OTC: Why Are Callers Almost Extinct On Local Sports Talk Radio? Does It Make Radio Better Or Too Tame?

“A decade ago, [Paul] Finebaum was a local show in Birmingham. Then it went regional—you can hear it everywhere in Alabama, and on stations in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia—and now it’s national, via Sirius XM.”
Jack Dickey, writer, on Finebaum’s SEC-football based call-in radio show, The Paul Finebaum Sports Radio Network, DeadSpin.com
GH: Finebaum’s show is the one where the Alabama fan called in last year and told the SEC audience that he had poisoned the Auburn trees. The caller said he was driven to this heinous act because he was so upset with some of the Alabama callers on Finebaum’s show. With Mizzou now part of the SEC, I have spent more time listening to Finebaum’s show and I marvel at how different it is from our local shows. Read on.

“There’s an attitude toward callers that they’re stupid and don’t know what they’re talking about.”
Paul Finebaum, host of SEC satellite afternoon-drive radio show, on the attitude of most sports talk show hosts, Sirius XM 91
GH: Finebaum’s show’s format is in direct contrast to almost every other sports-talk radio show. Where Jim Rome likes to state that more of him and less of you is a good thing, Finebaum is very comfortable allowing his callers be the stars of his show. Read on.

“We have [a caller named] Legend, who was in jail for capital murder charges. He told the story on the air. We had several callers, after Penn State, who talked about being abused when they were young. You couldn’t do this on Colin Cowherd or Jim Rome.”
Paul Finebaum, Sirius 91
GH: There was a time in Kansas City, back in the early years of Kevin Kietzman’s career, when callers were a large part of the local stations sports talk format. Names like MU Dog, Wolverine Willie and Cajun were as much a part of the show as the hosts. Sports talk has moved away from highlighting unscripted callers in favor of regular well-known guests and analysts. Some shows, like WHB’s The Border Patrol, audibly cringe when they allow a few callers air time. Does it make local sports talk radio better or worse? It definitely makes it tamer. Read on.

“Finebaum’s approach seems less inspired by conventional talk radio than by Dale Carnegie. He lets others talk about themselves, and he engages them by asking follow-up questions. His interest rarely seems genuine, but it doesn’t have to be. He wins over the callers by letting them talk about themselves. … He flips the formula every way: He privileges small-time callers over national guests. He doesn’t do a monologue. He doesn’t cut callers off for saying stupid things.”
Jack Dickey, writer, DeadSpin.com
GH: Kevin Kietzman has built 810 into a sports talk juggernaut with a formulaic approach that has replaced the caller with scheduled weekly guests that most of us can recite with hour-by-hour accuracy. KK depends on his flair for dramatically building up “breaking” stories to draw attention to his show’s sameness. While Finebaum uses the zaniness and passion of his callers to drive topics, KK and his ilk are more comfortable driving the bus with their in-studio radio friends.

“Listening to Finebaum’s show is a lot like watching Maury or Jerry Springer. An educated onetime journalist plays tickled ringmaster while crazies holler. There are media guests, but they hail primarily from the murky world of college football. USA Today oddsmaker Danny Sheridan recurs. So do old Alabama and Auburn coaches, like Gene Stallings and Pat Dye. There are a few national types, like Kirk Herbstreit, Gary Danielson, and Bruce Feldman, who pop up weekly. But the civilian callers define the show. They aim to irritate other callers, and Finebaum works to coax out their tempers. Where tabloid television guests talk about babydaddies and meth, Finebaum’s talk about Cam Newton and synthetic weed and their fellow audience members.”
Jack Dickey, writer, DeadSpin.com
GH: 610 Sports has failed in their attempts to dethrone 810 as the sports talk leader with every firing and hiring. 610 has mostly copied the format that Kietzman laid down over a decade ago. Jay Binkley is on record saying the 810 format is what 610 Sports would like to emulate. But what if they went away from the very structured guest/host analysis format and returned to a more caller-driven show like Finebaum has perfected? Finebaum’s show draws some insane personalities who are willing to flaunt their insanity on the air. Does Kansas City have those same personalities? I believe we do – and lots of them.

“I’m surprised how well [Paul] Finebaum seems to have translated nationally, because the stuff he’s talking about is mostly Auburn and Alabama fans screaming at each other.”
Jeremy Henderson, editor of the War Eagle Reader, DeadSpin.com
GH: Entertaining radio is entertaining radio – no matter the topic. A bad caller doesn’t become entertaining by screaming into his cell phone. But witty, informed and passionate fans can be a great resource for a sports talk host who understands how to incite, edit and move from caller to caller to maximize his show’s value. It takes talent to be a Finebaum-like ringmaster on live radio – but the rewards can be a show that sells to all sports fans.

“Good times today practicing with the Chiefs. [They’re] a good football team. About to lift weights then team bonding over Gate’s bbq 4 dinner.”
Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals’ wide-receiver, @LarryFitzgerald, Twitter
GH: I would have sent Fitzgerald and his Cardinals’ teammates to about five other KC-based BBQ joints before I sent them to Ollie’s place but here’s hoping they received the good Gates and not the bad Gates I too often am presented on my tray.

“Jonathan Baldwin: The buzz surrounding Chiefs camp has centered on the rapid development of Baldwin, who has been sensational. I walked away impressed with his playmaking potential. Baldwin possesses the size, speed and athleticism to overwhelm defenders in isolated matchups, and he has started to figure out how to utilize his superior physical traits to dominate on the perimeter. Chiefs officials raved about his ability to make highlight catches appear routine.”
Bucky Brooks, writer, NFL.com
GH: Baldwin and Fitzgerald both played their college ball at Pittsburgh. How giddy would we be to find out that Baldwin will become a wide-receiver with some of the same greatness as Fitzgerald?

“I would never tell this [Chiefs] team that Peyton Manning can’t beat you alone – because he CAN beat you alone!”
Kevin Kietzman, after Romeo Crennel was asked about Manning being added to the Broncos’ roster, 810 AM
GH: If there is a more ardent Peyton Manning fan in Kansas City than Kevin Kietzman, I have yet to meet him. I don’t know if Manning once destroyed KK’s fantasy football season or if he simply became a Peyton admirer because he likes white, nerdy-looking guys. But there is no doubt Kietz is all in when it comes to expecting greatness in Denver for their new QB.

“Gary [Lezak] says we’ve had 20 days over 100 degrees so far in the metro this year. To turn a phrase from @MayorSlyJames, Un-Frosty!”
Alex Spearman, KCTV 5 News, @AlexKCTV5, Twitter

and Twitter / greghall24

About Greg Hall

Software guy who has been writing my Off The Couch column in KC newspapers, publications and websites since 1994. Has been bounced from some of the finest media establishments this side of State Line Road. Dad first and everything else second...and there are a lot of everything elses.
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55 Responses to OTC: Why Are Callers Almost Extinct On Local Sports Talk Radio? Does It Make Radio Better Or Too Tame?

  1. chuck says:

    Gates Bar B Que is like a box of chocolates, you never know what youre gonna get.

    I now order ONLY the Long End and extra white bread, cause the sammys are so full of fat.

    I was up there last week and a guy next to me ordered two sammys, I looked down, TOTAL FAT!

    The quality there has gone down dramatically. I go for the sauce I guess.

    Brobecks and any number of other places are killing it compared to Gates.

    The quality of the meat has diminished rapidly over the last year.

    Callers mostly suck.

    Athelte interviews suck even worse.

    The best interviews with regard to prognostications, would be the national guys who really don’t ahve a dog in the fight and lay it out like it is.

    Too much sports radio, can bring on fixed lividity a lot faster than ya think.

  2. Z Man says:

    Just like every other media talk radio has evolved. Back in the day it was all caller driven but just like Stump the Chimps it’s not fun to listen to any more. I’m a loyal listener to both stations and turn the channel immediately when there is a segment they take calls.

  3. Java Man says:

    I enjoy the late night National radio sports talk shows. Passionate fans from coast to coast that are given plenty of leeway. One of my favorite all time shows was the David Stein show. Talked a bit of sports, but a lot about life. He would try to find that common denominator that binds us all. Great stuff at 2 am.
    Of course he is no longer on the air, so what the hell do I know.

  4. tgrjord says:

    I’ve completely stopped listening to Petro’s show because he has the caller “Mark” on every day. Unfortunately, he calls in to several other shows. It is the equivalent of the grilling segment on KK show—boring. The guy has some kind of ego to think that everyone wants to hear his opinion every day. Maybe he is trying to be the next SSJ. He is much closer to Binkley (boring).

  5. KC GUY says:

    Greg- I have noticed the lack of callers myself. I enjoy some of the guests that come on sports talk, but the buddy – buddy golf and dinner talk grates on me. Does KK just try to piss off Jack Harry every chance he gets?
    And paying these local sports informers to come on for a segement or 2 is degrading to the media in my opinion.

  6. newbaum turk says:

    Whatever happened to Wolverine Willy? Wish he would go back to calling the local shows. Who cares what Rome thinks of him? Hell, Rome still uses some of Willy’s call in stuff. As bad as some callers are, the guests are worse. I rarely listen to 610 so I won’t bother criticizing them. 810 has some bad guests. Herm is awful. I thought we were done listening to his bs when he got fired. Instead 810 has him on multiple shows where he does his Todd Leabo impression of sitting on the fence and saying nothing. Mitch Holthus is just as bad. Might as well have Bob Gretz on. Nothing is as bad as having any current coach of any sport on. Kietzman is the worst about this. Now with MU being in the SEC he gets to play another worthless hour of the coaches conference calls in addition to the Big 12. Just another hour of mail-it-in-radio. Then him and Leabo dissect the coaches conference calls where a lot of words were spoken but nothing was said. Just brutal, turn the satellite radio on for me. I will give it to KK though the last week and half or so he has been on his game regarding the JACO Sports Authority, Chiefs, and Royals. It’s when he’s at his best. Kind of like the whole Bam Morris thing a few years ago.

  7. Larry Mondello says:

    Wolverine Willy offed himself a few years ago. Callers are basically stupid idiots who say the same damn thing over and over. No thanks. I listen to Playboy Radio on Syrius/XM…much more intersting. Gates is absolute shit these days. I went there last week and the meat was all fat and gristle. Horrible. Oklahoma Joe’s is the best. Just wish the name was KC Joe’s or something.

    • chuck says:

      The meat IS all fat and gristle, but they ding ya pretty good for that shit sandwhich, then send ya out the door.

      Its even worse if ya get it to go.

      You may as well eat your fuckin shoe.

  8. Herb says:

    Id rather hear idiot callers rather than these local yokos repeating the same NOTHING all the time or boring national guests or interviews that offer NO insight.

  9. Z Man says:

    Looking at these comments just show how hard hard it is to be entertaining to every listener.

  10. P says:

    I just think of Patton Oswalt in Big Fan reading his “take” off of a notepad anytime Wolverine Willy made a call to a radio station.

  11. Splitlog Quindaro says:

    Rome ripped his callers but he built his program on the smackoff and the way he made callers celebrities. Then the economy tanked and smart guys making decent cabbage who had time to listen and call into sports talk radio at 1 pm had to hang up and hold onto their jobs.

  12. Edward says:

    I’m happy about the reduced caller time on sports radio. Whenever there’s a segment open for callers (even on national), I flip to another station.