Covino & Rich Are Here To Have Fun
“We’re not trying to out-knowledge each other. That’s what I feel sports radio and sports broadcasting has become. And to me that’s not fun.”
If you overheard a serious conversation while in the toy department, it would probably sound ridiculous. If you only heard serious conversations in the toy department of life — meaning sports — that would also be absurd. Steve Covino and Rich Davis are two radio veterans that believe sports discussions are supposed to be fun. It’s hard to argue with them. If it doesn’t make sense to be somber next to LEGO sets or action figures, why would it be a good idea to be joyless when discussing Aaron Rodgers or the AFC East?
Fun works. It’s a big reason why Inside the NBA keeps stacking Emmys. It’s partially why Peyton and Eli Manning received stellar reviews for their Monday Night Football telecast. It’s also why Covino & Rich continues to grow. You don’t end up on major platforms like SiriusXM, SNY, ESPN, and FOX Sports Radio just because you have good hair, although that doesn’t hurt. You end up in those places because you have a formula that works.
Prioritizing fun has served Covino & Rich well. The duo has been hosting shows together for nearly 17 years. They now have a brand new show that airs Sunday evenings on FOX Sports Radio. The East Coasters — Covino is from Union, New Jersey and Rich is from Long Island — discuss how their friendship is rare in the industry. They also touch on cussing, Covino’s DJ skills, celebrity interviews, and Chubb touches. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: How far back do you guys go?
Rich Davis: We started doing our radio show together at SiriusXM at the very end of ’04. We debuted around Super Bowl ’05. That was the Super Bowl where Donovan McNabb ran out of steam versus the Patriots. That was sort of the beginning of Covino & Rich.
Steve Covino: We were friends before that. That’s how it sort of started. We both worked in terrestrial radio but at competing radio stations. I worked at K-Rock New York and Rich was the nighttime hottie at Z100. Then we became friends through mutual friends. We would hang out and go to the bars and talk sports.
Actually, that was the first thing we bonded over. ‘You like baseball? So do I.’ That sort of thing. He was a Mets guy. I was a Yankees guy. The yin to my yang in a lot of ways. We both ended up at SiriusXM. He was doing the pop radio stuff and I was doing the rock radio stuff. Then we just said yo, let’s do this talk show. We started doing this talk show together and here we are.
Rich: Hold on, backpedal for a second, Brian, because I have to tell you, when I first met Covino he was DJing part-time at a bar in Hoboken called O’Donoghue’s.
Covino: That was my side hustle.
Rich: I remember we’d go there and hang and drink on Thursday nights. I’m like who’s this DJ guy? He wouldn’t mix songs; in between the songs he would just play sound effects of like ‘El Covino.’ I’m like he’s playing radio drops at a bar? [Laughs]
Covino: I like to say I was ahead of the game, Brian; a shameless self-promoter from the start.
Rich: We had mutual friends and I remember Covino was going through a breakup; one of his girlfriends dumped him for an athlete actually.
Noe: Was it McNabb?
Covino: [Laughs] No, actually I was going through a really crappy streak. Rich was there at the perfect time to help me through it. I lost an ex-girlfriend to a New Jersey Net who shall not be named. And then my next girlfriend I lost to a New York Ranger who will not be named. And I was just some dude starting out in radio. I was so down in the dumps and that’s when I met Rich and he changed my life.
Noe: What led to you guys doing a show together?
Rich: We got together to do radio at SiriusXM because Sirius had a partnership with Maxim. They were like hey, we’re looking for shows to talk about sports, women, relationships, lifestyle, movies, TV. You know, just guy talk.
Covino: That was in our wheelhouse.
Rich: Covino and I said yo, this is what we do when we’re hanging out. We both know radio so we pitched it and that was almost 17 years ago now. They would send us out to Home Run Derbys, Super Bowls, All-Star Games. We were the guys that could cover sports but also the lifestyle side of it. Like hey guys, go to the EA Madden party and talk to a lot of these guys on the red carpet about their sneakers, their relationships, about the non-on-the-field stuff.
I remember this clearly; we were at a Super Bowl and Tim Tebow was the hot shit at the moment. This is when everyone on Earth was talking about Tim Tebow. We got an interview with him. A guy named Brad Como at SNY in New York watched us interview Tebow. We just had a really fun interview with him. We got back to New York and Brad Como and Curt Gowdy Jr. at SNY were like yo, we like what you guys do. Let’s talk.
Covino: Sports should be fun. You guys make it fun. You’re covering something different. You’re not making it boring and X’s and O’s and stats. We’re getting to see a different side of these guys; can you do that here at SNY? We’re like hell yeah, we’d love to.
Noe: You guys obviously had chemistry for years before you were on the air. Where did you grow the most once you started doing a show together even though you had that off-the-air chemistry?
Covino: I think SNY was a big step for us, to be honest, because that took us from radio to television. And it was live in Times Square. We got the SNY opportunity in 2013. We were on there for two-plus years. I think the pressure, the excitement, going live from New York City in our home city, talking all things New York sports; I think that was a big growing moment for us. Dealing with teleprompters and just having to react live and deal with that every day was big for our growth.
Rich: Covino loves to point out a great thought, which is we were young guys at the time so we never even thought failing was an option. It’s probably a great way to go into things. Now as an adult you overanalyze shit all the time, but back then we didn’t even think that this could go wrong.
Covino: We really didn’t.
Rich: We very quickly realized when they put together shows, we seemed to get along on and off the air like brothers. We’d fight and people were like are you guys mad at each other? No, it’s just what we do. We very quickly realized that we had chemistry while other people’s chemistry wasn’t developing.
Covino: It happened organically though because we were really friends. Other shows most of the time are just two random people that are put together. The chemistry is never going to be real. If someone is fighting, it’s kind of hard to move on from that the next day. We were in it from the start. This is what we do, this is how we fight, and this is how we get along at the same time. That’s sort of how it started.
Rich: And we always had the same goals. A lot of times people will link up and be made co-hosts in the sports world and the news world, and egos come into play. It’s like who gets the lead chair? Who opens the breaks? Whose name is first? These are things that we were like let’s just fuckin’ win. We weren’t like is it Covino & Rich or Rich & Covino? Who cares? All right fine, Covino & Rich. Who’s going to open the breaks? All right Rich, you come out of commercials. Fine, who cares? We kept that throughout our whole career so far and still to this day. Neither one of us will ever let those types of things get in the way. We have the same goals.
Noe: TV is quick; you’re moving, moving. Radio is kind of like living in the South; it’s just a slower pace. Do you ever feel like man, this radio segment is taking forever compared to doing TV?
Rich: No, but I feel that way when I hear other people’s radio shows. [Laughs] Sometimes I’ll hear other people and I’m like, damn they have zero excitement level. Covino and I, sometimes people say man, their energy is too high; I don’t feel like you can have enough energy. I really don’t. I feel like anytime I listen to radio, podcasts, or anything, the minute I hear some monotone shit, I’m checked out.
Covino: You’ve got three hours, or two hours with commercials to bring it. If you’re not bringing it, why am I listening? That’s how I feel.
Rich: Yeah, I feel like whether it’s a comedian’s podcast or a top-40 morning show, if they’re not having fun and laughing and busting chops, to me, that bores me.
Covino: And people that take sports too seriously; that bores me too. Sports are fun. Let’s have fun. Let’s have fun and share some laughs. It doesn’t have to be boring. It doesn’t have to be serious and that’s sort of our goal, the goofier the better sometimes. Just try to keep it lighthearted and remind ourselves, this is fun. It’s supposed to be fun.
Noe: How did the opportunity with FOX Sports Radio come about for you guys?
Rich: Our buddy, who became our super agent, Shaun Wyman, who works at Maxx Sports now was a listener of our radio show. Over a decade ago, we met Shaun at a Super Bowl party and he’s like “Covino and Rich, I listen to you guys. I work at ESPN. Here’s my card.”
Covino: He handed me a business card and I was like you know what, I got to keep ahold of this one. This one looks important.
Rich: He’s like I work in the talent department. I used to be a producer. We became friends with Shaun. His whole thing was like, I’m going to get you guys on ESPN. I was like well that’s awfully ambitious, but I’m with it.
Covino: As he climbed the ranks, he got into more meetings, kept pushing us, and eventually that got us onto ESPN Radio.
Rich: And all the people there, Shaun sold us to Rob Savinelli at the time, Amanda Gifford, all the folks at ESPN.
Covino: They bought into it.
Rich: Traug [Keller] when he was there. There were people there that really felt what Shaun was pushing and really had our back. They said let’s do this. Shaun Wyman got us into ESPN, then because of budget and COVID and all that, our contract wasn’t renewed. We were waiting for our next opportunity and Scott Shapiro at FOX was well aware of what we did. I was not aware of how much he knew about us.
Covino: He gets it, which is awesome.
Rich: He gets our style of humor. He gets what we do. Our first phone call with Scott was super satisfying when you’re talking to someone that knows what you do where you don’t really have to sell as much. We said listen man, we’re going to deliver for you because more than anything, Covino and I want to win. We want to show you that you’re making a good decision.
Covino: People play harder with a chip on their shoulder and although we have a great time, we’re not doing it for the fun; we’re doing it to win. We have a chip on our shoulders.
Rich: And I like this opportunity because I like to think that this is step one in my mind.
Noe: You guys keep it organic and the conversation is going to go where it goes, but after a full day of ball on Sunday, does it feel weird at all to digress and talk about Jolly Ranchers or something random?
Rich: You know what, sometimes I feel like you need to break it up a little bit. I can sometimes get sports burnout, but on a Sunday night I’m still so in that zone that there really just isn’t enough football on Sunday. People want to keep talking about it. We will dive into those dumb things. If we had more time Sunday, Covino saw an empty Red Vines in the garbage can. We were going to have a Red Vines, Twizzlers argument. But we didn’t get to it because Aaron Rodgers provided too much.
Covino: Anytime we can be relatable and tie it into a real-life scenario and try to give personal examples, we’re going to jump at that opportunity. That’s where we shine the brightest.
Rich: Like how Sam Darnold’s full on shit. When Sam Darnold says he doesn’t care that he beat the Jets; that’s like showing up somewhere with your hot new girlfriend looking all slick in front of your ex. Oh, I don’t care; of course you care. Even Robby Anderson, you don’t think after the game they were like, that was f***ing awesome. You don’t think they loved that? The two former Jets connected for a 57-yard touchdown. Come on.
Covino: That’s like us saying we don’t want to beat ESPN and show them we told you so. Anytime we can make it relatable, that’s what we’re going to do.
Noe: Do you ever get confused between being on SiriusXM where it’s uncensored, and another platform where cussing isn’t allowed?
Covino: That’s so funny, man. We’re really, really good at that.
Rich: Well now you jinxed us.
Covino: I know, right? We’ve been pretty great at that because we’ve been uncensored for almost 17 years, saying whatever the hell we want, talking about whatever we want. No censorship whatsoever. But I think Rich and his background, I give him credit here, his background in pop radio keeps him on his toes all the time. He’s able to put a different hat on. And me honestly it’s just a matter of reminding myself where I am and wearing that different hat. Like alright, I’m not doing this satellite radio thing where I can say whatever, I’m on FOX Sports Radio now. Every once in a while, I think there are things you can play with. Some guy called our show on Sunday and said something about Nick Chubb and touches and he kept on talking about Chubb touches. You can’t help but at least acknowledge the Chubb touches.
Rich: I don’t know; how many Chubb touches do you think are appropriate?
Covino: There’s a nice way to dance around it and make it fun and acknowledge that I can’t ignore that he said Chubb touches 10 times. Like I said when you wear different hats, although we’re guys just hanging out talking sports, we’re also parents. We have to keep that in mind that there are kids in the car and there are families listening.
Noe: Your background of interviewing celebrities is a little bit of a different world, but you can take that and apply it to the sports world. What has your music background helped you with as sports hosts?
Rich: It’s funny you would say that because I was just thinking about this recently. Everyone’s doing Zoom interviews. It’s the standard now. Howard Stern, Rogan, all these people, everyone’s doing Zoom interviews. I was like we’ve interviewed everyone I could possibly imagine and the relationships we’ve made over the years in mainstream music, television, actors, actresses; do we have that infiltrate FOX Sports Radio in a fun way? Would it be cool if we were like Guy Fieri, come hang with us Sunday night on FOX Sports Radio?
Covino: You know what’s cool about that and what we’ve learned through the years is even though Guy Fieri is known for FlavortownUSA and being on the Food Network, the guy loves sports. These guys love talking sports. Or they played sports growing up. It could be the most random people. We had Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins on our show. He wants to talk about baseball. He’s sick of talking about Siamese Dream. He wants to talk about the Cubs. You realize that there are a lot of people in the world of entertainment that are known for something, but deep down they like sports like anyone else and love to talk about it.
Rich: I remember Ty Burrell from Modern Family. Phil Dunphy, he was more excited to talk about the Mets with me than talk about Modern Family.
Covino: That’s when you really see these people open up because now they’re just being real about some stuff they’re really passionate about and you’re seeing a different side of them. You’re not getting that canned answer about their project coming up. When guests can enhance the conversation, we have a lot of fun talking to them. It’s just fan stuff. We’re not trying to out-knowledge each other. That’s what I feel sports radio and sports broadcasting has become. And to me that’s not fun.
Noe: For someone who’s new to Covino & Rich, if they wanted to check you out on FOX Sports Radio, what are they going to hear that will appeal to them?
Rich: We’re well aware that we’ve lived in a little bubble known as SiriusXM. That’s not a bad thing. SiriusXM is a great company; we still both work there, but we know that it’s a bubble. If they’ve got 30, 40 million subscribers, that’s still 10 percent of the population. There’s still 90 percent of people in America that don’t know of us because of the numbers. I think what we deliver that’s different; I guess you would say the fun conversation. If you want buddies talking about life and sports and entertainment in a fun way, check us out.
Covino: Fun is definitely the word. They were calling it Football Sunday, we’re like no, it’s Football Funday. We’re here to have fun. But from a fan perspective. Again, not claiming to be the expert. I’m just trying to relate and be as real as possible and call it as I see it. And I think we fit perfectly in the pocket where we can relate to the older sports fans with our old-school references, but still relate to a younger audience with social media. I feel we’re fluent in both languages being right there in the middle of both generations. We’re here to bring the fun and bring the laughs and bring the energy that so many people leave at home I guess, or just don’t have anymore.
Rich: Yeah, I think a couple of our takes on Sunday were so silly and stupid. I love that Covino’s take on Aaron Rodgers is that not dying his beard or hair just makes him look even worse. The fact that you came on and you’re like yo, dude’s got to use Just For Men. That was Covino’s big takeaway. If you can play like shit and look that bad on the field, it’s not helping you that you look like a washed out Negan from Walking Dead at the postgame.
Covino: Yeah, in a young man’s game when you already talked about retirement, and you come in looking like that, it doesn’t help the case. So yeah, we’re coming from a fan perspective. There’s no filter. There’s ballbusting and we’re going to bring all that, everything we’ve been doing for the past 17 years to FOX Sports Radio every weekend. Just anything that we can do to make it relatable and fun, that’s what our goal is to do.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.