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Inside A Baseball Broadcast Booth During Covid

“Our collective thought was not to complain about it, but to keep it light. After all baseball was being played, we were calling games and that’s really all that mattered.”

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It was a regular season unlike any other. A pandemic is raging and things had to change for us to be able to broadcast a baseball season. Was it ideal? No. Was it necessary? Yes. Was it challenging? Yes. Did we manage to make it fun and entertaining? Yes, we most certainly did. 

As I look back at my first season as the play-by-play announcer for the White Sox, the thing I’m most thankful for is health. Not just mine and my broadcast partner Darrin Jackson, but for the players we talk about every day. The White Sox had a couple of cases of COVID, but they were before the Summer reboot took place. I’m amazed that with all that happened to the Marlins and the Cardinals, the season was completed in its entirety and in competitive fashion.   

White Sox loss "A tough one to swallow'

However, there were pitfalls from the broadcast standpoint. Trying to get used to calling some games off a television monitor and some with live action in front of us wasn’t something we could prepare for. Broadcasting a road game from a dark stadium with absolutely nothing going on was extremely strange. Sometimes even though the game was not in our home park, the first foul ball straight back would cause us to flinch as if the game were right there in front of us. We couldn’t help but laugh. 

Laughing was a common occurrence. As professionals, we certainly like to get every call correctly, but this year, being at the mercy of a television crew, that became difficult in some instances. Rather than get upset, we’d laugh it off, constantly reminding each other of a gaffe or a misidentified pitcher or batter. Our collective thought was not to complain about it, but to keep it light. After all baseball was being played, we were calling games and that’s really all that mattered. 

So, how did it go? Pretty well. There were things from a play-by-play standpoint that were unusual when calling a game from television. On radio we usually try to call the action as it’s happening, but it was difficult to do when not everything could be seen. The biggest thing to get used to was “laying back”, taking more time to make calls when our team was on road. It wasn’t easy, but it had to be done. I’d say about 75-80 percent of the time, I did it, but sometimes fell back into the uncertainty of what I was seeing. 

We were very dependent on the ability of a TV crew in the opponent’s ballpark to provide us with clean shots and timely cuts. Some crews were terrific, some were a little less than terrific. 

As frustrating as it got sometimes, I had to remember that this is new for everyone, not just me and my fellow broadcasters. MLB made sure to listen to the concerns of each club’s broadcasting departments and made changes as the season went along. 

Coronavirus: Can we restart sports? Not so fast, experts say - Los Angeles  Times

As the year went on, we were given a little more consistency from ballpark to ballpark in the way our alternate feeds measured up. It was important for us to have a full view of the field at all times. We were provided with a “tiled” monitor that featured an “All-9” camera angle. This was a static shot from high above home plate. Why was this helpful? To see if a runner was trying to steal a base. Being able to see where a ball in the gap was going and how the runners that weren’t pictured in the live television shot were going or where they stopped. Was there a shift on for a batter? This angle helped to answer the questions for us. Also, on the alternate monitor was a shot of both bullpens, the between innings clock, the scoreboard and sometimes the program feed as well. 

All things considered I think baseball broadcasters were well-served by MLB and the various crews around the league. Our sport, probably more than the others that were calling games from afar, is more set up for this oddity of not being there. Baseball is a slower moving sport with bursts of action, so as long as we could identify the pitcher, batter and balls and strikes we were doing ok. With public relations crews for each team being on site, we were texted substitutions, who was up in the pen and scoring decisions. I can’t imagine how it must have been for several other sports where the game is faster paced and substitutions are not readily announced. 

My radio station in Chicago also is the flagship home of Chicago Blackhawks Hockey. The broadcasters, John Wiedeman and Troy Murray, were set up in a conference room at the station with a barrier between them for social distancing. They had two huge monitors in front of them and a smaller one located near the play-by-play position. As you know in hockey, players are jumping on and off the ice all game long. There is no stoppage of play to announce the new players on the ice. Oh, and yeah, the lines constantly change during the game, so a line that started the game together may not finish the game together. To be able to identify all the players on the ice consistently from a monitor with the game broadcast on it, is something at which I marvel. 

The puck moves at such a high rate of speed, it’s a challenge every night for these guys when they are actually in the arena. To be dependent on a TV crew is probably frightening for most, but these guys are terrific at what they do and all made the best of whatever their situation was.

I’m not sure how they and the other hockey guys on radio were able to do this, but in the case of the Chicago crew, they made it sound as if they were at the arena. I listened and pretended I didn’t know they weren’t on location, it sounded terrific. 

Basketball is a little different, because most of the action is happening in that confined space of the half court. Television crews usually stay on the wider shot and with that, both the play-by-play announcer and analyst can really see what’s going on at all times. This is usually the kind of view announcers are used to ‘seeing’ when doing games from the venue. That’s the area of concentration and where most of, if not all of the action in a sequence takes place. 

It was still a challenge, I’m sure, with not being able to see some of the other things happening at the arena. Is there a coach working an official after a no-call, did a player trip or get hurt coming back down the court or is there a player walking down the tunnel with a trainer? You can’t possibly know if you aren’t there. 

Chicago is Masur's kind of baseball town

I learned a lot this season. I realized how critically important it is to have a mutual respect between play-by-play and analyst. This year we had to really protect each other, be good partners because the circumstances really demanded it. In the end, we were all in the same boat. Sometimes it felt like there no paddles, but somehow the boat navigated the waters of this crazy pandemic shortened season and we wound up in the right place. 

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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