The end of the first week of December has two storytellers, one perhaps a little subtle and less opinionated than the other, cross the platitude path together. On Friday, WFAN longtime voice Mike Francesa will end his long afternoon drive spot at the station, where he was a big part of creating a genre of sports talk where the caller was empowered, in addition to great guests, an encyclopedia sports mind and more opinions than can fit in any radio booth.
Couple that with Bob Costas, one of America’s great storytellers, being selected for the Ford C. Frick Award on Wednesday, and you have a mix of styles, fandom and thought that millions can relate to, be they casual fans or diehard listeners or devotees of the craft of sports and media.
While Costas isn’t leaving the baseball business as Francesa is exiting the airwaves in New York, it was a week for both to give pause and get some recognition by peers and fans that is well deserved. Whether you agree with them or not, whether you like their style or find it not your taste, both have carved unique and noteworthy paths to fame, by doing things the way they saw fit. And while one, Costas, is always quick to defer to others while the other, Francesa, is much more apt to take credit and control opinion, both know and understand the fan in a time when interaction is more often than not one way.
With that there were some interesting lessons, quick ones, learned from Costas on his Hall of Fame call with media this past Wednesday, some which Francesa fans may or may not agree with (especially the first one). Regardless, Costas touched on several of the key points of good storytelling, all of which ring true today or in the past, and hopefully into the future.
LISTENING: He was especially emphatic during the call about the value of listening, not just to fans and officials and guests, but to those who had built his craft of broadcasting before him. Taking the time to listen to styles, to inflections, to mannerisms, to politeness, to excitement, from each and every person he heard on radio, or TV or in a classroom, helped him grow and improve his craft. Not by shouting people down, but by listening to what was being said, how it was being said, and how messages were being conveyed.
CRITIQUING: Another lost art is the value of self critique and improvement. We are often so busy we feel that “good enough” is best. However Costas went on to point out how he meticulously listens to each of his own broadcasts, to find out what he could do to get better, subtly or overtly, and how he can take one narrative and mold it to fit the next one coming along. Repetition and notetaking are key, he said, but the most important thing is to not be so ego driven that you think you can never improve. Being afraid to listen and self-critique can ruin a career. That applies to any field one is in.
LEARNING: Along with listening and critiquing comes learning. The development of one’s style, ones brand, and one’s good habits comes not from repeating or copying someone else, but from learning from all those around you on how to constantly improve all aspects of oneself. Being a smart and effective learner, and having a nonstop thirst for improvement and discovery from all around you is what makes you a better broadcaster and a better person.
HUMILITY: Throughout the call there was never once a reference to “me;” it was always a reverence and deference to the voices that came before him that made Costas what he is today. There was also a great feeling of giving back and passing along a craft to a new generation, and the 45 minutes become a “Who’s Who” of broadcast names and personalities that helped mold a master storyteller’s career. Having humility and deference at a time when all are telling you how great you are is not easy, but it is tremendously insightful into the character of an honoree like Costas, a character worth noting and celebrating.
So while most of the New York and some national media will go into a weekend with stories and platitudes for a well-known personality who has crafted a niche creating daily conversation in and around talk radio and the millions who enjoy sports, there were some valuable lessons to be learned from another, perhaps more demure and understated professional who also has done things his way; although when listening to him, the life lessons he offered up were less about him, and more about the threads who have made quite a fabric for a remarkable career; all built around storytelling and the smart business lessons put forth on how to tell those stories best.
Two personalities, two styles, two legions of fans; both worthy of all praise for the paths they have cut.