John Kincade Only Wants To Do His Show His Way
” I don’t believe there is enough reinvention of the wheel. I hear a lot of the same. I think that younger listeners want different, want to try something different, try different approaches.”
Philly is in John Kincade’s blood. The sports radio host grew up in Broomall, Pennsylvania, which is around 12 miles from Philadelphia City Hall. As he puts it, the only team John ever allowed himself to just be a stupid fan for is the Eagles. He once told his daughter, “You can root for whoever you wish in sports, but you will be an Eagles fan.” Gotta love that. It was an unforeseen path back to Philly for John after a quarter-century in Atlanta, but home never felt so good.
It’s always interesting to hear about the events that lead a big-time host to their current gig. John’s path, which includes cancer and coaching hockey, stands out especially. John talks about his deep respect for Angelo Cataldi, the radio term that he despises the most, and how Philly has drastically changed since the mid-‘90s. We also touch on his first 100 days back in Philly and John’s greatest feeling in radio. Oh, and hair. We can’t forget about that. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What’s your sports radio path that has led to where you are now?
John Kincade: While I was in college and after college I worked for the Philadelphia Flyers doing video and statistics with their coaching staff under Mike Keenan. I also was coaching ice hockey at the time and thought maybe I wanted to be a hockey coach. That’s craziness. But I was working in the business world. When I stopped working for the Flyers, I continued my coaching career but was working in sales and marketing.
Then when sports radio took off, I got involved with Tony Bruno. He was kind enough to have me as his Flyers correspondent when he was at WCAU. That took me to an internship with WIP. My first air shift was awarded to me by Tom Bigby, God rest his soul. The man was just an absolute legend. I was going down to Atlanta with my business, but I wanted to work in sports radio on the weekends. Tom Bigby was kind enough, Tony Bruno, Angelo Cataldi — I did bits on Angelo Cataldi’s show for over three years before I moved to Atlanta. They all spoke on my behalf with Mike Thompson who was at The Fan in Atlanta. They said put this guy on weekends. Mike Thompson put me on weekends because I had a full-time job during the week. I had my foot in both pools.
Eventually I ended up getting cancer twice. I got cancer in ‘95 and then I got cancer again in ‘97. I said in ‘97 when I got sick again, I told my mom, I said if I survive this, I’m going to go work in radio because I was convinced I was going to die. I was like enough of this part-time crap. I’m going to die. I’m not going to see 40. I’m not going to see 45, 50. So why not do what I want to do? I left and I did radio and TV with the Atlanta Thrashers their first year in ‘99. I worked with Steak Shapiro and their crew at 790 The Zone. Then when they relaunched The Fan in 2000, we started Buck and Kincade and I did that for 20 years.
BN: How would you judge your first 100 days in Philly now that you’re back?
JK: I’m extremely happy the way the show has premiered and the way the show has been received. You’re launching something new and we are doing something that is completely foreign to the market as far as the kind of show we do. Thankfully it appears the younger sports radio listeners are flocking to it and loving it. That’s what I love to hear. I’ve been in the business long enough to know what works.
It’s an intimidating thing to come home because you want to do your best. The difference is, instead of an audience listening to me every day, I’ve got at least 150 people that actually know my cell phone number that are listening to the show every day. I have a huge extended family. Within a 10-mile radius I probably have 15 to 20 cousins. I’m constantly getting that immediate feedback. Sort of like you guys at Barrett Sports Media, you have your little focus groups, well guess what, I’ve got a focus group every day on my cell phone.
I came in the door and I told Beasley Media we’re going to create this show and I said we’re going to break some eggs. We’re going to do things differently and we’re going to resist the urge to do exactly what has been done in Philly sports radio forever. And hopefully the audience will be attracted to it, stick with us, spend more time with us. We are very, very pleased with how we’ve premiered.
BN: What’s the biggest difference with your show compared to other shows in Philly?
JK: We probably take around 15 percent of the calls that any other show in the market takes. I’m going to say 15 percent, maybe 20. There are great, successful hosts in this market, some people who are really legends of the game. Guys I compete with like Angelo Cataldi, Mike Missanelli doing afternoon drive on our station, Anthony Gargano who I follow. These are guys who have been here forever and they do their thing. They do what has worked for them and what this community has fallen in love with them for.
I felt I had an opportunity to come in and do something that I had done on the national level for years where I did not take many calls. I did seven years at ESPN Radio with The John Kincade Show and then eight years on CBS Sports Radio. For 15 years I did it and I said okay, I know this works. I didn’t have to be caller driven. I hate the term caller-driven radio. It is the number one pet peeve to me.
When I talk to young people about getting into the business I say look, the world is going toward podcasting. What do we all want to do? We all want to binge watch. We all want to watch a show on our schedule. My wife wants to watch three episodes of one show in one night. I do not. That’s not how I consume media. My wife loves that. I said, well radio is moving in that direction. And guess what you’re not going to have?
What you need to do is you need to entertain. You need to catch people’s attention and entertain. I think relying on caller-driven radio to me is an idea of saying, well I’ve got a show, and I’m asking people to come and listen to my show, but I have no idea what the content is going to be. It’s going to be provided by random people who pick up the phone and call. To me, and just for me, it’s sort of what sports radio was 20 years ago. I don’t believe it’s what young listeners want and I think the numbers are bearing that out.
BN: What’s it like for you to compete against your mentor, Angelo Cataldi?
JK: The respect, admiration, and flat-out love that I have for Angelo Cataldi will never change, has never changed. He was involved every step of the way when I left Atlanta unceremoniously, and was looking for a job. He flat out told me and I’ll quote, he goes, ‘If these people are dumb enough not to hire you, you go and do whatever you gotta do.’ I had other opportunities including satellite radio. Angelo flat out said it to me, he said whatever you got to do, you take care of your family in the way I took care of mine. You worry about your family. You worry about finding a job that works for you.
What I didn’t expect and I’ll be very honest with you, I did not expect that if you had told me the day I found out I was leaving Atlanta, that I was going to be on 97.5 The Fanatic, I wouldn’t have expected it. But I was blown away by their absolute commitment to wanting to shake things up and do some things differently. To feel wanted? Especially when anyone gets told you make too much money, we can’t afford you, so your contract is not being renewed. That was painful to me because I didn’t understand the concept. Buck and Kincade in the South, we had just celebrated our 20-year anniversary on the air in Atlanta. When you get told well we’re going to move on, we’re just going to put an unceremonious end to it, it’s a hit to the ego. It was like I can’t believe this is happening to me.
But to have people with Beasley Media, and Joe Bell who’s the market manager, and Chuck Damico who is the program director, they literally had the most low-key, highly effective sales pitch I’ve ever heard. What do you want to do? What do you want to create here? How do you see this happening? Everything was directed at me. And honestly every single other place I talked to was saying more along the lines of well here’s what we do, and we think you’d be a good fit for what we do. The blank slate is what drew me to The Fanatic. I give them a lot of credit for taking that chance of wanting to do things differently.
BN: Now that you ended up in Philly at a rival station, what impact has that had on your relationship with Angelo?
JK: It has not had any impact on it at all. From the moment that I began the job search, three different times during the process of deciding what I was going to do, he was one of my first calls. He counseled me along the way. I bounced some ideas off of him about who was talking to me. He was extremely supportive. The day that I decided to take the job with The Fanatic, my first call was to Angelo Cataldi. I picked up the phone and called him because I owed him that respect.
This is a man who helped me launch my career. He’s a guy who taught me and let me see the bag of tricks. David Copperfield let me backstage and I watched this man. I got to see how he performed some of his magic. I do things a lot differently than Angelo, but one thing I learned from him is that you have to have your vision, create loyalty, create connections with your audience, and nobody’s done that better in this market than Angelo Cataldi, period. Ang and I still talk at times in the five months I’ve been home. We were going to make plans to try to have lunch soon. Hopefully that’s going to happen now that all the COVID stuff has lifted.
I couldn’t be more proud to call him a mentor. I’ve had a few. Howard Eskin was a guy I interned under. Tony Bruno was a huge influencer on me, all these guys. I’m so honored that I ever just got to see them do their craft. But in a weird way, I don’t want to be any of them. I want to be my own way, my own image, my own portrayal of what I want to do and it’s because of seeing guys like that do it their way for so long that I have the ability to say, hey here’s what I want to do. Let’s go do it.
Ang couldn’t be any more gracious, any more of a class act. It’s a mutual admiration. I know he continues to kick ass. He knows I’m coming for him and he’s like okay bring it on, dude. [Laughs] I’m ready for it. It’s great because we refuse to play — Philly loves to play up a thing called radio wars. It’s because there have been personalities who’ve worked in this town who tried to create the radio war. It’s not the ‘90s. It’s not the era of Howard Stern. That’s trite. And more importantly, I don’t believe the audience cares if you like a host at another station or anything like that. That’s like high school lunch table crap to me. It’s something that never attracted me as a listener.
BN: What’s your reaction to Spike Eskin going to WFAN?
JK: Well Spike’s taking over a very prominent office; I’ll tell you that much. I had the pleasure with my network show to get to know Mark Chernoff a bit. Over the past two years, to have Mark Chernoff in my cell phone, and a few times to just be able to say, can I talk to you about something? He’d say, 2 o’clock work? 2:30 work? He always had time for me. Great kindness, great insight into the industry. He’s a freakin’ legend. To have the opportunity to have worked under him for a few years was my honor. He helped me also during the whole job search. ‘That situation might not be the best one for you. You want to work under this kind of management.’ I picked his brain. The guy is a treasure trove of information.
I’ve known Spike a long time. What I know about Spike Eskin is he’s a competitor. I think he’s going to bring a new juice to the network. He’s a guy that I think understands there’s different ways for different guys to approach things and to do their job. I think that CBS Sports Radio will be lucky to have him.
BN: Has Philly changed at all since the first time you did radio there?
JK: I know this town like the back of my hand, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s changed. That’s something that has been one of those fun parts of the first 100 days of the show, is learning that this fan base has changed since I left. It’s different than when I left in the ‘90s. I believe it’s a kinder, gentler fan base. I know anybody hearing that about Philadelphia; they’ll laugh at me. But I would completely disagree having grown up here, and having been a part of these fan bases my entire life. It’s a kinder, gentler fan base.
It’s a fan base where people really get up in their feelings about defending the athlete they love, defending the athlete from criticism. It’s interesting. I think it’s a more introspective fan base than when I left.
Conversations are different. The visceral reaction to things seems more civilized from what I remember in my youth. That has been the wildest part of the journey of getting back home here, has been getting to know my fellow fans again, and getting to know what they think, and how they feel, and how they react. I think it’s a much more relaxed fan base than it was when I left. And I never would have said anything about Philly sports was relaxed when I was growing up. It’s completely different.
BN: What do you think is the best and the worst part of Philly sports radio?
JK: The best part is I believe this market has had some of the greatest long-tenured figures sit behind microphones that have helped to shape narratives, discussions, and fan bases for generations. When you’re talking a Mike Missanelli, and a Howard Eskin, and an Angelo Cataldi; these are icons of the industry that are known countrywide. These are guys that have had major, major success. This is a hotbed of sports radio.
What I think is the worst part about it, I don’t believe there is enough reinvention of the wheel. I hear a lot of the same. I think that younger listeners want different, want to try something different, try different approaches. I think that’s what I would tend to say.
BN: What do you think is the best and worst part of Atlanta sports radio?
JK: [Laughs] Boy, I have a perfect chance there. I think the worst part of it is, in Philadelphia almost every single person turning on their radio is an Eagles fan, Sixers fan, a Phillies fan. I tell the story when I moved to Atlanta in 1995, there were 2.7 million people. When I packed up to come up to Philadelphia, Christmas vacation of this year, there were 6.8 million people in Atlanta; 4.1 million people over a quarter of a century. That’s huge. But what happened is, they didn’t just give birth to four million Falcon fans. It’s Bears fans. It’s Eagles fans. It’s Giants fans. It’s Dolphin fans that come to Atlanta.
Atlanta is a melting pot. It’s a much more difficult place to do a radio show in sports. I can tell you that. People love college football in the South. That’s great. Unfortunately the audience has six or seven different teams that have fan bases in your market. So if you go too specific, it’s a tune out for the other fan bases. And if you go too broad, people don’t hear enough about their team or enough detail, they’re not into it. It’s a very difficult tightrope to walk with the fan bases. Whereas in Philly, a Monday after an Eagles game, the show programs itself.
BN: Are you a guy where scripting teases or parts of the show helps you relax and have fun?
JK: No question. Preparation is what makes me relax and have fun. My wife and daughter call me Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. They call me Sheldon. And they say it lovingly. But those who have ever worked with me know that there’s a hell of a lot of Sheldon Cooper in me.
I speak my mind. I don’t have a filter. I tell you exactly what I thought about a call, a segment, preparation, whatever; I’m not very good at political correctness or mincing words. It’s probably what has helped me have a good career, but it also makes it hard because everybody that I work with has to work the way I want to work. Because it’s the only way it’s going to work. If I’m going to do the show, we have to prepare the same and we have to have a routine and a regimented approach to things.
BN: What has been one of your favorite all-time memories in your sports radio career?
JK: Oh gosh. I would tell you that I don’t believe anybody in the business has my resume of fill-in hosting. I filled in for Mike Greenberg, Scott Van Pelt, Dan Patrick, Mike Tirico; I filled in four and a half years for Colin Cowherd. I don’t do Mount Rushmore shows, but if you were doing one on national sports radio, you’ve got it right there. And I filled in for all of them.
To sit in their chairs, in front of their mics, do their shows, that will forever be to me the greatest ‘oh my gosh’ feeling of the entire thing. I didn’t start full time in a media career until I was 33. To have accomplished that is truly incredible and absolutely a blessing. Just to think of all those people, and I didn’t mention a bunch of others, I’ve been very, very fortunate to do that.
BN: With as much as you’ve accomplished, is there anything else you’d like to experience?
JK: I want to have just a share of the great success that my mentors have had. Honestly I have missed my national radio audience. For 15 years doing my own show, getting to fill in for all those other great hosts over the years, I’ve missed it. It’s only been five months but I’ve missed it. I think at some point I will venture back into doing a national radio show. That is something I would like to do. But I’ve got a job to do right now. Beasley Media and The Fanatic gave me the keys to a great vehicle and they expect me to drive. They expect me to drive ratings, they expect me to drive revenue, and they expect me to make the entire radio station better. That has to be my focus and that’s my desire. I’m going to teach too. Now that I’m back in Philadelphia, I would love to teach a radio broadcasting class to college kids at my alma mater Temple University. That’s something on my list of things that I want to do.
BN: Before you go, you’ve got great hair, John. I need any hair advice you have to share.
JK: Redken products. I like the Redken products. When you use a moisturizer, what you’ve got to do, guys, you don’t wash your hair that day. Don’t use shampoo and then use conditioner. Just rinse your hair and use conditioner. You don’t need to shampoo your hair every day. And I would tell guys, embrace your hair color. One thing I will never do is have my fingernails fall off from clinging to my youth.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.