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If It Isn’t Safe And Not Really Baseball, Then What Is It?

“You won’t recognize the pandemic version of MLB, and the season likely won’t finish, but it does serve as a dystopian diversion from the non-stop tumult of life and sports.”

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What we’re about to experience, coronavirus permitting, are ballgames on mushrooms. It’s the best the pandemic can do to lift our battered beings from America’s daily morass, one that has left us alternately numb, angry and slap-happy. If NBA players aren’t being tested for recreational drugs in their Disney World Snitch Bubble, it’s only fair that fans get stoned as they warily enter the new sports twilight zone Thursday.

That’s when a COVID-19 testing site in Los Angeles, formerly known as Dodger Stadium, moonlights as an Opening Night TV studio.

Artificial crowd noise will be piped in from a video game and equipped with 75 effects and reactions, which is so typical of Major League Baseball, lying instead of embracing innovation and miking up players. Camera shots will be tight to avoid showing vacant caverns. The house organ and walk-up music will be eerie. And cardboard cutouts as fans? At least they won’t be hospitalized or killed by screaming foul balls, just pelted with holes. Wrigley Field looked like a vacant movie set Sunday night, sad and hollow, a reminder that sports never should take fans for granted in the live experience

But even if it seems like something Will Smith stumbled upon in “I Am Legend,’’ it’s still baseball of some sort. Not that it’s safe in the least, as underscored by the fears of Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, the most prominent of many players who’ve shuttled back and forth after battling the virus. “I was just scared to go to bed,’’ said Freeman, whose fever reached 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit. “I was scared if I spiked even higher when I was sleeping, what would happen.’’ He was scared of dying, but, hey, get your ass out there and play ball! DJ LeMahieu of the Yankees called his positive test “a scary experience’’ though he had no symptoms. Know this going in: Chances are, the 60-game season will be shuttered by outbreaks because, unlike Bubble life, players will be vulnerable to virus transmission in the 18 hours they aren’t at the park daily.

Blue Jays denied approval to play in Toronto - Bluebird Banter

The Canadian government is locking the Blue Jays out of Toronto, not wanting players to catch anything in the contaminated U.S. The geopolitical quagmire requires the club to play home games in … Buffalo? L.A. County still might force Dodgers players to quarantine 14 days — along with me and anyone else who lives here — if contact tracing so demands, meaning the World Series favorites would be at a competitive disadvantage in an area where more than 4,000 died last week from the virus. “It’s not going be to like anything else we’ve done,’’ said Clayton Kershaw, “but at the same time, we’re all going through it on an exactly level playing field.’’

Maybe not, big guy. How can MLB begin to stage a realistic season if the logistical field is uneven? Answer: the $4 billion that owners are frantically trying to recoup from desperate broadcast networks, with Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf — a man for whom few feel sorry — telling USA Today he has incurred losses “in the nine figures’’ from his MLB and NBA franchises. The face of baseball, Mike Trout, probably won’t play much, if at all, prioritizing his wife’s August pregnancy. Other major names are staying home; more will join them in coming weeks. Rosters will be so depleted, the season could become illegitimate before they even juice the balls. And given how the so-called commissioner, Rob Manfred, has been an abysmal failure in normal times, imagine what chaos awaits amid a health crisis. Yet, bastardized as it all is, we’re going to try and watch these games, if only for a few days, because, you know, we need a friggin’ escape hatch.

From life.

Oh, how we need a diversion from mask warfare, Daniel Snyder, the disturbing notion of Black anti-Semitism, the sin of athletes getting quick test results when many commoners cannot, a vomit-inducing NFL labor battle over still-absent virus protocols, wealthy coaches who push for a college football season while asking unpaid young men to assume health risks, the continuation of insensitive nicknames after “Redskins’’ was purged, the hypocrisy of prospective Mets owner Alex Rodriguez advocating an MLB salary cap after earning $450 million during his playing career, Tiger Woods’ balky back, upheaval in the media world and the creep who secretly recorded Rachel Nichols in her hotel room, the latest bit of madness from the burning house of ESPN, which actually seems nuttier than the White House.

“America needs baseball,’’ declared the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell.

As his approval ratings wane, Trump has found a new scapegoat in Dr.  Anthony Fauci

Actually, America needs baseball to get away from President Trump, who created this godforsaken medical mess even as he tries to blame and stonewall the good doctor, Anthony Fauci. I’m not sure anyone cares what happens in these ballgames, but at least we have something to watch on ESPN, which actually ran two Eagles concerts in prime time, channeling Zach Ertz through Joe Walsh.

And America needs to get away from the evil Snyder, who finally faces a national reckoning as the derelict NFL owner who flouted a racist nickname and allowed a culture of sexual harassment and piggery. Somehow, in the nation’s capital, he employed enough cavemen in his hierarchy to prompt 15 women to voice serious allegations, leading to numerous firings in another dark moment for the Washington franchise. Alex Santos was dismissed as pro personnel director after Rhiannon Walker, a reporter for The Athletic, accused him of inappropriate advances, telling her she “had a little wagon for an ass’’ and that she “wore the f— out of the jeans’’ she wore one day. In what world is a man like this allowed to be gainfully employed?

Snyder’s world.

In his usual weenie way, he recruited a female lawyer, Beth Wilkinson, and empowered her firm “to do a full, unbiased investigation and make any and all requisite recommendations.’’ Then he recruited his wife, Tanya, to co-draft an apology that was emailed to all employees, saying the details in a Washington Post report have “no place in our franchise or society.’’ But it’s hard to believe an owner, even one as clueless as Snyder, didn’t have some idea of the toxic climate in his front office. As the man responsible for such abuses, Snyder should be forklifted out of his perch by league owners. That won’t happen; Snyder was not accused directly in the allegations, and the influential Jerry Jones, for one, is a Snyder pal who has indulged in his own piggery.

Though the league condemned the franchise in a statement — saying the alleged behavior is “serious, disturbing and contrary to the NFL’s values’’ — expect a fat fine, which is a wrist slap for a billionaire whose team is worth $3.1 billion. Settlements with victims will cost Snyder considerably more, and if he were smart, he would sell the team before he botches the next nickname. He’s fortunate to have a respected fixer in Ron Rivera, who is running the football operation and coaching the team and produced the defining quote of the debacle.

“My daughter works for the team,’’ he said, “and I sure as hell am not going to allow any of this!”

Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson and others rip NFL over lack of clarity  ahead of season - Republic World

But then, the NFL is too busy playing loose and free with COVID-19, announcing that a couple of thousand players are due in training camps next week. There isn’t a health protocol in sight, a frightening thought in a close-contact sport with no chance of physical distancing, prompting players — including the increasingly vocal Patrick Mahomes — to blast the league in a tweeting ambush. “The league is in charge of opening and closing the plant. We ask, `Is it safe?’ ‘’, said J.C. Tretter, president of the NFL Players Association. “It’s up to the NFL to make those decisions on when we open. Every decision we make that doesn’t look at the long term of getting through the whole season will set us up for failure.’’ All of which is code for ugly negotiations ahead. I’d be shocked to see an NFL season.

Same goes for college football, with LSU coach Ed Orgeron declaring this during a roundtable discussion with — how’s this for a duo? — Vice President Mike Pence: “We need to play. This state needs it. This country needs it. This (the coronavirus) can be handled. I don’t think we can take this away from our players, take this away from our state and our country. We need football. Football is the lifeblood of our country.’’

America doesn’t need football. America needs to get well, to keep ICU beds from filling up, to stop people from dying. But don’t tell Coach O. He and Dabo Swinney think they’re bigger than any old pandemic.

Tensions also are inevitable inside the NBA Bubble, where players and coaches accustomed to the best in life are isolated for weeks and months. The Snitch Line — the league’s anonymous hotline used to report those breaking protocol — already is causing problems, with Dwight Howard upset to have received more attention for not wearing a mask and being the only player at a league party than social injustice crimes. “Breonna Taylor, the people who did the heinous incident against her, they’re still free,” said Howard, who had thought about not joining the Lakers in Orlando. “They’re out there living their best life. Instead of worrying about if I have my mask on or not, that’s something we should be discussing. Why haven’t these people been brought in? Why haven’t they been charged for anything or arrested for what they’ve done? Instead of the topics being about who’s not wearing a mask in the bubble, who was at the DJ party, who wasn’t — all of these things seem entertaining. But we’re not going to forget about what’s going on around our world.

Lakers News: Dwight Howard Reflects On Playing In Orlando | SportsCity.com

“Those cops, one of the cops just posted a picture of himself at the beach. How could you have a conscience? You just killed somebody. And you’re out at the beach with women. You killed a woman. And you’re out at the beach with some more women having a good old time. You know, that’s not right. There’s families out there mourning, white and black who’ve been killed by cops. Been killed through different things. The topic of discussion is who doesn’t have a mask on and people snitching. Let’s not forget why we are here.’’     I echo his thoughts. Still, Howard must wear a mask.

Without much to cover since March, the sports media industry has gone gnarly, too, turning on each other within their own companies. We realize ESPN can be a petty place, but what prompted someone, presumably employed by the network, to record Nichols in her hotel room inside the NBA Bubble and send the audio to a sleazy site? This wacknut was trying to sabotage Nichols, host of “The Jump’’ program, and portray her as a backstabber as she discussed company affairs, including broadcasting assignments for the NBA postseason. Again, in what world is such a person allowed to be gainfully employed?

ESPN’s world. This in a week when the network’s NBA insider, Adrian Wojnarowski, was suspended without pay for only two weeks after sending a “F— you’’ Woj Bomb to a Missouri senator. Insane place, Bristol. Anyone running the joint? Other major media organizations are dealing with internal coups, including the New York Times and L.A. Times, where the sports staff crafted a letter to the executive editor, Norman Pearlstine, outlining what it sees as ethical issues involving columnist Arash Markazi. The Times hired Markazi to emphasize, among other millennial subjects, social media — making him more Billy Bush than Bill Plaschke, which didn’t go over well with old-school writers and editors. Nor did it humor them that Markazi was getting more media attention than most of those old-schoolers, including praise from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who lauded him for losing 130 pounds.

The signees say Markazi’s work habits “negatively affected reporters’ relationships with the people, teams, and leagues that we cover, as well as our peers. During this time of deep newsroom reflection, we feel compelled to demand action in response to these transgressions. At stake here is not only the integrity and credibility of the sports staff, but of the entire Los Angeles Times.”

Arash Markazi - Los Angeles Times

Key question: If The Terminator calls on Markazi’s behalf, will Pearlstine side with him or the sports staff?

While on leave, Markazi always can mask up and help Chico Herrera in the Dodger Stadium outfield. Who is Chico Herrera? He’s the clubhouse attendant who played left field during an intrasquad scrimmage, actually throwing out Chris Taylor at second base on a deep fly ball.

And why was Chico out there to begin with?

Because too many of the Dodgers were in quarantine.

BSM Writers

Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”

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After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure.  In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.

“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM.  “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”

Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube.  The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.

It all came together very quickly. 

“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”

The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday.  The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.

“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber.  “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television.  For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment.  So far, I’m having a ball.”  

And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.

A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels. 

“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber.  “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel.  Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”

The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career.  He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.

Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests.  And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.

Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.

“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber.  “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up.  It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there.  The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”  

There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.

For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to. 

“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber.  “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation.  I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that.  I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”  

Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing.  A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio.  For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.

The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.

“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber.  “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about.  I was doing a five-hour radio show.  It’s too long. That’s crazy.  Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.” 

Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore.  The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.

Kind of like Adam The Bull!

“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber.  “But the game has changed.”

Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms.  The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.

I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.

Bull can certainly relate to that.

“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle.  “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device.  It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.” 

With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business.  In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month.  But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.

“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber.  “I still love radio.  I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation.  I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”

The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve.  Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.

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BSM Writers

I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday

“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”

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Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.

The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.

  1. How many games will the home team win?
  2. What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
  3. Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?

Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?

I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.

Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.

Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.

I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.

Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.

I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.

Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.

Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.

And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.

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BSM Writers

Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content

“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”

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It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.

TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in. 

Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.

TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan. 

Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!

This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours. 

So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success. 

Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video. 

If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point. 

Other simple tricks

  • Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video. 
  • 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time. 
  • Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video) 
  • Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.  
  • Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video. 
  • Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound. 

Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well. 

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