A morning with the Sports Animal
One of the pre-arranged events from my September 2006 trip to Florida, was spending a morning at WDAE co-presenting the Ron & Ian Show on 620 The Sports Animal. I have been contributing a weekly call to the station on all sports for the past two years, so a chance to do a full show was something we were all looking forward to happening.
The cast of characters from the show comprises Ron Diaz, a long-time radio show host in the Bay area, Ian Beckles, a Buccaneer from 1990 to 1996 on the offensive line, Darek Sharp, presenter of the thrice-hourly Sports Attack updates, Justin Pawlowski, producer of the show, and Brandi, an intern who works at the station three days a week.
I have known Ian since his rookie season in 1990, but the other guys, well I had spoken to them every week for the past two years but it was interesting to get to meet the faces behind the names.
The studio itself is similar to those I have worked in on this side of the Atlantic. A sound-proof main studio with all the standard call and microphone controls, and the producer's booth behind a glass window next door which enables visual signals as well as off-air miked comments.
No show like this can survive without a good producer and Justin is definitely that. He has to not only handle the advertising sections and cue-ing, but also deals with incoming calls and adds his own comments as and where necessary.
Calls are stacked with Ron Diaz having a display of their name, location and potential talking point. A cut button is available to both Ron and Justin in case of the caller being a complete moron, and the show also operates on the standard seven-second time delay to allow a second button to cut out any profanity or non-broadcastable comment. This is standard on this side of the Atlantic too, although I remember working in the mid 1980s without either safety net.
I was particularly interested in the demographics of the station, the supposed target audience of the station. Both Ron and the station manager were quick to stress how they appeal to all areas and a huge audience range.
The view from listening over the past couple of years and one echoed by the rest of the Tampa sports media, is that it is males, aged 30-40 and owning a truck and a mobile phone who make up roughly 99% of the audience.
I spoke to several other members of the Tampa media about the show, and aside from making them laugh, the general consensus is that is typical sports radio for the lower classes. The type of caller you get on Talk Sport over here, and the advertising is aimed at them too. Ambulance-chasing legal firms, credit repair and loan offers are evident in every break. In fact, I was expecting Carol Vorderman to turn up and do an Ocean Finance loan next.
If only Ron & Ian would do their research, they would get a lot more respect from the other Tampa sports media which unfortunately they do not have at all right now. Just quickly scanning the Tribune sports page before you go on air is not good enough guys. Ian really does know his stuff when it comes to stories about being with the Bucs, and from playing in the NFL. But to host a show like this, you need more of an in-depth sports knowledge from what is coming up on the ESPN screens in the studio.
Lack of research is not something you could accuse Darek Sharp of however. His bulletins are excellent, informative and bang up-to-date in terms of breaking stories. And remember, he has to pick up soundbites which need to be cued up and run alongside his note-read items.
The target audience does also predetermine the politics of the show. It has long been the outside view of the general American public that they are not really in touch with world affairs, and Ron Diaz does rather prove this at times. Apart from having it in for anyone with a foreign name or religious interest, comments like "we should go and invade Saudi Arabia and cut the problem out there too" does leave him slightly to the right wing of Attila the Hun.
Kerrie listened to much of the show and was surprised how often subjects are re-hashed during the show. This is nothing new for sports programming as very few listeners will stay for all three hours of the show. So hence the Terrell Owens suicide story that was the main subject, was brought up several times during the morning.
But a lot of fun
If you tune in to WDAE 620 expecting in-depth analytical opinion, then you are not going to find it. But what you will find are some very funny un-politically correct comments aimed at the lower end of the supporting spectrum. But the guys do the job they are there to do - the shame is that they really could do a lot more if they wanted.
Paul Stewart, October 2006.