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There’s Nobody Else Out There That’s Keyshawn Johnson

“For the people who question my experience, what are you talking about? This is what I do.”

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For the first time in more than two decades, Mike Golic won’t be part of ESPN Radio’s lineup as the network launches a new morning show featuring Keyshawn Johnson, Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti.

Set to debut Monday, Aug. 17, the new show announcement was met with some surprise and little outside support. But if ESPN chose to replace Golic with hosts who were more familiar with their radio brand, the response would’ve included “same recycled talent.” And when ESPN instead announced hosts who are new to their national radio brand, it’s still greeted with skepticism.

While Keyshawn Johnson might be new to a national morning radio show, he’s not new to radio, media or the grind. After an eleven-year pro football career, nearly a decade on NFL Countdown, and spending the last four years as a morning radio host on 710 ESPN LA, Johnson’s resume backs his new opportunity.

Keyshawn Johnson - ESPN Press Room U.S.

Brandon Contes: You already had a successful radio show in Los Angeles, a major market and your home city. Was it difficult to move across the country to launch a new show with new co-hosts?

Keyshawn Johnson: Not extremely difficult, I felt like this is what was meant to be. Our show in Los Angeles was different, but I believe we had the best morning show in the country. We weren’t a national show, but we had plenty of people listening on the podcast and the app.

When this opportunity with the network presented itself, I talked it over with my family and was met with some resistance, but we all agreed this was the best move. I get to do the morning show, but it also became more than just that because I’ll be contributing on television to ESPN and NFL Live, so it was a package deal.

BC: How did you feel the new show announcement was received publicly?

KJ: As far as I know it was received fine. Everybody has their own opinions. If you’ve been listening to Mike and Mike or Golic and Wingo for years, you’re going to form your own opinions about what’s next. A lot of people are misinformed, I think they thought ESPN was just putting together a group of guys that never did radio or media.

BC: That was interesting because there were some people questioning the new show and I saw Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo was even critical. You fired back on Twitter a bit, but it did seem like people just didn’t realize you were doing a radio show for years – you’re not new to this industry.

KJ: People are misinformed and they speak that misinformation, that’s what’s wrong with sports journalism. They just say things. For the people who question my experience, what are you talking about? This is what I do. [Mad Dog] made a mistake. He’s entitled to his own opinion, but whatever. I didn’t listen to him when I was here and I don’t listen to him now.

BC: Maybe not Mike and the Mad Dog, but did you follow local media, pay attention to headlines and talk radio at all when you were playing?

KJ: I did, I listened because I thought it was important to be aware of what’s going on in your surroundings.

BC: Did you always know media was going to be your second career?

KJ: Yea, I think so. I went straight from the field to Countdown. It happened immediately and I knew then that this is what I was going to wind up doing.

BC: I’m curious about when you interviewed Dwayne Jarrett at the ’07 Draft. Because you were still under contract with the Panthers. They draft a receiver out of USC, did you have any concern during that interview that you might get cut?

KJ: I wasn’t worried about that. I could have kept playing. I had offers, but I didn’t want to play football anymore. I even told our GM in Carolina, Marty Hurney that it was probably going to be my last year and you might want to draft somebody, so I wasn’t stunned. The rest of the sports media world might have been, they were all yelling about it, but I already told the team I had one foot in and one foot out. ESPN already offered me a deal to do Countdown on Mondays because the Panthers didn’t have a Monday Night Football game on the schedule that year, so I was going to fly in for that every week even if I played another year.

BC: Is there a competitive aspect to radio and media that you can tap into as a former athlete?

KJ: I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s competitive because there’s nobody else out there that’s me, there’s nobody that’s any of my co-hosts. Everybody has their own opinion on how to do something, how to host a show. You’ll hear people say, ‘they’re not that good,’ and you’ll also hear people say ‘they’re really good.’ Everyone has a different opinion, so I don’t get caught up in the hype. But as far as I’m concerned, nobody can touch me because I’m going to give you the real stuff, the real facts. I’m not just talking from the hip.

BC: How much do you pay attention to your radio competition, do you know much about FOX Sports Radio and Clay Travis who you’ll go up against nationally every morning?

KJ: I really don’t. I’m sorry to say, I honestly don’t and I really don’t care. It doesn’t mean anything to me. Somebody can be loud, but just because you’re screaming doesn’t mean you’re right. You can scream and be condescending, I learned about Trey, what did you say his name was?

BC: Clay Travis

KJ: Trey Travis?

BC: Clay Travis

KJ: Clay – Travis

BC: Yea, there ya go. [Laughs]

KJ: I kept thinking his name was Trey or Travis, I really only just heard of him when I took the job. Apparently, he said something on social media? And one of the guys I worked with in L.A. told me about it. I asked who he was and they explained he’s some dude on FOX that wants attention. That’s fine, good for him.

BC: How about local radio competition, like Boomer and Gio on WFAN in New York. Will you pay attention to what other shows and markets are doing?

KJ: I do what I do. They’re going to pay attention to us. I don’t need to pay attention to them because I don’t have problems telling the truth, telling facts, getting guests and not being one-sided. We’re going to be different, we’re going to be real.

BC: What about going from local radio to national. Before it was just L.A., now you have so many markets you’re trying to appeal to. How do you filter through all of the different topics? 

KJ: It’s going to be challenging, but we’re going to talk about the big picture and in doing that we’ll also hit on the local stuff. We’ll talk about all the New York teams, Jets, Giants, Yankees, Nets, Knicks, Mets, Rangers. We’re going to follow L.A., Chicago, Dallas, Cleveland, Florida, and we’ll hit on what the big topics are. We’re not talking about a guy who gets a traffic ticket in Nebraska, we know what’s in the news and what we need to talk about.

BC: A lot of the early success of your show will be dependent on football. If there’s a season, it naturally generates more fan interest in sports media, do you expect there to be a season?

KJ: All sports will impact our show, but if the pandemic takes it away, we can still talk sports. There’s still plenty to give insight and information on. Just because there isn’t a game being played, doesn’t mean we can’t have a sports conversation. And I think the NFL is going to play.

BC: Would you be comfortable playing under the circumstances?

KJ: Yea, I think I would be.

BC: Are you comfortable hosting a sports radio show without sports? How were the last few months on ESPN LA?

KJ: It was great, we had a blast. We created things to talk about around sports. Whether it was something to do with the pandemic, the teams in the bubble, whether players would venture out.

I took the side that players wouldn’t leave the bubble to go look for extracurricular activities. I had the other guys and Stephen A. Smith coming on the show to say I was crazy. But we made it a fun discussion. We talked about players versus the owners in Major League Baseball and their money issues. We had a conversation about Roger Goodell’s apology, but not really an apology to Kaepernick. There’s always something to have an opinion about.

BC: Is national radio more or less conducive to venturing away from sports?

KJ: It’s all about who the hosts are. Typically, I don’t think a lot of hosts are comfortable talking about social issues. Because the majority of them haven’t had to go through social issues and they shy away from having those conversations.

BC: That’s an interesting point, especially in an industry that is largely white male dominated.

KJ: It has been largely dominated by white males, but hats off to Norby Williamson and Dave Roberts and their willingness to go in a different direction.

BC: Dan Le Batard, as talented and entertaining as he is, there are people who think he might be better suited for the digital space because he doesn’t stick to sports as much as the ESPN and Disney brand might like. Has ESPN conveyed that to you and had conversations about sticking to sports?

ESPN's Dan Le Batard offers details on return to air, other news | Miami  Herald

KJ: No, and for what it’s worth I don’t know enough about what Dan does to have a conversation about it. But I know I’m not here to talk about major political issues because that’s out of my wheelhouse, but I will certainly talk about social justice, police brutality and Black Lives Matter. I will certainly discuss those things as they continue to be involved in my community. No one’s going to muzzle me from that.

BC: How should a sports radio show sound to you?

KJ: It should sound authentic. It should sound real. Fans and listeners should be able to know who you are, get to know you personally. When they roll up on me, I want them to feel good about who I am.

BC: How do you take over for someone like Mike Golic who was in this spot for 22 years?

KJ: Just do our part to be ourselves. That’s all we can really focus on.

BC: Did you know your new co-hosts Jay Williams and Zubin Mehenti at all before this?

KJ: I didn’t know them at all, but I’ve worked with a lot of people. I didn’t work with Chris Berman and Tom Jackson who were together for decades when I got to Countdown, but we didn’t miss a beat. I don’t know why the decision makers decided to blow up that show when they did, but it definitely wasn’t me. Same with LZ, Travis and Jorge Sedano at ESPN LA, I didn’t work with them until we started the show, but I think we did just fine.

BC: Tony Romo was on the Cowboys during your two years in Dallas right?

KJ: Yea, he was on the team, but he didn’t play.

BC: Did you have any idea back then that he had the personality to become the media star he is now?

KJ: I never thought about it. He was just on the practice squad, but I used to hang out with him a bit and take care of him. I had floor seats to the Mavericks and I would give him tickets sometimes. But he’s really good at doing games, and that success is great for him.

BC: Did you have interest in Monday Night Football or being a game analyst somewhere?

Keyshawn Johnson believes Teddy Bridgewater should start Week 1

KJ: No, no. On television, I like the studio. I got a pretty face. 

BSM Writers

The Craig Carton/FanDuel Deal Is Undeniably A Good Thing

“Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better.”

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Craig Carton is destined to forever be a polarizing figure in the world of sports media. Long before he was arrested, he had plenty of detractors that considered him less of a talk show host and more of a shock jock. Add to it a conviction for his role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors in order to pay back gambling debts, and it is clear that the guy’s approval rating will never hit 100.

Charities of disgraced shock jock Craig Carton say he let them down; lawyer  calls it a 'gross misunderstanding' - New York Daily News
Courtesy: New York Daily News

There are understandable reasons not to like a guy and then there are grudges. Grudges don’t have to be personal. They don’t have to spring from some sort of affront. They can easily be born out of feeling like someone has figured out a way to live a life above the rules and free of consequence for their awful actions.

Grudges can (and often do) blind us to reality. I think that is a big part of what is happening when people point to Craig Carton’s new deal with FanDuel and say that there is something wrong with it.

If you missed the announcement last week, Carton is joining FanDuel as the company’s first “responsible gaming ambassador.” He will create content about gambling responsibly and also work with FanDuel engineers to create AI to spot problem gambling patterns. The deal gives Craig Carton a seat at the table with one of the biggest mobile sportsbooks in shaping their responsible gaming policy. Isn’t that a good thing?

I probably cannot convince you to view the guy in any particular light. When it comes to former inmates being rehabilitated and getting a second chance, we tend to be very dug in with our opinions, whatever may influence them.

Undeniably, Carton did a bad thing. Swindling people out of huge chunks of money is always bad. In America, it somehow seems worse. As costs of living increase and wages remain flat, every dollar is accounted for and allotted to something for most of us. The guy should be ashamed of himself. And here’s the thing: he clearly is.

Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better. Hell, what other station in America dedicates any time at all, even just a half hour on the weekend, to issues of addiction and recognizing problem habits? This deal with FanDuel seems perfectly in line with his previous attempts to atone.

Hello, My Name Is Craig
Courtesy: Audacy

You don’t have to like Craig Carton, but you do need to acknowledge that everything he has done in terms of highlighting his problem with gambling and offering help to those that he sees a little bit of his own struggles in has been sincere. There is no reason to believe it isn’t.

Under the terms of the deal, not only will Carton advise and create content for FanDuel, but the company will also make sure Hello, My Name is Craig finds a bigger platform. You can be cynical and say that this is just part of a bigger deal between FanDuel and WFAN parent company Audacy, but FanDuel’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Raffensperger explained that it is good for the gaming industry to promote betting responsibly.

“I think what we recognize we needed is to add some humanity as to how we get this message across,” he said when explaining why Carton was the perfect face for this campaign.

We see it every time we post a story about sports betting. Someone will comment that it is an evil practice and that the advertising has made sports radio disgusting. The reality is that it is no different from alcohol. For most people, it is harmless. Plenty though, cannot handle it. Still, you tell me the first time you hear an ad break on sports radio or see a commercial break during a game without a beer commercial.

If you really believe sports gambling is evil and want people to stay away from mobile or physical sportsbooks, who do you think the ideal person to be delivering that message is?

You can go with the puritan approach of tisk-tisking strangers and telling them they are flawed people that are going to Hell or you can have a guy that has literally lost it all because of his addiction out front telling you “I know I cannot place a bet and here is why. If that sounds familiar, maybe it is time for you to seek help.” It seems pretty obvious to me that the latter approach is exactly what Raffensperger is talking about – using humanity to reach the people they need to.

Craig Carton committed a crime. A court of law said he had to pay for that both with restitution to his victims and with jail time. He served his time. Deals like this one with FanDuel make it possible for him to stay on schedule with the restitution payments. Even if you think he is unforgivable, that should make you happy, right?

It is admittedly strange to see a mobile sportsbook hire a “responsible gaming ambassador.” I would argue though that it is only strange because it isn’t something we have seen before. Be skeptical if you are the “I’ll believe it when I see it” type, but I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to congratulate and celebrate both Craig Carton and FanDuel.

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BSM Writers

Sports Radio America: The Starting Point When There Is No College Radio

“If we want to replace talent with talent, we have to develop talent at the lowest levels much more than asking for requirements at the highest levels. Every industry needs their farm-system.”

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It is a laboratory. A place to make mistakes. A spot to make friends. The hub of many communications schools. College radio stations are the pipeline by which young, aspiring broadcasters, engineers and producers carve their path to the pros. Broadcasters from around the United States credit college radio for helping them get to where they are today, and view it as a conduit for the next generation of talent.

“I can’t speak highly enough about my college experience doing radio,” said Evan Wilner, senior radio producer at ESPN and former member of WRHU-FM at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. “I realized in college that I am much better at fixing things rather than talking while other people tried doing something about it. Every place I’ve been, I feel like I’ve been ahead of the game because of the experience I got in college.”

Evan Wilner (@WilnerRadio) | Twitter

Wilner’s story is far from unique among professionals in broadcasting today, and proves valuable in ascertaining the role college radio plays in preparing broadcasters in their journey. Travis Demers, the radio play-by-play voice of the N.B.A.’s Portland Trail Blazers, shares a similar sentiment regarding the opportunities college radio afforded him, and how it helped him work in the industry he had a nascent passion for.

“In sixth grade, I was listening to WFAN, and when I realized I wasn’t going to be a professional baseball player, I started [radio] right away as a college freshman.”

Demers attended LIU Post in Brookville, N.Y. beginning in 1999, and eventually served as the sports director of WCWP-FM. In his time at the station, Demers was given numerous opportunities to broadcast football, basketball and lacrosse games on campus, eventually leading to an internship, and corresponding full-time job, at ABC Radio in New York City.

“Everything I could do specifically with sports is what I was trying to do right from the start,” reminisced Demers, “and I was fortunate enough to do that.”

Dan Zangrilli, who serves as a play-by-play announcer at West Virginia University and host of the M.L.B.’s Pittsburgh Pirates’ pre- and post-game shows on 93.7 The Fan, got his start in college radio at Clarion University in Clarion, P.A. The 4,000-watt WCUC 91.1 FM was Zangrilli’s place to get practice broadcasting live basketball games, and hosting a morning talk show.

Dan Zangrilli (@DanZangrilli) | Twitter

“I had free reign; it was basically like my easel,” elucidated Zangrilli. “I started out as a freshman and became the sports director, and ascended to the general manager position by my junior year. That’s just such invaluable experience to be immersed in every aspect of the radio industry, and I wouldn’t trade that place for anything.”

 In a media landscape full of changes accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lifespan of college radio as a subset of the industry is at greater risk of being classified as ephemeral than ever before, a harrowing realization that one former operations manager for a mortgage company had in Memphis, Tenn. had just over a decade ago.

Ayokunle Spencer, a graduate of the University of Memphis and former paralegal, was working for the Rawlings Company in Louisville, Ky., when he happened to overhear a conversation that forever changed his life. One of his co-workers was apprehensive about how his daughter, set to graduate from the University of Louisville, would leave as the school’s radio station would be shut down due to a lack of funding. At the onset of the 2008 economic recession, college radio stations were slashed from budgets around the country, stymying the development of prospective talent and rendering vagabonds heavily involved, and invested, students. Forsaken from the ability to develop the skill set and collect the air checks needed to land a job in the industry, Spencer decided it was time to make a concerted effort to resuscitate an ostensibly-dying concentration of the evolving medium.

“When the need presented itself… we [tried to] put something together [to give] people opportunities to sharpen the skills, and develop the next broadcast talent,” said Spencer. “We posted on the message boards at the colleges and, in about a year’s time, there was an influx of different students we were getting a chance to work with.”

Sports Radio America was founded by Ayokunle Spencer in 2008 as a digital broadcasting network intended to give college students attending universities without a campus radio station the chance to polish their on-air skills and perfect their craft. A member of the jazz-format WUMR while attending the University of Memphis, Spencer had previous experience in pitching up-and-coming hip-hop and R&B artists to local radio stations, including the likes of All-Star and Yo Gotti, through his promotional company and record label, Dynasty Digital Entertainment. Progressive in his thinking, Spencer was one of the first to stream radio broadcasts on the Internet, assisting Bishop G.E. Patterson in the dissemination of a small, A.M. religious station to the masses.

“Radio was always a passion for me as a kid,” said Spencer, “but I always took steps towards that passion before the University of Memphis. I felt, at that time, I was more at the forefront of what was going to come next. I wrote a paper that the Internet would be the place for media in thirty years, and twenty-five years later, I think I was dead on with that one.”

Conceived by means of necessity, Sports Radio America is a haven for young talent, broadcasting live games and talk radio shows on the Internet. The outlet, though, became more of a potpourri of commentators and journalists alike in order to help them evolve to the dynamic world of mediated communication.

“What it started out to be isn’t necessarily what it is now, although I want to get back to those roots of working with highly-talented students and getting them prepared for the next stage of their careers,” said Spencer. “Other journalists that were leaving FOX or ESPN, or older guys that had gotten kicked out of their radio stations because they didn’t know anything about digital, they ended up here. It kind of became a collage of different broadcasters and media personalities from around the U.S.”

As Sports Radio America celebrates its 10-year anniversary, Spencer remains focused on positioning the media venture ahead of the pack, cogently aware of industry changes and best practices to help its broadcasters land jobs and the company prosper after unforeseen circumstances over the previous year-and-a-half.

PsalmStream

“We just came through COVID, and in terms of advertising, all that stuff was crushed,” explained Spencer. “We are kind of almost in a rebuild mode now. We give people the opportunity to create something new, build up your audience and see if something works.”

Once Sports Radio America’s popularity began to grow around the country, the broadcasting outlet, to avoid being overwhelmed with participants, began interviewing and selecting talent to join them. Throughout his professional career, Spencer has had an innate ability to evaluate talent across all industries, something he calls “a God-given gift.” In his current role, which he compares to a professional football scout, one of Spencer’s jobs is to find the best people to join Sports Radio America, and help them get to where they want to go.

“The way my brain processes information, I can just tell certain people in certain things are creative enough to meet industry standards and excel,” said Spencer. “In sports radio, I evaluate voice, how interesting they are in being able to hold a conversation, the topics they pick out, etc. It’s really the only gift I think I actually have.”

Spencer has been successful in helping aspiring collegiate-level industry talent get the experience they need, with his organization serving as the pipeline many colleges have come to eliminate from their campuses. His method of evaluating talent aligns with principles employed by current hiring managers and industry professionals, such as Nick Cattles, host of The Nick Cattles Show on ESPN Radio 94.1 in Virginia Beach. Cattles highly values relatability and uniqueness in his evaluations of talent, along with if they are able to keep a listener actively engaged in their program.

“I think hosts around the country are better off when they allow themselves to be an open book,” said Cattles. “I always listen, probably more intently, to somebody who is willing to give the ‘secrets’ so to speak as opposed to somebody who is more guarded. The cool thing about radio is that there are so many talented people, and there is no one way to do it right. You try to find people who can do it their own way with the passion and the work-ethic that you can invest and believe in.”

Hardly esoteric in understanding, radio, and media altogether, is changing, and seismically in that matter. With today’s reliance on digital platforms for distribution, programs are, evidently, being adapted to fit the proclivities of the listening audience, including a shortening total attention span.

In a recent study by Microsoft, the average human being has an attention span of eight seconds, down a whopping four seconds over the last twenty years. This figure, which is shorter than that of a goldfish, is a direct byproduct of the principle of instant gratification, and the evolution of technology to enable its propagation. The inability to sustain focus has become an endemic in today’s society, and mediums of communication have had to adjust to fit this dynamic psychological paradigm.

Illegally introduced goldfish discovered in multiple Rock Springs–area  ponds - Casper, WY Oil City News
Courtesy: Shutterstock

Furthermore, consumers of mass media are more apt than ever before to selectively filter information; that is, specifically choosing what to concentrate on. As a result, media, in all of its forms, is less concentrated in scope, being narrowed to appeal to the target audience. The conflation of methodologies, simultaneously existing within a preponderance of content and a widening definition as to just who is considered to be a journalist, challenges the fundamental precept of what media is entirely. So how is radio adapting in this new landscape? By expanding its means of dissemination.

“It’s much more multi-faceted, social media-oriented and digital as opposed to [it being] siloed, [as it was] when I got into it,” said Brad Carson, operations and brand manager of 92.9 FM ESPN and Audacy Memphis Sports. “It used to be that you were a radio guy. Now in 2021, you are getting people that are entertainers. The latest joke is, ‘Hey, here’s our latest talent with one million TikTok followers.’ I think you can get people on a radio station or on our Audacy platforms from all walks of life. It’s a much more inexact science than [ever before].”

Spencer, whose progressive thoughts on the media landscape are openly conveyed in conversation, believes the introduction of streaming to be a considerable advancement that can play across multiple platforms. Unsurprisingly, he was ahead of the game at Sports Radio America, basing the online platform on this technology.

“The market for audio is always going to be there. The question is what medium we are going to use to deliver it,” said Spencer. “Everything will probably be streaming by 2030. I think that there will still be the public channels on the airwaves, but the majority of media will be consumed [via] streaming because [it is] a more accurate [platform] to measure who is listening. Whatever the next area of audio is, we will probably start it here first.”

Based on my conversations with these industry professionals, it is safe to say that Ayokunle Spencer, Brad Carson, Travis Demers, Evan Wilner, Dan Zangrilli and Nick Cattles attribute their college radio experience as one of the reasons they possess the skills to succed in their current jobs. Being able to have the flexibility to make mistakes, try new things and establish long-lasting professional relationships are invaluable to ambitious young broadcasters, and all evolving broadcasters for that matter. Belonging to a college media outlet is undoubtedly something many students savor, with many largely basing their choice of college on the quality of the media outlets if they are so fortunate. However, not all ambitious young broadcasters are equally privy to the same resources.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters are able to provide sufficient previous experience when trying to secure an internship or a job.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters are privy to changing industry trends, nor do they have the resources to render them an understanding as to how to achieve their goals.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters have a place to be mentored, and mentors willing to leverage valuable industry connections that could lead them to an internship or a job.

Experience needed: how to get a job with no previous experience -

For Ayokunle Spencer and his team at Sports Radio America, lessening the discrepancies between those with the ability to easily make connections and expend resources, and those looking to establish or collect them, has always been at the forefront of their mission — and they intend to keep shrinking the gap.

“I am surprised there aren’t more places like this where people can develop their skills before they reach the big-time,” expressed Spencer. “If we want to replace talent with talent, we have to develop talent at the lowest levels much more than asking for requirements at the highest levels. Every industry needs their farm-system.”

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BSM Writers

Covid Is A Convenient Excuse For Lowering Our Standards

“I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show.”

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I was probably four hours deep into my all-day football binge on Saturday when I started to think about the overall quality of what I was seeing. This isn’t a column about whether college football is secretly better than the NFL. This is about our industry.

While you may not notice a difference in the presentation on CBS’s top line SEC broadcast or on FOX’s Big Noon Saturday game, it is clear how few resources are being allocated to some of the games further down the networks’ priority list. ESPN doesn’t even send live broadcasters to its Thursday night college football game for instance.

Ohio State football broadcasts go remote amid COVID-19 restrictions
Courtesy: WBNS Radio

Covid-19 was the beginning of this. It forced every business in the broadcast industry to re-evaluate budgets and figure out how to do games when travel and the traditional set up of broadcast booths simply were not on the table.

This isn’t a problem limited to game coverage either. Plenty of hosts still are not back in their radio studio. Plenty of guests on ESPN’s and FS1’s mid day debate shows are still appearing via Skype and Zoom connections. It is as if we have started counting on our audience not expecting quality any more.

I want to be perfectly clear. I get that this pandemic isn’t over. I get that in many cases, networks and stations are trying to avoid overcrowding studios and in some cases, make accommodations for top-level talent that refuse to get vaccinated. “It’s survival mode,” is the answer from corporate.

Do we still need to be in survival mode though? We are 18 months into this pandemic. The majority of Americans are vaccinated. The ones who aren’t are actively making a choice not to do what they need to in order to put on the best possible show they can.

I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show. I am sick of seeing hosts on crystal clear HD cameras in a high tech studio talk to someone on a dirty webcam that can’t be bothered to even put in headphones so they don’t sound like they are shouting down a hallway.

A good example is the late Highly Questionable. I really liked that show when it was done in studio. I liked a lot of the ESPN talent that popped up on the show even after Dan Le Batard left. I couldn’t watch any more of the show than the two minute clips that would show up on Twitter. I didn’t want to see Bomani Jones behind a giant podcast mic. The low res camera that turned Mina Kimes’s house plant into a green blob gave me a headache. The complete disregard for quality made a decent show hard to watch.

Highly Questionable 4/12/21 - Changing History? - YouTube
Courtesy: ESPN

There was a time when the accommodations we made for Covid-19 were totally necessary. Bosses and broadcasters did whatever they had to to get a show or a game on the air. At this point, I am starting to wonder how much of the concessions are necessary and how much are the result of executives that “good enough” is the new standard.

It is totally reasonable to argue that in an age where microphones and editing software are cheap, slick production doesn’t carry the weight it once did. That is true for the podcasters and TikTokers that are creating content in spare bedrooms and home offices. If you’re ESPN or FOX or SirusXM, that slick production is what sells the idea that your content is better than what people can make at home on their own.

It’s soundproof studios, 4K cameras and futuristic graphics packages that make the standard setters in the industry special. Maybe your average Joe Six-Pack can’t put it into words. He just knows that a lot of home-produced content sounds and looks like play time compared to what he sees or hears on a network.

Sure, the anchors are the signature of SportsCenter’s heyday, but it was the stage managers, producers, and other behind-the-scenes staff doing their jobs that really made the show thrive. Those people cost money. The details they took care of may be something 90% of viewers will never notice. They will just know that they are watching a really good show. Those difference makers cannot do their jobs to the best of their abilities if everyone is being piped in from a different FaceTime feed.

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic we did whatever we had to. As broadcasters, we made compromises. As an audience, we accepted compromises. We were desperate for familiar entertainment and if Zoom is what it took to get it, that was just fine. There was no cure, no vaccine, things were scary and we were all anxious not knowing how long it would all last.

Anxiety and Depression From COVID-19 – San Diego – Sharp Health News
Courtesy: Nuthawut Somsuk

More than 18 months later, things may not be back to normal, but we are considerably less desperate. There are signs of normalcy in the world. Make the commitment to bring back the standard that won you so many fans in the first place.

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