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A Conversation With Justin Acri

Demetri Ravanos

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Justin Acri came to sports radio from TV. That isn’t odd in itself. A lot of guys make their name on TV and then either add a radio show to their portfolio or transition into radio. Look at Jim Dunaway in Birmingham or the late CS Keys in San Diego.

It is hard to name a lot of guys though that came up in TV, gave it up for radio, and then went on to become their station’s program director. That is the path that Acri has taken since arriving in Little Rock, Arkansas from Duluth, MN where he was working as a reporter. 

Acri is a busy guy in Little Rock too. Not only is he the the boss at 103.7 the Buzz, but he also hosts his own midday show each weekday starting at 10 am and makes time to serve as the radio voice of the University of Central Arkansas. 

I called Justin Acri the morning after the Arkansas Razorbacks let the College World Series slip through their fingers as a foul ball was lost in the lights by three fielders. His listeners may have been down, but Justin was in good spirits, having just come from a live broadcast where he was set up next to a grill at a meat packing plant.

We talked about his station’s relationship with the Razorbacks, why he wants cup stacking champions on his show, and the controversial Bracket With No Name, a yearly tradition around the NCAA Tournament that some in the media called sexist. 

D: How did what happened last night in the College World Series change show prep for today for you?

J: The Razorbacks move the needle more than anything else in this state. So, we were going to talk about the game regardless of the outcome. I think everyone in the sports media in this state has a little bit of a fandom that they wear on their sleeve, probably to a little bit of the chagrin of the old head print guys, but there’s definitely an element of fandom to the broadcast here. 

We carry Razorback football, basketball, and baseball so we’re very Razorback-centric here at The Buzz, but our hosts are also critical. So again, it’s disappointing and we’ll point out what went wrong. The role we kinda played today on our show was to pick everybody up and say “hey, you’ve got another game”. We pep-talked our way through three hours today.

D: How critical can you be before you’re going to hear about it? I know you’re not going out of your way to bash the Razorbacks, but they’ve had some lean years in football and basketball, so how critical can you be before you hear from the network or advertisers?

J: What’s good is unless we are infringing on their sales side and sponsorships at the University, they never talk to us about what was said on the air. There is a perception from our listenership, I think, that we are beholden to the Razorbacks because they are going to pull our credentials. They aren’t going to pull our credentials, so we don’t care about that.

Different hosts are more critical than others. During the (football coach Bret) Beilema years, you’re right. There were a number of our hosts that were very harsh and critical. I wouldn’t say calling for his head, but it was just shy of that. I try to be a little more level-headed and take an even-keel approach. I’m certainly invested in games and I will be pulling for the Razorbacks tonight, but I’ll do my best to keep it even keel. 

There were certainly a lot of things wrong with the program the last few years and you point those things out. You hang your hat on offensive line play, and the offensive line isn’t good. The running game isn’t very good, and that is what your bread and butter is. Defense hasn’t been good for a whbile, so as long as you aren’t reveling in it, I think it’s fine. We don’t get any pushback for the most part.

D: I have always heard from people that cover Arkansas that Bret Beilema was a great guy and a lot of fun to be around. What are the mental exercises you go through to turn off your feelings about the guy you enjoy having in for an interview and be critical when you have to be critical?

J: Oh, I did. I liked him a lot. I look at that a different way. I like (Arkansas baseball coach) Dave van Horn a lot. He’s not the most gregarious guy to have on the air. Now, I’m sure if they win tonight he will be tomorrow. 

I loved being around Bret Beilema. He’s the kind of guy you would want to go grab a beer with. I love (Arkansas men’s basketball coach) Mike Anderson. He’s just so full of joy and a great guy to be around. Dave’s just really serious.

All the coaches have their own personality and you just have to separate that out when you talk about them. But yeah, Beilema was a great, great guy.

D: So when you are doing your show, do you try to turn off your program director brain, or is that something you know will just never turn off?

J: Oh, I don’t ever turn it off. I’ve always got…I don’t want to call it an ulterior motive…I’ve always got a plan, let’s say, for what I want to say. Some of it you script out, but usually those are just some bullet points so I know what I want to get in, like if a particular guy is playing great. I think you have to be real pointed on that when fans aren’t going to take it that far. 

Again, we’re all disappointed when they lose. I want to see all the Arkansas teams do well, especially Central Arkansas since I am connected there. Arkansas State has had some good years in football too. We’re very much a cheerleader for the state. I want us to take a positive approach.

I know some bigger markets in the Northeast, their whole thing is to be critical and cranky. That’s just not our way. I want us to be positive. 

That’s why I got into sports in the first place. There are so many positive stories to tell. I don’t care if it is a cup stacking championship. If it is an Arkansan doing well nationally we’re going to praise him. We had a guy on not too long ago that is trying to break into the WWE. He lives up in the Northeast now, but he is from Arkansas. We had him on and he talked about the road there. He is doing great on the smaller circuits. We just try to celebrate success regardless of whether it is high school all the way up to the pros. As long as there’s an Arkansas connection.

D: So you’ll always give time on air to local stories over national stories no matter how big the national story might be? 

J: Yeah. We have a very local approach. I think you’d be hard pressed, and you would know better than I do, but we’re a small market, a reasonably mid-sized market, doing live 6a to 7p. Most markets and stations our size are going to have at least one national show on during the day.

Our philosophy has been to be ultra-hyper-local. The Razorbacks are obviously a big part of that. It’s a Cowboys state. It’s a Cardinals state. But we do try to talk about everything.

I think our listeners have come to understand that we don’t have an agenda. We just want to talk about positive stories. I think that is more pleasant to listen to than a guy that is grousing about something all the time.

D: So when you say that it is a Cardinals state, let’s say the team goes to the World Series, on a Monday morning in mid-October is the Razorback age from the weekend still the A-block for all your shows?

J: It would be, but we would still talk about the World Series, and we would probably talk about it regardless of who’s in it. I think most guys in our industry wear their fandom on their sleevses. So, I am a Cubs guy. I am an Iowa State grad. I realize I can get away with talking about the Cubs, if only to pick at the Cardinal fans. I’m a Packers fan. I know I can talk about Aaron Rodgers, because he is a star. People will tolerate that.

I know that nobody in our listening area cares about Iowa State. It is very very rare, unless they do something like upset Oklahoma, that I can talk about that.

D: I would imagine fans were paying attention last year after the Beilema firing. Some of them had to think that (Iowa State coach) Matt Campbell would be a candidate for the Arkansas job, right?

J: Yeah, but that would be the only reason for sure.

D: With how local you and your staff focus on content being, could you hear tape of someone who is really good but from…say Des Moines and think “that guy would be great on The Buzz” or do they have to have an Arkansas connection in your mind?

J: No, last time we did a search to build a show, we brought in a kid from Seattle that I liked a lot. He was really really good and was right there at the end, but we had two guys that were probably overqualified. One had done TV in the market before. The other had done radio here for a long time. 

All things being equal, sure you want a guy that is familiar with the market or at least the Southeast and the way things are here. If you’re a good broadcaster, you’re a good broadcaster. I’d be open to anyone from anywhere as long as it is the right fit.

D: During your day how do you balance show prep versus time you have to spend as the program director?

J: I try to be up everyday by 4:30 or 5, read the paper, and go to the gym. That way I can head into the office around 6:30 and knock out the administrative stuff early. Then I’ll prep for a coupe of hours. Sometimes though, like today, I was gathering all the info from last night’s game. Of course, too, you have the stuff from the night before you were already planning on talking about. 

Then it just depends. Sometimes I am out pretty quickly after my show ends at 1. Sometimes I am there until 6pm. 

I try to get most of it done early in the morning. Plus, that way I’m there if my morning guys need me. That’s the real battleground time slot for us. I assume it is that way in most markets. Other stations, that’s where most of their resources are poured into. Our afternoon show doesn’t have a whole lot of competition.

In the middle of the day you’re somewhat hamstrung, because it is an active listening format. People are either going to make it a point to listen at work if they can or wherever they are. But we’re always going to put most of our resources into the morning, because that is where the hardest fight has been.

D: I would guess your next big event broadcast is SEC Media Days, right?

J: That’s exactly right.

D: So as a programmer and then also as a show host, what needs to happen there for you to say “That was a win for us! Going there was a good use of time for The Buzz.”?

J: There’s really two functions there. You’re getting stories and sounds for the day, but you’re also making relationships with other reporters and coaches and ADs and of course sports information guys. Most of our guys have good experience, the ones that go. They don’t really need to do it, but it is always good to have it, you know? 

There’s typically a live show going on from there while another guy is off gathering sound. There are always stories to find too. We’ll send three guys: 2 hosts and a reporter. So, it’s a guy from the morning show, a guy from the afternoon show, and then a reporter goes along to fill in the gaps. 

From a programmer’s side, you want to make sure we are getting everything and benefitting from those face-to-face meetings and touching all opportunities with people we are going to be covering or people we need to pick their brains for content for later. 

From a host’s standpoint, I want the headlines. Does a coach answer a question in a funny way? Does a coach answer a question in an irritated way as Saban has a tendency to do? Obviously Beilema was gold for SEC Media Days. I am typically looking for what is entertaining, because there typically isn’t a lot of substance coming out of there. 

D: What is the overall reaction to (Arkansas’ new football coach) Chad Morris from a fan standpoint? 

J: I would call it cautious optimism. At least, that’s how I feel. I don’t think I have any reason to doubt the guy per se, but I don’t have any reason to be over the moon right now. 

Look, he says the right things. He’s very energetic. He’s obviously great at engaging with high school coaches and players, so it’s exciting. He’s got a great background being a part of championship programs and building from scratch where he was (SMU) before coming to Arkansas. I’m just trying not to be too over-the-moon about it.

I was really excited about Beilema when he came, because I like his sort of chip-on-the shoulder approach. It worked briefly. They couldn’t keep it trending in the right direction. I grew up watching him play in Iowa, so I have a different connection. Then when Paul Rhodes came down to join the staff, as an Iowa State grad, that was great.

As far as Morris goes, I think he has been really well received. The bottom line is, man, everybody in this fanbase was starving for something different. Something new. And it wasn’t just Beilema. I’ve never seen the kind of outcry or groundswell for a change at the athletic director position. It’s not like Jeff Long didn’t do a lot of good things. He did, but he was just never embraced by the fanbase. He was looked at very much as a CEO guy. 

Hunter Yurachek has been fantastic. For us, it gives fans something to be positive about. Being negative pretty quick. That was all the time with Long and Beilema, but it really picked up during the last 18 months of his time there.

D: The University of Arkansas was in a weird situation where the SEC sort of legislated that the University of Missouri would be your new hated rival. What is coverage of that game like for you guys? Has the fanbase taken to the rivalry?

J: I don’t mind it as much, because it is a regional game and that is good. Making it a rivalry and a trophy game right out of the gate I thought was a little silly, but it is a natural rival. The LSU game is still big. Playing them every year and beating them is a big deal. 

It did feel a little forced, and I am sure the (Texas) A&M rivalry feels forced to LSU. I don’t think it is a negative though, because it will grow. And by the way, Arkansas hasn’t faired to well in that game. It’s funny too, because when Missouri was coming in, and A&M was coming in, there was a lot of disregard for Missouri in this fanbase.

I don’t know if anyone was paying attention to what they did in football or men’s basketball, and look at them now. They have won their division a couple of times and I am over here saying “yeah, I tried to tell ya” and now Mizzou basketball looks like it is going to be really good this year.

D: I know that when Arkansas came into the conference, what? Like 25 years ago? Anyway, they were forced into this rivalry with South Carolina that only made sense because they were the two new teams, but Arkansas developed this rivalry with LSU that was really fun and always seemed to have a really wacky ending. Losing that from the Thanksgiving weekend has to be weird for the listeners. 

J: Yeah, it was. The other thing too is when the game is in Little Rock, the tailgating here is so exponentially better than what it is in Fayetteville. So that was a really fun way to spend Thanksgiving weekend and of course the LSU fans come up.

Look, it was a really fun rivalry, but it is good natured. LSU fans love to party. Razorback fans like to party. It was this great, fun thing. Every other year it was in Little Rock and then that changed, so it kinda lost its luster despite the fact that it wasn’t the last game of the year.

D: Baton Rouge is the only place I’ve ever been as an opposing fan where I feared for my life.

J: That’s what I’ve heard. I have never had the pleasure. 

D: Can you give me the history of how the Bracket With No Name thing unfolded? Not the start of the promotion, but how did the controversy surrounding it unfold?

J: It’s funny, because every couple of years someone would raise a stink about it in a local magazine or in the newspaper. They would write something about it and then it would go away. The difference this time is the news director at a TV station said something that took hold. His reporters started following along and then other reporters started following along. You know how things go viral?

We were talking about changing it long before the guy ever said anything about it. The host, Tommy Smith, that had done it every year was getting tired of it anyway. 

D: It was called “The Babe Bracket” initially, right?

J: Right. That ran its course. We just sort of tweaked it this year and made it into sort of an all star thing. 

For a lot of guys 35-55, they don’t pay real close attention to Hollywood, particularly if they are real, giant sports fans like most of our listeners. So it served two purposes. There was a national side and a local side. It exposed some of these listeners to attractive actresses they had never heard of and the other side had us plugged in with local female anchors. It took off and it continued on for years.

Look, I’m very sensitive to that kind of thing. I used to work in TV, so I try to be very respectful and sensitive to the women that work in local media. I want to put a spotlight on them for their work and professional integrity, but let’s be honest. Men and women, if they work in TV they are typically very attractive. 

I never thought it was done in a demeaning way. I can’t tell you that a caller never said something in appropriate or called in to talk about a physical trait of a woman that we didn’t want to become part of the conversation, but you can’t really control it. It’s live radio.

I thought the hosts always handled it in an appropriate way. It was always fun. The local women came on air and played along. We’ve had past winners that were overjoyed to win just like, a sash and a crown. 

It was a fun thing. It really was. We’re in such a hyper-sensitive environment right now. If it was done in a mean way or in a way that was misogynistic, which I guess you can say it inherently is. Some people feel that way and won’t hear any different, but truly if I thought it was done in a disrespectful way I would have shut it down before it got to that point.

D: Is there a lesson in this for you or for other sports stations about the way the culture moves? Is this a situation of these controversial promotions are not worth it anymore because the downside is always worse than the upside is good?

J: Well, you gotta look at it this way and this is how I look at everything. Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s right and just because it is unpopular doesn’t mean it’s wrong. So, the popular thing to do and the easy thing to do would have been to walk away from it and just shut it down, but again, I don’t think anyone was doing anything wrong. The participants never felt like it was a negative thing, at least the ones that came back and participated over and over again. So, we continued it.

D: When you have conversations with your other hosts about where they can make improvements or things you need them to do, is that ever uncomfortable or do you ever feel added pressure because you are on air?

J: You know, there is the element of trying to practice what I preach. I wouldn’t ask the guys to do anything or try anything I wouldn’t do myself, but at the end of the day that’s what I get paid to do. 

I make suggestions. I make recommendations, and it may just be little things. Be sure to reintroduce your guest. Don’t eat on the air. My guys have been doing this a long time. I’m lucky. I have a lot of experienced guys. There aren’t a lot of young guys here that need coaching on a daily basis. 

We still talk. We still strategize to some degree. I think the guys respect me enough that we can talk and they don’t take it personally, like I think I am better than them or that I think I am doing it right and they are wrong. Look, there are certain things that guys on my own show do that I do not like, but it’s just not my cup of tea. I would never tell them to stop because it’s just a taste thing. 

The other thing too is doing four local shows in a market this size with no local teams, you have to find a way to differentiate and stand out from the other shows. We all have to be different. Everyone needs to come to work with a different approach. 

BSM Writers

In Defense Of Colin Cowherd

“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”

Demetri Ravanos

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I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.

Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.

Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.

Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?

A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.

That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.

The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.

Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!

This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).

“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.

On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.

Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.

You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?

It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.

Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?

I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.

School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.

Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.

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BSM Writers

Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

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Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.

“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…

Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.

“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman.  “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”  

Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.

This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.

She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.

“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”

Waldman has also changed the industry.

She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.

Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.

“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”

Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.

For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.

“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”

There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.

Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.

It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.

“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”

Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.

And many of these people were co-workers.

“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman. 

It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.

She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.

“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t.  You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”

There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.

“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”

While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.

The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88.  I just wish he were here.” 

Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.

Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.

“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.

“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports.  You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming.  I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”

And made it she did.

And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.

“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman. 

Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.

“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.

She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.

“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer.  That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”  

And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.

But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.

Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.

“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women.  I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.” 

During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.

But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?

“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”

To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”

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BSM Writers

No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words

“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “

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For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.

If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.

So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.

Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.

Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.

Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.

Keeping up?

As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.

Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.

When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.

On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.

You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.

Pot, meet kettle.

I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.

Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.

And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.

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