For nearly a century, the game of baseball has been heard on the radio. In fact, later this year, the the two will celebrate 100 years together. The first game ever broadcast was August 5, 1921 on KDKA in Pittsburgh and the partnership took off from there. Now comes word, a century later, that the Toronto Blue Jays are eliminating their radio broadcast altogether. For the first time in team history, fans will have to listen to a simulcast of their tv broadcast.
The team released a statement to explain their decision:
“In an effort to minimize travel and closely adhere to team, league, and government protocols related to the pandemic, Sportsnet will be streamlining production for the 2021 season by simulcasting TV broadcasts on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and across the Sportsnet Radio Network. Blue Jays fans can now enjoy the legendary voices of Buck Martinez, Dan Shulman, and Pat Tabler on both TV and radio. Ben Wagner remains part of the Blue Jays on Sportsnet broadcast team, joining Jamie Campbell, Joe Siddall, Hazel Mae, and Arash Madani in covering all the bases throughout the season.”
Seems like a stretch, considering most teams won’t travel their broadcasters for the first part of the season anyway. In the end, it looks on the surface to be a cost-cutting move and the victim in the case is radio, its broadcasters and its listeners.
I am admittedly completely biased when it comes to the subject of baseball on the radio, having done it myself for the better part of the last two decades. My first thought was, wow, I really hope this is not a trend that catches on. It can’t, right? Too many of us grew up listening to games on the radio and this would be a gaping hole, that would be hard to fill.
Some of my colleagues from other teams and veterans of broadcasting took to Twitter to express their displeasure in the decision making from the Blue Jays. These are just a few of the reactions to the news about the Jays.
Howie Rose, the longtime voice of the New York Mets, hit one of the biggest issues right on the head. How can you expect fans to listen to a television broadcast on the radio? There’s no painting of a picture, because, well, obviously you can see the picture on TV. Rose describes baseball on the radio as an art and he’s right on the mark. Descriptions, from the color of the uniforms the teams are wearing, to the shade of brown on the infield dirt, make the radio broadcast what it is.
Keith Olbermann, broadcasting veteran, paints a dire picture of what might be to come. It’s hard to argue the point now that a team has actually eliminated its radio broadcast. One team tried it a year ago and was met with disapproval from the fan base almost immediately, forcing them to reverse course. More on that in a moment.
Tim Brando, longtime broadcaster, also tells it like it is. This move puts a ton of pressure on the tv broadcasters, Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez. How are they supposed to serve two audiences at the same time? They won’t be able to please either completely. They will undoubtedly get complaints from the tv audience saying they’re too descriptive. The radio listeners will complain about them not being descriptive enough. What do they say during a replay? When a graphic is on the screen and so forth? Nobody wins here.
Retired Blue Jays radio broadcaster Jerry Howarth was interviewed by the Toronto Sun a few days after the decision to eliminate the radio broadcast was announced. Howarth is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in the world. Even he, in his own way, expressed his disappointment about what the team was doing.
“I think without question, baseball is the best sport for radio,” Howarth said. “I say that because of two things: The number of games — twice as many as hockey and basketball — and the pace of the game.”
He would go on to say, “the TV broadcasts are great, but to simulcast them is completely different from radio with its descriptions, its story-telling and the love of the fans, getting them involved.”
Howarth did share that he believes if anyone can make this work, it’s Shulman who he says “is smart and flexible enough to make these adjustments, whatever they might be, to satisfy as many people as possible.”
That’s all fine and well, but there is another component to what’s going on here: a connection with a fan base that identifies with its radio broadcasters.
My earliest memories in the game are listening to Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau call Cubs games on WGN Radio. Sitting in the car with my dad, listening to games as we drove to do errands or head to my grandparent’s house. This element is hard to replace, actually it’s impossible to replace.
To that end, Howarth feels like this decision does damage to the legacy he and his former partner, the late, Tom Cheek established.
“People will probably, if anything, remember back to Tom and Jerry when they were growing up and recall what great moments they had enjoying the radio broadcasts and wondering why can’t we still have that,” Howarth told the Toronto Sun.
Earlier I mentioned the Blue Jays were the first to actually eliminate a radio broadcast, the Oakland A’s flirted with a different version of this story. Ahead of last season, the A’s announced that their radio broadcast would only be available digitally in their home market, due to the team having troubles finding a local station to air the games.
It’s different than the Blue Jays’ story, because that was still going to be a radio broadcast featuring the team’s radio broadcasters. It just wouldn’t be heard over the air. Even that didn’t go over well, as the A’s eventually reversed the decision just six games into the season, finding a station to air the games. This decision by the Blue Jays is more likely to create an even stronger backlash.
I get it, times are changing, technology is evolving seemingly daily. People have choices in how they listen to games. Streaming services, including MLB.com have allowed them to listen to their hometown team wherever that fan calls home. But again, this didn’t affect radio, because the call they’d hear was the actual radio broadcast featuring their local announcers.
The Blue Jays made a big splash in the offseason, signing George Springer, Marcus Semien and Kirby Yates. While spending big money on players, the fans get shortchanged by the move to eliminate the radio broadcasts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.