ESPN Radio’s Amanda Gifford on Using Sound

Amanda with Three
Amanda with Three

I met Amanda Gifford when I was a producer at ESPN Radio and she was just starting there; it was clear early on that Amanda had what it took to be a great leader.  She’s smart, insightful, calm, reasoned and an all-around nice person without being a pushover.  So it was nice to hear that she had been guiding my friend, 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock Huard when he and partner Mike Salk (now at WEEI) filled in at the mothership.

One of the things Brock told me about their time on the network was that Amanda felt their broadcasts would benefit by using more audio.  This is something I feel strongly about as great audio both adds color to a conversation and breaks up the flow in a way that perks ears up.  So I reached out to Amanda, and after an intense negotiation, she reluctantly agreed to a phone call.

 
Describe your process in building great radio content.

Well I think first and foremost it starts with a compelling personality (because) you can have the best tools in the shed but if you don’t know how to be use them then they are going to be useless.  Now, we know it’s hard to get the 5-minutes for the Arbitron credit, (so) using different techniques to hook people to listen … is something you have to do if you want to get ratings and one of those techniques is to use sound bytes.  Using sound (can) help tell a story, take you inside the locker room, say something the host cant say; it’s one way to keep people listening (similar to) using a caller, rejoin of play-by-play, kind of a change-up in the presentation.

Do you see an improvement in ratings when your shows use more sound?

We have learned that listeners get bored of the same topic after about
three minutes – even if it’s a really compelling topic. Attention spans (are getting shorter and listeners) get sick of the same voices, so you have to keep changing things up.  There;s not a hard-fast-rule we use, but certainly sound can enhance a segment because it breaks up the monotony of a singular host or dual hosts.

How do you balance that with a host who has 8-great minutes with one topic?

I think it depends on the person, I mean, someone like Colin (Cowherd, host of ESPN Radio’s The Herd) is going to get more leeway to go longer without sound bytes as opposed to someone less established (who) doesn’t have as deep of (a take) on the topic at hand.  (S)ound was something he didn’t use 5-years ago but now he understands that even if you start off a rant with a soundbite, it’s (another way) to hook people (but) be mindful of what sound you can use to ADD to the topic at hand.

Final word?

Using sound has evolved…there’s more content providers – Pandora, podcasts, so getting ratings is difficult.  (Thus) using sound is one way to differentiate yourself from the talking heads.  I think the soundbite, of the tools you have, from interviews or callers (is) important for those (hosts) who aren’t as established because they are may not be as personality based as someone like Colin (Cowherd.).

Amanda went on to tell me that she felt Mike and Mike were a great example of a show that uses audio to enhance their content.  Take a listen at ESPNRadio.com.

For my money, ESPN Radio’s overnight product Sportscenter AllNight is a tremendous example of how using audio, from play-by-play to opinion pieces, etc., is one many should consider copying.  As I drove in to work this morning, I heard Hubie Brown sharing insight on the Spurs win over the Heat in game 1 of the NBA Finals, then incredible play-by-play from the Dodgers radio network, expertly set-up by anchor Jay Reynolds, that told the story of Cuban defector Yasiel Puig’s fascinating ascension into stardom since his call up to the bigs.

Here’s an example I co-wrote with host Dave Ross for our show, Seattle’s Morning News on KIRO Radio.   As you can hear, I added a lot of audio, from Notre Dame fight song to John Stewart, to keep this story moving.

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One other quick note: I’ve been hearing something a lot lately that I think sounds awful and it needs to stop, now.  No more songs with lyrics out of commercial break.  Go back and listen to your show and listen to how your hosts battle the lyrics, thus making for a frustrating experience for the listener. I was listening to one show yesterday that had pxp cuts battling lyrics into a host battling lyrics. This. Ends. Now. It’s essentially an invitation to the listener to leave your broadcast.  I could be wrong, but I think we want to avoid that sort of thing, yes?