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Johnson Enjoys His Job

Jason Barrett

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Whether it’s hosting “Inside the NBA” or calling a Major League Baseball playoff series, Ernie Johnson makes sports broadcasting seem easy.

There has not been much joy for Orioles fans with the Birds losing the first two games of the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals, and TBS delivering lackluster telecasts.

The delay of the first pitch on opening night in Baltimore because super-bright TV lights on the set of the TBS pre-game show in center field were left on was an unforgivable gaffe. And Cal Ripken’s lifeless analysis during both games has been almost as depressing as the Orioles’ play.

But as the series resumes tonight in Kansas City with Game 3, one of the few bright spots has been Johnson’s easygoing but animated play-by-play. The Turner Sports broadcaster never seems to be forcing himself on the action. Instead, he lets the game come to him at its own speed, especially in a playoff series.

“Less is always more in a playoff game,” Johnson said in an interview at Camden Yards before the start of Game 2 on Saturday. “Sometimes, you go to a regular season baseball game and you’re in Game 110 of 162, and there’s nothing riding on the game, well, you lay out [say nothing at the microphone] and you can hear a popcorn vendor. But here in a playoff game, it lends itself to saying less.”

Johnson said he tries to put himself “in the position of a fan at home” watching the game on TBS.

“I’ve done this as a baseball fan all my life watching a game on TV, and I’m saying [to the announcer], ‘Hey, take breath. You don’t need to talk all the time. I don’t need to hear you.’” Johnson said. “I want fans to live this game through the TV set. If that requires me setting the stage at certain points and re-setting it for people who are just joining us, fine.

“But when you’ve got 48,000 fans waving towels and screaming, and the graphic on the screen says, ‘Three balls and two strikes,’ you don’t have to say a lot. The pictures and the sound tell the story.”

Johnson says he learned that approach to broadcasting from his father, Ernie, a pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves and then the Baltimore Orioles from 1950 to 1959. After his major league playing career, the senior Johnson did color and play-by-play on radio and TV for the Atlanta Braves for 37 years starting in 1962, a remarkable run.

Johnson’s father died in 2011. But indicative of the bond that remains between father and son, Johnson was wearing his father’s 1957 World Series ring and 1958 National League Championship cuff links from the Milwaukee Braves on Saturday.

“I had the world’s greatest childhood. I used to hang around by the batting cage and have Hank Aaron ask me how my Little League team was doing,” Johnson said of his years growing up in Milwaukee where his father’s team — led by Aaron, the home run king — won the World Series over the New York Yankees in 1957.

“I sat in the back of the broadcast booth for ages watching my dad do his job. And not just watching how he did his job, but how he interacted with people and how he regarded his job. He felt very blessed, very lucky to be doing this. And he always told me, ‘Ernie, this game’s not about me. It’s about the people on the field. Don’t ever let the game be about you,” Johnson said.

“And that’s what I’ve always tried to do. I try to stay out of the way unless I’m really needed. I don’t need to be yapping over pictures that are conveying the electricity at Camden Yards. I don’t have to say, ‘Boy listen to this crowd.’ You’re listening to it.”

Johnson said his respect for those who play the games also shapes his relationship with the former athletes who are now his analysts — Ron Darling and Ripken in the TBS booth at baseball playoff games and Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith in the TNT studio for “Inside the NBA,” one of the liveliest sports shows on television.

“Some people say doing a studio show and doing play by play are two totally different animals,” Johnson said. “And to an extent, that’s true. But in my role, I’m still trying to engage the guys who played the game. Whether I’m in the studio or in the booth doing this, I’m trying to get Cal and Ron where they’re at their best, and I’m trying to get Kenny, Shaq and Charles where they’re at their best. And that involves asking questions on and off the air.”

Johnson said that after seeing the O’s struggle at the plate against the Royals’ bullpen Friday night, he asked Darling how he would be approaching the O’s lineup if he were still pitching.

“I was talking to Ronnie today, and I said, ‘Hey, you’re in a playoff game here and you’re looking at an Orioles’ roster that doesn’t have [Manny] Machado, doesn’t have [Matt] Wieters, doesn’t have Chris Davis. Are you looking down that lineup card [with their replacements] and saying, ‘That an out, that’s an out, that’s an out?

“And he said, ‘That’s exactly what you do. You go down the lineup and you’re looking here, you’re looking here, and you’re looking here. And this guy’s got to be oh-for-four, this guy’s got to be oh-for-three, this guy has to be hitless, too. But if I get to this guy with a base open, I’d much rather not face him.’ That’s the kind of stuff you can only get from a former pitcher like Ron Darling. And it’s my job to try and get it.”

The truth is, however, that you can only go so far in trying to get it, and then it’s up to the analysts to start delivering. That has not happened so much in the ALCS with Ripken, at least.

Even though Johnson’s been working as a professional sportscaster since his junior year at the University of Georgia in 1977, the 58-year-old announcer insisted the job still excites him.

“Don’t call it work – it’s not,” he said. “There’s something very special at this point in my life in being able to do something that my dad did for so long. It’s still very cool to be able to do this.”

For more visit the Baltimore Sun where this story was originally published

Sports Radio News

Jonathan Zaslow No Longer With WQAM

An attempt to reach out to Zaslow for comment went unanswered.

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WQAM midday host Jonathan Zaslow is no longer with WQAM in Miami.

The radio station has removed his show from the website and references to him and his normal 10a-2p ET midday timeslot program have been scrubbed from the station website.

Zaslow tweeted at 5:19p ET confirming the news.

Whether or not this has any effect on his involvement with the Miami Heat broadcasts is unknown as of now.

Barry Jackson, a veteran journalist with the Miami Herald, reports that 790 The Ticket morning hosts Brendan Tobin and Leroy Hoard will move to that 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. WQAM slot during the week of Oct. 3.

In more station movement, Joe Rose’s WQAM morning show with Zach Krantz now will be simulcast on The Ticket, replacing the Tobin/Hoard program. Audacy, which owns both WQAM and The Ticket, also simulcast Marc Hochman’s and Channing Crowder’s afternoon show.

Zaslow had been with 790 the Ticket since 2004. He was transitioned from Audacy-owned 790 to sister station AM 560 Sports WQAM last October. During his tenure he has worked with a number of established local voices including Joy Taylor, Amber Wilson, Brett Romberg, and Brendan Tobin amongst others.

WQAM has gone thru a number of changes, including a rebranding effort to call the station “560 The Joe”. That ended last year with the station returning to the AM 560 Sports WQAM brand listeners were more familiar with. What they have planned next in Zaslow’s timeslot is unclear but local listeners will likely get some answers next week.

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Sports Radio News

Vanessa Richardson Named Houston Rockets Sideline Reporter, Paul Gallant to Host Solo on ESPN 97.5

Vanessa Richardson will be on the sidelines for the Houston Rockets and Paul Gallant will host solo show on ESPN 97.5.

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Vanessa and Gallant

Changes are taking place in Houston sports media. First, the Houston Rockets will have a new television sideline reporter this season, and she’s a familiar name to Houston sports fans.

Vanessa Richardson, the now former co-host of ESPN 97.5’s Vanessa and Gallant, revealed that she will be on the sidelines for the NBA franchise covering the team for AT&T SportsNet Southwest.

She tweeted the news saying, “Elated to be the new Houston Rockets sideline reporter! I can’t wait to travel the country & share the stories of this dynamic team during 80+ games on AT&T SportsNet Southwest. I’ll continue to fill-in as a host/reporter for Astros broadcasts as well.”

Richardson’s co-host, Paul Gallant, tweeted that with Richardson leaving the show for the Rockets sideline gig, Vanessa and Gallant will become the Paul Gallant Show. The solo show led by Gallant begins Monday September 26th.

“We’re excited to have Paul host his own show”, said Todd Farquharson, General Manager of ESPN 97.5 & 92.5.  “He’s super creative, energetic, and likeable.  He’ll get the audience involved and have fun.”

Paul commented, “You know what I’ve always loved about sports talk radio?  That it’s interactive.  Whether through a phone call, text message, tweet or on Twitch, it’s the best place for sports fans to come together and celebrate…or vent.  And that’s what The Paul Gallant Show is going to be…Houston’s platform to talk about its teams. THE most interactive sports talk show in Houston.”

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Sports Radio News

Ken Carman: Al Michaels ‘Feels Untethered’ On Amazon Prime Video

“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”

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The Cleveland Browns defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers during Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video. 92.3 The Fan morning host Ken Carman applauded Al Michaels for his performance during the presentation.

“Al Michaels feels untethered for the first time. He’s not network television anymore and he can say whatever he wants. We interviewed him on the pregame show and I was nervous,” Carman said.

“He’s a legend,” co-host Anthony Lima added.

During the final play of the game, the Steelers fumbled a lateral into the endzone which the Browns recovered to make the final score 29-17. Michaels said “that may be meaningful to some of you. And you know who I mean”, alluding to people who had placed wagers on the game.

Carman, who hosts two-hours of pre-game coverage on the Browns Radio Network, continued to discuss how nervous he was interviewing Michaels. He also discussed how impressive Amazon’s behind-the-scenes production was, pointing out the only football broadcast with more cameras is the Super Bowl. More than 400 people work behind the scenes for Amazon Prime Video.

“The thing that stuck out was Kirk Herbstreit ripping the elf,” said Carman. “Don’t be ripping Brownie the Elf, man.”

Carman later said people angry that Michaels misspoke by saying the Pro Football Hall of Fame is “down I-71” instead of I-77 were unreasonable, and joked “Al Michaels hasn’t been on a highway in 20 years”.

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