THEY GET IT
Naomi Osaka’s skeptics — Too many columnists are writing scared. Too many commentators are talking scared. To wit: Anyone who raises doubts about the motives behind Osaka’s media boycott and French Open withdrawal — as I did in a column — fears they’ll be vilified as barbaric, insensitive and anti-Asian by the social media mobs. Such backlash, in return, might lead to rebukes from media bosses trying to cover their asses and keep their jobs. This explains the flood of sympathetic pieces that couldn’t look past Osaka’s two operative words — “mental health’’ — when her tug-of-war with tennis officials is more about control. Look, I don’t know of a soul on Planet Earth who isn’t dealing with some sort of mental health issue, nor do I know a person who’s entirely happy to perform all required job responsibilities. That doesn’t mean everybody should just quit and go home; there wouldn’t be a workforce, right? So, should we be disproportionately compassionate toward a 23-year-old superstar who earned $55.2 million last year — more than any female athlete — because she doesn’t want to face certain questions in news conferences? Osaka’s stance is about athlete empowerment, as I opined, and her memorable tribute to police brutality victims wouldn’t have made the same impact had she boycotted media at the U.S. Open. I feel for anyone dealing with depression — unlike FS1’s Skip Bayless, who mocked Dak Prescott for talking about his battles. Contrary to Osaka, Prescott kept suiting up and playing football, making Bayless look worse. All I know is, when a family member fell ill one spring, I asked my radio network boss if I could take a few days off for mental reasons. “No,’’ he said. That’s the real world, Naomi.
Reggie Miller, TNT — The legendary provocateur, reviled in Madison Square Garden and NBA arenas everywhere, is best equipped to address the alarming series of fan incidents this postseason. And he delivered, criticizing the league for enabling a culture in which a water bottle is hurled at Kyrie Irving, popcorn is dumped on Russell Westbrook, Trae Young is spat on, Ja Morant’s parents are peppered with racial slurs and a goof somehow rushes onto the court in Washington. “I was part of `Malice at the Palace,’ ‘’ said Miller, reintroducing the league’s dreaded fans-vs.-players violence narrative to a modern audience. Rather than focus on his large turnstile counts, league boss Adam Silver might confer with Miller, who asks the question on all of our minds: Where the hell is security? What I liked most about his commentary, on a topic broached by broadcast partner Kevin Harlan: Miller pointed directly at the league, not an easy task when his Turner Sports bosses are partners with the NBA. With Irving saying players are treated as if “they’re in a human zoo’’ and Brooklyn teammate Kevin Durant telling fans to “grow the f— up,’’ yes, the league has a very dangerous problem that keeps growing worse.
Hubie Brown, ESPN — It’s time to mute all postseason static and recognize this man as a broadcasting masterpiece. Brown will turn NINETY in two years, yet he’s still twice as prepared and passionate as many analysts half his age. In an age of ranting and scolding and pontificating, he continues to educate and make measured points as a hoops sage. “The Memphis front line,’’ said Hubie, “is not contributing any points, and they’re not giving you the defense in the paint or the rebounds.’’ Stephen A. Smith would shriek that the Memphis front line sucks, but Brown isn’t in this game for attention. Despite sitting in a makeshift studio in Atlanta, with caricatures of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird behind him, he quickly dispensed information as the Utah Jazz made repeated defensive stops: “They’re averaging 24 deflections in the first two games.’’ Sports networks often ship old voices to the morgue when they reach 50 or 60, so credit Bristol for recognizing the vitality of wisdom and ignoring his birthdate (Sept. 25, 1933). What if Brown keeps running it back until he’s 100? For now, I’m loving it when his commentary leads into a rap verse before a commercial break. That’s it: Someone record The Hubie Hustle.
Russell Westbrook, filmmaker — Rising above the arena hatred, which has included racial taunts in Utah, Westbrook put his name and money behind the History Channel documentary, “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre.’’ Any prominent athlete can capitalize on stardom by making a self-aggrandizing sports doc, but Westbrook wants to be defined by more than basketball and triple-double sprees. “The Tulsa Race Massacre was not something I was taught about in school or in any of my history books. It was only after spending 11 years in Oklahoma that I learned of this deeply troubling and heartbreaking event,’’ he said. “This is one of many overlooked stories of African Americans in this country that deserves to be told.’’ The Michael Jordan doc has led to the Tom Brady doc, the Mike Tyson doc, the Derek Jeter doc, the Serena Williams doc and too much sports docu-mania. Westbrook remained above the creative fray.
Clay Travis, conservative talk host — Using his sports site to advance his political leanings might have had scattered success during a pandemic, when Southern followers embraced his rhetoric that COVID-19 was overblown. But Travis is much better off leaving sports and his Fox Sports Radio program to replace Rush Limbaugh, joining partner Buck Sexton on one of radio’s biggest platforms. “As I looked at the data during 2020, the story it told me was clear,’’ Travis wrote on Outkick. “As much as people might enjoy my sports opinions, they loved even more when I talked about issues that were, frankly, far more important than sports: my belief in American exceptionalism and the meritocracy, my rejection of cancel culture and identity politics, (and) my repudiation of everything woke in our culture.’’ Travis will be a right wing fixture for the long haul and eventually will inhabit a regular chair on the Fox News channel. As for Outkick, it has been purchased by Fox but I doubt it will remain a sports site as much as a conservative destination for its cultists. Sports can say bye-bye to Travis, who never belonged — which made him refreshing until he wasn’t.
Joey Votto, careerist — At 37, with his baseball career trending downward to a crawl, Votto is no fool about future work possibilities. Rehabbing a broken thumb at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park while the Reds were out of town, he heard a request from the broadcast booth: Would he like to join team announcers Tommy Thrall and Chris Welsh on their remote radio call of the Reds-Cubs game? One of baseball’s most fascinating personalties, Votto made his way upstairs and instantly flashed his personality when Thrall introduced him as a future Hall of Famer. “You didn’t introduce me. You said `future Hall of Famer,’ ‘’ Votto shot back. “Easy there, easy, easy, easy, easy, easy … current Reds IL member.’’ By all accounts, his performance was insightful and delightful, and in the vast wasteland of MLB analysts, he should be front and center on the Fox, ESPN and TNT radar. He also extended this column to extra innings in becoming the Sixth Who Gets It.
L. Jon Wertheim, cross-pollinating overlord — I’d just finished reading his work on Prince’s fondness for all things basketball — muttering to myself, “On my best day, I’ll never write half as well as this guy’’ — when I flipped on “60 Minutes’’ and saw his piece on German pianist Igor Levit, who has managed to find audiences digitally and stay relevant during a pandemic. Then, as the Osaka story broke, Wertheim put on his tennis cap for Sports Illustrated’s website and weighed in. As SI’s executive editor and a supreme writer, he’s the biggest in-house reason why a once-beleaguered magazine still features the best top-drawer content among sports digital sites. Sometimes, personal bio taglines are overwrought, but when SI describes him as “one of the most accomplished sports journalists in America,’’ it’s actually underselling his versatility — a topic worthy of a Seventh Who Gets It.
THEY DON’T GET IT
Aaron Rodgers, overexposed — It was powerful when he hijacked the NFL Draft to demand a trade. It was exquisite when he fulfilled a dream by guest-hosting “Jeopardy!’’ It was riotous when he explained his grievances with the Packers on friend Kenny Mayne’s final “SportsCenter’’ appearance. But when social media was flooded with photos of Rodgers and his Hawaii traveling party — purple-bikinied fiancee Shailene Woodley, bromance partner Miles Teller and his wife — this officially became the Offseason Of Aaron. And I’m officially tired of it. With every new Rodgers development, it smacks of a calculated media takeover, as if premeditated step by step, week by week, through the imagination of a very clever man. It would be nice not to hear a peep from him until he decides either to rejoin the Packers or boycott them until he’s traded. But — ding! — there goes my latest Rodgers phone alert: The Packers are holding firm on their stance that he won’t be dealt. Which means, Rodgers will be responding soon enough, perhaps from Croatia or Bora Bora.
Pat McAfee, bullshit artist — Just because he’s having big success in the sports audio space — and I can’t exactly explain why — doesn’t mean McAfee should run with stories before at least trying to corroborate them. (Dear Pat: The dictionary definition of “corroborate’’ is to confirm or give support to a finding.) McAfee made the mistake of crossing his frequent show guest — you guessed it, Rodgers — by botching details surrounding an alleged assault victim — you guessed it, Teller — in the bathroom of a Maui restaurant. In his role as a “Smackdown’’ wrestling commentator, McAfee thought Teller knew his attackers and compared the incident to a tag-team beatdown. Teller responded with a tweet to McAfee: “I got jumped by two guys in a bathroom. Never met them before in my life but ya cool wrestling segue bud.’’ To which McAfee responded: “Miles.. I apologize for not knowing the whole story. I will fix my position and make it right… with that being said, it was a pretty good segue.” The segue, of course, always is more important than getting the story right to begin with.
Retro cancelers — When so many areas of law are subjected to statutes of limitations, it’s interesting that media companies reach back decades and fire employees for alleged sins. It’s just as interesting that some do not. Because I don’t know what happened and won’t pretend to, I will not pass judgment, for instance, on whether ESPN’s Woody Paige yelled at a 24-year-old editorial assistant and called her a “cunt’’ when he was executive sports editor of the Denver Post in 1992. According to the American Journalism Review, Carrie Ludicke received $25,000 in a confidential settlement following her sexual harassment complaint while Paige, though denying ever using the word, lost his position but kept his salary and column. Should ESPN retroactively fire Paige today? Cancel culture would say yes; Paige defenders would say the episode happened almost 30 years ago in a workplace that didn’t involve ESPN. What can’t be disputed: There is too much selective justice in retro cases, depending on current politics and cronyism and who’s on the right or wrong side of those walls. I see a new story on this topic every week, and I cringe at the lack of corporate consistency. It’s time to find an equilibrium.
Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN — I’m troubled that Herbstreit, college football’s leading analyst, still can’t taste or smell after testing positive for COVID-19 in December. He took to Twitter, writing, “Been 5 months since I tested positive for Covid. Still can’t taste or smell. Anyone else experience this?? Did it ever come back?? Haven’t tasted a meal since late December. After 5 months…is this my new normal or will taste and smell come back???” Rather than asking important medical questions on social media, shouldn’t he, um, see a doctor? The good news: If Herbstreit has to eat crow on a prediction, he won’t taste it. The bad news: ESPN might not want him around partner Chris Fowler and production employees if the condition persists in August.
New York Times — In my sphere of media consumption, the Times excelled through a pandemic to remain the gold standard of go-to news operations. So why would a prestigious site, having successfully transformed to digital while poised for a continued long run of profitability, ponder acquiring a struggling operation such as The Athletic? As pointed out by Sportico, “It is less clear why the NYT would be interested in making a big bet on a growth business that has seemingly stalled, is losing money and competing in an extremely competitive digital media environment.’’ Beyond the financials, why jump into bed with the sports industry — as a whole, The Athletic remains too cozy with leagues, franchises and broadcast networks — when the Times is among the few shops committed to robust, independent journalism? If the Times comes to its senses and says no, it would be the latest bitter pill for Athletic founders Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, who also were rejected recently by Axios. I’d consider buying The Athletic, but as I once told Mather and Hansmann over breakfast in San Francisco, there’s no need to have hundreds of payrolled staffers when a strong stable of 50 well-known columnists would serve a smarter, more impactful purpose. Maybe the Times, which has deprioritized sports coverage, will reach my conclusion, which would mean mass layoffs if this deal actually happened.
Jim Jackson, TNT — Sure, I could mention how I love hanging out in Santa Monica at R&D Kitchen and Esters Wine Bar, or with Kendall Jenner and Devin Booker at Nobu in Malibu. But that would be a cheesy form of payola, of which the NBA game analyst hasn’t been apprised by his network bosses. As he vies for a promotion after the dismissal of top analyst Chris Webber, Jackson is impressing only himself by name-dropping “The Capital Grille’’ in downtown Miami — “where I smoke my cigars’’ — and “Myles’’ Chefetz, known to league nightlife vets as the restaurateur behind South Beach’s Prime 112. Jackson didn’t know it, but play-by-play man Brian Anderson was chiding him by saying he’d never pay for a meal again at either place. I’m assuming that former NBA players on TNT aren’t prepped about the basics of broadcast professionalism, because the list of screwups is growing by the day. Me? I’m endorsing Reggie Miller for the lead analyst position. Because I did added work on a Sixth Who Doesn’t Get It, I’m going to treat myself to lunch at the Sunset Tower Bar in West Hollywood, where I know Gabe, the maitre d’.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best
“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”
Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.
“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”
Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.
“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”
And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.
“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.
After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.
Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.
Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.
“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”
Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.
“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything. Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”
Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky. It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.
The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.
“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”
The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman.
“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth.
From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.
“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.
And the rest is history.
An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.
And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft.
“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.”
An incredibly big moment for Jack would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.
But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.
“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.
Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.
But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.
“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.”
While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.
But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.
“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth. “He just works at this stuff.”
Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.
Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.
“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years. I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.
“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”
Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.
Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments. In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.
“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.”
Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.
But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.
“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success
“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”
When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.
Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.
From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.
By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.
“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”
At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.
Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.
“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”
During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.
Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.
“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”
Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.
“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”
By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.
“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”
During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.
“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”
All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.
Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.
“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”
Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.
“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”
Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.
“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”
A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.
“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”
Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.
Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.
“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”
As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.
“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”
Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.
As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.
“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link
His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.
For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.
ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.
When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.
Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.
In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.
Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.
One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.
He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.
Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.
And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.
But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.