How to be a Better Sports Radio Caller

Listening to sports radio is often a frustrating experience for the intelligent sports fan. This is especially true in Boston, where the main sports radio station bills itself as “sports entertainment” rather than “sports talk.” As a result, many of the hosts are woefully ill-informed and don’t seem to have a clue about some of the most basic sports facts, history, and concepts; they’re more interested in creating controversies and story lines that they can easily pound on for days. To make matters worse, the people who call the shows are generally even less informed than the hosts. How many times have you heard a guy call in and ask a pathetically stupid question that could be answered in five seconds with Google? Or worse, the mouthbreather who calls and either asks a questions like “Hey, um…I was wondering…um…what do you guys think about, um…Mike Lowell?” or suggests a ridiculously one-sided trade “Do you think we could trade Taverez, Seanez, and Jason Johnson for Huston Street?” Don’t be one of those callers.


Occasionally someone will call and actually try to make a good point, only to be quickly shot down by the hosts, who twist things around on them or bully them. There is usually a moment in each call when the caller could say something or make a point that would set the host back a bit, but most callers fail to seize that crucial moment. If sports radio had better callers, would the overall product improve? Not by much, but we could at least enjoy hearing the arrogant hosts squirm a bit on their oversized rear ends. Here’s how you do it:

Be Prepared

No, I’m not talking about preparing a script that you’re going to read from; prepared scripts are generally ponderous and even if you have a good one, you’re not going to be given the time to read it unless you’ve already built up a relationship with the show. When I say be prepared, I mean know what you want to talk about, what points you want to make, and how you’re going to overcome objections. Anticipate the responses you’ll get, and be prepared to answer them. After all, you listen to the show; you should know how these guys operate. If they respond to you and you hesitate or stammer even a little bit, you’re done. You probably want to write some things down—not a script, but perhaps an outline of the points you want to make, how you will overcome objections, and the facts relevant to your argument. Sound confident and speak intelligently.

Be Cordial

Compliment the hosts when you get on the air, even if you’re loath to do so. Say you’re enjoying the show and that they’re doing a great job, etc. Then, get into the topic you wish to discuss. When they try to distract you, (see below) keep your cool. Don’t raise your voice too much; don’t get agitated. Above all, don’t insult them—that’s the quickest way to get hung up on, which will then result in the hosts declaring victory while at the same time pretending you said something awful: “You can’t say that on the radio, caller, you just can’t.” Remember they have the power of the seven-second delay. If they jump in and interrupt you, patiently wait and begin your point again, though you may need to rephrase it slightly.

Use Cold, Hard Facts

Know your topic front to back. Have references—if you don’t, you’re going to be shot down, because the host is going to say, “Give me an example” or “Tell us when we said that.” This is where preparation is crucial; your call is a success or a failure based on it. You might need to have some notes because you likely won’t be able to rattle all these facts off the top of your head. This seems like a lot of work, but the reason the hosts are able to shoot people down so quickly is because if someone can’t prove a point, they can ridicule that person and move on to the next caller. You need to seize the moment. Don’t let them off the hook, if you’ve got them on the ropes. You’re allowed to question the host. When they make a ridiculous statement, ask them politely but firmly to explain what they said and what they’re basing it on. Radio hosts are infamous for just “throwing it out there” and not getting called on their statements. Sports Radio hosts are infamous for sitting on the fence with big issues and for denying that they ever said certain things. They are experts at twisting logic (see below) and getting the caller off the original point that they’re trying to make. If you’re going to beat them, you’ve got to have a cool demeanor and all the facts at your disposal to be prepared for what they’re going to throw at you.

Stay on Mission

When radio hosts recognize that they might be in trouble with a caller who threatens to make good points and make them look silly in the process, they resort to a number of tactics to try to discredit the caller and make it look like they, themselves, were right all along. Many of these tactics follow well-documented logical fallacies; there are a few in particular that are favorites of talk show hosts, especially here in Boston.

Straw Man – This might be the most common tactic. Using this technique, the host misrepresents the position of the caller, refutes it, and then pretends that the actual position has been refuted. Or they ignore an actual stance and substitute a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of that stance which they can then attack. The Red Sox have stated they are looking to develop their farm system and build for the future. In the host’s world, that becomes: “The Red Sox aren’t trying to win this season!

Slippery Slope (or the Camel’s Nose) – In this scenario, the host warns that permitting some small act will consequently lead to a larger, undesirable act or circumstance. Never mind that this usually won’t be the case; the host will act as if it is a certainty: “If the Patriots don’t give Deion Branch what he wants, they’re going to have a very hard time signing free agents next year.”

Appeal to Probability – Another favorite in Boston. For years it was, “The Red Sox will never win the World Series because they haven’t done it in XX years.”

Biased Sample – Host polls his two co-host sycophants, takes a couple of calls from nitwits and then declares, “Everyone in this town out there right now thinks that Josh Beckett is a stiff and that the Red Sox are in serious trouble.”

Argumentum ad nauseamThe Red Sox aren’t trying to win this year! The Red Sox aren’t trying to win this year! The Red Sox aren’t trying to win this year! Repeat that every afternoon from 2 to 6 starting in March and going through the season, and a few people are bound to believe it. That doesn’t make it a true statement, however.

These are just a few logical fallacies used regularly by sports radio hosts. In order to beat them, you need to be aware of their tactics and how they’re going to try to twist your argument against you.

They may also resort to ridicule or bullying; it’s all part of the act. It’s also a desperate attempt to get the heat off of them and back onto the caller. They might start shouting over or at you and try to get you to retaliate, at which point they can hang up on you or get you to give up and hang up the phone.

Conclude by restating your main points

If you’re fortunate enough to get through your whole call, take 10 seconds or so to really emphasize the purpose of your call by quickly restating the points that you just made.

If you can follow these steps, then you have a shot at beating the frauds that sit behind a mic for four hours a day. If we can get prepared callers who actually make good points and challenge the hosts, then it’s just possible we will have a better product to listen to.

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