Do you remember Ben Zobrist? The utility baseball player was a Swiss Army knife — second baseman, outfielder, switch-hitter — most notably for the Royals and Cubs during his career. The guy practically sold hot dogs and handed out cotton candy as well.
In many ways, Chris Plank is the Zobrist of sports radio. Plank hosts multiple national shows, a local show in Oklahoma, broadcasts OU softball and volleyball games, and was also a program director. The only thing missing from his credentials is International Man of Mystery or 007.
Plank’s versatility has made him valuable to numerous companies throughout his career. Broadcasters that accumulate so much time behind the mic usually have interesting observations and great stories. Plank is no exception. He talks about Oklahoma’s shift to the SEC, his most challenging role, the point when he thought he made it in the industry, and the partner that makes him want to quit radio. It’s easy to feel Plank’s passion for broadcasting when you hear him. Reading the conversation below is no different. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What has local sports radio been like ever since Oklahoma announced that it’s heading to the SEC?
Chris Plank: Oh, it’s been wild. I know you work with Tyler McComas. We were putting together a piece on SEC expansion for a magazine we write for. He gave me a quote where it was one of the most exhilarating feelings whenever you realized this was really happening. We have probably spent the better part of like 15 years talking about conference realignment. Is the Big 12 going to expand? Is the Big 12 going to survive? Where is Texas A&M going? What’s up with Nebraska? This has been a regular topic of conversation forever.
When you realize that this is legit, that this is really happening, it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced. It’s been exciting. In my state in Oklahoma, it’s been very combative. Oklahoma State fans are pissed and understandably so. Oklahoma State has a lot to provide and always wants to talk about hey, we don’t need Oklahoma. But then when push came to shove they realized wait, you did this without us. So their fan base is mad. That brings in a whole different kind of angle to all of this. To see those two sides come together on social media and just clash, it has been a wild couple of weeks. We’ve spent a long time thinking we had things figured out and then boom, something hits and it’s been one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.
BN: Is it better for your local sports talk show if Oklahoma stayed on top in the Big 12, or shifts over to the SEC where who knows what happens?
CP: The complaining about not having a good conference home has always been fascinating from my seat focusing on Oklahoma a lot. And as someone who works regularly on Big 12 Radio, yeah I’m okay if they wanted to stick around for a little bit. But Joe Castiglione is the best athletic director in the game. In my role that I have with the University of Oklahoma, he has always challenged us to have a broad vision. I’m all about what’s best for the greater good. And for the greater good in this instance is the health of the University of Oklahoma.
Do I love the conference debating and things that have taken place for so long? Yeah, sure. It’s fun. But at some point the rubber has got to meet the road. I’m absolutely positively juiced about this for the future of Oklahoma. And I don’t know what it holds. You think about people that work for the Longhorn Network at Texas. What does that truly hold for them? We don’t know. What does it hold for those of us at Sooner Sports TV? You don’t know. But you’re excited for the potential of what it could mean and where it could go with the SEC. So I’m pretty juiced about it.
BN: You’ve got your local show, your national commitments, the Oklahoma stuff; what does your schedule look like during the workweek?
CP: Every day is different. I have my local show which is on at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday. Outside of that I’m just picking up whatever I can get. My number one priority is the University of Oklahoma. If it’s the podcast that we put together, a TV deal that they need me to sit in on, a volleyball match that needs a play-by-play guy, that’s number one on the depth chart. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I live in Goldsby, Oklahoma, just outside of Norman, because I wanted the opportunity to do more. If you ask what the daily schedule looks like, it varies. But if you’re looking at the depth chart, that’s number one.
It’s like a very complicated jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes when you look down and you feel like you have too many pieces to fit in one place. It’s like jeez, there’s a SiriusXM responsibility, there’s FOX Sports Radio, you’ve got two games, your local show’s got a remote here, oh by the way there’s another game you need to add, you’ve got a TV show, and then there’s a Coach’s Corner and a practice report. How are you going to fit all of these together? It always works out. Then there’s some weeks where it’s like oh look, you’ve got your local show. [Laughs] It’s wild to think about.
I think we all want to be in that situation where we’re doing a three to four-hour show Monday through Friday and that’s it. We don’t have to worry about filling in the voids anywhere else. But I’ve got three kids; all of them are going to want to go to college at some point. I’ve got a wife that’s a stay-at-home mom whom I love very much and I want to provide for her. I can do all of my stuff from here at home for the most part. It’s a walk from my house to my garage. The easiest answer is I don’t know what my daily schedule is because it changes seemingly every single day and I love it.
BN: If you go back to the beginning of your career, how did you get into sports talk?
CP: I got out of college and I had decided that I wanted to get into TV. I couldn’t get a job. I had been an intern at a couple of places. I got a part-time job at 1430 in Tulsa. I worked at this media services place, Orca Incorporated. My boss was Harry Willis. He was a big sports fan. They had a spot open up for a producer on a morning show. I was like hey I’ll jump on and help. It was kind of non-stop from there.
We had a few issues where personnel changed, so I ended up just basically starting as a part-time board op, Brian. It led to an 18-year career at one station, which is an anomaly in this business. I’m very proud of that. I’m not saying it was always the most lucrative thing on the planet and I have an ex-wife to prove that, but it was a unique route because I went from part-time board op, to full-time co-host, to afternoon host and program director in about the span of three years. I’m 23 years old and I’m running two stations. I don’t have a clue of what I’m doing. That’s how I got in.
I was very lucky when I was in college. I went to the University of Tulsa and I worked in the sports information department. I got to know a lot of the media guys. That helped a lot. The play-by-play guy at Tulsa had just started, Bruce Howard, and he’s been a lifelong friend and mentor to me. It’s been wild to think about that time — we’re talking ‘97 here — the thing was you’re going to go to Bozeman, Montana and then you’re going to go maybe Sacramento, and then if you’re lucky you could end up in St. Louis. I was prepared for that path, but it just never really materialized. I fell in love with radio and thankfully it got me to where I am today, which is finally making enough money at 46 to keep my head above water. Barely.
BN: When did you feel like you had made it in radio?
CP: In ’07 I got a divorce. I realized, all right I’m going to have to do something more than being the afternoon host on 1430. There was a guy named Andrew Ashwood who worked at FOX Sports Radio. He had helped me out with a few things because I needed some advice on a guest or something. I said listen, I’m thinking about sending out these CDs, will you listen to it and tell me what you think? He called me back and he was like do you want to fill in on Saturday night? I don’t even know what that means but okay. I have no idea.
I ended up filling in in like ‘07. It took off from there. I ended up doing what was The Third Shift, which was 1-5 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday nights. Ben Maller was doing the weekends. I think Jorge Sedano had just taken off for ESPN. They moved Ben to the weeks and I did the weekends. Somewhere in there they had a massive bottom fallout in radio. I want to say it was like ’08, somewhere around there. And everyone was gone. The whole thing changed. At that point I felt like I had made it. I’m doing national shows. I’m making good money. It’s on top of what I’m doing locally. Everyone locally is happy. That was a moment I thought I had made it.
BN: What led to you doing sidelines during Oklahoma football games?
CP: It was perfect because in 2011 the play-by-play voice for Oklahoma retired. Bob Barry was a longtime, legendary play-by-play voice. I had done some fill-ins. I did a basketball game on New Year’s Eve in like 2009 when Tiny Gallon broke a backboard. When he retired they moved Toby Rowland, who was the sideline guy, up to the booth. I happened to mention hey, if you need someone to fill in for the spring game, I’d love to do it. The station I was at in Tulsa was an affiliate with Oklahoma. So they’re like yeah, go for it. Let’s do it.
It’s still one of the wildest things because I hadn’t met Toby once. We did that one game together and you knew it clicked. You just knew that this can work. If you guys will have me and if I can do what you want, I have no problem driving back and forth. So my station was all about it, thankfully. I would just get in our station van and I would drive back and forth every Saturday from Tulsa to Norman. If we had a road trip, I’d catch a flight in Oklahoma City and go to wherever they were. That’s how that relationship started.
BN: When you think of your entire career, what would you say was initially the most challenging role you’ve had?
CP: Husband, dad. The balance of it. I don’t have a good balance, bro. I don’t. I struggle with it till today. I was thinking about this a lot the other day because my wife and I have been in a fight about me wanting to add stuff to my local show. My point is you don’t ever want to be typecast. You don’t just want to be the fill-in guy. You want to do enough in those moments to where you wow. It’s like damn man, I heard Chris Plank on the other night with Brian Noe, they’re freakin’ awesome. They can do our drive-time or our morning show. That was great stuff. For me you never know when that moment is going to come and they might hear you. So you have to take everything you possibly can and show that you can be versatile. I don’t want to be typecast as just a college football guy. There’s so much more to me and to sports. That’s been my challenge.
I’m very lucky that I have a very understanding wife. I have two kids that get it. We’re sitting here in my home studio and my seven-year-old will come out here every now and then and sit and wait for me to go to a commercial break to talk. That’s been the hardest thing for me in the real world is just that balance. I then stop and I pause and I’m like damn, what a great problem to have to where you’re trying to balance when can I do a fill-in, when should I do a fill-in. Ninety-nine percent of the time you ask me, I’m in. The only time I’m not is if there’s an OU event in the way.
I’ve got a son that’s a senior in high school this year. He’s going into his senior year in high school and I’m like what? I know that I just blinked and he went from being a little kid that was running around the studio breaking my partner’s bobblehead doll that I couldn’t replace, to being a senior in high school. I don’t want that same thing to happen with my two girls. It’s tough. There are no guarantees in this. Even if you have a contract, that thing can blow up in a heartbeat. That’s been one of the hardest things for me; that balance has been the biggest thing for me, man. It’s tough.
BN: What other job could you see yourself having the same passion for if not the radio stuff?
CP: It’s funny, I was thinking a lot about how I compartmentalize things. I can remember being so broke early in the days having to go to a remote and stop in my truck and having to scrounge in the seat cushions to see if there was enough change to get gas. I remember seeing those little signs on the side of the road that were like earn $50,000 by calling this number. I’d call that number and the next thing you know I’m an hour into a pyramid scheme pitch. All these things that if I didn’t love sports and I didn’t love radio so much, I probably could’ve put myself in a position with a media services place that I started with, or a marketing department somewhere.
My first father-in-law, which sounds so weird to say, he was the Executive Vice President at Merrill Lynch. I probably could have said hey Bill, I want to follow in your footsteps. I could’ve done that. But I like the pain of not knowing if I was going to be able to work the next day because I was going to get fired. I got really lucky that I got some of the breaks that I did and I hope that I’ve taken advantage of them. It’s been fun, but you’re right, I’m 46 now, nothing is guaranteed, but if all of this is to fall apart I’m like gosh, am I going to be a farmer? What am I going to do? I have no idea what I would do if everyone just says all right, we’re done with sports, we’re not doing this anymore. No clue.
BN: What it’s like to work with Arnie Spanier?
CP: There are a lot of different layers to that. There are moments when it’s really awesome because Arnie is not afraid to be the bad guy. I don’t think he would mind me saying this, but there are also times where working with Arnie makes me want to quit radio. And I’m not even kidding. I fought with him for three years about Tom Brady. I’m like, Arnie, Tom Brady’s not done. He’s a good quarterback. Every year, ‘Tom Brady’s old. He should move on. The Patriots stink. They’re done. They’re finished.’ Every Sunday it was a fight. Then all of a sudden last year after the midpoint of the season, suddenly Arnie’s like well they have Tom Brady so they’re the best team. I’m like we spent years fighting about this and all of a sudden you do a 180 and it’s his brilliant idea that he came up with. Never acknowledging anything, anything, that had taken place before. It’s funny because there are enough people that catch on and are like did that just happened?
Arnie likes to take the team that everyone is saying great things about and find something wrong with them. That’s fine because I’m the complete opposite. It’s great and it’s enraging sometimes because he wants to act like he takes himself so seriously when he really doesn’t. I think that’s one of the best parts of him. He’ll be the first guy to text you when your team loses and the last guy to text you when they win. That’s Arnie for me but I love working with the guy. It’s been really fun. It’s been really eye-opening. I grew up listening to Arnie Spanier. When I started in radio he was the evening host on One on One Sports with Papa Joe Chevalier and you, at 800-777-2-907. So it’s been fun for me. He’s a blast. He’s become a true friend.
BN: When you look at the next 5-10 years, do you have any specific goals that you want to accomplish?
CP: Sure, yeah. I would like to get to the point where I can take a couple of weekends off and not be worried about it. I want to get to the point, and my wife always jokes with me about it, to where I could say hey Scott, listen man, I got my kids this weekend and I just want to spend a Sunday night with them. But I can’t allow myself to do that. Am I worried I’m going to get fired? I don’t know, maybe. But that’s more of a me issue. I have FOMO bad, a fear of missing out. I would like to keep all the jobs that I have. [Laughs] I would like to still be the Oklahoma Sooner utility guy to where if I’m not doing sidelines for football, I’m doing play-by-play for softball. I would like to see that roll continue to grow and expand. I would love to have my local show get to a point to where it’s grown. If that’s through affiliates, if that’s through ratings, sponsorships, whatever.
But more than anything else, Brian, I know this is going to sound so corny, first I want to lose 20 pounds, and then I want to keep loving what I do. I don’t ever want there to be a point to where I’m on the air and I’m like is this thing almost over? And we’re all going to have those. There can be some times when you’re filling in for Ben Maller, and it’s 4:30 in the morning, and you’re like oh gosh, I’ve got two more segments. I never want to have that to where it’s 11:30 a.m., and I’ve got another 30 minutes left in my show, and I’m saying I want to go home or I want to be somewhere else. I want that passion to continue to burn bright because it is right now. That’s the most important thing to me.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.