LaVar Arrington was once a self-described pissed off dude. He was an angry radio host in Washington DC. That is no longer the case. Arrington now has a different mindset as the driver of FOX Sports Radio’s brand new show Up On Game. He has a much more positive approach and looks for angles that are solution driven. Along with co-hosts Plaxico Burress and TJ Houshmandzadeh, the new show airs on Saturdays from 10am-noon PT.
Don’t mistake Arrington’s positivity for anything hokey or boring; the guy is flat-out interesting. The Pittsburgh native makes many compelling points in our conversation below. He offers opinions on cancel culture and the firing of his former radio partner Chad Dukes.
Arrington doesn’t bite his tongue when it comes to show babysitters in radio either. He also states which big name in the radio industry offered him a great piece of advice. As an added bonus, the former No. 2 overall pick uses the phrase “stretch him out”, which is now easily my favorite phrase of all time. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Tell me about Up On Game; what makes you so excited about doing the show with TJ and Plax?
LaVar Arrington: I’ve always had this idea that sports media in general has become too driven by controversy and debate. It’s just kind of taken on more of a Geraldo, drama type of feel when you’re talking about athletes and sports. I felt like there was a tremendous gap, a void so to speak, of kind of addressing the market of the youth and sports parents.
I went to Don Martin and Scott Shapiro and was like listen, I’ve got two guys that have stories to tell. They have experiences and these experiences are much like mine in the sense that we take pride in helping the next group of guys coming. We all mentor and teach and help younger guys. I just thought it would be an amazing opportunity to introduce a new way of looking at and approaching athletes in sports, which was solution-based and positive-based and not debating, just talking sports and giving real viewpoints. Just like the name of the show; putting people up on game as to why something happened from our perspective, how you could avoid it, or how you could do better moving forward. Just a breath of fresh air if I could use any type of way of describing it.
BN: How far back do you go with TJ and Plaxico?
LA: A funny story about TJ is I never met TJ as a player. When we retired, I came out here to do NFL Network. Me and Antonio Pierce are really close and so I ended up coaching at Long Beach Poly. TJ coached at Long Beach too so we met each other and have been tight ever since. That’s got to be going on five years ago now that we met and started being cool.
He’s the reason why I got back into media. I was out of media after I left the network. He told me, he was like man I do these spots over at FS1. He was like you need to come over to FS1 and see what’s going on. I did, man. Charlie Dixon and those guys, Jason Whitlock, they ended up giving me an opportunity, Colin, they were all bringing me on their shows.
BN: How about Plaxico? How long have you known him?
LA: I’ve known Plaxico since college. We go way back. We played against each other since college. He went to Michigan State and I went to Penn State. I’ve known Plex for a long time because we’re from the same class. I guess me and TJ are from the same class kinda sorta as well but Plaxico was always a higher-rated dude. I was always a higher-rated dude. So we met in high school, college-type stuff on the circuits.
BN: Were you able to hit either of those guys on the football field?
LA: I don’t even think I played against TJ. As far as Plex, I never got a chance to stretch him out. I would have loved to have had an opportunity to get him. I’ve played against him multiple times and we even ended up being teammates the year before the first Super Bowl in New York.
BN: I like that, stretch him out. [Laughs] Are you guys doing the show remotely right now?
LA: Me and TJ go into the studio and Plex is on the comrex.
BN: How would you describe the way your sports radio style has evolved over the years?
LA: I used to be pissed off and I’m more enlightened now. I always tell people it was rightful for me to be pissed off because I covered the Washington Football Team. After a while, I did five hours of radio and I did it with Chad Dukes. Chad Dukes was mad and like an upset dude. We were just two upset dudes doing radio.
I just got tired of talking about how bad our teams were. Everybody was like he hates his team, this and that, and in a way they were right. I didn’t hate the team; I just didn’t like the owner. But I think it came out in the way that I delivered my information. I know it did listening to myself, just taking inventory and studying my style. There definitely was more anger behind my energy. My evolution has just been really — even when I’m on Speak For Yourself on television — every angle that I take is pretty solution driven and pretty positive even if it was something negative that took place.
BN: What was your reaction to Chad getting fired last month?
LA: I hit him up and I just told him straight up I know you to be an a-hole. I don’t know you to be what they accused you of being. He has a weird sense of humor and a weird sense of how he entertains. That’s why he has such a very dialed in and focused audience. A lot of the things that come from him and the way he sounds at times, it tows the line. It definitely has towed the line and maybe has even stuck a toenail or a toe over the line, but what I’ve learned about radio is that radio is supposed to be a forum where you can communicate how you feel.
I just feel like if it doesn’t go too far, you’re still exercising the right to paint a picture that represents some part of the population that’s out there whether you like it or not. If you got in trouble for what Chad got in trouble for, from what I allegedly hear, there would be no Howard Stern. There would be no Rush Limbaugh. Eventually some of them got hit up, but you’re still talking about some of the most influential heavyweights of radio that would have never gotten an opportunity. They would have been fired because something they said would have offended somebody.
BN: Do you think it’s good that the standards are higher, or do you think it’s constricting to some artists who can’t get away with what they could have before?
LA: Well I don’t make the rules, I play by them. Whether I think it’s right or whether I think it’s wrong, I will say this, I really believe that people should understand the power of what they bring to the table and to put people in a place where they feel as though it’s right for them to look at a certain group of people a certain type of way. If that’s how you’re using your platform, I think it’s dangerous. And I think it’s dangerous more so now than it’s ever been because people have voices. I think it’s dangerous these days because people are more aware and there seems to be more awareness just towards these types of behaviors.
I never realized how chauvinistic the business can be. When Joe Namath said to Suzy Kolber I want to kiss you, could you imagine if he said that today? You know what I mean? Could you imagine in the social climate that we live in today, Joe Namath doing that? He’d be one of the biggest villains. He goes from being beloved to a villain.
I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong in terms of what people’s liberties should be in being able to talk about and discuss what they want to talk about and discuss. I just know there is the idea of presenting the different sides. I understand that. Will that get lost in cancel culture? It might.
I think cancel culture is kind of a product of just how connected the world has become through social media. We’ve always had a mob mentality. That just goes back into time. The mob mentality is now on 150,000 steroids. It’s an overkill of steroids with cancel culture and the mob mentality. One influencer says vote for this person, you’re going to vote for that person whether they can do it or whether they can’t. You’re going to vote for him because the cancel culture, the mob mentality, it’s there. An influencer can have you do what they want you to do. That can be great and that can be horrible all at the same time.
Why this show is so important, you just got to put things into the proper perspective and understand that we all have a voice and we all have some things that we have to get off our chests. At times you should be able to get those things off your chest without you always being labeled something. There are a lot of things that I have started to not say in media and in social form because you just don’t know.
BN: When did you initially break into sports radio and why did you want to do it?
LA: I wanted to do it because I didn’t feel like we, as the athletes, had enough voices representing us the right way. I wanted to get into media and provide a perspective and an angle that was unique to us, the player and the athlete, that really took the time to see what it was and understand it for what it was versus just talking crazy about what somebody is doing.
I’ve always kind of been a part of media even when I played, but I think I started working with Comcast SportsNet, man, I don’t remember, bro. It’s been a long time. It had to have been maybe ‘08 that I started doing stuff with them. Then I think ‘09 was when I went into radio. Whatever year it was that they launched The Fan in DC. They launched it with me as one of the anchor shows. I was the afternoon drive show with Chad.
BN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten, or something that you figured out on your own about doing good sports radio?
LA: When you create the identity of what your show is going to be, you need to live within the identity of what you’ve created. Don’t deviate from the values and just what you want the listener to understand about the identity and the values of the show when they’re listening. People will either agree or disagree but they will invest enough of an emotion to come up with some type of a conclusion.
BN: That’s good, man. Is that what you figured out?
LA: I was actually taught that.
BN: Who taught you that?
BN: Interesting. What other things has he said or anybody else said that you thought was impactful?
LA: I’ve learned a lot from a lot of guys. Mike Harmon has been super instrumental in my development as well in radio. I co-host with him. I’ve learned a ton from him in terms of just my approach of how to get in and out of segments, how to approach the topics that we’re going to talk about, and just how to prep. Knowing how to not talk over one another or understanding how to present your points.
There’s a very distinctive way of how I approach each topic. Answer the question first. Or if you’re presenting something and you’re the one driving it, make sure that you set the table before you begin to try to eat. Nobody can eat if you don’t set the table. You’ve got to just follow the process, a very strict process, of how to go through your segments depending on if you’re the driver or if you’re a passenger in the studio seat, it doesn’t matter. There’s still a process that you have to follow and I didn’t always know that.
BN: Is this the first time you’ve done a three-man show?
LA: Radio wise, yeah.
BN: What’s it like for you to get a feel for that setup?
LA: Well I’m the driver of the show so it’s a challenge. But I feel like I’ve done so much radio at this point, I’ve done so much media at this point that I’ve gotten so many reps doing shows with three or four or more guys. I’ve worked with The Junkies at times; I’ve done Speak For Yourself where it’s a panel of four on the set. That’s harder. It’s harder with four men on television than it is three guys on radio. I’ve gotten great reps in terms of understanding how to manage the flow of multiple guys.
I like the challenge of it and it excites me because you have three very strong personalities, three very pronounced personalities. As long as we can manage how we’re moving and directing traffic, it’s going to be amazing radio and I don’t ever see that being an issue.
BN: Besides the positive tone of the show, what are some other things that you think will appeal to listeners?
LA: I would love for people to really take the time to listen to the show. It’s only two hours. It goes by really quickly, but we prep. We do prep calls and everything. Some of the things that happened on the show we hadn’t even discussed. I think that’s the coolness of this show is that you’re going to hear some things — like I didn’t even know that a lot of people attribute the Bengals/Steelers rivalry to when TJ Houshmandzadeh cleaned his spikes off with the Terrible Towel. I didn’t even know that. Jerome Bettis says it on the show. That was the first time I’ve ever heard that. It was the first time I had ever heard how TJ even got ahold of a Terrible Towel.
For me it was like oh my gosh; that’s when I knew we had the potential to be one of the biggest shows in all of sports radio because of the organic approach and the open approach. The one part of it that people should know is that we are not taking a hands-off approach to the vulnerability of what we’ve gone through. It is very in your face. It’s okay to talk crazy about something that another athlete or another person is going through, but to be able to do it with yourself, to me that is the differentiator. You have to be comfortable enough to be in that forum and be able to talk about things that you’ve gone through that you aren’t necessarily proud of.
BN: That makes for good radio, man. How did TJ get the Terrible Towel?
LA: He purchased it off of a fan, man, that had just bought it. He randomly was on the elevator with a Steeler fan that had just bought a Terrible Towel.
BN: Wow, I would love to know who that fan is. That’s a huge offense to Steeler Nation.
LA: And if they didn’t listen to our show, they probably don’t even know that their purchase that day would fatefully lead to the starting of a rivalry between two franchises and two cities.
BN: As far as your future goals, what do you think would make you the happiest going forward?
LA: Well the happiest going forward is just having the opportunity. Don and Scott believing in the concept that I pitched to them, getting behind me, and continuing to teach me and school me up on how it all works has been a tremendous deal. I’m super happy with where we are. I’m definitely poised for us to create a new brand and usher in a new way and looking at former athletes or even current athletes and how we can handle ourselves in media.
It would really make me happy to pioneer. I always say — and no offense to the Mike Harmons and Steve Hartmans who I’ve worked with or even a Chad Dukes — I think there’s something to be said about not having a show babysitter. I’ve always felt like in the past, host or co-host is like a code word for babysit the athlete. There is a place for those types of media personalities. It’s not meant as an attack or a slight on them, everybody has a role to play, but what I’m saying is just maybe there should be some shows out there that don’t have to have a babysitter on the cast.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.