It was March 4, 2011. Harry Teinowitz, then one of the afternoon hosts on ESPN 1000 in Chicago, was arrested for driving under the influence. While it may have contributed to him losing his gig with the station a couple of years later, the incident forced him into rehab and ultimately may have saved his life.
Teinowitz had been a fixture in the Chicago sports landscape. He combined a ‘rain man’ like memory for details of games and uniform numbers with a unique voice and unique takes. With a comedy background, Teinowitz was the guy with the off-the-wall commentary. I’ve worked with Harry on a few occasions and you have to be ready for anything, which is actually kind of a cool thing. He challenged you, in a good way, to be on your toes and think quickly on your feet.
After a long career in radio in Chicago, he found himself without a job in the industry. Opportunities weren’t coming as they normally did. Teinowitz took it upon himself to create entertainment from a piece of himself, to share with the audience what it was like for him to go through all that he did.
Thus, When Harry Met Rehab was born. The stage play is currently running in Chicago and has been met with rave reviews. Teinowitz was able to secure the services of Dan Butler, who played Bulldog on Frasier, to play Harry. Melissa Gilbert also stars in the play as ‘Barb’, Harry’s therapist. Of course, you remember Gilbert from Little House on the Prairie.
I caught up with Harry this week to chat about the play and his past life and present.
Andy Masur: What was your life like, before you went into rehab?
Harry Teinowitz: It was fun. A little hectic, and unfulfilled, but fun.
AM: How difficult was it to come to terms with what was happening to you?
HT: I never realized I needed to come to terms until I was a month into rehab.
AM: Did your job in Sports Talk radio contribute to the stresses?
HT: You know it did. My first real job was working for my dad in commercial real estate. It was there I figured out deals aren’t always made in a conference room. They’re made at ball games, in restaurants, and in all kinds of bars. Working for an FM rock station, “The LOOP” (97.9 FM Chicago), was the first time I was going out and doing appearances for the station. They would pick me up then when it was over, they would drive me home, so I could be the life of the party and everybody else there could be at a kick-ass soirée.
In sports radio I had many more of those appearances where I’d say come watch the game with me, I’ll be in this town at this bar. But in order to make our show different a lot of times we would go to a game so we could talk about it from our perspective the next day. Well, you can bet there was alcohol consumption at all these games and when I finish there I know there’s a good chance when the game is over I’d go out afterwards as well.
AM: When did you first get the idea to write a play about your experience?
HT: I have been out of work twice in radio, both times it wasn’t my agent who got me my next job it was me. Just by calling different stations and setting up a meeting with the program director where we could connect and both times, I found a job. Once after four months once after six. However, the third time, nothing was happening.
At a certain point it became clear to me they were just as happy to go with young people who would work for less than I would and that didn’t have a D.U.I. that was in the newspapers four days in a row and even once made it as the second story on the 5:00 news. I was spending so much time trying to get work and I felt like I was wasting my days so I decided I had to create something tangible. I started out with a movie and then five days later I thought, why am I making up a story when there’s one inside of me that’s been burning a hole because it needs to come out?
AM: How difficult was the process of getting all your thoughts together?
HT: It wasn’t that difficult. First, I went from memory, then I went through all the homework that I had done while I was in rehab. Yeah, they give you homework in rehab.
Then I researched the hell out of it and just sort of settled in with the idea because I knew nothing about it and how important it was in getting me on the path to sobriety my story had to be from start to finish about rehab. With the exception of the opening D.U.I. scene that’s exactly what it is. Also, I knew I wanted to have these other characters, I was in there with, be in my play, but I hadn’t written one in the show. Spike (Manton, a former radio partner and the eventual co-writer) asked me if he could read it and after he consumed the script, he said this can’t be a one-man show. We have to bring all these characters to life, so that’s what we did.
About a week after that I asked him, “What do you mean, we?”
AM: Emotionally, what is it like to see the finished product on stage and being acted?
HT: Throughout rehearsals, as I watched it, I felt like it was important I was there. I could make changes and Spike was there watching so he could make changes. We could get the story even better. But, to sit there in the audience for these shows, it’s so bizarre.
A big part of my getting sober was going to these meetings that we go to and I still go to. It was being honest in rehab so I’ve learned to not have any secrets when I’m around other people. They’re in the same program but it’s another thing when they get brought up on stage and everybody kind of goes, “Wow, he did that?”
AM: What do you think of sports radio today? Do you still listen?
HT: That’s a good question. It’s hard for me to listen. I never took one day on the air for granted. I appreciated every day that I got to come to work for that fantasy job. Then because of a really bad decision on my part, it was all taken away from me.
Currently, I have a wonderful publisher who has tasked me with a glorious opportunity. I’ve got a dream producer for the play and he’s focused on this show and has all kinds of plans for it. The possibilities are exciting. The feedback from the audience has been humbling. The critics who have reviewed the show are picking up on everything and I’m so appreciative of all of them for walking into the theater with an open mind and not saying ‘oh great here comes another one of them damn battles with alcoholism stories.’ Obviously, the great reviews mean a lot to me and help drive ticket sales but the specific things they each say invigorates me. So, I’m looking forward to what happens with, When Harry Met Rehab, but my dream scenario is the next thing that I write. Whether it’s with Spike, someone else, our family cat, or one of the kids in the neighborhood, that I would have another opportunity to work with (producer) Don (Clark).
However, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t think about getting back on radio.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.