In case you didn’t know, the San Francisco Giants are playing in the World Series for the third time in five years. They’re trying to win the ultimate baseball championship yet again, after triumphing in 2010 and 2012. And there’s nowhere better for Giants fans to get all the stats and commentary — essentially, to live the game right alongside the team, than on sports talk radio. In the Bay Area, we listen to KNBR, “the sports leader.” They have two stations, AM 680 and AM 1050, plus online access. They’re the official radio broadcasters for Giants baseball, Warriors basketball, and 49ers football. Loyal fans listen to KNBR all year long, but anyone with a passing interest in sports should check out sports talk radio when your hometown team is, to use a sports talk cliché, “on the verge of making history.”
Five reasons I love sports talk radio:
1. It’s fun
Sports talk radio shows typically feature two personalities who engage in witty banter, laugh at each other, find funny things to highlight or give sports figures silly nicknames — all in the name of fun, of bringing a smile to your commute. Most of the partnerships have catchy names: Murph & Mac, Gary & Larry, or the Bay Area’s favorite baseball announcers, Kruk & Kuip. Some of the guys, such as Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper, do play-by-play for games. Others have built a following by talking about sports, interviewing sports figures and perhaps most important, fielding calls from listeners. All of them stay positive. No depressing world news here: it’s all sports, all the time.
2. It’s efficient
Although it’s possible to waste hours listening to different callers’ opinions on how they would have executed an important play differently, or what they think is critical for the team to win its next game, tuning in to sports talk radio is actually an efficient way to collect a few stats and soundbites that will give you “street creed” with your spouse, your co-workers or even the guys who fix your car or computer. Fifteen minutes of sports talk radio in the car will pay off later, when you mention an interesting statistic or story you remember, or you drop the name of last night’s key player. This modest investment of time can make you look completely plugged in to the sports situation.
3. Everybody gets to be an expert
The best part about sports talk radio is the call-in show, where regular fans go on-air with their opinions about the game their team just played, or what the team needs to do in its next game. After the Giants won their first 2014 World Series game 7-1, emotion was running so high that some callers predicted the Giants would sweep the Series, just like they did back in 2012. But the next day, after San Francisco lost to Kansas City 7-2, fans were somber and analytical. “If I were Botchy [SF’s manager], I wouldn’t have left Peavy in for so long.” Or, “Why is that guy Strickland allowed to pitch at all? We’re not in AAA — this is the World Series!”
Callers had even more concerns after the Giants lost Game 3 in San Francisco, bringing the series to 2-1 games in favor of Kansas City. But fan exuberance returned after Game 4, where a come-from-behind win evened the series score, and everyone who followed baseball in San Francisco knew the Giants’ ace, Madison Bumgarner, would be pitching the following day. After San Francisco won Game 5 with a historic 5-0 shutout, callers started to celebrate a World Series victory in advance. They offered advice on how to handle the relief bullpen situation, how the Giants could “wrap things up,” how we really had KC “on the ropes,” and on and on.
The thing with sports talk is, everybody gets his or her moment to be the expert — to explain what s/he would have done better than the people who get paid lots of money to manage teams and play games. When reviewing a loss, the benefit of hindsight allows callers endless variations on what the team “could” have done. When the team wins, they offer thoughts on how “we” can keep the streak going. People use statistics to bolster their arguments, and/or add warnings that restrain fan excitement. Callers show depth of passion and at times extensive knowledge about the game. Phoning in gives them the chance to shine.
4. It offers lively debate, but within limits
Sports talk radio hosts keep callers on air longer if they have an interesting viewpoint or an entertaining manner. They dispense quickly with callers who add nothing to their program, sometimes even losing calls with a “technical glitch” that may or may not be accidental. But hosts never insult their callers, never suggest they could be spending their time better elsewhere.
Most calls discuss hypothetical situations. They deal with games that are past, or games that haven’t yet been played. As stated above, callers get to show off their knowledge. Sports talk radio hosts encourage lively debate, but at no time is a caller permitted to bash the home team. One of their unwritten rules, but every bit as firm as unwritten baseball rules like “If their pitcher hits one of your team’s players, you have to hit one of theirs,” is that ALL callers have to be fans of the home team. You can debate ideas and opinions, but everyone has the same team’s best interest at heart.
5. Sports talk radio builds community
By valuing a diversity of views about “the small stuff,” while holding fast to the overall goal of wanting to see the home team win, sports talk radio brings people together. It gives fans a place to talk about their favorite teams, and for those who listen regularly, it offers consistent hosts who can become your radio “friends,” in much the same way TV news show hosts or bloggers you read regularly seem familiar and comfortable. Sports talk radio also gives listeners connection with each other, as they agree or disagree, but recognize that ultimately, they are united by their love of the same sports team. Positive and entertaining, sports talk radio lets fans celebrate (or commiserate) together and allows them to feel united with a bigger cause.
Join in with passion
If you’re even a little bit of a fan, tune in to sports talk radio to become more conversant in the game, celebrate your team’s wins and witness true passion at work. As you’re listening, reflect on why we don’t let ourselves experience other ups and downs of life with the same intensity as we attach to sports — why we don’t allow ourselves to feel or express similar levels of emotion at work, school and home as we do when rooting for our team. Maybe steeping ourselves in sports talk radio’s passionate community will help bring passion to the rest of our lives, too.