If you’re building a Mount Rushmore of current sports radio hosts, Boston’s Mike Felger is on it. But don’t tell him, because that’s the type of generic conversation Felger & Mazz try to avoid on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
After nearly two decades with The Boston Herald, Felger was tabbed by program director Mike Thomas to help launch The Sports Hub in 2009, partnering him with Tony Massarotti in afternoon drive. The show quickly made its mark, finding ratings success that is unheard of in sports radio.
Sure, it helps to have an equally unprecedented run of success from Boston’s sports teams, but that will only get you so far. When you’re able to generate numbers that approach a 20 share, the success is about more than just the market.
I spoke to four people in addition to Felger to get an understanding of how he operates as a radio host. Polarizing, opinionated, intelligent, genuine and hardworking were repeated in each of my conversations. His former boss Mike Thomas, current program director Rick Radzik, co-host Tony Massarotti and previous competitor from WEEI Michael Holley each offered insight.
Brandon Contes: Has being a sportswriter and reporter influenced how you create a radio show?
Mike Felger: Absolutely. Especially the kind of print I did which was tabloid journalism. When I worked at The Boston Herald it wasn’t just writing, it was digging up stories, headlines and drama. The way they approached sports writing was definitely conducive to sports radio.
BC: How much of your show is preplanned and organized?
MF: I’m kind of compulsive, but we pretty much program the entire show, all 16 blocks on an email in the morning. Obviously, there are times we need to change on the fly depending on the news, but generally speaking, every segment is on a rundown at the start of the day.
“He’s very smart and focused, he doesn’t miss a thing,” Mazz said. “His senses and awareness are acute and it allows him to pick up on things that not everyone will notice, but it’s invaluable in our business because it facilitates discussion.”
BC: For a journalist, everything goes through multiple filters before it gets to the public, so there’s time to course correct, but in radio, there’s no filter. Once you say it, it’s out there. Was that a difficult adjustment?
MF: Not for me. Sometimes it gets you in trouble, you can go too far and I’ve certainly had those days. You can have a bad take, a bad read on things that doesn’t get edited like you would at a newspaper and you get home at night, think back and say ‘well that wasn’t quite what I meant.’
“Mike’s way better at it than I am,” Mazz added. “He knows exactly how he wants to say something before he says it. Sometimes I don’t, so I’ll have to say it out loud, ‘that didn’t sound right, let me change it’ and that’s my backspace button. But the better way to do it is, say it right the first time and I haven’t perfected that art [Laughs].”
“If you write every day, you don’t necessarily need filters for your opinion,” Holley said. “Your opinion is refined. And if you’re not an idiot, you shouldn’t be concerned about going on the radio and sharing your opinion. Idiots should be afraid. If you go on the radio 20 hours a week, not everything will be perfect, but you can’t worry about being right.”
BC: Do you have a preference, print or radio?
MF: Radio is 10 times easier. It’s not even close. Every day I don’t have to write and report is like I’ve died and gone to heaven. It’s hard, and I really wasn’t good at it. The guys that do it now, developing sources, getting people to tell you something they don’t want to tell you, breaking news – those people are working. What we do on radio is easy compared to that.
BC: What about the need to have such conviction on radio, because again, when you’re writing, you can hide behind the curtain, but in radio the audience can tell if an opinion doesn’t sound genuine.
MF: Say something. Even if it’s wrong, just say something. There’s a lot of nuance with topics, but it’s a better discussion if you’re less nuanced and sports lends itself to that. There’s a scoreboard, you have a winner and a loser, someone makes the right play, someone makes the wrong play, someone makes the right trade or the wrong trade. There’s a reason they have that scoreboard and your commentary should reflect that.
BC: You were part-time with WEEI, then you went to 890 ESPN and it didn’t work. Now you have this opportunity in 2009 with another startup sports station at 98.5. If it didn’t work once, what made you think a new sports station would work the second time?
MF: The second one was far better positioned, but even if it wasn’t, even if it was another crappy AM signal with bad ownership, I probably would’ve taken the show. I have a habit of not turning down work. But this was a no-brainer, it was CBS Radio which was a huge radio company at the time with WFAN and other strong brands. It was an FM signal, they already had the Patriots and the Bruins. 890 didn’t have rights agreements, they had syndicated programming, a small signal and I sucked! It was my first hosting gig and I needed work. But hopefully, I became better in those few years.
“The best thing that happened to Mike was his stint with 890 ESPN,” Radzik said. “He went in there and learned how to do a radio show. He was a solo host, didn’t get a lot of calls, it was a weak signal, but it catapulted him from being a guest, to learning how to manage a show.”
BC: Even knowing how well The Sports Hub was set up, were you surprised how quickly it was able to not only make a dent, but pass an established brand like WEEI?
MF: Yes. I think everyone was. I certainly was. The goal when I took the job was to still have it three years later and get the show renewed. Beyond that, I would’ve said, hopefully within five years we have a real race, but it happened in 12-18 months.
“We captured lightning in a bottle,” Mike Thomas said. “We were the first to FM, the teams were doing really well. This city desperately needed a true second sports competitor, there’s a lot of things that came our way and we know we were very fortunate.”
“We thought our show could work, we wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” Mazz added. “I certainly didn’t expect it to grab hold as quickly and aggressively as it did, but there’s also a big aspect of being in the right place at the right time.”
BC: Does your mentality change at all when you pass EEI and now you’re the hunted, not the hunter?
MF: I think so. When we first started and EEI was so well-established there had to be a measure of counter programming. But I haven’t looked at it that way in a long time. I don’t know if that’s smart or stupid, but for quite awhile now, we do what we do, and it doesn’t matter what happens across the dial.
BC: Is there a risk of complacency? How do you avoid getting stale and letting the competition get bigger in the rearview mirror?
MF: One thing I’ve learned through all of this is, I just don’t think it matters what the other person does. And that’s not specific to EEI, it’s any radio station vs another. What matters is pumping out a good 12-minute segment, going to commercial and then doing another good segment. If the people listening stick through the break and stay for the full 12-minutes, that’s the only thing that matters to me. It’s about what you do to make your show better.
And with complacency, sure – you worry about everything. I certainly don’t think we have it all figured out, we’re going to evolve. So yes, I’m concerned with that. But I’m not concerned with what someone else is doing on the radio.
“Felger is a really hard worker and he’s also tough to copy because he’s authentic,” Holley said. “Some people play a character, but he doesn’t. This is who he is and that’s why he’s so effective. Early on, people thought he was going to get overexposed. But I told them no, because it’s not schtick. Schtick wears out. Predictability wears out. Felger is original and when he goes against the grain, you might not agree, but he can back it up and show his work.”
BC: Is your success more about the show, or more about the market? Because the ratings are unprecedented with shares in the mid-teens. Could Felger and Mazz be successful elsewhere?
MF: I do think it’s a show that could be successful in other markets, but the level of success you’re talking about has to do with a lot of factors. It’s the quality of the station, our morning show, our midday show, our management – which even though we’ve changed ownership it’s remained very strong. And it’s the town we’re in. 12 championships since 2000, 19 championship appearances. If you do a sports show in a town with this type of success, a good signal and strong shows all day long on your network and you don’t have ratings? You f***ing suck. Our success is a confluence of factors and not the least of which is Tony, Jim Murray, our producer Jimmy Stewart and everyone on the show.
Holley: “I remember my wife asking how we did, and I would say ‘sweetheart, we finished with a 9 this book and that’s really good.’ I would ask friends in other markets and they would say their best book is a 4 or 5, so I would lead with my 9. But then I’d have to tell them the other guys got a 16! And big picture, 25% of the market is focused on sports which is great, but as a competitor, you say ‘I just wish I could get a win!’ They’re a monster to compete against. I enjoyed competing against 98.5, but it was also humbling.”
BC: Will the Brady-less Patriots impact the station and the Boston sports market?
MF: I’d like to think the fanbase wasn’t just there for Brady and the Super Bowls, that they’re hardcore sports fans through thick and thin. That’s the case with some of the sports in Boston. The Bruins audience is smaller, but those fans stay consistent through the ups and downs. We’re going to find out about the Patriots fan, but I’d like to think we’ve become a football town and they’ll continue to be a massive force.
BC: As a New York fan, I see the Patriots without Brady and who knows what happens to the Red Sox as Major League Baseball attempts suicide. I wouldn’t mind if it’s the beginning of the demise for Boston sports.
MF: [Laughs] The country’s rooting for it. I don’t know if baseball can ever overtake the Patriots again. If the Pats fall off like you hope, I would look for the Celtics and the NBA to step up. It’s a hot product, it caters to young people and I think it has the broad interest that hockey doesn’t. Hockey is more intense and loyal, but the NBA has a lot of casual fans, which is good for business.
BC: Mike Thomas once called you the most polarizing person in Boston radio, do you agree?
MF: I feel like I’ve gotten wimpier as I’ve gotten older. I can’t rank it, I don’t know if I’m as polarizing as I used to be, but it’s not for me to say. But I think Felger & Mazz has a button pushing quality because my hate mail is still prodigious no matter what I say.
“I would much rather have somebody like Mike Felger where you occasionally need to say ‘we have to dial it back a bit’ than someone you need to push and challenge,” Thomas said. “Mike is self-motivated, he lives for sports radio and is clearly one of the best in the country at it. Maybe in his mind he thinks he’s getting softer, things happen when you turn 50, but I would never categorize Mike Felger as being soft.”
“The biggest thing that’s evolved for him is his reputation as just being a contrarian,” Radzik said. “I think he’s established himself as the number one sports talk show host in the country. You can disagree with him, you may not like his angle, but people have respect for his opinions because the audience has evolved with him.”
BC: Is it that you’ve gotten older or has society in general pushed you to get “wimpy.”
MF: I beat myself up over it, but I’m certainly a little gun shy. Two or three years ago, the Bruins got off to a really bad start. I went on this rant that they were ‘too young, they’re done, they can’t win.’ The team rebounded, made the playoffs and near the end of the season they ran a commercial replaying my rant to rub it in. Jimmy Stewart would say that crawled into my head and neutered me [Laughs]. I’m not really on Twitter or social media, but I feel it’s presence.
BC: What about the fact that social media is there, not just for you, but for everyone, waiting and even rooting for the chance to jump on any slip up.
MF: It’s dangerous. Dangerous times for sure. Maybe that’s another reason to not be polarizing. Maybe you just hit on one. Because there is someone out there trying to get you fired. For anyone writing, broadcasting or speaking in any way, shape or form, you make one mistake and that’s it. It gives you reason to just facilitate because you want to keep your job.
BC: As society becomes more politically correct, do you think that will deter polarizing personalities from entering the business because of the risk?
MF: Yeah, for sure. That’s really more for news commentators than sports commentators though because you should be able to have a bad sports take and not get fired.
Having a wrong sports take will get you pushback, and people will say you’re stupid, but I’d like to think it’s not going to get you fired the way a bad take on society might.
BC: What about the Roy Halladay comments, did that have an impact?
(When former MLB pitcher Roy Halladay died in a 2017 plane crash, Felger controversially mocked the incident.)
MF: You asked why have I softened a bit? Maybe that day is part of the reason. That was a bad day for me, a big mistake and I would never blame PC culture for that.
I was wrong. I don’t think about it every day, but it’s certainly affected my approach. There’s a line between polarizing and being offensive, it’s a challenge to find that line. You have a day like that where you go over the line and you’ll spend some time making sure you don’t get close again. There’s not many hard parts to this job, but that’s one.
BC: Do you discuss social issues right now with everything going on in the country and complaints about Boston specifically?
MF: We are as sporty a show as you can get, we’re 95% sports. But during this time, it’s crept in a little more. If we did it 5% of the time previously, maybe we do it 10-15% now. And whether I’m pro-left or right, I still get people yelling ‘stick to sports!’ Thank God I don’t have to talk about those topics on a regular basis because people are so bitchy about it. But how can you not hit on some of it right now? You can’t ignore the apocalypse.
BC: As a show that’s 95% sports, how have you done building the full 16-blocks without sports?
MF: It’s been challenging recently, the first month or so was simple because of Brady. Even if the pandemic never hit, most of March and April was going to be 80% Brady’s free agency, Brady going to Tampa, the Patriots next quarterback, the draft and free agency. It turned into 95% of the show, but we had football content until mid-May. Since then, it’s how are leagues going to come back? I’ve found it really interesting, but I acknowledge there’s only so much of that you can do. We definitely need a ballgame.
“Not everyone that comes to the Felger & Mazz show comes for sports,” Radzik said. “They come to be entertained, to laugh and be challenged. There’s an energy level, the show is fast paced, and you have to keep up. But if you have good chemistry you can entertain in different ways.”
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.