November 18, 2011

A.L.L. Sports Hour gives sports a voice on campus

An abundance of sports fans isn’t generally considered one of the University of Chicago’s greatest assets. But they do exist, and courtesy of the A.L.L. Sports Hour—the University’s only radio station dedicated to sports, DJed by Allen L. Linton—they’re starting to make some noise.

A.L.L. Sports is a one-hour talk show that airs every other Thursday on the University’s radio station, WHPK. The format is simple: The three hosts—Allen Linton, Louis Smith, and Chika Okafor—sit down and discuss whatever issues they feel are relevant to the sporting world at the time. These could relate to anything from mainstream professional sports to collegiate athletics at the University of Chicago. The variety is something lead host Linton is committed to maintaining. “One of our main goals is to give people a broad perspective about what’s going on in sports, both on the field and its place in society,” said Linton. “It’s like the Core for sports.”

Linton and Smith founded A.L.L. Sports in 2008 and have been hosting the show ever since. The two met in their first year as dorm-mates in Snell-Hitchcock, where they were frustrated by the limited interest in sports outside of their own debates. “Lou (Smith) and I would watch sports, when not many other people would, and we’d have these arguments,” says Linton. “He was very traditional and I was more technical and into the new stats.”

Linton and Smith’s frustration extended beyond the lack of sports fans they found at the U of C. “We were frustrated by talk radio in general,” explained Linton. “They made the same dull points; ripping someone one week, saying he was the greatest the next week. And I was like, ‘Hey, why don’t we start a show?’” By the end of their sophomore year, Smith and Linton were hosting the A.L.L. Sports Hour.

What sets it apart from most mainstream sports talk shows is its simplicity. Co-host Okafor—who joined the show after being introduced to Linton by a friend—is insistent on this point.

“It’s just an opportunity for us to talk about and discuss sports and share some information with people,” Okafor said. The simple and honest discussion of sports is a refreshing change of pace in an age of over-the-top ESPN-style sports coverage. On top of its civil style of discussion, A.L.L. Sports’s size also allows it to focus on lesser-known sports that the big stations often neglect. A.L.L. Sports’s commitment to covering such a variety of topics—topics that are often overlooked—is nice to see. “I know consciously that if this were a bigger show on a larger network, they probably wouldn’t let me talk about the Blackhawks, baseball, or, god forbid, the growth of soccer,” Linton said.

If A.L.L. sports is succeeding in bringing a more measured perspective to sports discussion, it hasn’t yet captured the imagination of the UChicago community. On a good day, A.L.L. sports will draw anywhere from 150–200 listeners, but the vast majority of those listeners are not University of Chicago students. This isn’t necessarily due to a lack of sports fans on campus.

“A lot of people here are interested in sports. You walk around campus and you see a lot of people with different jerseys, different baseball caps,” Linton said. “There are obviously people that care, but people come here and they’re just so focused on other things.”

So what does A.L.L. Sports need to do to get these people listening? The first thing, Linton argues, is to spread the word within the student body. “Having more UChicago athletes and students as guests would help. Reaching out to these people and making sure they’re aware of this as an outlet…maybe even doing some live shows at sporting events.”

Linton, who is now studying for his Ph.D. in political science, believes these are realistic goals in his time here. Okafor, on the other hand, sees the show as more of a stepping-stone. “For me, right now, there are more important things than making the show more popular on campus. Right now it’s more about finding a full-time job.”

Linton understands this is just the nature of a university radio show. “Over the next year, a lot of people are graduating and moving on, but we need to make sure we still have that listenership and that we start to grow it. We could do a little more advertising, to be honest, and also start to get some bigger guests,” he said.

It’s clear that a few challenges lie ahead for A.L.L. Sports, particularly with Okafor looking to move on and Smith graduating at the end of this year. But the show has dealt with every problem it’s faced so far, and Linton appears well disposed to handle those that arrive in the future.

Regardless of its popularity, a show like A.L.L. Sports is an interesting change of pace from the usual academic focus at this school. The University of Chicago has a campus filled with sports fans, a successful (and often under-appreciated) college athletics program, and hundreds of dedicated student athletes. If there is one thing true of all sports fans, especially those at the University of Chicago, it’s that they love to argue. It’s nice to see those over at the A.L.L. Sports Hour aren’t ashamed of this fact.