When COVID-19 caused the world to shut down in March of 2020, there was no playbook as to what the next year would look like.
Add a cancer diagnosis to that, and life just got a whole lot scarier.
As the entire country blindly navigated how to work from home, socialize over Zoom, and rely on each other for support, Marc “Silvy” Silverman, co-host of the Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN Chicago, was sitting in a doctor’s office awaiting news that would change his life.
On April 3, 2020, Silvy was told the three words no one ever wants to hear: You have cancer. Thirteen days later, he received word that the exact type of cancer he would be batting was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Having been with ESPN Chicago for more than 20 years, it was ironic that the first person he told at the station was the person he knew the least. New market manager Mike Thomas had only been at the station for six months when Silvy came to him with the news.
“Mike knew right away, and it was an interesting way to sort of, you know handle some things with a new boss,” said Silvy.
“From the very start he was like ‘I’m going to beat this. I’m going to figure out what I need to do, how I need to do it, and, you know, this thing is not going to get me,’” said Thomas. “He just had an amazing attitude from the very start of it.”
While much of the nation had already shut down and people began to work from home, Silvy was one of the few ESPN Chicago employees who continued to work out of the State Street headquarters. However, upon his diagnosis came a newly compromised immune system which forced him to set up a makeshift studio inside his basement. It would become his new workspace.
For most of us, spending 2020 confined to our homes was a difficult adjustment to say the least. For Silvy, being forced to stay home throughout the pandemic might have saved his life.
“The silver lining was that the entire country was working from home and if it wasn’t during a pandemic, I would have pushed myself and my body to go up and back downtown,” said Silvy, who lives approximately 30 miles from downtown Chicago. “I probably would have commuted. I probably would have been in the office. I probably would have taxed my body more, just from not being in my own home.
“But because of the pandemic, because it was normal for even radio hosts to work from home, that helped me in the big picture to get through this and keep my body probably from getting too rundown.”
Despite multiple rounds of chemotherapy and an immunotherapy clinical trial, Silvy never showed signs of being rundown. The only days he didn’t work throughout the whole process were the days surrounding his treatment.
“The dude showed up for work every single freaking day,” said Silvy’s co-host and former Chicago Bear Tom Waddle. “I have had my ass whipped by a lot of big people in the NFL and I consider myself a fairly tough individual. I don’t think I could have handled it the way he handled it both mentally and physically.”
Working from home provided Silvy a sense of normalcy and allowed him to focus his energy on something other than the fact that he had cancer. What also made his circumstances seem more normal was his decision to share his diagnosis on air.
“His openness and his willingness to let everybody in has always been one of his characteristics,” said Waddle. “He doesn’t keep this private life over here and his public persona over there. They’re one and the same with regard to how he approaches his job and I think that in a lot of ways that made this fight a little bit easier for him because there was no change.”
While Silvy has always been very candid with his audience regarding his personal life, his decision to share his cancer diagnosis stemmed from much more.
“I know it was really important for him to kind of give back because guys like Eddie Olczyk, and we’ve had others in the office, who have had experiences or family members that have gone through difficult situations,” said Waddle.
In 2017, Eddie Olczyk, who calls Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago, announced to viewers that he was diagnosed with colon cancer. According to Silvy, he remembers paying close attention as Olczyk shared updates throughout his cancer journey.
“I don’t know whether there was a sixth sense like I paid extra attention to it, and I always marveled to myself, ‘this dude is so candid, this dude is so strong,’” said Silvy. “And I couldn’t believe how much he was sharing, and I always remember that, and it always stood out to me.”
His decision to be candid with his audience also came from the longstanding support the station has shown for the V Foundation. Each year during Jimmy V Week, Waddle and Silvy spend time on-air talking about the V Foundation and raising money for cancer research. During this time, they opened up phone lines for people to call into the show and tell their story of how they’ve been affected by the disease.
“A lot of people have always said to us, ‘those are some of the most amazing shows because they’re raw, they’re emotional, and it’s real-life,’” said Silvy. “And I couldn’t sit there going through what I was going through after asking people on my show to share their experiences on how they’ve dealt with cancer.”
Throughout his entire treatment process, Silvy was honest with fans and listeners about where his health was at. In return, he received an overwhelming flood of support. It was a response he never could have anticipated and certainly wasn’t one he was looking for, yet he was blown away by the amount of encouragement and inspiration it brought him.
“The one line I always remember from someone who was a survivor who said to me ‘You don’t know this until you go through this, but you have a village behind you,’” said Silvy. “And you’ve always heard that term ‘it takes a village,’ but you don’t realize that until you’ve gone through it, because then you’re like holy s—t, this is a village behind me.”
That village came in many different forms.
Local apparel company, Obvious Shirts, came to Silvy with the idea of creating and selling shirts to raise money for him. While he loved the idea, Silvy told them he didn’t want the money going to him but instead wanted to donate it all to the V Foundation.
“I was on not only the chemo but immunotherapy as well because of advancements in medicine, and because of all the money raised for different cancer charities, I was a beneficiary of this sort of stuff,” said Silvy. “I want to make sure that other people are even greater beneficiaries down the road.”
There were two different shirt designs with “Silvy Strong” plastered across the front of each. The most popular featured a drawing by Silvy’s son Mason who was five at the time.
“He gained a lot of support and inspiration from so many people that were willing to reach out,” said Waddle. “And I think sharing his experience, you know, he drew from all those people that were wearing the Silvy Strong shirts or people that would just send a text.”
Fans began using the hashtag #SilvyStrong on Twitter and ESPN Chicago started a social media campaign to help promote the sale of the shirts. Followers who traveled during the summer were asked to take a picture in their Silvy Strong shirts and post it on social media.
“We got [pictures] from all over the place,” said Thomas. “People were at the Grand Canyon, on an island and everywhere else wearing their Silvy Strong shirts. It was pretty amazing.”
To date, the sale of “Silvy Strong” shirts has raised approximately $43,000 for the V Foundation.
According to Silvy, he has always been a huge advocate for mental health, and going through this process made him even more aware of how important that aspect was to recovery. He sought guidance from a few different places. One being from Imerman Angels, a company that randomly matches you with a mentor who went through your exact same type of cancer. He also went to the Cancer Wellness Center in Northbrook.
But much of what made it possible to keep a positive attitude throughout the scariest time of his life was the support of the community.
“You know people sort of fueled me; I’ve never been more grateful,” said Silvy. “That was the word that I used the most. The appreciation for people, some of the stuff that you read, it lifts your spirits and you understand that your show means something to somebody and that they’re rooting for you and helping you get through your day.
“It’s just an incredible feeling and without the support that I had from my teammates, or the fans or my bosses in management, I never could have gone through this.”
On September 25, Silvy was given the news he had long waited for. He was officially in full remission.
His return to the studio was halted by COVID-19 restrictions, yet his April 12, 2021, State Street homecoming was worth the wait.
The small number of colleagues who were back in the office lined the halls as Silvy entered on a fake red carpet surrounded by balloons and decorations.
“It was a celebration,” said Thomas. “We were happy and it was hard to hold back the tears and all of the things that you would expect, still a little bit different just because of COVID, but that was an awesome day to have him back here.”
“It was really an important moment for him to be able to come back to work,” said Waddle. “I know he felt the support of the entire Good Karma Brand. I know he felt the strength coming from everybody, and I think it kind of was a milestone for him and it was an achievement.”
Silvy’s return brought a new perspective to everyone at ESPN Chicago.
“It becomes a reminder for all of us to enjoy ourselves,” said Waddle. “It’s great to be all worked up about what the Cubs or Sox are doing and shouldn’t take you away from being emotional about that, but at the end of the day when the work is over, it’s been a nice reminder that there are more important things in life than who’s going to hit leadoff for the White Sox.”
For Silvy, it signified a fresh start and the release of a huge mental burden he had been carrying.
“I felt like I was a freshman starting high school, or a freshman so happy to be on a college campus for the first time,” said Silvy. “It was like that back-to-school day where you have the butterflies.”
Most importantly, it was an opportunity to return to normal. To return to radio the way it should be, being able to look Waddle in the eye while complaininging about the Cubs and Sox. And to return to the place where he first connected with all the listeners who gave him the strength to get through the most difficult year of his life.
Adam The Bull Is Giving Cleveland Something It’s Never Had Before
“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?”
After spending 22 years on the radio, Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber was ready for a new adventure. In fact, the former co-host of Bull and Fox on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland did not have a new job lined up when he signed off from his 11-year radio home last month.
“I was already leaving without having a new project,” admitted Gerstenhaber during a recent phone interview with BSM. “I left before I knew for sure I had a ‘next project’.”
Gerstenhaber was preparing for his final show with co-host Dustin Fox on April 1st when he was contacted by an executive producer for TEGNA, a company that was developing a Cleveland sports television show on YouTube. The executive producer, who had just found out that Bull was a free agent, made it clear that he wanted Bull to be a part of the new project.
It all came together very quickly.
“Let’s talk on Monday,” Gerstenhaber told the executive producer. “And within a week they signed me up.”
The Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show on YouTube featuring Gerstenhaber, former ESPN personality Jay Crawford, 92.3 The Fan’s Garrett Bush, and rotating hosts to make up a four-person round-table show, made its debut last Monday. The show, which airs weekdays from 11am to 1pm, features passionate Cleveland sports talk, live guests, either in-studio or via Zoom, as well as interaction from the audience through social media.
“I’m very excited,” said Gerstenhaber. “It’s a definite adjustment for me after 22 years on radio doing television. For the last 11 years, I’ve been doing a radio show with just one other host and I was the lead guy doing most of the talking and now I’m on a show with three other people and it’s such an adjustment. So far, I’m having a ball.”
And so far, the reaction to the show has been very positive.
A big reason why is that it’s something that Cleveland didn’t have and really never had, unlike a city like New York, where there are local radio shows that are simulcast on regional sports channels.
“There’s nothing like that in Cleveland,” said Gerstenhaber. “And there was certainly nothing like this with a panel. Cleveland is such a massive sports town and now people that don’t live in Cleveland that are maybe retired in Florida or Arizona, now they actually have a TV show that they can watch that’s Cleveland-centric.”
The new venture certainly represents a big change in what Bull has been used to in his radio career. He’s enjoying the freedom of not having to follow a hard clock for this show. In fact, there have already been some occasions where the show has been able to go a little longer than scheduled because they have the flexibility to do that on YouTube.
Doing a show on YouTube gives the panel a great opportunity to go deep into topics and spend some quality time with guests. And while there is no cursing on the show at the moment, there could be the potential for that down the road.
Don’t expect the show is going to become X-rated or anything like that, but the objective is to be able to capture the spirit and emotion of being a sports fan and host.
“It’s something we may do in the future,” said Gerstenhaber. “Not curse just to curse but it gives us the option if we get fired up. It is allowed because there’s no restrictions there. The company doesn’t want us to do it at the moment.”
There’s also been the shift for Gerstenhaber from being the “point guard” on his old radio show, driving the conversation and doing most of the talking, to now taking a step back and having Crawford distributing the ball on the television show.
For a guy called “The Bull”, that will take some getting used to.
“Jay is a pro’s pro,” said Gerstenhaber. “He’s the point guard for this but he’s also part of the conversation. I’m not used to not being the point guard so I have to adjust to that. I think it’s gone pretty well and the chemistry is pretty good and with time we’ll get used to the flow of it.”
Gerstenhaber’s move from sports radio to an internet television show is a perfect example of how the industry is changing. A good portion of the listening and viewing audience these days, especially those in the younger demographic, are not necessarily watching traditional television or listening to terrestrial radio. For a lot of sports fans, watching and listening on a mobile device or a computer has become a very important way of life.
The desire to adapt, along with a shorter workday, was very enticing to him.
“It was only more recently that I was like why do I have to only be a radio guy?” wondered Gerstenhaber. “There were things about my job that I was unhappy about. I was doing a five-hour radio show. It’s too long. That’s crazy. Nobody should be doing a five-hour radio show at this point.”
Broadcasting on the internet has arrived and it’s not just a couple of sports fans doing a show from their garage anymore. The business has evolved to the point where the technology has provided more opportunities for those who have already enjoyed success in the industry and are looking for new challenges.
Kind of like Adam The Bull!
“I think years ago, probably like many people in the radio business, we looked at internet and podcasts as like whatever…those guys aren’t professionals…they’re amateurs,” said Gerstenhaber. “But the game has changed.”
Gerstenhaber, Crawford and everyone associated with the “Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show” should not have much of a problem attracting the younger audience. That demographic is already accustomed to watching shows on YouTube and other streaming platforms. The challenge now is to get the more mature audience on board. There are certainly some obstacles there.
I know this from experience with trying to explain to my mother in Florida how she can hear me on the radio and watch me on television simply by using her tablet.
Bull can certainly relate to that.
“My mother is still trying to figure out how to watch the show live,” said Gerstenhaber with a chuckle. “The older fans struggle with that. A lot of my older fans here in Cleveland are like how do I watch it? For people that are under 40 and certainly people that under 30, watching a YouTube show is like okay I watch everything on my phone or device. It’s such a divide and obviously as the years go by, that group will increase.”
With the television show off and running, Gerstenhaber still has a passion for his roots and that’s the radio side of the business. In the next couple of weeks, “The Bull” is set to announce the launch of two podcasts, one daily and one weekly, that will begin next month. But he also hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to terrestrial radio at some point.
“I have not closed the door to radio,” said Gerstenhaber. “I still love radio. I would still, in the right set of circumstances, consider going back to radio but it would have to really be the perfect situation. I’m excited about (the television show) and right now I don’t want to do anything else but I’m certainly going to remain open-minded to radio if a really excellent opportunity came up.”
The landscape of the broadcasting industry, particularly when it comes to sports, has certainly changed over the years and continues to evolve. Adam Gerstenhaber certainly enjoyed a tremendous amount of success on the radio side, both in New York and in Cleveland, but now he has made the transition to something new with the YouTube television show and he’s committed to making it a success.
I Heard A Lot of Boring, Uncreative Sports Radio On Friday
“Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released”
Maybe this one is on me for expecting better. Maybe I need to take my own advice and accept that there are times the sports radio audience just wants a little comfort food. Still, this is my column and I am going to complain because I listened to probably six different stations on Friday and all of them were doing the exact same thing.
The NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, so on Friday, regardless of daypart, every show seemingly felt obligated to have the same three conversations.
- How many games will the home team win?
- What does the number of primetime games we got mean for how much respect we have nationally?
- Why do the Lions still get to play on Thanksgiving?
Football is king. I get that. Concrete NFL news is always going to take priority. That is understandable. But where was even an ounce of creativity? Where was the desire to do better – not just better than the competition, but better than the other shows in your own building?
I listened to shows in markets from across the league. The conversations were the same regardless of size or history of success. Everyone that picked in the top 5 in last month’s draft is going to go 10-7. Every team that got less than 5 primetime games feels disrespected. It was all so boring.
Those of us in the industry don’t consume content the way listeners do. We all know that. Perhaps I am harping on something that is only a problem to me because I listen to sports talk radio for a living. If you don’t ever want to put more than the bare minimum of effort into your show, decide that is the reason for my reaction and go click on another article here.
Consider this though, maybe the fact that I listen to so much sports radio means I know how much quality there is in this industry. Maybe it means that I can spot someone talented that is phoning it in.
I want to be clear in my point. There is value in giving your record prediction for the home team. Listeners look at the people on the radio as experts. I will bet some futures bets in a lot of markets were made on Friday based on what the gambler heard coming through their speakers. All I want to get across is there is a way to have that conversation that isn’t taking two segments to go through each week one by one. I heard no less than three stations do that on Friday.
Sometimes your first idea is your best one. You don’t know that though if you stop thinking after one idea. That is what it feels like happens a lot the day after NFL schedules are released. It’s a very familiar rhythm: pick the wins, get a guest on to preview the week 1 opponent, take calls, texts and tweets with the listeners’ predictions.
I didn’t hear anyone ask their listeners to sell them on the over for wins. I didn’t hear anyone give me weeks that you could skip Red Zone because one matchup is just too damn good. I didn’t hear anyone go through the Sunday Night Football schedule and pick out the weeks to schedule dates because the matchup isn’t worth it.
Maybe none of those ideas are winners, and that is fine. They are literally three dumb ideas I pulled out of the air. But they are all ways to review the schedule that could potentially leave a smile on your listener’s face.
Show prep is so important, especially in a group setting. It is your chance to tell your partner, producer, or host that you know you can do better than the idea that has just been thrown out. Quit nodding in agreement and challenge each other! It may mean a little more work for you, but it means more reward for the listeners. And if the listeners know they can rely on you for quality, creative content, that leads to more reward for you.
And lay off the Lions. It’s Thanksgiving. You’re stuck at home. The NFL could give you Lions vs Jaguars and you’d watch.
Why You Should Be Making Great TikTok Content
“We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds.”
It feels like there’s a new social media platform to pay attention to every other week. That makes it easy to overlook when one of them actually presents value to your brand. It wasn’t long ago that TikTok was primarily used by teenagers with the focus being silly dance trends filmed for video consumption with their friends and followers alike. Now, as the general public has become in tune with how this complicated app works, it’s grown far beyond that.
TikTok is now an app used by all types of demographics and unlike TikTok’s closely related cousins Instagram and Facebook, this app provides a certain type of nuance that I think people in our line of work can really excel in.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how you can use TikTok to your advantage and how to make your videos catch on, I think it’s important to first mention why this matters for you. Now, if I’m being realistic, I’m sure there are some that have already stopped reading this or those that could scroll away fast enough when they saw the words TikTok. You might be thinking that this doesn’t fit your demo, or maybe that it’s a waste of time because productivity here won’t directly lead to an uptick in Nielsen ratings. But I’m not sure any social network directly leads to what we ultimately get judged on, and we aren’t always pumping out content directly to our core audience.
TikTok, like any other app you may use, is marketing. This is another free tool to let people out there know who you are and what you offer in this endless sea of content. And the beauty of TikTok is that it directly caters its algorithm to content creators just like us. Bottom line, if you are a personality in sports talk, there’s no reason you can’t be crushing it on TikTok right now. All it takes is a little direction, focus, consistency, and a plan.
Unlike Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter where you can throw a photo up with a caption and be done for the day, TikTok’s whole model is built on creative videos that keep users engaged for longer periods of time. This approach works. According to Oberlo, a social media stat tracking site, people spend more time per day on TikTok than any other popular social media application. 38 minutes per day!
This is where this is good news for us in talk radio. We’re specially trained in the world of TSL (time spent listening), and the longer people view your content on TikTok, the more the app rewards you by shoving your content into more and more feeds. TikTok’s algorithm doesn’t care how many followers you have, your level of credibility, or the production on your video. All ir cares about is 1) Is your content good. and 2) Are people watching it. 3) How long are they watching it. The more people watch and the longer they watch creates a snowball effect. Your videos views will skyrocket, sometimes within hours.
So, how do you create content that will catch on? It’s really not all that different than what you do every day. Create thought-provoking commentary that makes people think, argue, or stay till the end to get the info you teased up for them. I’ve found through my own trial and error that it’s best if you stay away from time-sensitive material, I’ve had more success the more evergreen my content is. That way, the shelf life expands beyond just that day or week. This is different for everyone and there’s no one-size-fits-all, but this is where I’ve seen the most success.
Also, put yourself out there, don’t be afraid to say something that people are going to vehemently disagree with. Again, it’s not unlike what we do every day. It’s one thing to get someone to listen, it’s another to get them to engage. Once they hit you in the comment section, you’ve got them hooked. Comments breed more views and on and on. But don’t just let those sit there, even the smallest interaction back like a shoulder shrug emoji can go a long way in creating more play for your video.
If you want to grow quickly, create a niche for yourself. The best content creators that I follow on TikTok all put out very similar content for most of their videos. This means, unlike Instagram where it’s great to show what a wildly interesting and eclectic person you are, TikTok users want to know what they’re getting the second your face pops up on that screen. So if you are the sports history guy, be the sports history guy all the time. If you are the top 5 list guy, be the top 5 list guy all the time, and on and on, you get the point.
Other simple tricks:
- Splice small videos together. Don’t shoot one long video.
- 90 seconds to 2 minutes is a sweet spot amount of time.
- Add a soft layer of background instrumental music (this feature is found in the app when you are putting the finishing touches on your video)
- Label your video across the screen at the start and time it out so that it disappears seconds later. This way a user gets an idea of what the content is immediately and then can focus on you delivering your message thereafter.
- Research trending hashtags, they are far more important than whatever you caption your video.
- Use closed captions so that people can follow your video without sound.
Finally, don’t be intimidated by it or snub your nose at it. Anything that helps your brand is worth doing and anything worth doing is worth doing well.