As a woman in the world of sports broadcasting I have to say, there are few individuals that are universally respected, admired, and adored as Doris Burke. The calm, confident light that always shines through in every situation, Burke is somehow always right and despite knowing it all, she never comes across as a know-it-all. She shirks the glory herself, which allows her audience to bask in the glow, effortlessly and perfectly balancing her unrivaled work ethic with the power to connect and resonate with even the most impenetrable viewer. The fact is that Doris Burke is unlike any other in sports media industry. A pioneer, a trailblazer, a Hall of Famer and history maker. It is absolutely clear why she was chosen to become the first woman to serve as the analyst on a broadcast of the NBA finals.
The incredible achievement has been truly well deserved from a broadcasting legend remains humble, grateful and honored. She lends advice, help, kindness, or her only free 15 minute window for an impromptu radio interview with the men and women of this industry without hesitation. So, in order to properly celebrate the amazing Doris Burke’s latest milestone, I wanted to share The gratitude from within the sports broadcasting world by sharing the floor with incredible talent from across the board. The resounding message being: today we salute you Doris. You are the real MVP. Thank you!
Perhaps one of the individuals who is most familiar with the energy Doris brings to each broadcast, post game and interview is the man who will be sitting beside her as she makes history in the NBA finals broadcast: Marc Kestecher
“It will be an honor to share the mic with Doris during the Conference Finals and Finals,” he told me. “She’s been a trailblazer in so many aspects of her broadcast career, and this will be no different. Her preparation, her knowledge of the game and her ability to communicate it with our audience will be a big asset to our crew.”
Kestecher highlighted how profound of an impact Burke’s career has made on the league, network, audience and his personal career.
“Doris has earned this assignment. She has spent years perfecting the craft. I’ve worked TV games with her in the past, and we’ve been in the same circles for numerous NBA Finals. I’ve leaned on her for advice many times over those years. It’ll be great to finally work together on radio for the biggest NBA games of the season.”
Sarah Spain, who makes up one half of another coed collaboration alongside Jason Fitz on ESPN Radio’s Spain & Fitz, has been a tenacious supporter of her ESPN colleague—at times, voicing the gratitude and respect she has for Doris Burke on her national evening radio program.
“Ah, I think my first reaction was ‘duh! and then—Actually, I’m surprised she hasn’t done that before.’ At this point, it feels like Doris is in all the spaces and places that the top voices in the sports are at and and rightfully so. So it’s remarkable that there are still opportunities that are ‘the first’ among women. There’s been tremendous growth in recent years, but this is a reminder that even the very best at what they do are still sort of documenting the door of some of the top positions.
“Doris has made it so clear with her work ethic, her talent, her sense of humor, her intelligence, her insight, and her class and professionalism, that she’s deserving of these opportunities. And there are always going to be critics of women’s voices in male dominated spaces, but I think it’s really telling that so rarely do I see people taking shots at Doris for anything other than the most absurd and immature things like, ‘I just don’t like hearing a woman talk’ or ‘I prefer the voice of a man,’ right? Because she’s so talented and prepared and quality at her job. You can’t criticize her for any meaningful reasons, so you’re left with the dumbest and most pointless criticisms and if any at all, and even those criticisms have been getting even more few and far between because she’s established herself as beyond reproach with her work.”
Charlotte Wilder has been a tremendous young talent. Now working with FOX Sports, weaving her opinions and unique sense of humor in with the sports news coverage in her content she has been a tremendous addition to the revamped FOXSports.com.
“Even the day she followed me on Twitter, I sort of freaked out a little bit, she told me. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, if Doris follows me maybe that means I’m, like not such an imposter maybe, you know, actually supposed to be in this role.'”
“Doris, is such a pro and so deeply talented. She just has ‘it’, that thing that you can’t necessarily verbalize what it is, but you just want to watch her. You want to hear what she has to say, of course, because she’s deeply knowledgeable, she knows the game, knows the players and has insight better than, I think, anyone. I think she is THE most talented NBA analyst/commentator/broadcaster.
“Now, there are a lot of other talented people in the same position, but there’s something about Doris, where there’s this confidence when she gets on screen and I just immediately think ‘I trust this person.’ I enjoy watching this person do what they do and execute the craft so flawlessly; to see someone, not just a woman in this industry, but any other person in this industry, who emits that level of competence, which might someday be possible. To see her elevated to what is one of the highest positions in the field, calling the NBA Finals, it is a real testament to her hard work, her talent, and to those who have recognized that, to then put her in that position.”
Lauren Brownlow, a host and reporter for ESPN Radio’s Raleigh/Durham-area affiliate, 99.9 the Fan, has cultivated a significant following on local, regional and national levels, and she explained the role Doris Burke played in finding her voice as her career began to take off.
“I was at a point in my career where I felt very conscious of the fact that I was a woman in this business and I didn’t want people to know that. I very much wanted to just laugh that, ‘Hey, I just want to sort of blend into the background here. I’m not here to disrupt your space. Like, I’m just here to do it as a colleague, right? Don’t be troubled by my female presence in your male space. I’m not going to just act like you guys and be quiet and not dress too feminine and do all of these things.
“I think the moment, it all sort of clicked into place for me, I was realizing, ‘okay, Doris is doing all of these things in the same kind of a way. She’s doing her job extremely well, and yet she’s still facing this kind of like rampant. sexism.’ That was definitely an awakening for me where I said, I’m able to do this, that I can just be me in this space—to be a woman in sports media and have that be okay. I don’t have to blend in and act like my male colleagues. I just had realized that there was nothing that I could do if Doris Burke, who has this immense wealth of knowledge, obviously, played the game, and did her job so well, if she was still facing this kind of sexism. Essentially it was like, there was nothing I was going to be able to do to please people anyway, because of the fact that I was a woman, I was not going to please some people. So it was a good thing in the end for me, because it sort of helped me be more comfortable in my own skin and allowed me feel more comfortable being myself.”
Doris Burke will make history as the first woman to serve as the analyst on a broadcast of the NBA Finals later this month. Sarah Spain says it should be more that just an exciting moment for women in the broadcasting world. This should be viewed as a progress report.
“One cool thing is that every time there is a first for women is after her that it can just be the norm, even if you need to push for it to be the norm and for it to not be a one off. Once you get it out of the way, you can sort of move forward and the more people see women in these positions, the more accustomed they get, the less likely they are to react negatively for no other reason than a lack of comfortability.
“When it started out, and there were two female sports on-air anchors at the same time, nobody even thinks about that anymore; that happens all the time. Female analysts, female color, female play by play—the ceiling keeps getting higher. And one of the issues that we have to address and continue to work with is that the basement remains the same. Those lower level opportunities, the harassment, the lack of respect, the lack of belief that the better woman is there for the right reasons that you could do the work and knows her stuff, you still have to battle all of that to make a name for yourself and achieve the agency and voice to be respected, but the fact that the ceiling keeps getting higher and the opportunities keep growing for women, it makes me super hopeful.”
I asked Spain how Doris Burke is able to turn even her most vocal doubters around. What makes her so good? Why is she the right woman to break through this particular glass ceiling?
“I think her authenticity is huge and the fact that she always feels so calm, controlled and prepared,” Spain answers. “She’s always prepared. She comes with statistics in the background. She has incredible credibility as a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball player as a Hall of Famer herself, and there’s a real sense of a sort of calm and professionalism throughout. You know, she has a good sense of humor—she’s not dry or serious. It just always seems like you trust what she’s saying is right. You trust that it comes from a place of knowledge, as she’s going to take you through a broadcast or through an analysis.”
“There’s going to be a generation of kids who grow up where a woman is calling the NBA Finals,” Charlotte Wilder says matter of factly. “I think the goal is to get to a point where we don’t need an article like this saying that ‘there’s a woman calling this game’ because it is so normal. Maybe we can really get to a point where there are two women calling the game. I think that the more you get people in these positions, and the more women help other women into these roles, which, the people who keep me sane in this industry, the people who I rely on, both personally and professionally are women (and I have the most amazing producer Kristin Scott at Fox Sports, she’s so deeply competent). So in terms of having those people in your circle, and in your corner is great, but then I look at Doris. I can’t really say enough about how good she is, and just that in and of itself, I think, is inspiring.
“You know, you think of legendary people in the booth or calling games and you know the voices but you also know the personalities. They’re very professional but they infuse it into their broadcast. And what I absolutely love about Doris is how funny she can be. She is irreverent, I absolutely lost it when she said, ‘Well, I’m always right, just ask my ex-husband’ and returned to calling a game like that. That to me was like, yeah, that was sort of the thing that I would think I would tweet as a joke, and for her to say that on a broadcast with such confidence, knowing that it was going to just hit was an iconic moment because we’d never heard that before. It was so nonchalant and unapologetic.”
Lauren Brownlow says that she can’t help but be torn over Burke’s moment. She is excited to see a woman sit in the analyst’s seat for the NBA Finals for the first time, but frustrated that it took until 2020 to get here.
“You know, it feels like this should have happened long before now and it has taken too long. I think you feel this way sometimes with almost any accomplishment by a woman in our field or sometimes another field, like it’s like it’s the first woman to do ‘X’ and then you’re like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool’. And then you also think, ‘Wow, how is that the first one? Why are we here it has taken this long’ and especially again, because she is so good at her job like it’s not as if you know, she’s being handed something. She’s more than earned this and so there’s this it’s a double-edged sword where you feel really excited and inspired and glad for Doris because she’s earned this and and then you also feel a sense of frustration wondering; how much better does a woman have to be at her job to get than a man to get an opportunity like this?”
Frustrations about the industry aside, there was an overwhelming sense of respect and admiration that shined through in the women I talked to about Doris Burke. Hers is a path that is brand new, but will serve as a map for so many women that come after her in the broadcast industry.
Spain sums it up best. The most important thing any of us can say to Doris Burke right now is simply “thank you.”
“This is incredibly well-earned and deserved. Also, thank you from all the other women in the industry when there are top-notch incredibly insightful, knowledgeable, professional, badass women like her who are doing their jobs so well, it serves to open up doors for other women. And every woman out there who absolutely crushes it, like Doris has, is paving a path for the ones coming behind and so being able to just say thank you to her for continuing to be so good at her job as to shut up and shout down those who believe that women don’t belong.”
Lauren Brownlow echoes that sentiment.
“I really appreciate how thoughtful she is and every single thing that she shares in her broadcast and in her interviews as well. I think for me, too, she’s somebody that has inspired very much my generation of, you know, female sports media members, and I don’t know a single one of them that doesn’t have respect and reverence for her. I met her at the NSMA Awards this past year, and it was the first time I’d ever had the guts to really introduce myself and frankly, she was introduced to me because I was too nervous to just like, go right up to her and she was very sweet.
“She’s very inspirational just by being who she is. So she doesn’t need to take on any extra burden or anything else because just by being exactly who she is and existing how she is right now, being the analyst that she is and the woman that she is, she has inspired so many of us. There’s so many women that could even thank her enough for helping really to validate a lot of us and that’s not a burden she should have to carry around certainly, to represent every single woman out there. But it is something that has opened doors for people and made the powers that be realize that women can be good at this and know what they’re talking about. And Doris has helped and been instrumental in that, I think in a lot of ways. She’s inspirational and I’m really psyched that this is happening.”
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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