When it comes to doing play-by-play chances are pretty good that you’re going to be calling a multitude of sports. Probably on several different levels, NCAA, G-League, Minor League Baseball, MLB, etc. Is there a difference to how you call one or the other? Should you do something different when calling a college game vs. a pro game? The answer isn’t quite as simple as yes or no. It’s kind of like being a parent of two kids, love them both but parent them differently. After all, they are two different organisms. Right?
The same basic principles of play-by-play apply to everything you call. That shouldn’t change. Describe the action accurately, follow the ball, give time and score often and use your voice as an instrument. We’ve covered a lot of that in previous columns. So make sure to understand this foundation will serve you well no matter what level you are announcing.
I’ll talk about College Basketball and G-League hoops from the perspective of a radio broadcaster, but basically the same things apply to television as well.
The college level lends itself to a little more promoting the product, portraying schools as not just athletics but academics as well. It’s also about telling stories about the student athletes. After all, these are 18-year old kids as freshman that become 21-year old men as seniors. Some of these players have amazing backgrounds. More and more they’re coming from foreign countries to play basketball and get an opportunity to get an education as well. I always try to keep in mind that even when a game gets intense and every play is meaningful, these are youngsters learning life lessons. How to handle adversity, how to handle being on top and how to handle the in-betweens.
During college games, I try to picture in my head, who I believe is listening or viewing this broadcast. In most cases to me, its immediate family members, other relatives and close friends. I’m sure there are fans and alums as well out in the audience but they love this school as well as the players, so why change?
Why do I think like this? Because after calling many pro games (MLB, G-League) I have to understand that these are not professional athletes and those close to these players are tuning in to hear/view something good about the one they care about. Listen, I’m not saying sugar coat mistakes. Your audience will know. I’m saying realize who is playing and treat the players and their families with respect.
With that in mind, there are times I take more chances in college games. I may try some new descriptions or new ways of calling a play. I do this to see if it works or not. The opportunity is there for you to experiment a little, but don’t let it affect the actual announcing of the game. Don’t change that, it will only get you in trouble.
Professional games, like in the NBA and the G-League to me require a little more concentration on the game and less on the periphery. Sometimes there are stories of guys getting a look at the NBA level in the developmental league or a player hanging on to a dream and playing for the love of the game. More often than not these are players trying to stick out to catch interest from other NBA teams. The calls are more about command of the game and broadcast than they are of the fluff that may be surrounding a game.
The fact that players are being paid by either their G-League affiliate or NBA team, means to me that this is their job. Criticism, if handled the right way, is somewhat more acceptable in these cases. Players are held much more accountable by way of decreased playing time or being cut. Those are the facts.
Now it can’t be all business all the time. I think it’s about a 70/30 split in the upper ranks. I try to fancy up my basics, if that makes sense. After many reps in these sports, you try to take your “basics” to a higher level each time you crack the mic to broadcast a game. It’s all about getting better no matter the sport or level you’re calling.
When it comes to gathering notes and stats for a broadcast, I find that it’s usually easier to get information from the college teams. To me the most underrated folks around the country are the SID’s (Sports Information Directors) for colleges and universities. Most that I’ve come to know, spend enormous amounts of time on “Game Notes” providing great insight into their teams. They are dialed in with the program and are well versed to answer any questions or concerns a broadcaster may have. They have even been known to arrange interviews with opposing coaches by reaching out to the other team’s SID to set them up. This allows the play-by-play announcer and color analyst a chance to learn some of the nuances of the team they don’t normally cover. This helps to present a more balanced call of the game.
When it comes to calling either college games, pro games or a combination of both always be prepared. That is the one thing that never changes no matter what sport or level you are calling. It’s hard to present a good broadcast when there are gaps in your knowledge of the teams or rules. Most of all, enjoy the games and try and present your best product every time you go on the air.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.