Mike Conti was drawn towards sports radio from early in his youth listening to broadcasts of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, and while he never definitively had a thought that he wanted to work in the industry, the impression the spoken word made on him led him in that direction.
That, and realizing he was probably not good enough to play sports at a competitive level – so it is safe to say he wanted to stay involved in some way or another. Talking about the action, he surmised, had the potential to forge a viable career path, whether that be during play itself or in the sports talk radio format; therefore, he focused his time at Penn State University to help him achieve that goal.
“I was one of those kids who used to listen to the game on the transistor radio under the pillow,” Conti said. “That was me – like so many other people who got passionate about this industry I think listening to games growing up.”
Play-by-play was always an appealing option for Conti, and it is an aspect of sports radio he has had the ability to work in multiple capacities both at the collegiate and professional level.
But before he got there, he began his career working at Triad Broadcasting in Savannah for nearly three years as news director and assistant operations manager, and also assisted on the programming side of things. In this role, Conti received his first exposure to the management side of media, a section of the industry he continued to grow in soon thereafter – but it is not why he desired to work in media.
It is safe to say he was doing everything he wanted from the time he began pursuing his dream to work in sports radio – which included some play-by-play duties and hosting a daily talk show. Yet he felt unfulfilled and wanting more, and knew that his job at the time would not allow him to grow much further in sports media, or media as a whole for that matter.
“I loved everything I was doing as [a] part of [being] the program director of a sports radio station, but I felt like I hit a growth ceiling,” said Conti. “My goal was to work in a major market, and then I had to kind of assess what I needed to do to work in a major market.”
Conti immediately recognized the importance of versatility in media and willingly adapted his career to attain his goal of working in a major market. One of the primary sacrifices he made to eventually land a job in Atlanta, where he still works today, is by taking an opportunity to work in news radio in New Orleans. This was no usual start to a job though, as he was moving to a city that had recently been devastated by Hurricane Katrina, a tropical cyclone that killed over 1,800 people and caused over $125 billion in damage.
“That was a very, very intense two years in New Orleans where the flow of news and information never really stopped, and it was very, very challenging to keep up with it,” Conti said. “I also felt like kind of on a human level I was called to do that in a way; I felt like it was my responsibility as a young broadcaster to try to do what I could to help that city get back on its feet.”
As a news anchor and reporter at WWL radio, Conti refined his craft by keeping residents informed on daily newscasts, a task that helped him advance his standing in the industry. Sports did not completely elude him throughout his two-year stretch in “The Big Easy” though, as he began contributing to the New Orleans Saints Radio Network as a reporter and served as the play-by-play announcer on sister station WKBU-FM for the New Orleans VooDoo, a local arena football team.
WWL was the source for residents of New Orleans to receive relevant and accurate news and information amid the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, inculcating an obligation of ethical reporting and integrity among staff. The station served as an essential resource to the area during this strenuous and exasperating stretch of time, and by default, experienced much success in each ratings book. Moreover, Conti won a National Edward R. Murrow Award for his contributions to the coverage, a valuable reminder to the impact terrestrial radio can have especially during moments of profound difficulty.
Today, while he understands that attaining a genuine measurement of a station’s audience and reach potential has been disrupted by a global pandemic, he nonetheless assesses it in the same way as he did over a decade ago despite the method seeming entropic at the surface.
“My test is when I stop at a traffic light, I want to know what’s on the radio on the car to my left and the car to my right,” said Conti. “….I’ll never forget working [in New Orleans]… and stopping anywhere where people were in a car, and there was a very good chance you could hear WWL playing on at least one of the cars you were stopped with.”
Due to the prevalence of broadcast entities augmenting their presences on multiple platforms of dissemination, a common criticism of ratings over the years is that they are representative of just one sector of consumption. Conti concurs with that sentiment, which is why he utilizes other data including streaming metrics and social media analytics to formulate a more authentic evaluation of the station during each quarter.
“I think we can use the data from Nielsen to look at general trends, but I never want to overreact to a good book or a bad book,” Conti said. “I think it’s more handy to kind of gauge the overall direction of the radio station over really a 12-month trend as opposed to just going from month-to-month and even week-to-week. You can drive yourself crazy looking at that data you get every week because it can be very, very tempting to overreact to it.”
Conti worked in New Orleans until July 2008 before landing a job with Clear Channel Communications in Atlanta and continued to contribute to both sports and news content for WGST-AM 640, including serving as the station’s assistant news director. Additionally, he was the station’s lead morning news anchor and won the Associated Press’ Georgia radio news anchor of the year award.
Then in 2012, Conti officially transitioned from news radio to join a brand-new station on its launch day: 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Here, Conti finally focused exclusively on sports radio, but still found ways to display his stellar versatility by taking on a variety of different roles – sometimes simultaneously. Through it all, he gained an understanding of time management, an important aspect of most managerial jobs and something he thrived in when he was named managing editor of the station.
Over the years at the station, Conti has contributed to talk shows, delivered sports updates, and hosted studio coverage, including pregame, halftime, and postgame shows, on radio broadcasts for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. Additionally, he has worked as the play-by-play voice of MLS’ Atlanta United FC and was on the call for the team’s first championship in 2018, which was also, at the time, the first professional sports championship in the area since the Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995.
“Someone tweeted at me the next day and said: ‘Do you realize only you and Skip Caray have called an Atlanta sports championship on the radio live?’” recalled Conti. “That just absolutely gave me goosebumps as someone who grew up admiring Skip Caray.”
Of course, hosting pregame, halftime, and postgame shows for the Falcons meant that Conti was in the building when the team was en route to winning its first-ever Super Bowl championship leading 28-3 at halftime. As is well known though, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots staged the largest comeback in Super Bowl history to capture the Vince Lombardi Trophy, infamously defeating the Falcons 34-28. When the game concluded, the next voice that was heard on Atlanta sports radio was that of Conti’s, and it was a moment of his career that he remembers because of the stress and profound trouble he had describing what had just happened.
“I will just never ever forget sitting in that broadcast booth trying to find the words to do that postgame show and trying to find the words to kind of put everything in perspective [to] try to wrap your head around what had just occurred,” said Conti. “It was certainly one of the most devastating moments in Atlanta sports history, and unfortunately I had to be the person on the postgame show to explain it.”
This past June, Conti was named as the new brand manager of 92.9 The Game, a new, multifaceted job for him that has required him to allocate time to ensure the radio station continues to maintain its sound and is at the forefront of innovation. Additionally, he works closely with sponsors, partner teams, and other entities to confirm a return on investment and the cultivation of revenue-generating opportunities. In sum, his job is to ensure the station is on an upward trajectory, both in its content and in its position in the marketplace.
“I’m very, very passionate about the brand, and I know very well what has succeeded and what has failed for us a brand,” said Conti. “Now, it’s just trying to build off the foundation that’s existed for the last 10 years [and] try to make it a little bit better.”
While it may not seem obvious, there are some areas of intersection between being a brand manager and having a broadcast role. In fact, Conti’s experience broadcasting on both radio in Savannah, New Orleans, and Atlanta, along with serving as a freelance play-by-play announcer on television with the Pennsylvania Cable Network, has prepared him for this moment.
“If you’re part of a show unit with a co-host, an executive producer, and an engineer, you have to collaborate on a daily basis with your team,” Conti explained. “So much of being a brand manager is that collaboration with your larger team. [It’s] not necessarily cramming down the type of content that you want to hear [or] the types of non-traditional events you want to be doing, but listening to your team and trying as a large group to find some solutions to do the best radio that we possibly can.”
The job of a brand manager, according to Conti, has been demanding thus far and has presented a challenge to him in trying to continue his broadcast presence while also being an effective manager. Always being one to juggle multiple tasks simultaneously, Conti had to face the looming decision of selecting his primary focus in the industry – and he chose management.
“At some point, you have to pick a lane, and I think that’s been the career crossroads that I’ve been at in the last year – I’ve got to pick my lane,” Conti stated. “The lane I chose, although I’m very passionate about play-by-play and want to continue to do it; the lane I chose was management, and I am pleased I was given an opportunity by Audacy and my market manager here in Atlanta to pick that lane.”
Working directly with Rick Caffrey, who serves as the senior vice president and market manager for Audacy in Atlanta, has not been a difficult transition according to Conti, largely because they are both Atlanta sports fans and P1 listeners of the radio station. Their meetings, while they usually run long, are generally productive; in fact, just 30 minutes of conversation one day came up with an effective campaign involving military listeners. He looks forward to continuing to pioneer new ideas with Caffrey as sports media continues to evolve at a rapid pace.
“I always tell my team: ‘I’m not here to tell you what to do. I’m here to help you get what you need to do the best radio you can do every day,’” Conti said. “From a market manager standpoint, Rick [Caffrey] is very much the same way with me. He’s not necessarily telling me what to do; he is my resource to make sure I get what I need from the company to execute what I want to execute.”
Conti affirms that he has a talented staff on hand; however, he is always looking for chances to improve the current product. That is why he recently hired a new Atlanta Braves reporter for the station, along with several weekend hosts to improve that content. Additionally, he and Caffrey created a new mid-morning sports and entertainment talk show called The Front Row on 92.9 The Game featuring Steak Shapiro and Sandra Golden.
“Fortunately for me, I don’t need to sit into show meetings and provide feedback and advice for what our shows need to be doing,” said Conti. “My bigger goal is to just make sure we’re constantly evolving and not settling for doing the same thing every day…. You’re either going to get better or you’re going to get worse – you’re never going to stay the same – and I want to make sure that we’re always getting better.”
Working in news radio, even though his goal was to always remain in sports, was representative of augmenting his versatility and taking advantage of any opportunity he could to advance his standing in the industry. Today, he looks back on that time and recognizes that there are many similarities between the two formats, and having that duality in perspective has helped him understand the totality of the industry as a brand manager.
“As is the case in the news business, we have a responsibility in sports radio to make sure that we’re informing our audience in a responsible way and that we aren’t necessarily going on the radio and saying things because we know our audience wants to hear it,” Conti said. “I think there are some journalistic principles that are very, very important to implement in sports radio.”
Whether it is news or sports radio, the proximity to current events embedded within content in the spoken word format unquestionably gives it somewhat of an advantage when put up against other radio formats. The challenge for Conti and other radio executives comes in making that content available on-demand and accessible wherever and whenever the consumer desires to hear it. Technologic innovation helps in making that goal a reality; however, it requires collaboration from all parties to produce it, including on-air talent, engineers, and programmers among others.
The concept of abandoning terrestrial radio altogether and moving to an exclusive digital platform is something Conti and many others do not see as a viable option right now. After all, terrestrial radio has provided and continues to provide the foundation for much of the listening audience, and even though podcasts and other digital means of consumption are growing in their popularity, they are primarily complimenting the existing content on AM/FM rather than replacing it entirely. That, of course, could change as time goes on though but for now, Audacy is providing 92.9 The Game and its other sports radio stations with necessary resources, combined with “time, effort, and energy” to ensure the haste distribution of content.
“Over the next decade, there’s going to be a continual transition from in-car listening to on-phone and in-app listening, and that’s something we have to embrace,” said Conti. “Quite honestly – from a programming standpoint, there are a lot of advantages to that because for one, we’re going to get much more reliable audience measurement off of that.”
Something else that could shift in the industry over the next decade is the number of on-air talent that can simultaneously and effectively balance a broadcast and management career as some jobs become more conflated in scope. Conti, having achieved this throughout his career, knows that broadcasters would serve as “good coaches in that program director/brand manager role.” The one issue could be that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
“I would love to see more on-air talent try to embrace that opportunity,” Conti said, “but I don’t know if it’s sustainable to do a four-hour air shift and all the show prep that entails, and fulfill all the commitments that come with being a brand manager at a top-10 market station.”
He’s just 41 years old with a wealth of experience in sports media, and while Mike Conti’s career is far from over, he is grateful for the various chances he has had to work in different sectors of radio. As a former member of the Alumni Society Board of Directors at Penn State University’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications, he hopes to embolden aspiring broadcasters through his adaptability and versatility, both facets of his career and truths of the industry he tells young professionals when he meets with them.
“I’ve gotten to do so much and experience so much in my first two decades working in this industry,” Conti said. “If someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Tomorrow, you can’t do this anymore,’ I would have a smile on my face because I feel like I’ve been so blessed and so fortunate to have the experiences that I’ve had over the last couple of decades.”
Mike Conti chose his lane, and now it’s full speed ahead as 92.9 The Game looks to push its previous momentum and accelerate into the digital age of media.
“We were very, very lucky for a long time to have a lot of ratings success here in the Atlanta market, and to uphold that is very, very challenging,” Conti said. “It requires a lot of hard work and a lot of creativity, and that’s what I’m basically trying to bring to the position.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, Derek serves as a production manager, broadcaster, voiceover artist, technical director, audiovisual editor, and media engineer for Hofstra University’s WRHU. He has also worked on New York Islanders radio broadcasts. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @DerekFutterman.
In Defense Of Colin Cowherd
“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”
I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.
Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.
Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.
Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?
A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.
That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.
The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.
Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!
This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).
“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.
On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.
Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.
You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?
It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.
Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?
I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.
School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.
Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.
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.
Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward
WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.
Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.
“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…
Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.
“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman. “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”
Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.
Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.
This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.
She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.
“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”
Waldman has also changed the industry.
She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.
Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.
“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”
Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.
For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.
“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”
There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.
Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.
It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.
“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”
Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.
And many of these people were co-workers.
“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman.
It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.
She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.
“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t. You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”
There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.
“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”
While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.
The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.
“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88. I just wish he were here.”
Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.
Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.
“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.
“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports. You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming. I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”
And made it she did.
And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.
“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.
WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.
“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman.
Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.
“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.
She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.
“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer. That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”
And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.
But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.
Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.
“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women. I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.”
During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.
But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?
“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”
To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”
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.
No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words
“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “
For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.
If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.
So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.
Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.
Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.
Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.
As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.
Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.
When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.
On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.
You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.
Pot, meet kettle.
I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.
Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.
And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.
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.