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A Good Broadcaster Has To Be Ready For Anything

“I’m sure you didn’t see in the game notes, but a pigeon was going to camp out on the pitcher’s mound or that a drunk fan is going to run onto the field.”

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You’ve seen it time and time again during a sports broadcast—something out of the ordinary will interrupt a game. I’m not talking about rain, lightning or other weather events. I’m talking about animals, insects, birds and other creatures.

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These put the broadcaster on the spot because, of course, you don’t know that a squirrel is going to jump into the visiting team’s dugout. I’m sure you didn’t see in the game notes, but a pigeon was going to camp out on the pitcher’s mound or that a drunk fan is going to run onto the field. Did you?  How do you deal with this?  

There are a few different schools of thought on this situation. One option is to call it like you see it (of course this applies to radio). Your audience is going to hear the roars and cheers of the crowd when it isn’t expected, so you have an obligation to tell people what is going on. The approach can be matter of fact, “folks the cheers you’re hearing is for a squirrel that is running on the field right now, so we’re going to have a delay…” Simple, understated, but yet informative. You’ve given them what they really need to know. From there you can determine if you need to take it further by doing a little “non-game” play-by-play. 

The master of this craft is Kevin Harlan. Here’s how he handled the situation in the Monday Night Football game at MetLife Stadium when a black cat ran onto the field. It caused a bit of a delay, but man was it entertaining for those listening. The cat came on the field and Harlan took it from there. “He’s walking…he’s walking to the three (yard line), he’s at the two…and the cat is in the CDW Red Zone, CDW people who get it…” Yes, he worked in a sponsorship without missing a beat. Harlan continued, “a state trooper has come onto the field and the cat runs into the end zone, it’s a touchdown!”  The cat then started to dart away and Harlan took it away again, “the cat is elusive kind of like (Giants RB Sequon) Barkley and (Cowboys back Ezekiel) Elliott. There are state troopers all around this cat which now climbs up into the stands and the fans are running for their lives.” He continued, “now he’s back on the field again and is running in the back of the end zone and it runs up the tunnel.” This is pure gold. The game is delayed so you aren’t missing any action and Harlan captured the moment perfectly. It was funny and he expressed that beautifully. 

Harlan has had some classic moments other than the black cat from this week. His play-by-play of a drunk 49’ers fan running on the field during the fourth quarter of a Monday night blowout is epic. “Hey somebody has run onto the field, some goofball in a hat with a red shirt, now he takes off the shirt!” Harlan continued the play-by-play, “he’s running down the middle by the 50, he’s at the 30, he’s bare chested, banging his chest, now he runs the opposite way!”

It finished this way, “Oh and they got him, oh and they tackle him at the 40-yard line.” That little intrusion was more compelling than the 21-0 game that was going on in San Francisco that night. Well timed and not over the top and again an art form by Harlan.  

Comedy without crossing a line can be a useful way to entertain an audience during a delay. I had a situation in San Diego involving a swarm of bees. All of the sudden the Padres left fielder began to look behind him before a pitch was thrown. He started walking in towards the infield and we had no idea why. Then we’d see on the monitor that there was a swarm of bees surrounding the ball girl’s jacket down the left field line. It was a sight.

This started about a 30-minute delay while the team had a person come in to clear the field of the bees. My broadcast partner and I began to swap stories about experiences with the flying, stinging insect. We had no more breaks to fire, so it was basically us for the entire time. Yeah it got a little silly at times. They figured out that there was a candy bar inside the girl’s jacket which attracted the bees that led me to get a little punny, saying “I’ll bet that jacket winds up on BEE-bay (ha, not Ebay) by the time this game is over.” Funny, right? I know, but hey we had to keep it loose and somewhat entertaining. 

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Sometimes the delays are less entertaining and more serious. Case in point the San Francisco earthquake in 1989. It happened just before Game 3 of the series between the Giants and A’s as you’ll remember. Tim McCarver was narrating highlights from Oakland’s game two win and the picture started to shake and Al Michaels could be heard in the background saying, “I’ll tell you what, we’re having an earth…” as the audio would then cut off. This became a news story of large proportions with Michaels using his knowledge of the Bay Area, from living there for 12 years at that time, to be the eyes and ears of ABC News from the site of the quake.

In an era before cellphones, Michaels reported from the production truck on a landline and took over. Even the blimp that ABC had flying over the stadium for the game coverage was being directed by Michaels and we all saw the first shots of the Bay Bridge damage, fires burning in the Marina District and the collapsed Cypress Structure on I-880 in Oakland. He became only the second sportscaster ever to land a News Emmy nomination, for his coverage of the quake. This of course was a very unusual situation, but the well versed and prepared Michaels was able to shine in the face of a lot of adversity. 

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Delays of all kinds can happen during the course of your broadcast. Staying prepared can help you in some regards but common sense has to take over when things go beyond your prep. You’ll be able to figure out when to be funny, when to be serious and when to be something in between. Remember it’s all about entertaining and informing, even in these situations. 

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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