With the recent news that Jose Romero is leaving the Seattle Times, the rumors concerning Arlo White joining the Sounders broadcast, latest release of the Face of Sports (US)by Nielson and the nearly constant complaints on soccer forums about local sportsradio's lack of coverage of the Sounders I thought I should share my thoughts on this in just one place.
For a little background I have some education in Broadcast Communications, leveraged that into a job at KJR-AM Seattle for about 2.5 years, and even taught a little bit at BCC. The job I did at KJR-AM was as a producer - which means I was responsible at that time for booking guests, doing show research, screening phone calls and helping guide the overall direction of the show.
In order of amount of time I worked on shows I was affiliated with the following programs on a dedicated basis;
Locked on Sports with David Locke (now in Salt Lake City as play-by-play for Utah Jazz)
John Clayton's Sports Saturday (now at 710 ESPN Seattle)
SuperSonics Basketball (now dead and gone)
Baseball's Best Postgame Show(numerous hosts - Seth Everett, David Locke, Bill Krueger, Mike Blowers, Steve Sandmeyer, Dick Fain and Shannon Drayer)
The 4th Quarter with Dick Fain (now called Sports Saturday)
Mitch in the Morning
On top of that I worked and supported the other shows on the air, went to numerous press conferences and team practices.
I give this partial resume not because Dave Clark wanted to talk about himself, but so that newer readers might k now that when I talk about radio talkshows I know a little bit about it. It was my job, and while the host is the primary driver of ratings, my time was well spent.
During my time there I received constant calls that we didn't talk enough about sport/issue X, Y and Z. Every time I took that phone call or email I had to think "Is this complaint legit?" "If we talk about this we gain how many listeners and lose how many more/less?"
I was an advocate for more coverage of the A-League Sounders and that coverage very rarely happened, and was generally confined to on-air ribbing of the slightly crazy producer (me). Callers tended to advocate for more NHL talk, maybe some NASCAR as well.
We didn't have a hard rule. There was not a magic number that needed to be hit.
What we had in my case was a host that knew the NBA/MLB (Locke), or the NFL (Clayton), or college basketball (Fain & Mitch) or Golf (Mitch). I'm not saying that they were limited to those concepts, but they were better at those than most hosts in the country. So we often leaned towards those topics, because that was where we could provide the most knowledge.
Every host also had secondary subject matters, but eventually there comes a point where a host can't talk about a particular sport. They don't have the knowledge base. You'll note at 950 KJR and 710 ESPN now almost no one talks about the NHL. If they do it will almost certainly focus on an interview with an expert who hopefully can use a few mainstream metaphors so that non-hockey sports fans can understand what is going on in the game. Even then I would bet that thousands of radios are turning off, as this isn't a hockey market.
In hockey markets the hosts have to carry that knowledge themselves. But they didn't start that way, not in all of them, some markets became hockey towns after the advent of sports radio, and their stations had to adjust. They could not ignore the sport. Carolina is probably the best example of that. The Program Directors had to find some new talent, or engage their old talent in a sport that was "new" to the region.
Right now Seattle is entering that same realm. There are no hosts (weekly name brand show) on the air in this market that are soccer fans. There are a few that enjoy the sport (Gas the strongest, followed by Groz and Softy), but they can't comment on that they way they do other sports. Honestly, this is true for every other MLS market except Toronto at this time. Sure some markets have dedicated, live call-in shows for just soccer, but that still leaves it as a fringe sport and not a ratings winner.
Has Sounders FC reached the tipping point where there aren't just dedicated segments/shows for the sport and team, but instead that talk should trickle its way into any given hosts day? Probably Not. Yes, the ratings are pretty good. Certainly the attendence is amazing.
But the sport still has more haters than lovers in this town.
There-in lies the problem. Sports radio is not an NPR type media that covers stories base on their "value" unless value by how many listeners any give topic receives. That's it. Every single moment on radio listeners are making decisions, and that is what drives topic selection. Unlike the internet and cable tv where "microcasting" can succeed, on-air media (and newspapers) are "broadcasts" and have to have broad appeal. Listeners/readers/watchers have to be a large demographic segments, not clusters of tiny ones.
They want entertainment, they want to let go of the worries of life and they want to think that the professional knows more than they do. So when people say that "Sport X needs more coverage" on a sports station just remember, the only way that is true is if it would increase ratings.
In Seattle, with the Sounders we are damn close to that. But the hosts will need an education on the game, in order to apply a critical eye and do so while entertaining those that both love and hate the game.