During a visit to the Battery Atlanta baseball fan Dwayne Jones pauses to take a look through the gates at the Atlanta Braves newly renamed Truist Park after new signage has been installed waiting for the delayed start of baseball season in the wake of the coronavirus on Monday, March 16, 2020, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton/Curtis Compton

No sports? Still plenty to talk about on radio

There is always something to talk about.

Even as the world of sports — for the most part — has come to a halt with the postponement and cancellation of live events due to the coronavirus outbreak, sports talk radio goes on.

“Is it really sports talk or is it guy talk,” said Chris Dimino, mid-morning host with Nick Cellini on 680 The Fan. “I’ve always leaned toward the side of ‘Well, why can’t it be both?’ What’s the main topic of the day. This isn’t really a town that talks about the top of the third, why don’t we lay a bunt down very often. We are not that. What was the substitution pattern in the third quarter? Why did the Hawks lose that game? Well, I know why, because this guy was sitting on the bench for an extra four minutes. We didn’t really do a ton of that. We certainly weren’t living in that area. I think it’s sort of been more about entertainment.”

Radio hosts in town said they are comfortable talking about movies, music and pop culture. There will be more of that with no live sports. However, this is the south and football is king. While every other professional, collegiate and scholastic league is on hold, the NFL is not. On Monday, a day after the league’s new collective bargaining agreement was ratified, there were a bevy of roster moves, many with the Falcons. That’s a lot to talk about.

“Our ratings are always strong this time of year because the NFL rules the roost, whether it’s trades, free agency, roster moves, pre-draft coverage,” said Mike Bell, afternoon host with Carl Dukes on 92.9 The Game. “Business as usual for the NFL. … It’s kind of cool to have a distraction right now and the NFL is providing that.”

Sports talk radio was just like much of the country when the progression of postponements and cancellations rocked the sports world last week. Talk radio is the voice of the sports fan and in many cases the concern over COVID-19 was no different.

“Like everybody else, there was that initial sense of frustration of ‘Well, I got plans, or I got Masters badges or I got Final Four tickets,’” Bell said. “It’s human nature to focus on your needs. At some point you realize is this an overreaction? Maybe. But they’ve got to get a handle on it and this is the only way they can do it to limit our interactions.

“I’m probably the perfect example. On Monday, Carl was saying this is some serious stuff and I was, to a degree, in denial saying this is an overreaction and this only affects the elderly. But when you look at the numbers and how this thing has spread, the only thing out your disposal is to limit large public gathers so that takes sports out of the equation.”

Both Bell and Dimino noted that not having live sports to talk about will require somewhat of a change. Certainly not having the Final Four, which was scheduled to be held in Atlanta, will be much worse for many others. They both mentioned bar, restaurant and hotel workers and ride-sharing drivers as examples of the most impacted. In addition some athletes may be more affected than others, beyond the professional and collegian.

“We talked a little bit about high school seniors and what it means to them if they don’t get a chance to come back, not just sports-wise but certainly socially,” Dimino said. “As bad as you might feel for the college guys, I think I feel, and most people feel, worse for the high school kids who are not going to get to experience what it is you hope to experience your senior year. It’s a real topic of conversation. … There is not a lot of normalcy and the fact that it’s been thrust upon 17- and 18-year olds is unfortunately interesting.”

While there are matters of life and death going on in the world, sports can be an outlet. Maybe, even therapeutic. It will likely get more difficult to fill air time as the lack of events continues, perhaps even into the summer. However, the show will go on.

“Whatever this new world order is, if you are really looking for a couple of guys who empathize, sympathize, want to have at least have a laugh at a time when it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of things that are funny, I think we have an ability to do that,” Dimino said. “I think we have proven that over the years. We can do other things. There are a couple of other instruments in the bag and we can pull them out and play them. I think everybody in this format, here locally, certainly around the country. If you are the MLB Network, it’s a little bit different. If you are the NFL Network, it’s a little bit different. You don’t have as much free range. I think we locally have a better chance to do it than national shows.”

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