By Richard Neer
WFAN, New York
Talk Show Host
NEW YORK –– Consider the fate of the habitual sportstalk caller –– those who phone in on a regular basis, often several times daily.
They develop a sense of entitlement over time, as if they are featured players on the show. Indeed, some may harbor beliefs that they are more important contributors than the host. They bristle when they are placed on hold for long periods awaiting their turn at bat, and complain about how they are treated if they don’t feel they are accorded sufficient time to make their point. Frequent callers believe they have a personal relationship with you and feel betrayed if you don’t reciprocate.
A sports talk host can have ambivalent notions toward regulars. One one hand, you are thankful for their devotion when calls are slow, yet resentful when they pose an obstacle to continuity if they attempt to muscle in ahead of those more worthy.
Certainly there are regulars who consistently add value to the program –– they may represent a contrarian point of view that spurs heated response or even offer greater expertise than the host on a given subject due to their singular devotion to a particular sport or team. But for every one of these assets, there are those who merely love the sound of their own voice on the radio and/or whose opinions contribute nothing to the program’s entertainment value.
The sports talker is also a managing editor. Your main charge is to entertain a (hopefully) vast audience, not to kow-tow to a small coterie of regular callers.
As a human being, it is hard not to empathize with these callers. Consider how frustrating it is to call a merchant with a vital issue and have to wade through 10 minutes of menus before being placed on hold to speak to a living person. You then are dispatched summarily if you don’t have your order number handy. Calling a popular program can be a similarly unnerving experience, especially if the respondent feels a kinship with the host.
A good producer should help. If a regular wants to talk tennis in the middle of a heated NFL debate, a kindly request to call in at another time may suffice. Or the familiar, “We’re experiencing a heavy volume of calls,” when the point they are trying to make is better expressed by others. It’s a delicate balancing act to keep the steady callers satisfied while not compromising the quality of the program. To quote Nick Lowe, your producer may need to be “cruel to be kind,” and not accede them air time whenever they choose to pick up the phone.
Perhaps you can judiciously wean out the sense of entitlement and still remain on good terms. In some cases however, a clean break is the best solution. It will cause hurt feelings, but your first priority must be to the greater audience.
Richard Neer is a sports talk host at WFAN, New York, an anchor on A Touch of Grey, and sports editor of TALKERS magazine. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.