Is it Worth Taking Radio Phone Calls on National Level?
By Bobby Burack
Yesterday, the Stephen A. Smith Show got awkward when as caller called referred to Smith as a “bonafide scrub.” Smith didn’t take kindly to this and went on a rant that was much closer to a channel-changer than it was the alternative. Which leads to the question: Should shows take phone calls on a national level?
It’s a dangerous game letting random fans call into a show not knowing what they will say or ask. Yes, they can fool a call-screener. This is not the first time someone has called into the Stephen A. Smith Show trolling and has hurt the quality of the program. And the show is not alone as this occurs time and time again across the country. It is more than just a troll problem, too. Often times callers are uniformed, ask bad questions, are not entertaining, and sometimes even bring up topics that have no business being discussed on that particular day. Some of these issues have led to popular shows like The Herd removing the call feature altogether.
But with all that said, there must be a reason why certain shows do take calls. And it happens to be a good one: Chemistry. The reason this works much better locally is that local hosts often develop relationships with passionate callers. Few shows have done this nationally, but the ones that have, have mastered it. The one that stands out amongst the rest is the Paul Finebaum Show. Finebaum’s show is certainly better with his insane, over-the-top, funny, dedicated fans calling in. Finebaum lets them speak, gets to know them, and turns them into interesting guests who enhance the broadcast. There is a clear disparity between the relationship he has with his caller than the vast majority of national hosts.
Chris Russo and Adam Schein have had success doing a national show with a local vibe to it. This has led to overall solid callers and ones that add to, not take away from the conversation. Yes, including the ones who make Mad Dog lose his mind, which we all deserve more of. But that is a task not many can pull off with the topics most discuss nationally. In fact, popular national topics are a major reason why most shows struggle so much when they open up the phone lines. It doesn’t translate well.
Barstool’s radio lineup, to no surprise, benefits from callers as they have such an invested and rabid following. Fans like that know what their shows are and only add to the fun, if that is your type of thing.
There is the option of the Dan Patrick Show and the Will Cain Show, where calls happen but are a small part of the show. Both shows give off a vibe of buddies talking sports and have blended call-ins well because of it. Smartly, neither rely heavily on them to carry their show.
Outside of the shows that a family-like feel, taking calls puts a show at real risk. There is nothing safe about it as the results show it either greatly helps or hurts a radio program. But as you can see, to answer the question, it isn’t’ as simple as yes or no.