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The Broadcast World Remembers 3/12/2020

“On an off day in Arizona the news came down: no baseball for a while. Wow, this is really happening! A virus that seemed so far away several weeks ago came close to home.”

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I will always remember March 12, 2020. It started off simply as my mom’s birthday, a normal day in Arizona covering the White Sox. What it turned into was the day sports went silent.

You can actually trace it back to the night before, when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the Coronavirus, aka COVID-19. The NBA acted quickly in suspending its season and the NHL soon followed. The NCAA canceled conference tournaments and then in a stunning turn of events, called off March Madness.

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On an off day in Arizona the news came down: no baseball for a while. Wow, this is really happening! A virus that seemed so far away several weeks ago came close to home. There was a feeling of “ok, what now?”. I scrambled to get a flight back to Chicago and when I got home, it already felt like the off-season.

I was curious about what some of my fellow broadcasters, beat writers and even a few media relations folks were thinking about that day. What was their initial reaction to finding out your season was either postponed or cancelled? Here are some of their reactions.

Brian Anderson, play-by-play, Milwaukee Brewers TV, Turner Sports:  I worked an NBA game on a Tuesday in front of a sellout crowd. Wednesday, I was shocked to learn about NBA players testing positive for COVID19, then expected the NBA to postpone games. Postponing the season surprised me and it was sobering to grasp what this virus was doing to our way of life.

Thursday morning, I was sitting court side ready to call the Big Ten Tournament in front of no fans. Minutes before tip, they cancelled the tournament. A few hours after that the NCAA Tournament was cancelled, then MLB suspended play and delayed opening of the season. In a flash, everything I do was no longer. My only thought was to get home and get to my family. 

Wayne Randazzo, play-by-play, New York Mets:  To me, it was the worst day as a baseball fan since the beginning of the 1994 strike and eventual cancellation of that year’s World Series (I was 10). I understand all the reasons for this, and safety is obviously the most important thing, but it still hurts to see baseball, which has always endured, not being played right now.

It’s wild how quickly things turned. I don’t even think Howie (Rose, Randazzo’s partner on Mets’ broadcasts) and I really discussed the virus on the air. It went from being something to sort of keep an eye on to a monster problem with extreme speed. I also broadcast a decent amount of Big East and Big Ten basketball over the winter, and I’m sad to see a bunch of great stories from those two conferences won’t ever get to be completed.

Mike Ferrin, pre/post game and play-by-play, Arizona Diamondbacks, co-host MLB Network Radio “Power Alley”: I follow the news pretty closely, and, even while the league and players association worked to come up with concepts of what “might” happen early in the week, with no recommendations of a shut down, it certainly felt inevitable. My professional passion is baseball, so while it was a disappointment to see college leagues, then MLB, then Minor League Baseball shutdown in rapid succession, I also knew that it was 100% the right thing to do. Listening to the NIH and CDC talk about what we need to get through this, the idea of continuing to play in front of crowds of people was dangerous.

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Joe Brand, play-by-play Kane County Cougars (Class A), sportscaster WGN Radio Chicago: I didn’t take it seriously at first. Once the NBA season was suspended, I came to an understanding it was only a matter of time before the NHL, MLB (along with MiLB) would follow.  That day I felt disbelief, helplessness, awkwardness and misunderstanding. 

The past couple of days have just opened my eyes to what type of global experience we are dealing with. Aside from rain during baseball season, it’s very difficult to suspend/cancel any games at the professional level, let alone multiple sports’ entire seasons.  This is definitely a historic time we’re living and working in.  I’m trying to soak in the responsibility of being in the media during this time.

I’ve been searching for things to try and keep me sharp and ready to go during this hiatus. I wanted to see what these guys are doing to keep their minds in it. 

Anderson: I call 150 games per year and spend half of every year on the road. I am not thinking about staying sharp. I am using this time to rest and spend time with my wife and daughter. To be fully present with them. 

Randazzo: I am voicing over some things including a passion project that will probably never see the light of day, so I suppose that’s my way of staying sharp. I have a bunch of books, baseball and otherwise, that I want to read or reread so this will give me some time to do that. Perhaps I’ll do something for WCBS or WFAN in the meantime, but that hasn’t been determined yet. 

Ferrin: Well, fortunately I still work every day, though it’s with our programming being altered to ensure the safety of our studio staff, so that makes it easier. Hosting a baseball talk show with no baseball is a challenge, but, a fun one. Jim Duquette and our producers, Hunter Reiser & Brady Gardiner, have some ideas on what we want to do. Deeper player breakdowns, a few goofy things to lighten the mood, maybe looking at some random baseball games or matchups to create some fun baseball-reference inspired worm holes.

We realize we have to cover the news as it pertains to COVID-19 and how it impacts baseball, but we also need to give people a distraction. Something they can get lost in for 30-45 minutes at a time that give them a mental release. 

Brand: Clearly, I can’t call any games, so I’m planning on updating my reel and website.  One fun thing I’ve done to make light of the situation is ask Chicagoland coaches and PE teachers to share their scores from games on Friday or student athletes to recognize.  I’ve been using them in my weekend sports updates.  We’ve had people texting in YMCA basketball scores, kindergarten gym class stories, and plenty spotlights on HS seniors that had abrupt endings to their seasons.

Something most of us have in common now is a little downtime. What are you actually doing with this unexpected time to yourself?

Anderson: I’ve been doing a few projects around the house every day. I cleaned out the garage, cleaned up the floors, ran some Cat5 cable to various spots from the router, cooked a bunch of meals, worked out, read, and organized some accounting projects. But mostly I’ve been hanging with my family doing all the things I can’t do when I’m on the road.

Randazzo: It is always nice to spend as much time with my 6-year old daughter as possible, and she’s off school too so this will give us more time than usual. Even during the season, I’ll fly home on off days to be with her as close to 100% of my free time as I can. That’s certainly a great thing even under these dubious circumstances. Otherwise, I’ll do a few things around the house and constantly check the news for updates on flattening the curve and when I can call the curve again. 

Ferrin: Cooking. Lots of cooking. My wife is working from home too, so, we’ll cook, walk the dogs, I’ll ride my Peloton and just try to weather the storm. Our hatches are battened, so we’re ready for it. I assure you though, I’ll be ready when baseball is back. I miss it, but, it ain’t going away. It’ll be back and I’m excited for that.

(Writer’s Note: Mike is a very good cook, grilling out is a specialty of his. He forced me to eat lots of BBQ one night recently in Arizona.)

Brand: Making sure my mom is okay.  Cleaning my apartment.  Catching up on some shows/movies.  Updating my website will be a big one.  I’m comfortable with the free time now, but I know I’ll get pretty restless eventually.  So, keeping my mentality in check will definitely be something to keep in mind too.

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Things of this nature really put sports into perspective. There are bigger things to worry about like the health and safety of family, friends and strangers around the world. The only down side to there being no sports is we can’t provide a much-needed escape from all that is going on today.

I’m reminded about how sports can bring people together in a time of need as well. This is a time of need. Right now, as the diamonds, courts and links are empty let’s think of better days to come, that should be helpful in getting as all through this awful time. 

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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