10 Questions with ... Geoff Sheen
September 1, 2015
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
After college in Middlebury, VT (Go Panthers!), I applied for internships at every station in New England. Got ONE reply: intern at WXLO in Worcester, MA. Worked my way up the ladder in the promotions department there (while jocking some shifts) until I moved across the country to KHOP in Modesto, CA. Started my sports radio run with our ESPN affiliate there. Stops in Fresno, then San Francisco. Worked at Sports Byline USA for a few years before moving to San Antonio for Ticket 760 and WOAI.
1. Okay, first, how and why did you get into radio in the first place? What about radio made you want to do it?
My dad listened to Imus a lot. I wanted to capture a listener the way the I-Man got my dad. He was such a big fan that we even visited Don’s brother Fred when we took a family vacation to New Mexico in 1994. My dad is my hero and mentor for everything in my life. He loved radio, so that definitely made my decision to pursue it as a career stronger.
2. You've done national sports talk as well as local in several markets; what works for local talk in San Antonio, and how does that differ, if at all, from the national focus? How much is pro football, how much of it is college football, how much is the Spurs, etc.? Can you talk about sports that aren't in the market, like major league baseball?
Spurs are king in SA. It’s not even close (for better, for worse). We have a reputation of being a great Cowboys town, but our city would jump for our own NFL team in a heartbeat. So, it’s not the same as the Spurs. And honestly, why should it be close? The connection a city has to their team is deep. When you factor the Spurs’ success (they’ve only had maybe 4-6 bad years in their entire history), it runs even deeper. That’s why hosting the pre/post game for Spurs Radio is one of my favorite parts about my job. That said, Cowboys and Longhorns resonate. I probably do more college football than NFL right now.
SA used to be a big Astros town, then it was the Rangers, now it’s coming back Astros. But when you adopt another city’s team, the loyalty ebbs and flows. So, Ticket does a good amount of guy talk throughout the year. It’s not like we’re forcing that. If you are doing a M25-54 show, you probably do a bunch of guy talk anyway. How many X’s and O’s shows even exist outside of podcasts? I think our format needs to come up with a new phrase for “guy talk” because so many people think “boobs and farts.” Our morning guy does Mexican drug cartel news. I do ‘80s movie references and pro wrestling. It’s all in fun, and the response is always good. So, yeah. That stuff…and sports.
3. Sports talk radio seems to be in the middle of a split- some stations and shows are highly call-dependent, others are heavy on the interviews and/or monologues and do few calls. Which side of the schism do you land on -- what's your preference, lots of calls, lots of interviews, lots of you, or some kind of balance?
I open my show with a monologue. It’s the only segment where it’s just my voice. I do two interviews per day…and I’m actually not a big fan of interviews! My PD, Brian Gann, thinks I’m the best interviewer in the market. So, he encouraged me to play to that strength. It was great feedback that helped my show.
I’m a big fan of callers, too. Every host I know either started as a caller or wanted to be one! Radio connects with our audience in such an intimate way. Being able to pick up the phone (or tweet/email) to connect with a host is HUGE! I’m very concerned how many programmers want to phase them out of the process. While no listener ever said “my favorite part of that show is the callers,” most hosts are on the air for 3 to 4 hours. We don’t have time for a listener to offer his opinion for 45 seconds? I might be generalizing, but when I listen to major market radio, callers seem far more important to the process. I like that momentum. National radio barely does callers and a lot of small market shows emulate the national guys because so much of their station lineup is national. I saw an interview where one national guy said calls are a crutch! I know we’re all egomaniacs, but isn’t it possible that our audience actually has something to add to the conversation? There is plenty of me in a 3 hour shift. I want other voices. Interviews. Callers. Update guys. My “guys on the other side of the glass.” Each one is a character for the show. When I say “this is where San Antonio talks sports,” it’s true. Or I could prove what a genius I am with 12 monologues per day.
4. What would surprise people most about you?
I am overly protective of my family. Even though I’ve talked about my wife and kids on the air, I have never once uttered their names. I’ve had some bad experiences with listeners that turned on me over the dumbest stuff and it got personal. I won’t subject my family to that. I know we are supposed to be open books, but my listeners don’t get to have that part of my life. No offense to the ones that would never dream of becoming “that guy.”
5. There are a lot of sports radio networks and stations out there now, and we're not even counting streaming, satellite, and podcasts. Is there a limit? Will we reach Peak Sports Talk anytime soon? Will there be a shakeout? Or is there an insatiable appetite for sports talk on the radio?
I think we reached Peak Sports Talk when “we aren’t hiring you but if you want, you can pay us to be on our station” was first uttered. There are at least two national networks whose business model is “pay for play.” We have a couple of brokered shows in our market too. It is not surprising: who doesn’t want to talk about sports? But when you are paying for time, who is making you better? You aren’t beholden to a PD. Very few guys actually reach out to get feedback from consultants. I’ve seen it happen with some satellite guys. One (pretty famous host) told me, “the great thing about my show on satellite is I don’t have anyone telling me what to do!” You need feedback to be successful.
I’d like to see the format keep getting better and striving to be the top format in radio. You can never have enough of a good thing, but there is a lot of bad out there. I think the shakeout happens when we answer the question “who is doing this to entertain an audience, and who is in it to entertain themselves?” It’s probably most egregious with podcasters in our market. Those guys aren’t trying to make the medium better. They use their podcast to get media credentials so they don’t have to buy tickets. I just think that lowers the overall credibility of the medium.
6. Who are your influences, mentors, and/or inspirations, in business and in life?
Anyone my age in radio that doesn’t immediately say “Howard Stern” is fooling themselves. He changed radio forever. Obviously, Imus (above). From a sports talk perspective, Dale Arnold was my guy in college. I love his style. The way Glenn Ordway directed his show was magic. Chris Russo’s energy is contagious. I don’t think anyone got me more passionate about a topic than Russo did when he’s really rolling. I think Colin Cowherd changed the way national radio is done. He’s the best at similes. A lot of guys have adopted that “sports as a metaphor for life in general” style. Those guys, but especially JT The Brick: passionate, sincere opinions and he demands listener interaction, particularly on the phones. He’s great. I feel blessed that I’ve met a lot of those guys and was able to tell them how much they meant to me.
A few more: Richard Perry at Cumulus Modesto is the best OM I’ve ever worked for. Chris Pacheco in Fresno is the best owner I’ve worked for. Darren Peck at Sports Byline is the most honest President I’ve worked for. Chase Murphy is a radio genius.
7. How do you prep your show? What's the process? And what role do social media play in that?
To start: for every minute I’m on the air, I prep a minute. I comb every major national site (I like the CBS layout the best), the local newspaper’s site, team specific blogs (heavy on Spurs, Longhorns, Cowboys). Copy and paste the most pressing info then add my own thoughts. I won’t necessarily read it like the script, but writing down my thoughts helps shape the direction I’m going to go with a story. Then, I’ll check Twitter to see if one particular story is getting a lot of attention. Social media is huge, because I have listeners constantly sending me links. I’ve actually changed my rundown 5 minutes to air because of listener tweets. I’m doing a show for them, so I think that immediacy is positive.
8. Of what are you most proud?
Finding the one (my wife). We grew up only 17 miles from each other, but then met at a party 3,000+ miles away from there. The one thing in my life that I am sure was meant to be!
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ___________.
…My phone! I have to keep it out of arm’s reach when I’m in the car. I probably would have caused 1,452 accidents if I had it next to me. Check Twitter, Facebook, texts…there are PSAs about me!
10. What's the most valuable lesson you've learned in your radio career?
Wear a lot of hats. In my 15 years, I’ve been a host, anchor, play-by-play guy, OM, PD, programming consultant, promotions director, event coordinator, night jock, morning show sidekick, and webmaster. Having knowledge about what goes on outside of the studio has proven to be just as valuable as being confident on the mic.