From his early days of having beer spilled on him while calling an Arena Football League game, to his dream role of calling the NBA Finals last June for ESPN Radio, Marc Kestecher has quite the tale to tell. He’s a very bright guy with plenty of insight to share on numerous aspects of sports broadcasting. Marc also has an outstanding reputation as one of the great individuals in the business. After reading this piece, I’m sure you will be able to see why many people think so highly of him.
BN: How did you initially break into the business?
MK: Well, I guess I wanted to be a broadcaster. My parents didn’t think it was a real career so we took a look and chemical engineering was the route. I was pursuing that at Syracuse University for two years until I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was at a great university with broadcast students. So, I switched into communications.
Everything changed when I got an internship my junior year with the Albany Yankees Double-A affiliate. I was working under a guy named Dale McConachie. We worked together that summer during my internship. He was a basketball announcer in Albany for the Patroons, a CBA team. I had switched to take classes at University at Albany, so I was working with him. The season started in October or November, and by December 25th, he landed the Triple-A baseball job in Portland, OR and he was going to take it because baseball was his thing.
The Patroons were left without an announcer and as they looked for a suitable backup, they asked me if I had any experience. Fortunately, I had been taking as much time as I could to make tapes, sit in the crowd, call the game when I wasn’t doing anything on air with Dale. That tape landed me a two-week, four-city road trip audition, which apparently I passed. I had it for the rest of the year and I was on my way.
BN: How did that lead to you ultimately landing in Bristol?
MK: I went from my Albany years — for six, to Cleveland — for almost three. A guy that I worked with at WKNR radio in Cleveland, Greg Brinda, was on the short list of fill-ins for ESPN Radio GameNight, which was on weekends — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Great show.
I gave Greg my audition tape to give to anybody, which turned out it never got listened to, but part of the deal for Greg when he went up to Bristol was on Monday morning he would do his Cleveland radio show from a Bristol studio. The guy who ultimately hired me happened to be in the booth while one of my updates was coming down the line, and he was like, “Oh, what’s that voice?” From there, Greg gave them my number and they brought me out for a series of auditions in the fall of ’98.
BN: What do you remember from those auditions?
MK: I remember being incredibly nervous. It was a little different because I had been used to being in my own booth. In the old ESPN Radio days it was a little, corner broadcast booth with three microphone positions and most of the time there were three co-hosts. I would have to walk in about a minute before the update and one of the hosts would have to vacate — usually, right about the time they were sending it to the update. So, one guy would get up, I’d quickly sit down and have to deliver my update in front of Chuck Wilson, Tony Bruno, Keith Olbermann, or Chris Berman. It was nutty.
I couldn’t believe where I was sitting, but I thought I held my own. I thought I did a pretty good job. I did the best that I could do. I got a second audition and by then I was feeling a little more confident. By the end of the second audition, I had a feeling that there was gonna be an opening and I started hunting apartments. Sure enough, I got a third audition, and after that they offered a contract.
BN: How has ESPN Radio changed over the past two decades?
MK: Well, it’s a complete change in many ways in A) our studios. We went from that corner, little tiny dinky studio, to state of the art, digital, multi 55-inch plasma HDTV viewing studios. Also, how people receive our content. We were only on terrestrial radio stations. Then, ESPNRadio.com happened and we became available online. Then, with the advent of smartphones — the app. Many people get it that way.
I should add somewhere in that timeline, I don’t know if it was 2001 or 2002, whenever SiriusXM went on the air, satellite radio started delivering us 24/7. That also helped and became another way which we were heard. From how we go about putting our stuff together in studio, to how it is received by everybody, it’s just changed completely over the 20 years that I’ve been there.
BN: Do you think there’s anything that translates from doing play-by-play to hosting sports talk radio shows?
MK: I think the one common thread is the unscripted nature of it. I think as a play-by-play guy, you do all of your preparation in the days before your event. Then, once the game starts, you can look at your chart all you want, but you’ve got to basically keep your head up and call the action that you see in front of you. Have most of the stuff that you want to add memorized in your head.
Even though it’s a world apart from a talk show, there are some parallels in that most of your prep is done before, and you don’t know what direction you’re heading in if you’re taking phone calls. Callers may drive that show. We don’t do that as much nationally, but there still are guests and co-hosts that can take things in completely different ways then you would have planned.
I don’t do talk shows, so I don’t know exactly what the thread is, but just from having done a few here and there, it would be the kinda tightrope, high-wire-act nature of being on air — cracking a microphone and filling three hours of time.
BN: When you’re doing play-by-play, it’s so important to be concise. As a color commentator, Cris Collinsworth has talked about diagnosing a play and having maybe 10 seconds to do it — it’s not the easiest thing to pull off. Do you have any tricks of being concise when you’re doing a game?
MK: It’s more than a trick. It’s just that internal clock after the reps of doing hundreds of games. You know when something that has to be described on radio is coming up, and you have to get the idea of what you see and share it in this small timeframe. I think it’s just repetition.
Look, there are some naturals out there. Especially, analysts I’ve worked with who’ve never done games on radio or even TV. On radio, concise is obviously most important cuz your play-by-play guy needs to describe everything because you can’t see anything. On TV, things can be disjointed — you can see things and you may want to describe things, but now you’ve added a third element of what does the producer/director want to do? What replays are they going to show? What package are they going to squeeze into this moment?
Analysts on television, and even on radio, they’re impressive in two different ways — the conciseness of the radio analysts and then on TV, being able to work around multiple things that are happening at the same time — and then still describing the most important part of the game.
BN: You mentioned the internal clock. I’d imagine there are times when the color commentator says something that triggers a thought, but your foresight kicks in and you know there isn’t time for it. How has your foresight improved over the years?
MK: I think I always had a sense of the timing of the game, especially on radio. Where I’ve gotten better over the years, and with repetition, is to hold that thought. To expand on that thought, but yet at the same time I’m doing something else. It happens in nanoseconds, but now I have to describe something — and obviously in a game like basketball or hockey — you may have to hold onto that thought for 30 seconds or 60 seconds.
In football, you know you’re going to have time after a play is done unless you have a hurry-up offense. In baseball, generally you call the next pitch and you can get right back into it. So, it’s really positioning yourself for how you’re going to continue that thought. I think it can be very overwhelming in the beginning just trying to handle the action in front of you. That’s the part that repetitions help is knowing that you can hold that thought, and know exactly where you need to get to, to continue that conversation.
BN: When I think about hosting shows, sometimes listening can be really difficult because as a host, I’m organizing my thoughts, the reads, the tease, and I’m looking at the clock. Do you find listening to be one of the toughest things to do while calling games?
MK: Listening has been a work in progress for my entire broadcast career because there are so many avenues you can go down based on the response from your analyst’s, callers or from an interview subject.
I’d say almost 100% of the time, I script out my questions. I have a flow, an order of how I want an interview to go. I also don’t want to miss anything that’s important or get sidetracked, but at the same time I’m trying my best to listen to what the answer is or what the analyst is saying, because I think it sounds great when you’re having a conversation rather than I talk, you talk, I talk, you talk. Also, something might be said that I didn’t realize and just from a curiosity standpoint — maybe for the betterment of the interview and broadcast — that’s the direction it should go. It can open up more avenues.
BN: How extensive is your preparation for calling games?
MK I guess it depends on the sport, but it’s very extensive. For football, it’s a serious one-week project. Sometimes, when I have time, I can turn it into 10-days or two-weeks. That’s not usually normal unless you’re coming off of the summer and getting right into the first week of the season because there’s so many other things going on.
I generally try to give it a hard seven days to gather stories and stay on top of things. A lot of my preparation turns to video prep. I can watch games, see patterns of how coaches are going to rotate their players and just get a better sense of who normally comes in and out of games.
BN: What percentage of your prep hits the cutting room floor?
MK: You’d be shocked. On radio, I don’t know if I can give it a fair percentage. There are days where I feel like I only use 20% of what I had because A) the game was so good, or if it’s a quick game like in basketball, you’re really confined to description and working off of your analysts. I’d say for football and basketball on radio, I’d like to think I get close to 50%, but there are times where it’s significantly less depending on the action.
BN: What would surprise people about the difference between calling professional games compared to college games?
MK: I think people might be surprised at how much more preparation goes into a football game. Appreciating the fact that when there’s more than 200 players combined, and some of them have the same jersey — you’ll see a #1 on offense as a wide receiver. You’ll see #1 on defense as a cornerback. You’ll see #1 on special teams. And sometimes there’s a fourth #1. There’s two guys you might see on special teams — they can’t play at the same time, but they’re all wearing #1. So, being prepared for just a ton of players. If you have a blowout, you’re getting past your two-deeps. Now, you’re working with freshmen and sophomores who usually don’t play. It’s an amazing haul.
I think people also may be surprised — on football broadcasts — how many people are in the booth. You’ve got your play-by-play voice and analyst. The statistician and spotter. If it’s a network broadcast, we have a producer. And then there’s a tech, the engineer who’s getting us on the air. So, it’s a huge production. It’s like a traveling family during college football weekend that I think people would be surprised about.
BN: I just flashed back to being a little kid and having multiplication flash cards. You have to know the players immediately. It can’t be five seconds later. How do you go about that?
MK: I have, and most guys have, what they call a spotter chart. You can put all of your offense and defense, numbers, colors, names. I find that with my video research the first two or three days can be difficult because you’re seeing the same number over and over and it’s just not sticking. Or, you’re preparing for two football games in the same week and you’re just not getting the right #38. Then, somewhere magically by the fourth day or so, it just starts popping into your head. It’s an amazing process of memorization. It is kind of like flash cards, and I take that spotter chart with me for the game just in case I need to look down.
Also, people may be surprised to learn that having a spotter, which I have for just about every football game, is invaluable. His one job is to identify players for me. I generally handle the offense. I’ll have a spotter watch the huddle and see who the running back is. So, pre-snap I’ll get the running back from my spotter. I’ve got everything else on offense. Together, we’ll work on defense, but I really lean on my spotter for who makes a tackle — especially runs up the middle where it’s hard to see amongst 10 people, or three guys are colliding on a short pass over the middle. He or she has their binoculars on, or just sees it quicker than I do and points to my chart, so that we correctly identify who the tackler is.
BN: If you’re working a college football game, and a month or two later you’re broadcasting the same team’s game, how much of the previous experience sticks with you vs. having to relearn everything again?
MK: It’s funny because after an entire week, and by the fifth day I’m finally starting to get the names, you’d be surprised how quickly after the game is over you can flush that out of your brain. If I had to do the game over again five hours later, I might have to relearn some things because I’m on to the next game already.
I do find that with football and even with college football, if I get the same team a month later, it just comes a lot quicker. It may only take a few series to watch and be like, “Oh, that’s right. I got that guy.” You have all the skill guys. You have most of the defense. It is actually a nice thing if you have USC Week 1, and then USC pops up in November, because you know it’s not gonna take quite as long. For me, it may require watching a quarter or a half not necessarily five days.
BN: I interviewed Craig Sager a few years ago, and I remember him telling me that when he’d do sideline reporting for the NCAA Tournament, he’d wear a lot of neutral colors. He wore a lot of plaids because fanbases would freak out if he was wearing a colored jacket that matched the rival school. They’d accuse him of rooting for that team. Do you pay any attention to what you wear when you’re calling a game?
MK: I always thought that was nonsense. And I have to tell you, I can report that when I’m packing my suitcase for college games, and even pro I suppose, I try to make sure I do not wear the color of either team. Sometimes I forget, but I’ll share a story with you from about six or seven years ago.
I was on my way to Arizona for the BCS National Championship Game, and I had a college hoops game at Oklahoma State. I packed a purple tie not thinking anything of it. Oklahoma State was hosting Kansas State, and purple is their predominant color. Fran Fraschilla, my analyst, had kind of mentioned it on the ride over. I still kind of blew it off. Then, I did get a couple snide remarks at the arena. Some, I think, were in jest. Some, I think, weren’t. I remember thinking to myself, “You know what, that’s the last time I’m not gonna pay attention to what colors I’m gonna put in my suitcase.” Because when you are visible, which you are for basketball games, not so much for football, it can be a problem.
BN: Is there anybody in the broadcasting business of play-by-play, that is a known fan of a particular team, or do most guys keep that under wraps?
MK: I don’t think for play-by-play. Look, we’re all human. We all love sports. So, I would guess, we all had a team growing up that may be in a field that you’re working in now — whether it’s baseball or football or basketball. What I will say is, over the years it’s hard to imagine for those of us who love sports, that you start to lose that everyday zeal of your team winning at all costs.
I’m still a sports fan. I still watch the teams that I grew up rooting for, but I find I don’t have a rooting interest, and especially when I’m broadcasting them. I mean that goes completely out the window. It could be a team that I don’t care about by the time I’m broadcasting it. You have to take that out of the equation.
I’m sure there have to be some announcers that still really enjoy certain teams and follow them, but none that I know of. Especially as a national announcer, you’re calling it down the middle anyway. If you’re a home team announcer, you could be accused of being a homer, but you’re calling 162 in baseball or 82 in the NBA. I think your normal slant is going to go towards the home team where you’re trying to entertain the home team fans. So, maybe that goes into your process. I think most of us, we just root for close games. We root for Game 2 of the World Series where you have unbelievable action that will be remembered for a long time. That’s what you root for the most.
BN: Speaking of Game 2 of the World Series, a Dodgers fan jumped into the Astros bullpen. Have you ever worked a game where something wild like that took place?
MK: I don’t know if I had anything crazy in my years, but I have been in front of tense crowds. I can remember working the FIBA Tournament in 2010 in Istanbul. Turkey was playing in the opposite semifinal from the US. I think it was Turkey against Serbia. It’s legendary in Europe about basketball and the fans. Even soccer, we’ve heard all the soccer stories about the national teams playing each other. There was that feeling. It was a little bit tense in the building.
More on a humorous side, when I was doing Arena Football in my early years, I was doing a game in Iowa and Kurt Warner was the quarterback for the Iowa Barnstormers before he had made his ascent into the NFL. The broadcast position was kind of an overhang in the first row of the second deck. The fan’s knees were on my back. There was beer spilling everywhere. Nothing malicious toward us, but I remember thinking this is the wildest scene I’ve ever been a part of. I’m a road announcer in the middle of this madness.
BN: We were talking earlier about the challenge of listening. You’ve worked with some tremendous people over the years — Dr. Jack Ramsay, Hubie Brown, etc. — has there ever been a time where the guy you’re working with has said something so well and so interesting that it was hard to focus on what you were going to say next?
MK: I’ve had the great pleasure to work with Dr. Jack. I still get a chance to work with Hubie and it is daunting in that when you talk about listening — you wanna take in what they say, and many times you wanna amplify it as a play-by-play guy, but sometimes there’s nothing more that needs to be said because they’ve seen everything. All you can hope for is it triggers a story where there’s something the two of you have shared in the coach’s office, or perhaps even something historical.
I always found working with Dr. Jack and still working with Hubie, I try to stay on top of my basketball history. Something that might be germane to the game — something I might know casually, but I wanna know more details. Cuz those guys lived it, and many times they coached it, and they were a part of those players.
The story that I always enjoy telling was in the NBA Finals for a number of years we had Dr. Jack and Hubie as part of a three-man booth for the Finals. With Mike Tirico as play-by-play. I think one year Jim Durham was the play-by-play. So, we would go out for meals on the road during the Finals and invariably every night at one point, the salt shakers, the pepper shakers, the sugar packets, all became like a diagram board on the table, with Dr. Jack and Hubie basically giving us a PhD-level course on why the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs were doing what they were doing.
It was a learning experience. Here are two guys that have been through it all, who know basketball inside and out, and even they were disagreeing on strategy from some of the best NBA coaches and best players of the current day. So, that was one where I shut up, sat back, and took mental notes.
BN: What do you see as the future of sports updates when it comes to sports talk radio?
MK: Unfortunately, it feels like they’re being lessened in importance. Much of that is attributed to the fact that people are getting breaking news on their smart phones. People can be on their computer or their tablets or on their phones and dial up the information they need right then and there anywhere in the world if there’s some kind of cell coverage.
I do believe two things, 1), there’s still value in it. We can develop the news on a second level or third level. You may have the bulletin, but we may have a little more available on the why and the how, and we can pair it with audio almost instantaneously — especially at ESPN Radio where we’re rolling on press conferences and play-by-play. We can deliver that in a nice, neat 60, 90, two-minute package.
Also, 2), I think within the construct of a talk show, there’s always a good place at the top and at the bottom of the hour. Take a break from the show and deliver for two minutes, here’s the latest of what’s going on. I think if you’re listening and you’re in your car and you don’t have access to your phone, we’re getting you the news. We’re putting everything out there digitally as well. So, even if you’re getting alerts on your phones, you’ll get a nicely packaged two minutes with audio, a nice presentation with news and background that still has value, but I do agree, it’s not as valuable as it may have been 20 years ago. We just have to find ways to make it more valuable or keep it relevant.
BN: How challenging is it to find ways to keep updates valuable and fresh?
MK: I think it’s very difficult. It’s incumbent on my bosses and the creative people to come up with different ways to package that content and deliver it. Many times, they challenge us to come up with different ways to write it and to execute it. Maybe it’s not just “here are the scores” but it’s “here’s the score and the biggest part of that game.” Or, maybe people are utilized live on-site like we’ve done in the past with stringers where you can add greater context.
There’s only so many ways you can deliver a SportsCenter update on the radio. I think you can package it better, or make it more concise, or add more elements to it to make it move faster and sound better. So really, it’s incumbent upon the people I work with to just get their heads together and constantly come up with different ways to put SportsCenter updates in front of people in different ways throughout programming, whether it’s terrestrial or digital.
BN: What else would you still like to accomplish in your sports broadcasting career?
MK: I think when I got into the business, I wanted to be a play-by-play guy. I had a very circuitous route to get to where I wanted to get — NBA play-by-play — and I never could’ve imagined in any circumstance that I could get the top network NBA play-by-play job. It was the plan, but it really wasn’t the plan.
I was happy just to be able to do play-by-play on ESPN Radio especially for NBA. I was even more thrilled to be able to be the B-announcer, and that would’ve been fine for the rest of my career. So, to be the A-announcer was beyond my wildest dreams. I got to do my first NBA Finals last June.
I guess the best answer for me would be not to be satisfied, but to continue to do it. My goal at this point is to do a second NBA Finals, which I’ll do this June. Then do a fifth, and then do a tenth. Just continue to get better. I listen to all play-by-play guys around the country. I’ll hear one guy and say, “You know what. I should do something more on that realm. Here’s a little piece that I would like to try.” Just try to get better myself — challenge myself to prep harder — be better at what I do, and hopefully just evolve into the best radio broadcaster I can be.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.