It was one year ago today that Major League Baseball followed several other sports leagues in shutting things down. COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic caused panic, chaos and closed facilities across the country. It’s a day that many of us will not forget. Now, a year later with signs of hope that things will get back to normal, so much has changed in sports, broadcasting and life.
The word normal seems weird to say. Zoom calls have replaced actual time in locker rooms and clubhouses. Limited access has become a way of life for broadcasters and journalists, almost getting used to what is happening. Mainly it all comes down to just doing the best you possibly can under the current circumstances.
The challenges were immeasurable from the broadcast side, yet the good ones knew how to overcome the obstacles. Kevin Kugler, who calls games on Fox, The Big Ten Network and Westwood One, shared one of those hurdles he and some others needed to jump over.
“The biggest challenge has been giving the viewer or listener everything they need for a quality broadcast.” Kugler told me. “We’ve lost a little of the ‘relationship’ aspect of calling the games this year without actually being in practice or shoot arounds and having a chance to interact one on one with players and coaches. Doing video calls has helped some, but it’s not the same as actually developing those in person relationships. We’ve all done the best we can, but I do think the audience is missing out on some of the info we might glean in person.”
I can relate. Without that real one-on-one time with athletes or coaches, you do lose a little touch with the team you’re covering.
Hall of Fame baseball broadcaster, Eric Nadel who handles the radio broadcast for the Texas Rangers agreed with Kugler.
“There is so much time to fill and the best, most interesting information is the stuff we get from those interactions with the people in uniform,” Nadel said via email. “The inability to talk to players, get to know them so they trust me and tell me stuff that the average fan can’t find on line, has been devastating.”
Another play-by-play guy that agrees with the assessment is Judd Sirott who handles the radio call for the Boston Bruins.
“First off, we are incredibly fortunate to be working this season. The pandemic has wreaked havoc: hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives, and many more have seen their livelihoods disappear.” Sirott told me. “To survive, businesses have had to be agile and adapt. Calling Boston Bruins games is no different. The biggest challenge is not being able to “be there”, that’s not just the games (road games now), but morning skates, dressing room scrums, the coach’s office and everything we’d normally have access to.”
Access is clearly a roadblock during this time, something unavoidable for the safety of the players, coaches and media members. Chicago Bears radio play-by-play announcer Jeff Joniak points out it isn’t easy to replace actually being on site. What you lose is more than just access to players. It is the ability to set the tone and feel of game day for your audience.
“I would say like all play-by-play announcers and analysts, we want to be where the action is, and there is nothing entering the stadium on game day that can replace that.” Says Joniak. “From the smells of the tailgates, to walking into the booth and seeing the green grass, and the anticipation of what is to come. It revs the engine in a way nothing else comes close to matching in my life. I love gameday and all that comes with it. From kickoff to the final whistle, it’s an adrenaline rush and it’s something I crave. I feel we as a crew did the best we could, given the circumstances.”
Kugler agrees that atmosphere matters to the audience and fans in the seats matter for atmosphere.
“I cannot wait until everyone is back, because the art of doing a broadcast hinges so much, in my opinion, on the fans. Playing off the emotions, the highs and lows, the music of the crowd. I miss that so much, and had really just been delving into that more when the shutdown came along.”
Professional broadcasters want to get their calls right. That’s a fact. That was much harder to do when looking at a game on a monitor not even in the same building as the game that was being called. Sirott says this is where patience had to rule the day.
“Accuracy is king. Trying to decipher tipped pucks in front; altercations behind the play; injured players hobbling off the ice; coaches barking at something on the bench when you can’t see the game from the perch you normally occupy is difficult.”, he said. “Taking some extra time for the picture to develop on screen and working with my partner Bob Beers (who’s keenly aware and has a great feel for the game) has helped. The conditions lead to more mistakes. You have roll with it. And when the time is right, have some fun with it.”
He even took the route of tailoring and refining his approach to these broadcasts. “To get the content, meant being more resourceful. I’ve jumped on the phone, sent an email, fired off texts or delved into some different sites online to collect material for our broadcast.”
The highest compliment a broadcaster can get during these crazy times is from the fans, is when they can’t tell the difference.
“Many listeners didn’t realize we were not at the road games”, said Joniak. “So, the payoff is that we maintained the integrity of our broadcasts and reliably served our listeners with the same thoroughness and passion as we’ve also delivered over the past two decades.”
Even those that knew what was actually going on, gave the broadcasters the benefit of the doubt.
“I will say this, fans have been very forgiving with the broadcast hiccups. I really have been pleasantly surprised with how little people have yelled at us for some of those things.”, said Kugler. “I think that everyone has just been so happy to have the events on TV or radio that they have been able to overlook some of the things that would have created angry tweets a couple of years ago!”
So, did anything positive, other than the fact the games were actually played? I know from my perspective working baseball, I became acutely more aware of what I was doing as a play-by-play announcer. Lessons to myself about slowing down and other details that I feel made me a little better under the circumstances. I’m a harsh critic of my own work, so that’s saying something. Seems like everybody figured out something along the way here.
“I think I’ve learned a little bit about what’s important and what’s not. I’ve really worked this year on trying to provide what is most crucial for the viewer or listener,” said Kugler. “Sometimes, I think we all get wrapped up in our prep and we can forget that we are doing this broadcast for someone else. Not for us, but for the fans. I have started to go into each game prep really thinking more about that, what would I want to see or hear as I’m tuning into this game? Sounds simple, but it’s something I’ve become really aware of over the past year.”
Joniak found some things that made him a better announcer under tough conditions.
“My senses were keener, my concentration deeper. The circumstances force you to pay deeper attention.”, he said. “There were times in games, and I think back to the Bears-Falcons game in Atlanta, where it was so dramatic of a finish it felt like I was there even though I wasn’t. I got absorbed in the moments. I also had crowd noise pumped in my headset by our engineer Paul Zerang so that was significant. I thrive in a loud stadium and calibrate my emotions accordingly with the rise and fall of the chatter.”
Sirott on the other hand found he could change things up and still have a successful broadcast.
“I’ve been more flexible with my time. Hockey players are creatures of habit. Lots of broadcasters are the same. We like a routine. To keep everyone safe and healthy, we’ve all had to change our schedules.”
For Nadel, who’s been at this a long time, he learned something too, don’t take the simple things for granted. “It (the result of the pandemic) hasn’t made me a better broadcaster. It has made me a broadcaster just trying to survive and do the best possible job given the current conditions.” Nadel told me. “But when and if we ever have access again to the people in uniform, I will be sure to use that access even more than I did before. If there is any way that I am better, it’s that I have to lean more on personality, perhaps making the broadcasts more entertaining even though I am less informative.”
The common theme, these conditions were not ideal, but in the grand scheme of things, we learned a little about ourselves. We learned to adapt to an ever-changing environment and provided fans with a quality broadcast under the circumstances. It was actually quite remarkable to see all the different “set ups”. Where the monitors were placed and so on.
I also think along the way, many of us, including those that I talked to for this column, appreciated things a little more. We were more aware of the stresses that were being placed on the ‘behind the scenes” folks, those in the television trucks and the camera folks that provided our pictures. That’s not to say we didn’t appreciate them before, because we did. This pandemic just made it much more obvious.
Unhappy Anniversary pandemic, we won’t miss you one bit, but thank you for helping all of us to see what was important through these crazy tough times.
Sam Mayes Got A Raw Deal But Tyler Media Made The Right Call
“You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.”
I do not envy whoever at Tyler Media had to make a decision about Sam Mayes’s future with the company after audio of a private conversation in 2016 was leaked to the media. Mayes and now-former co-worker Cara Rice made a few racist jokes at the expense of Native Americans.
The recording, according to Mayes, was made without his knowledge and leaked illegally. He says in a recorded statement that he should have been given the opportunity to address the recording on air and make amends.
Maybe that is true, maybe it isn’t. I hate for Sam to lose his job as the result of an illegal recording of a private conversation, but the fact is, that conversation isn’t private anymore. Tyler Media didn’t really have an option here. Sam Mayes had to go.
Someone had an illegal recording of the conversation and created an anonymous email account to send it to people in the Oklahoma City media. I was shown a copy of the email. The author states clearly that their goal is to see Mayes and Rice out of a job. There is nothing fair or just about that person getting exactly what they want. It feels slimy. I can’t say that it feels like it wasn’t the right call though.
We have debated whether or not someone should lose their job over comments made in a private conversation many times before. It happens in every field. It wasn’t long ago at all that we were having this same debate about Jon Gruden. His emails to Bruce Allen and others were sent in private. Is it fair he had to go when they were made public? No matter what horrible things were in there, they were said with the understanding that it would stay between friends.
I am going to say the same thing about Sam Mayes that I did about Gruden when that story first broke. You are being naive if you think a company should stand behind an employee that has put themselves in this situation.
You read that right. The circumstances of how the conversations in these examples came to light are absolutely unfair, but the conversations came to light. How it happened is irrelevant. Any sponsor or boss that stands behind Sam Mayes or Jon Gruden would be endorsing the language they used, either inadvertently or very much on purpose. Try explaining that to a sponsor.
People at Tyler Media may know Sam Mayes’s heart. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy. The fact of the matter is, once the audio became public, their hands were tied. There is no mistaking what was said or who said it.
How can any seller or manager take Mayes to advertisers now? How can they put him in front of the Lucky Star Casino, one of the station’s biggest advertisers? They can ask for an audience to let Sam explain himself and try to make amends. The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Tribes, who own the casino, are under no obligation to forgive or even listen.
Maybe the day will come where Sam Mayes bounces back. I hope it does. I hope he gets the chance to address his comments with members of Oklahoma’s Native American community and listen to what they have to say in response. I do think it sucks that this is how his time at The Franchise comes to an end, but I get it.
If I have to explain to you why not to say dumb, racist shit, then I don’t think we have much to talk about. But, it is worth noting that the recording of Mayes and Rice’s conversation is proof that privacy is always an assumption, not always a fact.
In his audio statement, Mayes admits it is his voice on the recording. He also says that he was uncomfortable with Rice’s comments and he tried to end their conversation. I’ll take him at his word, but I will also point out that before he tried to end the conversation, he joined in on the jokes. Maybe when someone says that Native Americans are “too drunk to organize” it isn’t a great idea to respond. All it leads to is proof of you saying something dumb and racist.
Again, I’ll reiterate that how these comments came to light is unfair, but they did come to light. That is Sam Mayes’s voice on the recording. He is joining in on the jokes about Native Americans being drunks and addicts. At the end of the day, the only thing that was done to him was the audio being released. He fully and willingly committed the firable offense.
What is the response to a client or potential client when they bring that up? All Tyler Media can do is try to recover and move forward. The company cannot do that with Mayes on the payroll.
Stop Prospecting, Start Strategizing!
“You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days.”
Struggling to get new business appointments? Dreading making prospecting calls? Having trouble writing creative emails that seemingly never get a response?
Generating responses to new business outreach is easier than you think. Just make sure you do your homework first and keep it “Simple Stupid”.
To do that, start with asking yourself these (3) simple questions:
#1: Did I do my home work on the business itself, their competition and those I plan on reaching out to?
#2: If I were on the other end of the phone and/or email with myself would I want to engage in conversation and/or reply to that email?
#3: Am I prepared to make a one call close given the opportunity to?
If the answer to any of these is “No”… do NOT pick up the phone and by all means do NOT hit the send button on that initial outreach email! Doing so will all but ensure you fall flat on your face. On the off chance you do happen to get the decision maker on the phone you won’t make that great first impression that sometimes can be so crucial. First impressions are always important… ALWAYS!
Skipping over these critical steps is a sure-fire way to ensure your email is completely ignored and will not generate the engagement from the prospect you’d hope for. Successful prospecting is all about the front end digging and research. Do your homework first then strategize a plan of attack for your call and/or email. Taking these extra measures on the front end is absolutely “Mission Critical” and will set you up for much more success with your prospecting endeavors.
Now once you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above, you’re ready to attack with the knowledge and confidence that should set you a part from your competition. It’s all about the Game Plan, and if you don’t have one, you’re destined for failure time and time again. Incorporate these (5) things into your prospecting Game Plan for your next call/email and watch your results dramatically improve:
#1: MAKE IT PERSONAL & CASUAL – Be informal, find out something interesting about them.
#2: MAKE IT SHORT & CONCISE – Be straight forward and to the point, people are busy.
#3: MAKE IT TIMELY & RELEVANT TO THEM AND/OR THEIR BUSINESS – Give them a good Valid Business Reason.
#4: MAKE IT INTERESTING, COMPELLING & INFORMATIVE – Be the expert they’re missing.
#5: MAKE IT FUN – Fun people are easy to do business with and make it less like “work”.
Lastly, and most importantly, Be Yourself! You cannot put a price tag on authenticity. It’s very rare and hard to find these days. When clients do find it trust me, they value it and appreciate it way more than you’ll ever know!
Good Producers Can Teach The World A Lot About Christmas
“A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition.”
Who is Carl Christmas in your house? Who is the one that makes sure everyone that needs to get a card does? Who comes up with the plan for the lights? Who takes the reins on the shopping?
Every home needs one and in my house, that’s me. December (including the last week of November) is my time to shine, baby!
One thing I have tried to impress upon my mom and wife this year is that shipping and supply chain delays are real. So, if you are planning on procrastinating on your online shopping this year (you know, like usual) someone (me) is going to have no presents under the tree.
Veteran producers are used to operate this way. Young producers, listen up. Your job involves the most delicate balance of any in sports radio. You have to help bring your host’s and PD’s visions to life. That means you have to be able to take their direction. But you also have to keep the host on target. That means you cannot be afraid to be forceful and lead when the moment demands it.
There’s no value to being an unrepentant asshole to people, but you do have to hold them accountable. Look at that Christmas shopping example again. If you want to get what you want, you need to keep on task the people you know aren’t paying attention to the potential roadblocks. It isn’t selfish. It is making sure everyone gets the holiday W they are expecting. Sure, you would be disappointed if your gift doesn’t arrive on time, but so will the gift giver.
Being a stickler for the clock or moving a host off of a topic that has no value is the same thing. Of course there is something in it for you, but you are also helping the host do his or her job better. They may get annoyed with you now, but if you save them from an ass-chewing from the bosses or slipping ratings, then they have reaped the benefits.
I guess the unfortunate difference here is that there may be no acknowledgment of what you did or helped them to avoid. Oh well. Every producer has to expect a certain level of thanklessness.
Producers have to take on that Carl Christmas role in dealing with sales too. Remember, just because the producer’s name isn’t on the show doesn’t mean that isn’t every bit his or her show that it is the hosts’.
It’s like decorating your house for the holidays. You may have a certain design in mind. Maybe you have a traditional look you stick to every year. If your spouse or your kid comes home with a giant, inflatable Santa Claus in a military helicopter that they want on the lawn, you have a decision to make. Are you going to say no and suggest an alternative that aligns more with your goal or are you going to let your plan get run over?
Sales has a job to do. It is to make sure their clients’ messages are heard and to make money for the station. Both can be accomplished without sacrificing your show’s quality.
If a seller comes to you and says he wants his client to come in for five minutes and talk about now being the time to book an appointment to have your garage floors redone, you have to speak up. You have an obligation to make sure that the seller knows that even five minutes of that will hurt the show and have listeners diving for the preset buttons on their car stereo. That isn’t good for the station or his client.
Instead, offer to work with the seller and the client to come up with a piece of content that the client can put his name on and a 20-second ad read behind. Will the audience stick around to listen to some dude named Jerry talk about garage floors or will more people listen to you talk about the NFL playoff picture in a creative way and then still be there to hear Jerry’s message about garage floors? The answer seems obvious.
A lot has to be accomplished in the lead-up to Christmas. So much of it happens in the background without much recognition. If the background work wasn’t done though, the problems would be right out on the front lawn for everyone to see.
“Gatekeeper” is a term I really hate. It implies that someone is telling others what they are and are not allowed to enjoy. It is a necessary term though to properly describe what it is that a great producer and a great Carl Christmas do.
We don’t shut people out from being able to enjoy or be a part of what it is we are creating. We set or are handed down expectations and we block anything that can get in the way of achieving them. Sometimes, that is more thankless work than it should be. It is necessary though.
As my home’s self-appointed Carl Christmas and a former producer, let me give my countrymen the thanks others forget. We are the ones that make it possible for everyone else to be mindless. Wear it as a badge of honor. We may not get the kind of recognition we deserve everyday, but when plans go off without a hitch, we are usually the first to be recognized for making it happen.
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