— Dave Preston (@davpresto) December 7, 2015
Everything I learned about listening, I learned from Ken Beatrice.
I know that name probably doesn’t ring a bell for you. I grew up in the D.C. suburbs, and in my house, we didn’t listen to rock or pop or any kind of music on the radio — just sports talk. And that meant that I listened to a LOT of Ken Beatrice, a local sports talk legend, almost every night as I was finishing up my homework. He had this huge Boston accent, and before bringing on a caller, he’d always say, “You’re next!” In that accent of his, it came out more like “YAW NEXT!”
Beatrice died this week — he was 72 — and I’ve read some wonderful stories about him from colleagues and listeners. Many are about that distinctive voice, or his showmanship on the air. Those stories got me thinking about why I loved his show so much in the first place.
What I remember most — besides the accent, of course — was the way he carried himself on air. Things are different now on talk radio: There’s a lot of yelling, and a lot of big opinions. It wasn’t like that on Beatrice’s show. He did something different.
He actually listened.
Right after the YAW NEXT!, he’d tee up the next caller, and…. let the caller talk! If you had a big rant about the Redskins, he’d give you airtime to vent. If you had a few questions, he’d let you ask them. And if you were really crossing a line, he’d tell you — and sometimes talk over you — but rarely cut you off entirely. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard on the radio. Callers knew Beatrice would be (mostly) patient with them, and fair in his responses. I remember calls that made me uncomfortable — and I’m sure Beatrice felt the same way, sometimes — but as a listener, I knew he’d treat every caller with a certain respect. (FWIW, most of those uncomfortable calls came from Dallas Cowboys fans.) I think back now and remember his show as a space where you could hear opinions that wouldn’t get the time of day on any other show.
A few years ago, he did an interview about his old show, and here I’ll cite a transcription from Dan Steinberg at the Washington Post:
“You know, what gets me is, some shows are based on being nasty to callers,” he said a few moments later. “That’s like if I invite you to my house for dinner. You show up with a bottle of wine under your arm, and I slam the door in your face. Next time I invite you to dinner, are you going to come? You’re certainly not going to bring any wine. And that’s all. Everybody deserves dignity and respect.”
Dignity, respect, and a few minutes to give people a chance to share their voices. I’m glad I got the chance to listen in.