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UPCOMING EVENTS

Are You Allowed To Be A Fan?

If there’s ever been a list of unspoken rules in sports media, not openly cheering for the team you cover seems like it would be at the top. In fact, at some point or another, you were probably told to be neutral about the team you talk or write about. ‘It’s unprofessional,’ is likely the line you were sold. 

But if sports radio is all about being your true self on the air, what if your true self is someone that’s openly a fan of the team you talk about on a day-to-day basis? If I grew up loving a team and now get to talk about them every day, why would I hide that from the audience in the pursuit to be neutral? 

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Logan Booker, co-host of The Morning Show on 960 The Ref in Athens, Georgia, grew up a hardcore UGA fan. Rooting for the Bulldogs was in his blood and still serves as some of his best childhood memories. He realized a dream, when he enrolled at the University of Georgia and set out to follow his passion of covering the Dawgs. But he got a bit of a rude awakening when he found out what sports media would force him to do. 

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“The sports media program at the University of Georgia was so adamant about trying to knock that fan element out of you,” said Booker. “We were not allowed to wear anything with a sports logo on it to class. Otherwise, they’d say you’re not allowed to be here right now.”

Booker figured he’d have to give up his UGA fandom if he wanted to be in the business. Luckily, while interviewing a host at the station he works at today, he found out that didn’t have to be the case. 

“I interviewed my now co-host for a school project, during my internship at the station,” said Booker. “One of the questions I asked him, was how do you turn off the fandom when you’re working? He kind of looked at me like, what do you mean? I’m in radio I don’t have to do that.”

That was the moment Booker can pinpoint to where he knew radio was the route for him. All of the pretending he didn’t care about UGA athletics was no more. He grew up in Georgia and loved the teams within its borders. Sports radio gave him the option of wearing that on his sleeve every day.  

Richard Cross of SportsTalk Mississippi never hides the fact he graduated from Ole Miss. He’s also not shy about openly admitting he hopes the Rebels do well. Though a Mississippi State fan may occasionally call him a ‘homer’ that’s really not the case with Cross, nor is it his objective. In fact, he portrays himself about as neutral as it comes while broadcasting games for the SEC Network, no matter which team he’s calling a game for. But Cross realizes the most important factor when openly admitting you root for a particular team: He knows you have to be critical when it’s necessary. 

“I feel like the biggest thing in all of this is honesty,” said Cross. “If you’re honest with your listeners, whether it’s after a great win or a heartbreaking loss, you just have to shoot people straight. That’s where the credibility comes from.

“I think fans are smarter than they’ve ever been. If you cover a team, whether we’re talking about on the radio or with the website or you’re a beat writer, if all you do is give people fluff and pump sunshine, they see through that. I think people expect honesty and they don’t want someone who is constantly taking shots at their team, because that gets old as well.”

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Booker agrees. 

“One thing I take very seriously, if something is wrong, I’m not going to sit in the radio booth and say, oh, things are fine and we’re going to get better,” Booker said. “We’re going to talk about what’s wrong and what should be fixed without a fear of upsetting someone. But at the end of the day, my audience knows I identify as someone with a rooting interest and I thoroughly enjoy that.”

So is acceptable to openly root for the team you talk about every day on the air? Well, if that’s who you are as a fan, then absolutely. But as Cross and Booker said, you also have to be willing to be critical when need be. At the end of the day, it’s all about honesty with your listener. Be your true self and say what you think. 

“We are major parts of people’s daily routine,” said Booker. “For someone driving a car, whether it be for 10 minutes or 30 minutes every single morning, I think they far more identify with someone that’s a fan of the same program. We’re told this at the station a lot, we have listeners that look at us like friends. They think you’re their buddy and for all practical purposes, they are. You spend every morning with them and they’re not nearly going to be as connected or enjoy listening to someone if all I do is criticize this and criticize that. They want to connect with me and feel like they can have a beer with me and talk about the Bulldogs.”

But what if you’re labeled the ‘Ole Miss guy’ on the air in Mississippi? Though Cross isn’t viewed by all Mississippi State fans as that, his listeners that are MSU fans, still likely know where his loyalties lie. That can make for an interesting relationship when the two fan bases are evenly split through the market. 

“The fascinating thing with me and Mississippi State fans, is that forever I was just the Ole Miss guy,” said Cross. “But because of the television work that I’ve done, even a bunch of Mississippi State games, there’s some that will never see or hear anything but, oh, Richard, he’s an Ole Miss guy and I don’t give a damn what he says. But I think most people have noticed how I approach doing TV broadcasts. I do a Mississippi State game the same way I do a Tennessee or Ole Miss game, or whoever I’m calling. I think I’ve developed some credibility along the way as a result of that. Hopefully that’s carried over to the radio side.”

Doing radio in Athens, Booker doesn’t have to compete with two fan bases. It’s all UGA, all the time. When the vast majority, if not all, of your listeners have the same rooting interest as you, it makes being open with your fandom on the air a whole lot easier. 

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But what if another station outside the market wanted to hire him? Say, Atlanta? Would he totally change his on-air persona? 

“If I were in a bigger market, especially in Atlanta, yeah I would be able to be the exact same person,” said Booker.  “If anything, I would lay out both sides on the table a little bit more. I would probably be a little bit more, hey, this is good, but this could also be the same thing. All of a sudden your audience isn’t going to be 90% your fandom, your audience will be split into a lot more different fan bases. It would be a little bit more difficult, but at the end of the day, I would be who I am.”

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Tyler McComas: Doing radio in Athens, do you feel like you have to be a guy that openly roots for UGA on the air? 

Logan Booker: No, not 100 percent. I’ll use one of our afternoon show hosts as an example. He’s from Miami and went to the University of Miami. He’s an outspoken Miami fan. He’s not over the top, like “I’m going to rub it in your face, Go Hurricanes and the Dawgs suck”. I think he understands that in order to connect to your listenership he needs to talk about the Dawgs as if it was his wake up, check the news, find out what’s happening with Georgia, and, oh, Miami is just something I do on the side. Whether that’s true or not I think when you’re in a small market, especially a college town, where you know 90 percent of your listenership either graduated from that university or even goes to that university, or employed at university, they have a major rooting interest in the local team. But if you’re not an outspoken fan I think it’s important to make sure you legitimately care about what’s going on with that team. Not necessarily in a blindly positive way but it has to be an interest of yours.

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TM: You did something interesting with a poll a while back to gauge how fans view media. 

LB: I put up a poll back when I was trying to become a beat writer and kind of get that fandom out of me, asking my Twitter following, hey, do you think that beat writers are fans of the program? Overwhelmingly, like 90 percent, were absolutely, the beat writer is supposed to be a fan of the program.

They don’t get it. They don’t understand that not everyone is from the state or grew up loving the team. We have a couple guys in our market that are Maryland grads. But the fans don’t get that and that’s actually a testament to the good job those guys are doing on the beat.

TM: In general, is it ok for a host to root for the team he talks about every day? 

Richard Cross: I think it was Scott Van Pelt that famously said, “Everybody’s from somewhere” Everyone that’s in this business are fans of some teams. If you’re in the sports talk radio business you’re a fan of sports, right? You like it, or at least I hope you like it. Odds are you grew up watching or following some team.

I’m coming at it from a little bit of a different angle, because I host a sports radio show and I work with the Ole Miss Radio Network but I also work with ESPN and the SEC Network. They’re the same skill set, for the most part, it’s kind of different in terms of how I treat each broadcast. But I try not to be over-the-top ever from hosting a sports talk show in a state like Mississippi where you have Ole Miss and Mississippi State, you have to be fair to both sides. I graduated from Ole Miss and I don’t try to hide the fact I want to see them do well. But I feel like the biggest thing in all this is honesty. 

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TM: Just be genuine, right? Don’t force or fake it to your audience. 

RC: Sure, absolutely. I never approach it on the radio side from the standpoint of, let’s talk about the Ole Miss game because I love Ole Miss. It’s not the approach should I go with. Let’s look at all the different angles and point out all the stuff that’s good, but also the things were bad. And I try to do the same thing with Mississippi State. But I’m just not a rah-rah guy. I never have been.

Tyler McComas
Tyler McComashttp://34.192.167.182
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at [email protected].

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