech in this country, so he can say whatever he wants.”
Typical host response: “You’re right, but if he wants to keep advertisers he might want to watch what he says. That’s what I was saying. Look Rush has been doing this for years, and he’ll probably be OK, but all I was saying is that he might want to watch it. This is a different time. Max in Utica is next.”
These five callers make up a majority of the callers to the station I currently listen to, and I could probably have written a post about each of them. But that would be overkill. There are other callers out there, and depending on which show you listen to you may hear another favorite of mine, the Arguer. This caller just wants to argue, and I did not feel like writing about them. They are boring, and like the mimic usually bring nothing new to the discussion.
After reading this you may wonder why I would even want to subject myself to these regular callers, and I have times when I wonder the same thing. It is probably a factor in my not wanting to sit in front of a microphone anymore, and for the change in career choices for me. There will always be a part of me that will want to get on the air, and rant with these crazy callers, but I am happy and content, and do not see a reason to change that.