It’s not easy to change when you’re already in first place, but it’s the best way to avoid complacency. If you’re not growing and evolving, the people behind you will until they reach the top.
The Mike Valenti Show is winning on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit, but that didn’t stop the longtime afternoon host from vouching for his friend and colleague Rico Beard to join the show. Not only does Beard bring his sports talk prowess, but he adds perspective to a station that admits they’ve missed the mark in reflecting Detroit’s diversity.
Valenti had a more than decade-long run The Ticket alongside Terry Foster and was equally successful as a solo host for the last four years. But even being in first place, Valenti believes the timing is right for change.
Brandon Contes: As successful as your show already is, why did you want to add a co-host?
Mike Valenti: It gets skipped in the headlines, but we lost an incredibly valuable part of the show in Mike Sullivan, because he’s not your regular producer. I’m a big believer in the Howard Stern model of using multiple voices. And when Terry [Foster] retired, we didn’t want to rush putting someone in that chair. It would be disrespectful to the 13-year run we had. We created characters, David Hull “Hatchet Man,” Roberto and Mike.
Mike is an unbelievable producer, he’s really good on-air, he also had several clients on annual deals. So I have to replace the position, the on-air aspect and the revenue. I’ve been interested in Rico for a long time. It’s no secret that I’m friends with him, I’ve tried to get him hired at the station for years, and now the timing is right.
“When Mike called me about joining him at 97.1, I thought it was the setup to a joke,” Beard said. “I was shocked, Mike doesn’t need help, he’s got the number one show. But the statement that sold me was when he said ‘we always talk about coaches that lose their edge because they won’t evolve.’ Mike wants to evolve, he hasn’t had a co-host in four years. He’s going to push me, I’m going to push him, we’re going to get the best out of each other and take this show to a new level.”
“I’ve had Rico on the radar for quite some time, but we didn’t have the right opportunity available,” Brand Manager of The Ticket Jimmy Powers added. “Mike Sullivan’s departure created an opening that allowed us to bring Rico on board. Sullivan was a valuable contributor to the show who will be greatly missed, but I couldn’t be more excited to hear what Rico will bring. Rico is the perfect fit to step in and provide his bold opinions and perspective, which will be different than Mike’s.”
BC: Did you recognize the importance of creating more diversity on the radio station’s lineup so that when you look at the name and faces of each show it’s not just mostly white males across the board?
MV: That’s not lost on anybody, and to be fair, it’s an industry issue. I’m not going to put other stations on blast, but go over the roster on a lot of stations and it’s a problem. It’s great to be part of positive change, but bottom line, we’ve had our eye on Rico for a long time. Am I happy I’m the one to have Rico join my show? Of course, but now it’s about winning. We’re already number one, let’s win by more. Let’s not look at what we’ve done the last five years, let’s program for the next five.
“You want to see and hear from people who look like you,” Beard added. “Throughout the country, radio stations should reflect the community. Stations should open up to new experiences, hear different stories and ways. By doing that, radio can do what a lot of politicians can’t do and bridge the gap between cultures. When you listen to radio, you hear another person’s life and experience, maybe you can now sympathize and empathize with that person. The power of radio can be tremendous.”
BC: Is Detroit a passionate sports fanbase? From the outside looking in, I’ve never viewed the city like I do Boston, Philly or New York.
MV: Everybody knows I’m from back east and I’ve always had an affinity for New York City, those are my teams. But I’ve always said this is one of the five best sports cities in America. Chicago, Detroit, New York, Boston and Philly. I’ve been blessed to have a long, great career here and people always ask, ‘how come you haven’t left to do something else?’ I already have one of the five jobs, I really believe that.
We have four pro teams, plus Michigan and Michigan State. We’re not New York, but we’re on par from a content standpoint. Even with our teams being awful, the passion is there. It’s a cold weather city and the winter means you’re watching TV. If you’re watching TV, you’re watching sports.
BC: How have you done without sports the last few months and more importantly, how would your audience say you’ve done? When sports shut down, there were a lot of hosts saying, ‘this is a chance to be creative’ and ‘this will separate the great hosts,’ but four months later, would your listeners say you delivered?
MV: I think you’re seeing a lot of the industry get exposed. Sports stations and talent got comfortable with being a ‘sports guy’ and operating in that box. But that’s not really where radio needs to go, it’s not where content needs to go. Our job was never to just beat the other sports station. Our expectation is to beat everybody.
I’ve enjoyed this. Are there days I pull my hair out and say this is a little harder? Sure, but most days, I’m proud of our content and the fact that we have a dozen different things on our show sheet. I’m also different, I’m not afraid to get into non-sports conversations. I say the things I feel and back it up with rational thought and facts.
I’ve never been prouder of a particular ratings book than the one we just had. 89 days, not a single game, we’re still number one. Obviously I want sports back, but it’s been awakening to show people I can do a lot more than what you think I can do.
“When I was his PD and hired him, he was raw,” said Kevin Graham, Valenti’s first program director at The Ticket. “He was a sports guy who grew up listening to the WFAN model which is X’s and O’s sports. But he’s evolved over the years as his comfort level increased and ratings went up and he’s been encouraged by other PD’s to go outside the sports bubble, so I’m not surprised he’s continued to be successful during the pandemic.”
BC: Does national radio appeal to you? There’s more freedom to build a show whereas local you’re obligated to talk Tigers all summer.
MV: Last summer I may have talked Tigers four or five times, they were irrelevant in my world. If your teams are that bad, you can’t talk about them every day, so I operate as a national show. The national platform used to appeal more, but I think you’re seeing a shift where the national platform doesn’t have the cache it used to have. All of my content is available to everyone everywhere through RADIO.COM and different platforms.
There’s no way to replace local. If you want to hear about your teams or a familiar voice, this is the place that does it and each city has that place. For national, I’d have to be presented with an opportunity I haven’t seen yet, I would never say never, but it doesn’t get the juices going like it used to.
BC: How strong was the WFAN appeal when you did test shows with Evan Roberts and Chris Simms in 2017 while they looked for Francesa’s replacement?
MV: As strong as it can be. It’s a dream job! That was my dream growing up and it doesn’t always work out. We started talking about what things would look like and it just wasn’t a fit. I’ve built a hell of a business, a hell of a career here in Detroit and I value my listeners and this station. It’s going to take a lot to pull you away from that. I’m not 25 anymore. You lose some of those dreams where you used to think you would walk on hot coals to get that job. It has to be right for me, for my wife and for my career. But with WFAN, I would never have gotten on the plane if it wasn’t serious.
“I couldn’t have been happier for Mike!” Powers said, “WFAN is a station he grew up listening to, so I know it’s been near and dear to him for a long time. I am a big fan of people pursuing their dreams and am an advocate for people going after life changing opportunities and fulfilling their professional goals.”
BC: What’s your mindset when with a new co-host? Do you tone down your intensity? Or are you yourself and if they can’t keep up that’s on them?
MV: A lot of conversations have to go into it before you hit the button to go on-air. Whether it was with Evan or Chris, there were a ton of phone calls between us. But you have to be a version of who you are, otherwise you’re really not helping yourself or the person you’re doing the show with.
Part of the fun of building a new show is being able to bring different things out of your co-host. That’s what talent’s supposed to do, and I take pride in that. I’m excited to have that opportunity now with Rico. It’s like unwrapping a present, let’s go on this journey and see what we can come up with.
BC: I never listened to you before you did those shows on WFAN in 2017. I enjoy Evan Roberts as a host, but when he was with you, it sounded like he was trying to keep up. Your brand of radio is different and it was intense for July radio where the homerun derby is usually the biggest sporting event.
MV: [Laughs] Or whether the Yankees should trade for Lucas Duda.
I can’t speak for Evan and how he felt about it, but all eyes were on him when he had random pairings coming in there. What you heard is my general approach, when you look at the PPM world we live in, you only get so many minutes from a person in a week. If you’re not passionate, find something else to do, if you’re not going to bring energy, find something else to do. I take great pride in that and it also requires an ample amount of coffee.
BC: Do you ever listen back to your famous 2006 MSU rant?
MV: I’ve listened back a couple times in 15 years. But for me, I feel like I’ve done so much that is far superior to that. It makes you laugh that choking on applesauce is what you’re remembered for.
I think that rant resonated with people because whether you were a Lions fan, Spartans fan, Texas A&M, any team who just couldn’t get it done, you can relate. That rant was 20 years in the making. I came in the Monday after that game against Notre Dame and my producer attempted to talk to me about the show. I said I’ll handle it on-air. I didn’t even talk to Terry.
The funny part is people who think a rant like that is even possible to be scripted. I put bullet points on my show sheet, there are no index cards, binders or written out takes. It’s an asinine way to think guys can do this. Just go, just speak and the rest takes care of itself.
BC: With that ‘just go, just speak’ approach, is there concern for crossing a line? I know you’re not on social media, but there are people listening that are on Twitter and they’re on Reddit waiting for someone to say something they can attack.
MV: ‘Just speak,’ but you have to have your career flash before your eyes when you’re doing this job. I pride myself on the uncomfortable conversations, but you must always be keenly aware. I’m not concerned with things that are considered unpopular or people disagreeing, but we have to be mindful as human beings not to be hurtful, not to cross the line.
It’s a challenge, no one’s perfect and when you color near the lines, you may go outside the edge. I’ve made mistakes in my career, but I pride myself on how fast I go and how hard I attack. I like to think, my listeners would say ‘hey, he’s pretty damn mindful.’
You mentioned social media. Part of the reason I got rid of it in 2013 is that it’s just noise. It takes away from the artform. We could do a whole separate interview on the damage social media has done to this country. If I ran a station, I swear I would just have producers on social media, I would forbid it for my hosts. Just lock in and do the job. Guys are too damn concerned with thumbs up, likes, hearts and getting something from total strangers who might not even listen to the show. One of the best things I ever did was getting rid of all that garbage.
BC: You mentioned the damage social media has done to this country. With your personality and intense brand of radio, if you were 18 years old today in 2020 and you’ve seen social media ruin careers, would it deter you from entering the business?
MV: Truthfully, I have the worst personality in the world for this job off-air and I’ve got the best personality for it on-air. Off-air, I’m laid back, I don’t need attention or want the spotlight. It’s tough for me to go back to 18 because nothing was going to stop me. I never wanted to write for a magazine, I had no desire to be on TV. This is the only job I wanted and it goes back to the summer driving around with my dad, listening to FAN through static in Albany. So I’d like to think the noise wouldn’t have deterred me.
BC: From a host’s perspective, how does the station having rights partnerships with a pro team impact your show?
MV: No one is ever going to deny that when a team is chasing a championship it’s going to help your numbers. But I don’t think rights are nearly as important as they used to be. You have entire networks whose purpose is to make that content available, dice it up, put it out, and get hits on social.
The most dishonest thing out there are teams with their own websites hiring their own writers. It’s propaganda, not journalism. Teams would be better served by not caring what people say about them. Just win games. Win games and your problems go away. Instead, these teams would rather call a program director or host and complain about a random segment from the middle of July. Do me a favor, don’t lose eight out of 10. Just win!
BC: When the Lions left 97.1, how did it feel to have the support of the radio station and know they weren’t going to let a team censor you?
MV: It was fine by me. I couldn’t stand the team. They had some really unprofessional people working there. They have no clue. You have one playoff win since 1957, but I’m your problem?
I tried to play the game. I tried to broker a relationship. I tried to do the things you’re “supposed to do” in this business. And the minute you say something they don’t like, everything else is washed down the toilet. They’d complain if I wasn’t at practice. Why? So I can see people stretch? Get the hell out of here.
I think the future model is the Barstool mentality. We don’t need access to give you the content you want. People don’t care about game stories anymore. People want to talk about what they watched and what their feelings are. It’s my job to translate what some of the numbers mean and maybe why you’re feeling that way is or isn’t correct. The industry needs to move on from that classic egomaniac radio guy who says ‘I was in the room last night.’ Nobody cares buddy, this isn’t 1985.
“Mike and I have always differed on this, he thinks I’m wasting my time, but I like going to games and hearing from coaches and players,” said Beard. “I was taught that by the late great Drew Sharp – if you say something about a player or coach, it’s your responsibility to show up at the next game or press conference. I like to hear what happened because sometimes there might be a reason, a player can pull you aside and off the record tell you something they’re going through that will explain their performance.”
BC: Do you feel added pressure with Rico joining the show? You have a top-rated show and you vouched for him, but if ratings drop, the finger gets pointed at him just because he’s the new addition.
MV: I disagree with that. I think the target will always be on me. I don’t make any secret about it, I advocated for this move. If you buy the groceries and dinner doesn’t turn out well, it’s your fault. I’m so conditioned to the pressure of it all, I’m used to it. My biggest concern is you have to have a very honest conversation with whoever you do radio with. But specifically, if you have a relationship with that person, playtime is over. This is a business and if it doesn’t work out, we have to be adults about it.
He’s someone I care about immensely. He’s tight with me and my family, we genuinely like each other. You don’t want to see that go south, but sometimes, that’s the risk of it all. There’s always a chance that it doesn’t end well. Everybody in this game is hired to be fired, at some point the music will stop and my goal is to get out before they stop the music on me. But I like to think I know something about radio after all these years. A lot of people are going to be surprised by us because they haven’t been exposed to Rico. I like to think I’m pretty damn good at bringing out the best in people and I have confidence this will work.
“There’s more pressure joining a show that’s already established,” said Beard. “On a new show, you’re allowed mistakes, but joining a show that’s already number one, there’s nowhere to go but down. I told Mike I want this to be like the Warriors adding Kevin Durant. They didn’t need Durant, but he took them to a new level where it was unfair for the rest of the NBA. I’m not coming to this show to be Mike’s sidekick and his cheerleader, I’m coming to this show because I have my own opinions, thoughts and life experiences. I’m from southwest Detroit, I know this city, I know the fans’ passion and frustrations.”
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.