Coach ‘em hard and hug ‘em later. This was the philosophy of legendary Alabama head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. It’s a style that is imitated by Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians and also executed by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. They have the ability to aggressively demand the best of their players, while at the same time showing them great respect and care.
Switching gears and having a healthy mixture of both is challenging. The same holds true in sports radio. It can be difficult for hosts to convey strong stances while still remaining likable. It’s challenging to be intense and also amusing. Not every host can do both. It’s an approach that Rob Parker of FOX Sports Radio and FS1 has mastered. He has a unique blend of delivering strong opinions while keeping things fun with his lighthearted humor.
Rob is truly one of the great dudes in the industry. He’s also is a busy man. Rob hosts The Odd Couple with Chris Broussard on FOX Sports Radio weeknights from 4-7pm PT. He also teaches at USC, hosts the Inside the Parker podcast, and appears regularly on FS1’s Undisputed and The Herd. Rob made time to touch on many key points in this interview including the importance of incorporating old school and new school and a willingness to be the lone wolf. Rob also talks about the most rewarding experience he’s ever had, the worst brand of radio anybody can do, and faxes.
Yes, faxes. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What year was it when you hosted your first sports radio show?
Rob Parker: I always had an interest in sports radio when I was a kid. I can remember growing up in New York — John Sterling, who’s now the Yankees radio voice, he had a show on WMCA. I used to be glued to it and listen to him like crazy. The other guy was Art Rush Jr. who had a sports show at WABC in New York. I remember those two guys very vividly. I’m talking about I was a young guy at 8, 9, 10 listening to sports talk radio, which normally that’s not what kids that age are doing. But I used to be mad when the show went off because I couldn’t get enough.
I always had an interest in radio from that standpoint. I never thought about doing or having my own show. But I go to Detroit and I’m a columnist at the Free Press. In 1994 they’re starting Detroit’s first all sports station WDFN AM 1130. I hear about it. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who’s the boss. I don’t know anything. I just heard they’re going to start this all sports station in Detroit.
I’m up in Fenway Park for Opening Day. This is pre cell phones and all that. There’s a phone call in the press box and they say hey, is Rob Parker in the press box? I’m like who’s calling me at Fenway Park on Opening Day? I’m like did something bad happen? Who would be calling me?
It’s Lorna Gladstone who was the PD for this new station that she was starting up. She calls me and she says hey, I talked to a lot of people around town. Your name came up often. They think you’re very opinionated and would be good to do a talk show. So I’m like oh, okay. Wow, okay. She said I know you’re obviously at Opening Day. When you come back from Boston would you meet with me? I’m like great.
Literally, I get back and we have this meeting. Five minutes in — I had never hosted a show, I had been on a couple of shows but I had never hosted a show — she says I know this isn’t good for negotiations but I want to hire you. I was just like what? Literally. She said yep. Not only that, this was the other part that just blew me away, so I’m thinking I’m going to get a weekend show or midday. She said you’re going to do afternoon drive and you’re going to pick your partner. I was the first person ever hired at WDFN the all sports station. Then I got to pick my partner, which was incredible.
Noe: How did you go about picking your partner?
Rob: I did the show called The Odd Couple. It was me and a guy named Mike Stone, who at the time was a producer at the local News Channel 4 in Detroit. I had known Stoney a little bit just from covering stuff, but I didn’t know him, know him. When we did talk, we used to always disagree on everything. He’d come with his side. I had my side. I remembered that.
Lorna brought in a couple of other guys for me to go out to lunch with and to meet. They were from all over the country. In those days they did a search for people. None of them really clicked with me. At that point she was going to hire Stoney to do evenings on a show called Mike and Ike. I said well, what about Stoney? I think we would be a good pair. She said really? I said yeah, we kind of clash a lot when we talk about sports. The show was billed, “Can this sports writer and this sports fan share a radio show without driving each other crazy?” That was my first show.
It was — right out of the box — wildly successful. So much so, Brian, this is the crazy part, I was only on the show for less than a year because I wound up leaving to go to New York to be a columnist. Five or six months into the show, we go to a Red Wings game. What I used to say to Stoney all the time when he’d say something crazy, I used to always say, “Come on, Stoney. What are you talking about?” It became a thing. We’re at a Red Wings game and no lie, somebody holds up a sign in the crowd that said, “Come on, Stoney.” I just could not believe it.
Noe: Do you think you would get bored if you were doing radio with a partner that viewed things very similarly as yourself?
Rob: I think so. I think it would be boring. To me it’s not personal. It’s just a sports opinion. That’s all it is. I say the only thing you can’t argue about is math. Two and two is four no matter who’s doing the math. Everything else is debatable.
I don’t look at it as a bad thing if we disagree. I don’t think you can force it or try to pretend, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. I’m always trying to get my partner to change his mind or at least take a look at what I’m saying and where I’m coming from.
Noe: When you go back to the early days, what was an important lesson you needed to learn about sports radio that you didn’t know initially?
Rob: I think early on maybe I wasn’t as much fun as I am now. Where you laugh at yourself. Remember I was coming from a newspaper columnist job. There wasn’t a lot of comedy in that. I think I just learned that everything is not that serious. People are driving in their cars, going to wherever they are. They’re looking for something to kill the time and make it enjoyable. Everything is not life and death. Everything is not the end of the world. I can laugh at myself. I can laugh at other people. Once I understood that, I got even better at it.
Noe: What was it that made you realize that?
Rob: A couple of things. People would respond. I could just see the response. Back then, I know I’m dating myself, but there were no emails or anything. People used to fax in because they couldn’t call from work. (Laughs.) What a novel idea. Isn’t that great? They used to fax in. We would get faxes if we did something funny or silly and people would just go crazy about it. They would love it.
Noe: How many years had you been covering sports as a writer before you got into sports radio?
Rob: I started in 1986 and got my first show in ‘94. So what is that eight years? Yeah, and it was good from the standpoint that I came in with a little something extra than maybe most guys on the radio who hadn’t covered teams and haven’t been around. I always felt like I spoke from authority. I think that really helped, ‘cause I’m at the games. We’re talking about a player, I talked to him one-on-one earlier today, or yesterday, or last week. I always felt like my voice was more authoritative from the access and the people that I knew.
Noe: What’s something about writing that sports radio doesn’t provide, or something about sports radio that writing never provided you?
Rob: The immediacy of sports radio and actually connecting with the fan. I think that’s neat. I love to talk to callers. I love to see what the average Joe is thinking. Most people are calling in listening to hear my opinion, which I get, but sometimes I think you’ve got to have a little voice of the fan as well because they see things a little differently than we do.
Noe: What’s the most nervous you’ve been in your entire career?
Rob: It might have been — and only for a brief moment — but I think the first time me and my partner got to fill in on Sporting News Radio nationally. At first I was just thinking wow, this is going to be on all over the country. Maybe for a minute I thought about it and it was like daunting. Then we started the show and we just did what we normally did. Leading up to it, I was just like this is a big break. Maybe they might like us. So I was a little nervous.
Noe: What would you say is your proudest achievement so far?
Rob: I think the show that I’m on now with Chris — The Odd Couple. From this standpoint, I don’t know and I’m not positive, but I think it’s the first nationally syndicated show with two African-American hosts. For a long time, most national shows didn’t have any African Americans hosting. I think it’s a fun, informative show. I really think people like it. I really think it struck a nerve from being mad at me or Chris, or laughing with me and Chris, and just feeling like it’s a part of your day. I really believe that for some people it’s a part of their day.
We’ve been on for 10 months and we still get calls every day when people say they’re so compelled to tell us how much they like the show. I thought that would wear off after two or three months, you know when something’s new. They all say the same thing; man, you make my commute so much better for my 30- 40-minute drive home from work. I listen every day. You can’t ask for anything better than for people to say that.
Noe: Some people that agree with you will preface their call by stating how rarely it happens. It’s like, “Rob, man, I hardly ever agree with you, but I agree with you on this.” Does that make you laugh?
Rob: It makes me laugh all the time. It’s like am I from Mars? You never agree with me ever? Wow, I don’t think I’m that radical. You know what I mean?
Noe: Yeah, it’s funny like that. What are some of the emotions you feel about being successful in this business, and you happen to be black, in an industry that lacks diversity?
Rob: I think it’s positive not only for me but for guys that come after. That’s what I’m always looking at. I give the bosses at FOX Sports Radio, Don Martin and Scott Shapiro, a lot of credit from this standpoint; this is not your traditional way of doing things. Normally Chris and I, and this is the way we started, would have been paired up with guys who are radio guys. We come from the writing side.
They just decided that they didn’t have to do that. They thought our opinions and our approach were strong enough that we could just do it with two writers without having to have a quote unquote radio guy. Granted, I’ve had a radio show for a long time, but you know what I mean, people who are trained to be radio guys. I give them credit for that. Years from now when other guys get their chances, that’s what I’m most proud of.
Noe: Is there pressure? Do you feel like you better come correct or you could be costing somebody else an opportunity down the road?
Rob: I don’t look at it that way, but I could see where some people would. I approach it as my job, which I take very seriously and work hard at. But I always feel like I’m going to be successful no matter what. I do believe in that. If Chris and I are really successful and have a show that people like and there’s a buzz about it and we’re doing well, that’s going to open the door. Other stations and PDs are going to look and say, that FOX Sports Radio, they had these two brothas on and it did really well. I think it opens up the idea.
I sit here right now and tell you the most disappointed I am in sports talk radio is in the city of Detroit, which you know Detroit is 85 percent black. They have no full-time black hosts on talk radio in Detroit, which is mind-boggling. Especially since in 1994, when they started The Fan in Detroit I was doing afternoon drive. The guy after me from 6 to 10, Ike Griffin, is black and he did the nighttime show. Our sports update anchor on the morning show was black. This is 1994. They start a station. Two of the hosts are black and the main update guy in the morning is black. Now here we are in 2019 and there are no black guys on the radio. I don’t know how they live with themselves as a city that’s mostly black. I find it to be disheartening and disappointing.
Noe: When your strong opinions fire up some of the moron listeners that respond with racist comments, does it bother you?
Rob: What bothers me is that do they really believe that I’m talking about Tom Brady because he’s white? I just find that to be comical because I rip on LeBron James. Is he white? LeBron is one of the greatest players who ever played. So it obviously has nothing to do with race. That’s the thing that I just can’t get over. Or my comparison — I’m saying Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback I ever saw. Joe Montana is white. How in the world can it be a race thing? I’m not saying Doug Williams is the greatest quarterback who ever played. If I said Doug Williams is the greatest quarterback who ever played, then you have a case.
Noe: You like to crack jokes and have fun. When you get crazy stuff like that thrown at you, does it ever impact your mood or approach to the show?
Rob: Nah, I brush it to the side. I’ve been in the business way too long. I’ve seen a lot. Along with the negative stuff, I get so much positive stuff. It rejuvenates me from the standpoint of — I get, “Man, you keep it 100 all the time. Man, I love what you do. Don’t let anybody change you. Don’t follow suit with all the other guys.” They know I’m willing to stand out there and be the lone wolf. People appreciate it.
When I hear that stuff, I know I’m on the right track. I’m touching people out there every day and they appreciate the work I’m doing. I always say I work for the fans. That’s who I work for.
Noe: What’s something you’ve learned about Chris that you didn’t know before you were doing the show with him?
Rob: That’s a good question because Chris and I have known each other for 25 years, but obviously not in this capacity, as writers in the night covering games and stuff like that. He’s smart, he’s well prepared, and he has a great sense of humor, which I did know he had. He can laugh at himself. But his preparation is impressive to me. You expect him to know the NBA, but football and even when we talk baseball, he’s prepared and he’s ready to go. I like that.
Noe: Do you think some of that preparation comes from wanting to prove people wrong? He covered the NBA for so many years, it’s similar to a basketball player breaking into the industry who’s looked at as, “Well, you’re just a basketball guy. What you know about football?” Do you think that drives Chris?
Rob: I do. I do. I think he knows that he has to shake a tag. The tag is not negative that you’re an expert in one sport, but to get people to listen to you about other things, it’s not easy. Like a Shannon Sharpe who had to convince people that he knew more. Okay we’ll give you the NFL. You played in it. You’re a Hall of Famer. But to be able to have me listen to you for 20 minutes on an NBA topic and know that you know what you’re talking about. That’s not easy to do.
Noe: What are the classes that you teach at USC and how has that been going for you?
Rob: It is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. I just cannot get over how much I enjoy it. How great the kids are. How into it they are. They get my juices flowing because I see they’re ambitious and want to achieve or want to do big things in journalism. I just love it. I taught Sports Commentary. This coming semester in September I’m teaching Introduction Into Sports Media. So it’ll be about radio, digital and print, and television. It’ll be awesome.
Noe: There’s so much to tell someone about being in sports radio. What are two of the top things that you think are the most important to tell someone that is new to the industry?
Rob: I would say A) Don’t guess. Be prepared. If you’re talking about a topic, you should be prepared on it. You shouldn’t ask questions or say well, I’m not sure. I don’t know. You should prep for it. But number one, you’ve got to have an opinion. You just have to. This whole we’ll wait and see and all that, that’s the worst radio you can do. Obviously we could do that, but as I tell people on the radio all the time, we have three hours to kill today. I can’t wait ‘till his career is over to evaluate him. You know? It doesn’t work like that.
Noe: How much have you learned from the kids based on what they’ll say to you, what they’ll ask, what they’re interested in? How much has helped you?
Rob: Oh, it has helped me a lot. The millennials and these young kids — where their head is. What it is that they like. What they want to hear. I do take some from them and try to incorporate it. I never want to get too bogged down on numbers and analytics and all that. It’s important to include some, but it’s not the end-all be-all. I think you kind of have to incorporate old school and new school.
The one thing that I found interesting when talking about stuff that I’ve done or whatever, they love the old stories. They love when I talk about being there, or being at Michael Jordan’s game when he hit that shot against Craig Ehlo, or being at the 1986 World Series when the ball goes through Bill Buckner’s legs. They love those old stories, which you wouldn’t think, but it kind of puts context to everything. It also tells them who they’re listening to. Their professor is somebody who’s been there and done that and been around.
I think that’s what gets them going. It’s like man, this guy covered that. This guy was at that. It’s one thing to have a professor — and I’m not knocking any teachers or anything — but it’s another thing to have a guy who you just watched in the morning before you came to school. You watched me on Undisputed on FS1. Then you came to school and I’m teaching you. I think that’s powerful.
Noe: At USC you get to reach some younger kids. You do your thing on The Odd Couple and reach a big audience. You also have your baseball podcast and reach another audience. Is that the coolest thing right now that you have a wide reach of different ages and backgrounds?
Rob: Absolutely. It’s incredible. Here’s the other thing; being in New York this week on vacation and just kind of bopping around, because I’ve been on TV for a long time, I expect people every once in awhile to say hey, it’s Rob. Or, Rob, what’s up? But what’s changed is when people say oh, I love the show.
I say oh, that’s cool. Undisputed? You know what they say? No, The Odd Couple. I listen all the time. It’s just a change. It used to only be the TV and now the radio has kicked in to where people always bring up the radio show.
Noe: As far as the [Inside the Parker] podcast, how much have you been enjoying that?
Rob: Absolutely love it. Oh my God. Love it so much that this is my vacation week and I refused to not do it. I did it on my vacation. That’s the only thing I did this week was my podcast. I cannot believe when I look at the downloads how many people are downloading it. It’s incredible.
Noe: I know you’re such a baseball fan, but you know the deal. You’re not going to be doing three hours of baseball on a national radio show. What’s it like for you to be really interested in a sport that’s lower in the pecking order?
Rob: I get it. I don’t always agree with it. I think in sports talk radio there’s a lot of lazy radio going on. That’s what I call it. We talked about the same four or five people and subjects in the NBA, the same four or five in the NFL. That’s what we do, which means we don’t have to watch as much stuff or care about everything going on. I think that’s the one thing I wish we wouldn’t do.
I get it. Play the hits. I’m not a fool. But there are some other stories and as long as you can make stuff compelling, that’s all you have to do. I don’t expect to break down a Twins game on a Tuesday night for three hours. Do you know what I mean? If something compelling happens in baseball, we should talk about it. It should be no doubt about it. Just talk about it.
Noe: When you’re listening to other hosts — just stylistically — what’s a style that makes you roll your eyes like, “Is this guy serious right now?”
Rob: That is the read the internet and regurgitate what you read from other people. Horrible. Like you offer nothing. You’re not giving people anything. You have to offer up something. Own a story. Make a phone call. Talk to somebody. Do a little more research. Be able to deliver something more than just, okay today LeBron couldn’t give his number to Anthony Davis. Oh, ain’t that a shame.
Whereas more might be taking a look at it and just making it like LeBron should have known better. Or he has a pattern of jumping the gun. Or my story that day was Nike nixed the deal because LeBron’s jerseys don’t sell like they used to. That’s a knock on LeBron that they wouldn’t do it. Why are there boxes and boxes of Laker LeBron jerseys laying around that they don’t want to take a hit on? That’s the way I would look at it. To me that’s the story. Nike wasn’t willing to eat the LeBron jerseys, and they don’t think that Anthony Davis is going to sell enough jerseys to offset that.
Noe: It just dawned on me and I don’t know why — when are you going to get those Jordans and when am I going to get my chicken wings from Chris [Broussard] after our winning bets?
Rob: You still haven’t gotten your — I’m gonna get on Chris when we get back together. I’ll get on Chris because you know I pay my bets off.
Noe: Yes. Every time.
Rob: I’m never getting those Jordans because Chris is a cheapskate.
Noe: (Laughs.) What was the bet for the Jordans?
Rob: I said that the Lakers wouldn’t make the playoffs last season. That’s a pretty big bet, right? His out clause was, well, if LeBron is hurt the bet’s off. I’m like that’s not how it goes. “Oh, but if LeBron’s out there’s no way you can” — I said no, that’s not how you make a bet. So you’re telling me if he pulls a hammy and he’s out for five days that’s going to negate the bet? That’s basically giving himself an out. I don’t believe in that. That’s a big bet for me to say that a LeBron James team isn’t making the playoffs.
Noe: Sure it is. He owes you some Jordans, man. When you look at your career, is there anything you would change if you were able to?
Rob: Yeah, I think I would. If I could have done it all over again, I would have covered a hockey team for a couple of years as a beat guy. I did everything else and I think that would have made me a little more well rounded. That’s the only thing I didn’t do. Even though I covered a lot of hockey. I covered hockey in New York. I covered hockey in Detroit. I obviously covered Stanley Cups, playoffs, all that.
Actually one of the funniest lines I ever wrote was about a hockey game. You’re too young but there was a goalie named Tim Cheveldae who was with the Red Wings. It’s the playoffs and Tim Cheveldae gave up a couple of soft goals in the game and they lost. I wrote that it was the worst performance by a man in a mask since Adam West played Batman on the old TV sitcom.
So here’s the bad part about it; you ready? The writer from Sports Illustrated — I can’t remember his name — loved the line so much that he used it in his article. He used that line, but didn’t give me credit. He wrote, “One Detroit columnist wrote,” and I just thought to myself, somebody with that kind of line that you’re going to use and [no credit] — so everybody in the business thought, at that time Mitch Albom was the big columnist in Detroit — everybody had to believe that Mitch wrote that. He didn’t give me credit.
Noe: That’s messed up, man.
Rob: Come on. A black guy writes a line like that about a hockey player? And don’t get credit?
Noe: Is there anything that you’d still like to accomplish that you haven’t been able to yet?
Rob: Yeah, I mean a TV show. A national TV show. I love being on Undisputed. I love being on The Herd. But I would love a shot at doing a show with Chris maybe on television.
Noe: Would you say that’s your main goal going forward?
Rob: Yeah, because once I made my debut on the baseball Whiparound show on FS1, that was a big step. That was a proud moment because I do believe, and I’m not 100 percent positive, but I do believe it’s the first time that a national black baseball analyst was not a former player. I don’t think they’ve ever had a guy, a black guy, who wasn’t a former Major League player talk about baseball.
Noe: Wow, that’s crazy. How do you view it when you hear that you’re the first? It’s 2019, man.
Rob: I know. I still shake my head at it sometimes because I can’t believe it. I think I told you when I first got hired at the Detroit Free Press as a sports columnist the year was 1993. When they hired me, I was the first black sports columnist in the paper’s history. Brian, the paper was 161 years old. In Detroit. Do you hear me? How about that? Not Iowa City. In Detroit.
Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best
“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”
Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.
“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”
Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.
“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”
And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.
“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.
After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.
Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.
Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.
“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”
Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.
“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything. Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”
Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.
The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.
“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”
The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman.
“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth.
From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.
“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.
And the rest is history.
An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.
And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft.
“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.”
An incredibly big moment for Jack would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.
But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.
“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.
Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.
But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.
“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.”
While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.
But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.
“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth. “He just works at this stuff.”
Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.
Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.
“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years. I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.
“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”
Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.
Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments. In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.
“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.”
Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.
But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.
“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success
“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”
When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.
Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.
From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.
By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.
“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”
At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.
Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.
“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”
During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.
Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.
“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”
Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.
“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”
By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.
“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”
During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.
“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”
All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.
Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.
“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”
Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.
“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”
Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.
“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”
A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.
“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”
Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.
Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.
“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”
As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.
“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”
Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.
As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.
“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link
His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.
For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.
ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.
When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.
Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.
In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.
Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.
One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.
He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.
Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.
And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.
But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.