Gabe Bock was traveling home to Dennison, Texas for the Christmas holiday when he thought he got the phone call of a lifetime. The year was 2003 and on the other line was Daryl Bruffett, the sports director and sports anchor at KBTX Channel 3 in Bryan/College Station, Texas where Gabe had moved from an internship to a part-time gig. Though he still had one semester remaining at Texas A&M University and doubts he was even ready for the position, Gabe was verbally offered the No. 3 anchor position over the phone by Bruffett. This had been the break he’d been hoping for. Without hesitation, Gabe accepted the position and said, “Give me about four or five days to go home for Christmas and we’ll get started.”
When Gabe returned back to College Station and KBTX, a new news director was already in place, as well as a new sports anchor who he brought with him from Abilene. Gabe’s new job had been replaced before he even got back. Much like Craig from the movie Friday, he basically got fired on his day off.
On top of figuring out his next move, Gabe asked his current wife to marry him. His sole income was waiting tables at a Chili’s in College Station to make ends meet. Needless to say, Gabe jokingly says that his father-in-law was skeptical if he had a plan for his life. From growing up on The Ticket in Dallas, he’d always admired sports radio and was curious about joining the business, but didn’t have a way to get his foot in the door. In the spring 2004, Gabe called Chip Howard of Sports Radio 1150 The Zone in College Station who started the sports talk industry in the Bryan/College Station market. Howard agreed to let him answer the phones, but he had to split the duties with another employee. Despite the limited hours and short income (about 30 bucks a week), he was extremely thankful to be in the industry he always wanted to be in.
Today, Gabe holds the lead-host position of TexAgs Radio, which can be heard and seen on weekdays from 8-11 a.m. CT on Sports Radio 1150, CW-8 TV and TexAgs.com via live stream. Though he’s found his dream job, it wasn’t without hard work and a ton of perseverance. When looking to give advice to young interns, he always goes back to that first opportunity in sports radio when his only role was to answer the phone.
“No matter how significant or small the position is, you have to treat whatever role you get like you’re covering the Super Bowl,” said Gabe. “If you’re covering the Super Bowl, you’re going to make sure you’re on point and energized. If you get asked to answer the telephone for a radio show, you better treat it like it’s a big deal or you’re never going to get anything better.”
TM: Every show host had a ‘first show,’ how well do you remember yours?
GB: I moved up to board-op for Chip Howard in the fall of 2004. He had to leave town and needed me to host. This was the opportunity I’d been hoping for. For the entire first segment, I forgot to give the phone number to the show. Then, we got a call during the break and I was fired up. Here we go, someone is calling and wants to get on the air and mix it up. The caller said that he didn’t want to go on the air, but wanted to tell the host to quit saying ‘uhh’ so damn much. I’ll never forget that. To be honest, a calmness came over me after my very first segment. The hate mail had already rolled in. From there, it was smooth sailing.
TM: You currently work for TexAgs, a community dedicated to Texas A&M sports, so how did you land a radio show for an online publication?
GB: I actually left radio for a little while to help bring TexAgs up to speed. At the time we had about 1,500 subscribers and were getting around one-million page views a day, but we were nowhere near where we needed to be as a company. As soon as the Johnny Manziel era and the move to the SEC happened, TexAgs blew up. Now, we have over 12,000 subscribers and get around three million page views a day. In 2011, right around the move to the SEC, 1150 The Zone came to us and wanted to partner with TexAgs to do a show. Radio has always been my passion of mine, so I was happy to get back into it. My situation is unique, because I don’t work for the radio station, nor do I do my show from their studio. We have our own studio at TexAgs and that’s my employer. There’s a revenue share with The Zone that takes our feed through their signal. It’s a really cool partnership.
TM: When you first joined TexAgs it was as a writer. How did that benefit you as a host?
GB: It helped me, but you have to be careful, because you want radio to be free-flowing and not scripted. It allowed me to understand the flow and find the narrative of a game or a story. On a radio show, your lead is your open, it’s your hook. I think being able to write is important, because it helps you craft and maneuver through a show with what’s most important. As an example, this morning A&M got two Top 10 2019 commits from in-state and its two days until Signing Day. The Super Bowl was Sunday night and the Aggie basketball team just came off a 23-point win over South Carolina where they scored half of a hundred in the first half. Are they for real? We’ll see, they have Auburn and Kentucky this week and those games will likely determine it. That’s a huge talking point here. So, with all that going on, you have to maneuver thru topics with each one deserving segment attention. Then, you have to figure out how to weave it all in and get people to respond to all of it. I say you need to write. People are hiring individuals who can do a number of different things. You can’t fake writing.
TM: How do you handle not having a permanent co-host?
GB: I don’t have the same co-host for every segment of every show. We have so many people that do so many different things, we utilize all of our talented guys in various ways. The first hour of every show, our columnist Olin Buchanan joins me. But after that, Billy Liucci joins me every Monday and Friday, so you set your appointment listening. You know that every Monday and Friday at 10:00, he’s going to be on. Depending on the season and sport, we set up guys on the same days at the same time each week. We make things consistent. But every day, we’re going to talk Aggie football. That’s what fuels the market. Around here, the hits are Texas A&M football and we make sure to hit that every day.
TM: During your three-hour radio show, you’re on camera and people are watching on TV. How does that make things different?
GB: Well, there’s not much I can do with my bald appearance, but there’s some things that are different. We try not to do things like the Paul Finebaum Show, where you’re peering into the camera. We try to almost have hidden cameras. Sort of like Mike and Mike, especially originally, where the camera is just there and hanging out. It’s also kind of how Colin Cowherd deals with it, seeing as, it’s a radio show. He has his papers laying all around and not looking at the camera. We have a five-camera setup, three cameras in studio. There’s a wide shot on me as well as a one or a two shot, depending on how many people are with me in studio. That’s the way we try to handle it.
TM: TexAgs seems to be pretty tight with Texas A&M (the company’s office is next to the football practice field) so how difficult is it to be critical about coaching changes or in-game decisions when you know the relationship is vital to the business model?
GB: You have to be real with your listeners. That’s one of the top rules. There’s no Skip Bayless hot takes going on during our show. I prepare every segment and then just hit my guys with stuff, with the trust they’re good enough to give you their opinion. After Texas A&M lost to Texas in 2011, I came on the air the next morning and said that Mike Sherman needed to be fired, because it hadn’t gotten any better. There were long losing streaks, blown leads and losing to the most scared quarterback (Colt McCoy) that’s ever entered Kyle Field. If you say it’s bad when it’s bad and you’re real with your listeners, they’re going to listen to you, hear you, believe you and value what you’re saying. I mean, yeah, we’re in with Texas A&M, we worked really hard to make that happen, but we’re certainly not an emblem of Texas A&M University. Your No. 1 obligation is to your listeners. They’re the reason why we’re in this business. You can’t be afraid to tick anyone off.
Is There A Right Answer To The Olympic PR Problem At NBC?
“NBC is in a no win situation right now.”
Some businesses allow you to operate with a moral compass. You can look at people, companies, or situations and do some quick math on what the blowback would be if you are associated with them and steer clear. Sports media, particularly when it comes to live game rights, isn’t one of those businesses.
NBC is in a no win situation right now. They have to get as many eyeballs as possible on the Beijing Olympics. The network is asking advertisers to spend upwards of $600,000 on a thirty second ad and have made promises about the size of the audience that will see those advertisers’ messages.
At the same time, the network is the focus of public scrutiny for even being in China to begin with. That criticism will be amplified if there is no mention of the many human rights violations the Chinese government has been accused of for decades.
What do you do? You don’t want to give people a reason not to watch. At the same time, you don’t want to give critics ammunition to discredit you as a news organization.
This isn’t just an NBC problem by the way. FOX faced similar scrutiny when it carried the 2018 World Cup, which was played in Russia. It will likely face a lot of the same scrutiny this fall when it carries the 2022 World Cup, which is being played in Qatar. That event in particular has been the subject of some truly horrific stories about the way the people building the new stadiums have been treated.
So what is the path forward? Fans always do some moral calculus when it comes to the ugly side of sports. How much are we willing to tolerate the exploitation of unpaid college athletes? At what point can we no longer tolerate the NFL looking the other way on head injuries?
International sports is a conundrum all its own because you are dealing with laws and customs that may not jive with our culture. Add truly deplorable organizations like FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to the mix and NBC, FOX, and other networks don’t have time for moral calculus. They are checking any concept of right and wrong at the door.
NBC dropped $7.75 billion in 2014 on broadcast rights to every Olympics, both summer and winter, until 2032. The financial terms between FOX and FIFA remain a mystery, but the network will carry both the men’s and women’s World Cup through 2026. The price tag may be very similar to what NBC paid the IOC.
Organizations like FIFA and the IOC want that big pay day. That is why long-term deals are negotiated. Between contractual obligations and the need to turn a profit on a huge investment, networks’ hands are tied.
Given all of the backlash, whether it is because the games are in China, skepticism over how necessary it is we do this in a pandemic (remember, NBC isn’t even sending live broadcast teams to the games), or just a general sense of fatigue given this once-every-two-years event just happened eight months go, NBC might like the option to tag out of the 2022 games. And honestly, who could blame the network for feeling that way?
But NBC and the IOC have a deal. FIFA and FOX have a deal. These American networks are pinned in a corner by having to lock in a significant financial commitment to an organization that has no qualms about doing business with international bad actors.
Truthfully, I don’t know what the right answer is for these networks. It is easy to say “Well, China is bad and Russia is bad and Qatar is bad, so don’t do business with FIFA or the IOC as long as they keep going to those places.”
Reality dictates that isn’t going to be the path NBC, FOX, or any other network takes going forward. These multi-week sporting events provide a lot of inventory and bring with them the chance to rack up huge ad buys.
Events like the World Cup and the Olympics also are more than just sporting events to these networks. They are a chance to generate content for news divisions and a free commercial for their upcoming slate of shows. There is a reason networks see the billions of dollars of value in them that they do.
No one wants to take a PR black eye. Right now, for the most part, at least as far as the American public is concerned, those have been reserved for the governing bodies.
How long does that remain true?
NBC is a major partner of the Olympics that brings a lot of attention and revenue to the table. Forget objectionable host countries. What happens in 2028 when the Games are in LA and then suddenly NBC is the face of silencing Americans raising legitimate concerns about what hosting the Olympics can do to a city?
At some point, every company and private citizen has to do moral calculus. The scariest part for these networks is dealing with broadcast partners like the IOC and FIFA requires having to give an answer before all variables can be revealed to you.
Not every big score requires that kind of risk, but not many events offer what the Olympics and World Cup do. Any network that wants to do business with the IOC and FIFA has to decide if it is willing to swim in the swamp with gators. That usually comes with a few bites.
The moral calculus is pretty simple. How many bites can you take from a gator before the ad buys start to take a hit?
Don’t Let Good Content Disappear, Never To Be Heard Again
There were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air.
Good content comes out of the speaker daily from the many talented hosts that work in our industry. Unfortunately, the life span of this content is far too short. It happens and then disappears into the ether.
When something good happens on a show, you need to do more than turn it into a promo. You need to repurpose it.
If you work on the content side of the building, here are some key things I feel you should keep in mind to help give your material more staying power.
SOMETHING GOOD HAPPENS EVERY DAY, TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT
When I was working as a content director, there were so many times I’d be frustrated that a good piece of content would be allowed to simply vanish into thin air, never to be heard or referenced ever again.
When a host or guest says something that stands out, blast it to EVERY social media channel that you’re on. Do this consistently, not just on the days following a big story. Get everyone in the habit of believing and understanding that good content is put out there EVERY show and they need to keep their ears open for it.
Don’t use audio clips; remember that social media is a VISUAL experience. If you’re videocasting your shows (and you should), put the video up online. If you’re not, create a cool-looking graphic with the quote (or quotes) of what was said. Create a template for every show, so it’s “plug and play” for producers to upload before they leave for the day.
You’ll be surprised how often you can go viral.
MAKE YOUR CONTENT SNACKABLE
People consume content in small portions. No one has the time or the attention span to listen to an entire show or even an entire segment. Yet we deliver content to them in a primarily longform way.
The solution? Make your content snackable.
Take a page out of what every professional sports league does. They realize that few people actually sit and watch an entire game. So they make a point to run well-produced highlight compilations and even condensed games, and upload them to all of their digital platforms.
Radio stations should do the same.
For on-demand consumption, don’t just load your show audio hour-by-hour. Make sure you’re uploading what you felt were the best parts of the program.
Take it a step further and do the same for ALL of your shows. Create a daily “greatest hits” compilation that consists of the best moments from each show, every day. This can not only be loaded onto apps and digital channels, but can also reside comfortably in the smart speaker space. Imagine a consumer coming home from work after a long day and simply saying “Alexa, play today’s greatest hits from 101 The Fan!” They’d get a highlight real of all the good things that they missed.
Naturally, these can be sponsored, which is certainly another plus and always justifies the extra work that goes into making this happen.
OFFER IT AS MATERIAL FOR OTHER SHOWS
I’ve said this before, some of the best content that I’ve heard was hosts talking about what other hosts said on their shows.
It doesn’t happen often enough, and the biggest reason continues to be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for virtually every industry: lack of communication.
Every show should have a written recap of what was discussed and when it was discussed, and that should be sent out to everyone who has a hand in content. (Hosts, producers, board ops, production staff, marketing, etc.)
Go the extra mile and have the actual audio of the good content sent out to the other shows so they don’t have to hunt for it on their own. This was something, even during my days managing stations, I would do on the regular. If I heard something great on the morning show, I would find the audio and send a clip of it to the midday and afternoon shows. Even if they didn’t use it, it would get hosts and producers in the habit of paying attention to what was said on our other programs.
If you have a sister spoken-word station in your cluster, get in the habit of sharing material with them when and where it fits.
Sometimes, the back-and-forth that can go on between shows ends up being legendary. It’s an opportunity you don’t want to waste.
Kenny Albert Expects Alternate Broadcasts To Grow
“That’s the goal for any play-by-play broadcaster is to continue to work big events, playoff games, [and] championships.”
Whether it be baseball, basketball, football, or hockey, one voice is a consistent presence behind the microphone, bringing fans all the action locally in the New York-Metropolitan area, domestically across the United States, and internationally all around the world.
Versatility is a coveted asset across many lines of work in today’s media job marketplace and in the realm of play-by-play announcing, Kenny Albert seems to have set the standard.
Calling all four major sports on a near-regular basis for both regional and national sports television networks — including NBC Sports, Turner Sports, MSG Networks, and Fox Sports — Albert has seen firsthand the shift in the industry from the perspective of a broadcaster. But that’s not all. He calls games on the radio as well, working in various capacities for the New York Rangers, the team with which he got his start in professional broadcasting alongside his father.
Albert was exposed to sports broadcasting from a young age by virtue of growing up in a family of sportscasters, with his father Marv and uncles Steve and Al building careers in the profession. Upon being gifted a toy tape recorder for his fifth or sixth birthday, Albert began to prepare for what quickly became his primary career aspiration; that is, to be a professional play-by-play announcer.
He remembers bringing his toy tape recorder to sports venues including Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium once of age, and prepared for each game by looking over the rosters and keeping up-to-date with the latest statistics. His big break as a broadcaster later came as a sophomore at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, New York by means of volunteering to fill an unaddressed vacancy.
“Cox Cable of Great Neck came to my school to film a girls basketball game,” said Albert. “They had two cameras [and] a small production van, but no announcers. I volunteered and they clipped a microphone onto my shirt [and] I did the game.”
By the end of high school, Albert had turned his volunteering into a job, working 75 to 100 games all over Long Island in sports such as lacrosse, hockey, basketball, baseball, football, and soccer, with his friends serving as color analysts. In college, Albert was a member of WNYU Radio at New York University and continued to call games on the radio. Yet he believes the experience he had in high school positioned him to be ahead of the pack in a profession with substantial levels of competition.
“I felt like I really had a three-year head start on anybody else at that time who wanted to do play-by-play,” said Albert. “There weren’t really any opportunities until college back then in the ‘80s. The three years at Cox Cable were just such an unbelievable experience to get three years of practice and reps under my belt.”
After graduating college with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism, Albert became the radio voice of the Baltimore Skipjacks in the American Hockey League and quickly made his jump to the pros beginning in 1992 as the television play-by-play broadcaster for the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals.
From there, Albert continued to find and add new opportunities to call professional games in football, baseball, and basketball, both on the radio and on television – and he continues to call games in both mediums today. Being conscious of the audience and how it is consuming the game is central to understanding the differences in calling a sporting event for one medium as opposed to the other.
“On radio, obviously you have to be more descriptive [because] the listener can’t see what’s going on. The description is the key. Location on the ice, on the court, on the field, etc.,” Albert explained. “You have to give the time and the score a lot more often on radio. On TV, it’s up on the upper lefthand corner of the screen, which wasn’t the case before I started working professionally. [Also,] you definitely don’t have to talk as much [on TV]; you can leave more time for the color analyst to come in.”
In broadcasting events across many professional sports, Albert has worked with over 225 color analysts, a figure he surmises might just be the record for a play-by-play announcer.
Whether it be Walt “Clyde” Frazier, Eddie Olczyk, Tim McCarver, or Jonathan Vilma, getting their perspectives on the game at hand is essential in creating and maintaining a seamless broadcast. Since the play-by-play announcer does not need to describe as much of the action occurring on visual broadcast mediums, he is able to afford his partner in the booth, whoever it may be, more time to talk in those instances.
Albert, in his opinion, says hockey is the least difficult sport for him to call, partly because he has been doing it for 32 years, but also due to its rhythmic style of play – especially on the radio.
“You’re just into the flow really for the entire 60 minutes,” he said. “People always ask me about the names and the pronunciations and the fact that the players change on the fly, but to me, it’s almost like riding a bike because I’ve been doing it for so long.”
Conversely, Albert believes baseball is the most difficult sport for him to call since the style of the broadcast is more conversational in nature and because he does not call baseball games on a regular basis. “If it’s a game every week, or 10 [to] 15 games over the course of the season – which is what I’ve usually done – because there is so much downtime, [hopefully] you have a great color analyst that can fill in a lot of that time,” he explained.
While Albert calls baseball the least out of the four major U.S. sports, one of his most memorable moments as a broadcaster was being behind the mic for José Bautista’s iconic bat flip in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series at Rogers Centre in Toronto with the background noise of 49,742 impassioned fans.
He also recently called the 2022 NHL Winter Classic from Target Field in Minneapolis – home of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins – at a game-time temperature of -5.7 degrees Celsius. Despite the frigid temperature, Albert’s experience calling the game was “magical,” especially since it was played at night with natural, aesthetic touches in a setting seemingly made for television, including eight frozen ponds formed in the outfield.
“We had [the window] open at the start because we wanted to feel the elements and experience what it was like for the fans and for the players,” said Albert. “We did keep the window closed in the broadcast booth for a good portion of the game… We were still able to see the ice and see all the monitors in the booth the same as if the window were open. It was a fantastic experience.”
Albert has called other big events as well, including the Stanley Cup Finals, the Winter Olympics, and NFL divisional playoff games. From the days practicing with his toy tape recorder and growing up around family members in the profession, he understood the importance of preparation and professionalism in trying to establish a career for himself in the booth.
“That’s the goal for any play-by-play broadcaster is to continue to work big events, playoff games, [and] championships,” said Albert. “There is a lot of travel and a lot of preparation involved, but it’s just so much fun.”
As the landscape of sports media continues to shift, in spite of its apparent acceleration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of emerging technologies, new platforms for content dissemination, and modification of best practices to maximize cost-efficiency have resulted in a paradigmatic deviation from the norms that had been associated with travel and preparation.
Pertaining to travel, Albert and nearly every other play-by-play announcer in the country has experienced the process of calling games remotely to ensure the health and safety of themselves and network crew members. While the decision, which had been in consideration among sports networks prior to the pandemic to cut travel expenses, impacts the range of vision and subsequent understanding of action away from gameplay, Albert sees its implementation as a “new normal” towards which the industry will have to lessen its intransigence.
“To me, I feel like no matter the sport, I [can] probably see about 85 percent on the monitor of what I would [see] if I were at the arena,” said Albert. “You don’t get the emotions or the feel of being there, but it’s probably not as bad as I expected when we started… It does save the wear and tear on the body a little bit for those of us who have been traveling for a long time. That’s probably one positive that’s come out of it.”
Information overload is an offshoot of the development and expansion of the internet, directly affecting the preparation process for play-by-play broadcasters. When Albert started working for the NFL on Fox in 1994, he would receive a shipment of VHS tapes every Wednesday with the games of the teams they would be covering that week, and any news clippings or supplementary materials were received through fax. Following the advent of the internet, Albert received articles through email, began to tape games on television, and see action from all across the country with DirecTV NFL Sunday Ticket.
“It really wasn’t that long ago, but thanks to technology, it’s made the preparation on one hand a lot easier, [but] on the other hand there’s so much information available [that] you could basically 24/7 try to find various nuggets and read that extra article in order to get ready for that week’s or that night’s game,” said Albert.
The role of the traditional play-by-play announcer is also changing with the introduction of concurrent presentations during national games, such as the Monday Night Football “ManningCast,” Statcast Edition of the MLB Home Run Derby, and the forthcoming Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod. Though he hopes the role in which he has been employed for over three decades staves off extinction, Albert is cognizant of the ongoing evolution of the industry geared to satisfy consumer demand while minimizing the opportunity cost associated with such evolution in the process.
“I think with a telecast such as the ManningCast, it’s a unique perspective hearing from two guys who were among the top quarterbacks of all time,” said Albert. “Hopefully, the role of a play-by-play announcer on the traditional broadcast doesn’t go away and is around for a long, long time. But I think with so many channels out there with people watching things on their phones and on computers and on [tablets], and all of the technology available now that wasn’t [around] 10, 20, 30 years ago [that] there’s definitely a place for the alternate broadcasts, for sure.”
Whether they want to be a play-by-play announcer, analyst, sideline reporter, or talk show host, Albert’s advice is the same for prospective broadcasters: Come prepared, be versatile in whatever you do, and find opportunities in places where they may seem sparse.
“When I was growing up, we had seven channels; there was no cable [and] no satellite,” said Albert. “There are just so many opportunities out there these days. [While] I was at college at NYU, we had to fight for air time to broadcast the men’s and women’s basketball games because the radio station was the only outlet. These days if you’re at school, you can go broadcast a lacrosse game or a soccer game and put it out there on the internet. It’s just another way to get reps and get practice even if it’s not through the traditional means of a campus radio station.”
Albert has never genuinely “worked” a day in his life and he certainly hopes to keep it that way. Whether it has been on the radio or on television, rinkside or perched behind home plate, at the venue or in a studio, his ability to broadcast different types of sporting events professionally on multiple broadcast platforms both locally and nationally has afforded him various opportunities in sports media. He hopes he can continue to be the voice behind more memorable moments as his career progresses within a dynamic, growing industry.
“I never feel like I’m going to work,” said Albert. “I hope I never lose that feeling.”
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