As ESPN prepares for the August 17th launch of their new national radio slate, we have had a chance to familiarize ourselves with the talent and time slots for each show. The sheer amount of talent and depth on their roster is truly astounding. Demetri Ravanos spoke with Jay Williams, Brandon Contes spoke with Keyshawn Johnson, and I had the privilege of speaking with Chiney Ogwumike, host of Chiney and Golic Jr, on the opportunity, her future in the WNBA, and being part of a team that is shattering the backboard and glass ceiling for athletes and broadcasters, as they have become ‘the first’ in many respects.
ESPN’s Senior Vice President of Production David Roberts spoke on the duo. “They are relevant, youthful, energetic and committed to being the very best. Chiney is the first African-American woman on network sports talk radio Monday-Friday in the country. It’s a testament to her talent and unlimited potential.“
Chrissy Paradis: There is definitely this stereotype that exists as well that females aren’t helpful to one another or they can’t be a resource in a competitive industry. I’m like, that could not be like any further from the truth. Because, who doesn’t want for another female to succeed in a business setting?
Chiney Ogwumike: Big facts. And that hasn’t been my experience I just think until we have Enough numbers to tell that story, then that will change. We’ll do it one by one, right?
CP: Right! And, it’s interesting because you and I have a lot in common already, I know that you are a big Annalise Keating / How To Get Away With Murder fan…
CO: Oh my gosh. Don’t even play me right now—
CP: I struggle with if I could just hang out with Olivia Pope or Annalise Keating for a day, who would it be and I go back and forth. And when I was looking online and saw Viola Davis (who plays Annalise Keating on How To Get Away With Murder) followed you, I was thinking, ‘Okay, this interview was meant to be!’ When they did the crossover episodes. I think that Annalise did get that TKO in..
CO: Yes! Yes! The funny thing is that I used to tweet so much about Scandal, I was a live tweeter. I feel like, that, to me, was the biggest follow I’ve ever had on social media. I went nuts.
CP: And that actually is one of my questions, which three powerful, boss women, would you like to spend a day with, Viola Davis being one? Are there two others you’d like to add?
CO: Let’s see, the people that I’d love to hang out with. One is, obviously Viola Davis, and two, Naomi Campbell. Three, Beyoncé.
CP: That is a lot of talent and power in one room! I did want to start out with something serious. I was on your Instagram. The first feature piece that you had worked on with ESPN was the Breonna Taylor piece. What did and does that opportunity mean to you?
CO: Yeah, I think for me it was my first opportunity to provide a voice, for those who have been overlooked.
And I think it’s not just women, especially in sports, but black women in sports, and those women I know because I play in the WNBA. So, as we we’re coming to return to sports in the middle of these pandemics with coronavirus and racism and everything that is happening in society; by nature of my not playing the season because of my medical history, meaning my injuries, not having enough of a runway to play, I didn’t want to put my body in unnecessary risk after overcoming these injuries.
My first opportunity within the company was to help story-tell the league that was returning—basketball is back and the women came back first. The WNBA! But, this is the message that they want to show by playing, this is what they are feeling through their communities. And for me, I was moreso a vessel. I was sharing the mic with people that I love and care about that made a courageous decision to go into the bubble and leave their families and to, possibly leave the safety and security of their homes to do this. So, that’s where the genesis of this piece came from.
I thought that I was going to be in the bubble, playing with my sister but my own personal choice was supported by my team and coaches and organization. And I’m so lucky that my own personal choice, sort of created an opportunity for me to highlight them in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened if I were in the bubble.
The piece is celebrating the women of the WNBA who have been doing this, even though people do not know that. This is their purpose in the middle of this moment. I was just lucky and fortunate to be put in a position to execute that with ESPN.
CP: It’s a message that is so powerful. And you’ve done great work in bringing awareness to social issues, injustice, voting awareness. It seems that you are as transparent and genuine on air as you are off air. What is your process and school of thought on preparation?
CO: The first lesson I learned at ESPN, is that you have to be authentically yourself, because as humans we can tell when we are bottled up or we are not showing our entire selves. So number one, is me being authentic and speaking on the things that I care about passionately, authentically.
And then secondly, it’s about relationships. I think it’s all about relationships. The beauty of me getting this opportunity, is that I know about a lot of stories that are hidden in plain sight. Because I’ve been hidden in plain sight. I’m the 6’3 black woman that would pace the halls at ESPN—
CP: You’re selling yourself short, right now!
CO: Ahh, I know, I honestly would run from hit to hit just trying to get everything done! So, a lot of people, they knew me but they didn’t know my grind. My process is: preparation, being myself authentically, because if you’re not you can tell it and people know it, and then lastly, it’s speaking to the relationships that you know, and that you’re passionate about.
I think by nature of me having this opportunity at such a young age, and having a new perspective, I didn’t realize I when I said yes to this opportunity, I was the first black woman in this category or the first WNBA Player in this category with a national ESPN Radio show. I think the idea is that by being in the room, we’re now seeing what was hidden.
And that’s not just me, that’s my perspective that could create new stories that can come to the light. So, when I go into interviews, I know that we’re doing something special because we’re doing something different than what was before. We’re creating a new platform for others, like me to hopefully follow too. So, I think it’s all about authenticity and preparation and then, it’s just storytelling, from your real life experiences.
CP: I wrote down a tweet of yours during The Last Dance, ‘Every success requires sacrifice. Every win takes failure. Every star shines brightest in the dark.’
I enjoyed the reaction videos you made about the series because you do have so much to contribute in that you’re an expert in both arenas.
What advice would you have for young people, young women trying to break into the sports media industry that feel like they’re facing obstacles?
CO: Women, I understand the obstacles, because as much as there are obstacles for everyone, there are added obstacles for women because we are questioned on our opinion, especially in sports. It’s not limited to just one group of people or one gender of people, I think, the way I like to discuss these challenges is that now, we’re all in a special point in society where we have been forced to stop and to look at one another and to humanize one another, not just care about ourselves, our pastoral vision, and not just look at our phones, do our jobs, go home and not worry about your impact.
Now, we are all thinking about, and have time to breathe and digest the impacts that we have with words, with actions; and not just on ourselves but on our neighbors, our friends, our family and even the strangers that we meet in our day to day encounters.
I think one thing we realized is everyone in life has challenges. No matter how much you have or what you look like there are going to be challenges. If you aspire to do something more, because we’re all a part of this new rising generation, this millennial generation, where we’re not following in the exact footsteps of those who came before us, we are creating our own path.
Before, the ladder of success used to be ‘alright, for you to be successful you have to go to high school to go to college, and then you have to go to graduate school. You have to wait for your time and get tenure to get the opportunity. We’re in this technological generation, where we can fast track our own success based on our own creative genius.
You can create an app, or you can start a company, while you’re working at those steps on the ladder to get somewhere. You can have a hustle and also a side hustle, not realizing that your side hustle helps your main hustle. Through working and creating a platform, whether it’s academics being your main hustle, now having that platform helps your side hustle be even more successful.
So, for a lot of people that feel like these challenges are too much, understand that we’re in a generation where we aren’t doing things the same way. We are creatively finding ways to build our own cultural impact, our own financial impact, our own societal impact. And we’re not alone, there are so many. We’re the generation of the doers and the changers, the not ‘staying on autopilot’ type of generation.
Whether you’re a black woman, a white woman or whether you’re a man or a woman or however you identify as, every obstacle will be tough but everything can be achieved by seeing that you’re capable and finding allies that can help you enhance that. So that’s always been my message. Like through me doing the hard stuff, hopefully it will create an opportunity for an executive to say ‘oh she can do it. I’m gonna hire a whole slew more’. And now that I know what’s possible, we can open the door for so many others. And it’s not just one person, one look, one kind, it is all of us that are capable of doing things differently and creating change in real time, not just waiting for it to happen.
CP: As it does come back to authenticity and relationships, how is your relationship with Golic Jr. and what do you like the most about Mike’s style?
CO: I love everything about him, you can never let him know that though. I love everything about him. I love his family and I love how he treats people and I think that’s why I feel so great about this partnership. We are very similar.
We were the most different looking human beings, right? We’re opposites, but I think where we are friends is that we are the same in everything that matters and that’s where society is now.
We come from big loud boisterous, groundbreaking families. We both play sports; his football, mine basketball. We both care about having intellectual discussions, but also being authentically ourselves, as we are both millennials, in this generation. So, It’s a seamless partnership, it’s the seamless introduction of a new team and a new show. I think what people have seen, especially with Golic & Wingo’s last show, is that he has such a big heart.
He focuses on everything that matters and then uses sports to bring it all together. That’s what he learned from his father, his mother and his siblings. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that family? That’s why I’m really thrilled to work with him and I’m the lucky one because I have someone who I know is going to be my family in this.
There are not many people in this business that you will wake up at three in the morning to drive to get there at four to do a radio show with. You have to actually really like someone to their core to agree to do that. But for him, I would do that because there was something about him that I just really, really loved.
I think that everyone has seen that with his father and how we’re saluting his Hall of Fame career. I think now Junior’s going to step into his own shoes and show people his own impact and I’m so excited to have a front row seat, courtside to see all of that happen.
CP: I feel like Golic Jr. is the person you want on your team. He is the person who truly wants you to honor what is important to you, and still you can lean on him for advice or help. It seems like this makes for a very symbiotic relationship and very helpful dynamic should you resume playing basketball again?
CO: The cool thing about ESPN is that in this show, in this pair, you have two former athletes, right? And the cool thing ESPN, I think with me, took a unique role because I was doing both and they haven’t really had many people—I don’t know if there are many people that actually play and broadcast at the same time.
So, I think they saw it as an opportunity where we could have some really cool engagement and experiences. By playing, I’m around players in the WNBA and NBA. That allows me to say one thing on air and then get hit up by a player that’s been listening. The next thing you know that player is accessible to coming on air.
Between my relationships as a current athlete and his understanding of that, and ESPN’s valuing of that, it allows the show to be whatever we want to make of it and be creative in how we do it.
And the beauty of the WNBA, is that it’s during the summer so you know if the choice comes towards her to play during our show time, there can be creative solutions to anything.
I think even so much so that Jr. will probably be cool coming to LA to do a show and I would be cool to come into Connecticut. It’s all been very versatile, very mobile, very open minded because I think the realization has been that no one is a ‘one trick pony’ anymore. If we can figure out different ways to do different things, especially with these young people that are unashamed to try new things, why not experiment and see what happens? I think that’s where Junior‘s at in supporting me, where I’m at in supporting him and where the company’s at in supporting us.
CP: I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Congratulations! Can’t wait for the debut.
Mike Golic Jr. has a response to the same question I asked Chiney, in case you were wondering about the drive, respect and connection the partners share approaching the launch. Here is what he said about Chiney Ogwumike:
“As far as Chiney and I’s relationship, we are genuine friends which is such a cool thing to say about a person you’re getting to work with. So often you forge those relationships as shows get going and start growing. We’ve been friends off-air since she started at the company. Being peers age-wise helps that a lot, but we have so many similar interests in music, shoes and life. And what’s even cooler is we’ve been able to translate that friendship on-air in a way that isn’t always easy to do. She’s a blast to work with, has such great instincts and throws 100% of herself into this,” Golic Jr shared.
“My expectations for us as a team are to bring locker room conversations that we’ve both been a part of to the national stage. We have a unique background where both hosts on a show have a backgrounds in high level athletics. It’s going to be a fun, high energy shot of life for your car ride home. We can’t wait to get everyone involved from our friends, to the biggest names in sports, and everyone listening at home or in the car.”
It is incredibly rare to be a true fan of any show, from it’s inception. I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to be a OG/CG fan with so many others who have been eagerly anticipating the unstoppable and incredibly dynamic duo of Chiney & Golic Jr.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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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