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Q & A with Jeff Rickard

Brian Noe



Many mortals don’t want a heavy workload. Jeff Rickard doesn’t want any part of a light one. The ESPN and SiriusXM Radio host has basically experienced it all in sports broadcasting. On-air host, Program Director, play-by-play announcer — you name it. Jeff has done it while accumulating a wealth of knowledge.

When Jeff isn’t hosting shows, he works as the Program Director at 107.5/1070 The Fan in Indianapolis. We caught up to talk about his philosophies as a programmer, his career path, and the potent combination that is the foundation of a great sports talk host. Jeff also mentions what he considers to be the most interesting aspect of sports radio these days, and the most annoying. Enjoy.

BN: How’s the Program Director life treating you?

JR: I like it. I think it’s always been natural for me because radio is just in my blood. I’ve been doing radio since I was a teenager. I started out in small markets where you had to do everything. My first real job of consequences probably was as a Program Director in Tri Cities, WA. Later on being an Assistant Program Director in Denver — getting my first real big gig in Salt Lake City. Then, from Salt Lake City I was the Sports Format General for all of Citadel Communications.

I’ve always just loved radio and how things work and why they work. Where you put things on the air and why you put them there. There’s a really satisfying feeling of how to grade talent and then putting great promotional content around it — putting it all together in one package. Then, when you’re driving down the road listening to the great talent that you have surrounded by all the things that hopefully you put in place to support them, and it all sounds like one big symphony. If you’re doing it right, it sounds good. If you’re doing it wrong, it bugs you until you get back in the office and fix it the next morning. You know how that goes.

BN: Do you have any sort of hierarchy in terms of what you prefer doing more than others when it comes to programming and hosting shows?

JR: I personally like working with the talent. When you get guys in place that you respect and you like listening to — they’re different than you are and they have great ideas and they have their own way of doing things — I like being able to coach them and get the most out of them and what their talents are. Really try to help them find what’s best for them in their own voice and in their own way.

I think too many times talent coaches make the mistake of, “I’m going to go in and I’m going to make the guy sound this way.” You’ve got to work with the talent that you have, but there are talented guys out there. Everybody is just a little bit different so your job is to try and get the most out of them with their style and what they want to become and how they want to do it.

I’ve found in the past, if you want to fit a talent into a different way of doing things and they’re not buying it, it’s not going to work for anybody. Everybody is just going to be miserable. You take guys with their talent and what they do. You tell them the things that you expect and the things that you need formatically — how and why this might be a better way to do it — and you let them experiment. Just give them options and hopefully they can find their best voice through your lens.

BN: Are there ever times when you’re in a meeting with a talent and they say something where you’re like, “Wow, never thought of it that way,” or they teach you something with what they say?

JR: Absolutely. I’m not just saying this because it sounds like the cliché thing to say, but I think if you talk to people who’ve been doing this a long, part of the energy that you get back is what those people around you give. There’s something to learn from everybody every day. There may be a completely different style or way of thought — it’s not at all the way you would do it, or would’ve thought of — then you hear it come out of the radio and you go, “You know what, that worked pretty well for that guy.”

That’s the one thing I’ve learned over the years. It’s like a quarterback in the NFL. You’re gonna run an offense differently — if you’re an offensive coordinator or a head coach — if you have Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady than you are if you have Trevor Siemian or Brock Osweiler. There are certain things you can ask people to do and they’re going to be able to do it. You’re not going to tell Aaron Rodgers — you’re going to give him direction and guidance like, “Hey, Aaron. You missed this other guy open over here.” But those are guys that understand the philosophy of the game.

They have so much physical talent that you have to let them be themselves once the game starts. You give them a game plan. You tell them what you like to see. This is the philosophy of our offense. This is what we’re trying to accomplish and why, but there are some people that are so talented, you just almost have to get out of their way and let them run. There are other people that just need a lot more coaching whether it’s through inexperience or maybe they’re not quite as gifted as some of the other people, but your job is still to get the most out of them, just as it is to get the most out of the superstar so to speak.

BN: How often do you host shows right now?

JR: Between three and six times a week. Between Sirius and ESPN — I just filled in for Dan Dakich on my station today. I’ll fill in when needed here. I prefer that other people fill in here because I’ve got so much to do, but when needed I’ll fill in. Between all of the things combined, I’m still doing around 300 shows a year.

BN: 300 a year? That’s basically full-time on air.

JR: That’s why I said I’m busier than a three-legged cat on ice. I’m just trying to stay in my lane and not hurt anybody and make sure I get everything done that I need to do. I think because I’ve been doing it for so long, I’ve just learned what I need to do — what’s really important, what I can delegate, what other people can do for me because it helps them develop and grow.

I’ve always been a believer that you don’t just give assignments to people because, “Oh, I don’t have time for this. I’ll let them do that.” Hopefully, when you give assignments and you delegate to other people, you’re helping them grow in their career too. You’re showing them how to someday do your job.

BN: When you’re doing the two-hat thing programming and hosting shows, you’re going to be stretched thin. When it comes to having your show set up the way you want it, how do you approach it if your time is more scarce than you’d like it to be?

JR: I have a studio in my home and I’m always up to date on stuff. Sirius knows that they can call me for breaking news or whatever and I can do a show on Jim Mora getting fired from UCLA or I can do a show on the NFL. Or somebody’s equipment is down and they’re stuck in travel and, “Hey, Jeff, we’re on the air in 30 minutes, can you fill in?”

What I’ve always done and this is kind of my daily routine — I get up early in the morning and the first thing I do is spend about an hour going over everything I can find on the internet that’s new, that’s different, what I didn’t know the night before. The last thing I do — my wife and I call it my evening sweeps — I spend another 30 to 45 minutes just scouring what happened during the day. Anything that seems interesting to me. I use that kind of as a general show prep. Now, if I know I have a show coming up I can be a little more focused. Just doing those two things, and then like everybody else constantly checking Twitter throughout the day when you have a minute here or there to make sure you’re not missing things.

I always call it kind of a river of information. We live in this information overload era, but it’s a river of information. I don’t know how you feel, but it seems to me that once you’re swimming in that river and you stay swimming in that river, you’re just kind of in it. You just know what’s going on day to day, moment to moment. That’s what’s helped me out a ton. The broadcasting experience I have, so I don’t worry about that. First thing in the morning and the last thing at night, I try to make sure I’m as up to date as possible in just about everything of major consequence in sports.

BN: You mention looking for stories that are new and different. If you apply that to talent, is there a host that you think has a style that’s just new, different, and something that most people haven’t heard before?

JR: Yeah, Dan Dakich, who happens to be on my radio station. One of the things that really attracted me to the station was Dan’s personality. He’s very abrasive. He’s definitely one of those hosts who you either love or hate. I get feedback from both sides all the time, but he’s unique and different. To me, that’s what makes him special.

First of all, you couldn’t go out and find another Dan Dakich. He was Bob Knight’s protégé for a long time. For whatever reason, which I still don’t know and I have never asked, he and Coach Knight had a falling out of some sort. He never specifies why or what happened. I don’t ask, but there’s a lot of Bob Knight in him.

Dan just says what’s on his mind. There’s very little filter. Sometimes, that can get him in trouble, but because he’s had so many unique experiences as both a head coach and an assistant coach under Bob Knight, and he’s got by nature just a very outspoken way of doing things — he tells you what he thinks and why he thinks it — doesn’t really care whether you agree with him or not — it’s new and it’s fresh.

I don’t know that we’ve had someone with that unique set of experience come to talk radio in sports. He knew what it was like to be with Bob Knight and there’s a lot of Bob Knight in him. A lot of that’s good too, it’s not necessarily all a bad thing. He’s been a head coach at a Division I program. Here in Indiana, for a short time he was the interim head coach for the Indiana Hoosiers, which is a pretty big deal in Indiana. He’s now also the Big Ten main analyst on ESPN. His national exposure has grown with his personality.

He’s a take-no-prisoners guy and sometimes he’ll go a little bit too far, but I’d rather have a guy that I have to pull back a little bit than a guy that I have to push toward that line. Dan’s just fearless in that way. He’s kind of damn the consequences. He says what he thinks. He’s got a very unique and entertaining style in which he delivers it. A lot of people get really upset and irritated by it, but the thing he does that we’re all looking for is that he makes people think — he makes them emote. That’s, to me, what I’m looking for in a good talk show host.

I wish I had more kind of nastiness in me like Dan has. However, Dan is not a nasty person at all, so that’s probably not the right word. There’s an edge to him. It’s edgier than what I have. I’ve had people tell me throughout the years that I respect a lot, “Man, if you were just a little more edgy, and a little more outspoken,” but that’s not who I am. You have to be true to who you are and Dan is certainly true to who he is. He doesn’t try to be anybody that he’s not. I’ve just really grown to respect the talent that he has.

BN: Some of those adjectives are interesting — abrasive, fearless, edgy. With young hosts — do you think that they’re less abrasive and more fearful that if they check their Twitter timeline and someone calls them out they’re going to be a basket case? Is there anything age-related with styles?

JR: I don’t think it’s so much age-related as it is self-confidence related. In a case like Dan’s, and I don’t mean to make this all about Dan but sinse we’re using him as an example, he has very clear opinions on what he thinks and why he thinks it. He’s lived it and he’s coached kids. He’s been a college athlete. He coached with Coach Knight. He travels to meet and talk to coaches all the time. When he says something, in his mind it’s been vetted. He’s lived it. He’s talked about it. He’s thrown it past other people. So, when he has that fearlessness about it, I don’t think there’s any hesitation from him because in his mind he is right.

That’s what makes a really good talk show host. You can agree or disagree with him, but in his mind, he’s right and he’s not afraid to go toe to toe with you verbally. Whether people like that style or not, people do listen to it. It’s interesting, when you’re walking down the street and you hear two people kind of getting in each other’s business, you stop and you pay attention like, “What’s going on over there, man? What’s happenin’?” It doesn’t mean a fight is necessarily ready to break out, but those are the kind of things that cut through the clutter.

I don’t think it’s so much an age thing. I think it’s more a confidence, “This is who I am. This is what I think. This is where I’m going.” You look at some of the great talk show hosts and radio personalities — look at Howard Stern who is unbelievable, right? He’s always been fearless when he gets on the air. He’ll take whatever slings and arrows come his way because in his mind he knows what’s going to make people laugh, or make people talk about him. I think Dan has a lot of that gift inherently in him.

BN: So how exactly did you end up in Indianapolis?

JR: I was working in Bristol for ESPN, which I still do now. My wife, who is a very talented attorney, was offered a really great job out here. We looked at the cost of living. We looked at everything — the jobs and the schools and everything else. She said, “Well, what do you think? Could you live in Indianapolis?”

When I think of Indianapolis — they do Final Fours here. They do Super Bowls here. They do sports festivals here. There is something happening here — Big Ten Championship, football, basketball. There’s NCAA Regionals all the time. I mean there’s always something going on here.

I thought, “Man, if you can get a great job for yourself and advance your career” — she’s general counsel for an insurance company now — and I can be in the middle of a really great sports city — and in this day and age of technology still do all of my Sirius and ESPN stuff out of my house. That’s how we ended up here.

BN: That’s not a bad gig. Just curious, what ages are your kids and where are they at in their lives?

JR: I have two little guys. They are eight and nine. My eight-year-old is a really gifted student. I’m so proud — he’s just a smart little kid that loves sports. And my oldest, who’s nine, doesn’t really care about sports at all, but man, he will make you incredibly buildings, vehicles, whatever out of LEGO. He’s just a really creative little guy.

They’re both finding their niche, and it’s fun to watch them grow. They’re both doing really well in school and I just couldn’t be happier with where they are right now. When we moved to Indianapolis they were five and four. So, they knew Connecticut and their house there. They had a great little school there. One of the greatest schools I’ve ever come across. It was hard to leave that, but we found some good schools here too — some terrific teachers and things that we liked. I think in their minds — the oldest one has a little bit more memory of Connecticut than the youngest one, but for the most part this is really the home that they know. So far, so good.

BN: How did you arrive at ESPN in Bristol to host national shows?

JR: I had done a little bit of work for ESPN when the Olympics came to Salt Lake City. I was the Program Director and I was an on-air host in Salt Lake City back in 2002 when the Olympics came there. I sat in on a couple of shows with Trey Wingo and some other folks from ABC Sports. At the time they were all in town with ESPN. They let me do a couple of shows and then I did a couple of New Year’s Eve shows for them — the special holiday shows over a couple years.

A few years later I was speaking at a seminar for Jon Chelesnik. He and David Brody were hosting a seminar for STAA. Bruce Gilbert, who was running ESPN Radio at the time, and I were both speaking at it. We just started talking. My contract was coming up at Sporting News, which I left Salt Lake City to go to Sporting News.

I had been there for a couple of years and my contract was up. Just because it was coming up I kind of offhandedly sent an email to Bruce going, “Hey, you guys are probably full, but would you have anything open at ESPN Radio?” He literally emailed me back within like two minutes because that’s how Bruce is. He’s so good at stuff like that. He said, “Hey, we’re looking for a host on GameNight. Let me get you in touch with Justin Craig.” I talked to Justin over email. We talked over the phone. Then, they flew me out there. I did a show with Doug Gottlieb one night and I guess they liked it. They hired me and I’ve been doing stuff for them ever since.

BN: How did you initially get into the business?

JR: I was always an athlete, but I was a lot like my youngest son — I was smallish side. It was hard. I did walk on and play at an NAIA school in football (Colorado Mesa University), but I didn’t play a whole lot because I was small. I think I only weighed like 155 pounds or something like that. I was a good enough athlete that I could be on their scout team and play secondary. I was like the backup kicker because I could kick the ball a long way. I wasn’t always accurate, but I could kick it a mile.

I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to have a big future as an athlete. Even though I was a good athlete for my size, it just wasn’t going to happen. I had always loved sports and I had always loved TV and radio. I used to do play-by-play of the old NBA Finals games into a tape recorder when I was in high school. I’d give the cassettes to my dad. He’d listen to them on the way to and from work and give me critiques.

Broadcasting was always something that interested me because at least you were involved in the game and that was always my big thing. I just wanted to be involved in the game and be around the game because I loved the game. I loved being an athlete and I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete. I just wanted to be connected to sports. I just think it’s the greatest thing in the world.

I started working at the college radio station while I was still playing football. Then, I got a job at the 50,000 watt station that was the play-by-play home for the local college. Pretty soon I started being kind of an analyst for them and a sideline reporter for games that I didn’t play. By the time I got to be a senior, it was clear where my future was going to be so I didn’t play football anymore.

I just started broadcasting some of the games and I started working at the TV station there in Grand Junction, CO, which is also right near the college. It just kind of went from there. You know how the stepping stone goes. It went from Grand Junction to Billings, MT, then to Washington State and back home to Denver to start up The Fan, which is gosh all the way back to 1995. It makes me sound older than I am — I started when I was a teenager just so people know.

That’s where it really started to take off was when I started working at The Fan in the mid 90s and it was such a great time in Denver. The Broncos were winning Super Bowls. The Avalanche were brand new and they won a Stanley Cup. Colorado State I think one year finished with Sonny Lubick in the top 10. They were beating up on teams from the Pac-10 at the time, it’s the Pac-12 now. They were beating on teams in the bowl games. The University of Colorado was still decent. They had Rick Neuheisel as a coach one year and then Gary Barnett. The Rockies had just gotten there and just opened Coors Field.

I was in Denver and that really helped me because my role at the radio station — in addition to doing on-air shifts — I was the beat reporter for whatever was happening. I was the studio host for the Nuggets and Avalanche. During the summer, I was the beat reporter for the Rockies. I also covered the Broncos during the week during football season too. I was really busy but getting plugged in at that level to all four major sports has really helped me.

I couldn’t do the things I do at Sirius on a moment’s notice and talk about that river of information. It’s easy for me to do a show on MLB Network Radio because I’ve been covering baseball as a beat reporter since 1995. I’ve been covering the National Football League as a beat reporter since 1995. I’ve just kind of been lucky. I think I’ve worked real hard at everything and I think I’ve taken advantage of the opportunities that I’ve been given and that have been presented to me. Every time I saw an opportunity, I jumped on it and I’ve just been fortunate to get a lot of opportunities too.

BN: It sounds like you don’t know how to not be busy.

JR: I don’t think I would know what to do. The other thing is, I still somehow someway — and I tell my family this — I still need to spend time with my kids for a little while every night. The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I either go for a ride on my bike for an hour, or I ride indoors for an hour just to stay in shape. I’ll probably watch SportsCenter if I’m riding indoors or I’ll listen to sports radio or something like that while I’m on my bike.

It’s like killing two birds with one stone. I can get my workout in and still listen to what I need to. I think staying fit and healthy has really helped me do all of those things too. You gotta have a lot of energy for that. I think the fitter you are, the healthier you are, the more energy you have.

BN: What do you think is the most interesting aspect of sports talk radio right now, and what’s the most annoying?

JR: My favorite sports talk radio host is somebody who has real knowledge, but also has a fan’s passion for it. That’s a really rare thing to find.

Whether someone who has been a beat reporter or whether someone has been a lifelong, find out everything I could ever find out about my favorite team my whole life kind of fan. When you can combine somebody that’s got the professional knowledge, I mean real professional knowledge in sports, not just listening to people from watching TV and games but being at practices, talking to players, finding out why they did things, what were they thinking, how did they do this, why did they approach it this way.

When you do that for a good amount of time, you really start to understand truly the mindset and culture of the teams and the athletes. If you still retain that fan’s passion — that’s when you’re going to find gold because you gotta have that fan’s passion. If you take the passion of a fan and now you mix it with somebody who really truly knows what’s going on, man that’s a potent combination — a really potent combination.

One of the things I like about Sirius, and ESPN does a really good job of this too, they take these people that have lived this lifestyle. It doesn’t even have to be an athlete — it can be a coach, you could be the former general managers that ESPN uses a lot of the time — they take these people with real professional knowledge of what’s going on, but they have a fan’s passion. You can tell that they love what they’re talking about. That’s when you find gold.

What I can’t stand are the people that just want to be on radio and TV just to be on radio and TV. I cannot stand that personally. I can’t stand it because they’re not interested in what they’re really there for. They’re just interested in being on TV or being on the radio.

BN: Can you hear that right away when you listen to somebody?

JR: Yeah, listen to Colin or Doug Gottlieb and what they do, just to make it about different networks too. Colin paid his dues as a sports reporter on television and as an announcer with certain teams younger in his career before he found talk radio in Portland. Then, he really seized on that. He had a really solid foundation of knowing sports and knowing how and why teams do what they do.

What’s it like on a road trip? What’s it like for the average athlete when he’s away for a week and a half? Because you’re with them and you see what they do during the day when they’re not at practice and how they approach it. When they get bored and why they get bored. How they work out before practice starts. How they work out after practice is over. You talk to the coaches about the game because you develop a relationship with them. They’ll tell you, “We got our butts kicked and I’ll tell you why right here.”

It’s something that you as a layperson probably never would’ve seen. It teaches you to see a different game than you otherwise would’ve. Colin is also an entertainer. He knows the game and has never lost the passion of the fan. I think he brought that and that’s what he does as well as anybody.

Doug Gottlieb, obviously with his basketball career — people don’t realize it, but after college basketball at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State, he played overseas professionally for a couple of years. Here’s a guy again with real life experience that most of us don’t have. Doug is a little bit like Dan Dakich — he’s got very strong opinions. He says what he thinks. He very rarely puts a muzzle on himself. If he thinks it, he’s going to say it. He doesn’t put a lot of filter on it. Maybe it offends some people sometimes. Maybe it doesn’t, but he also understands humor and he mixes that in.

He’s got that passion for the games. I think you can hear with those guys is the great passion mixed with a really great amount of knowledge. Those things, once you combine them — I go back to it again — Brian, you just can’t find that everywhere, the people that have both of those things. Now, if you throw in the ability to entertain on top of that, now you’re talking about really special talent on that level.

BN: Is there anything that you haven’t accomplished yet that you’re really striving to achieve?

JR: Yeah (laughing), you know what’s funny, I never in my wildest imagination thought I’d end up being a talk show host. It’s what I’ve been doing now since 1995. All I ever wanted to do was pay bills by being a talk show host so I could do play-by-play.

I don’t think a lot of people realize that I’ve done well over 1,000 games in almost every sport you can imagine — college to professional. That’s my passion. That’s what I always wanted to do, but it just so happened that every time I turned around I kept getting bumped ahead and promoted in sports talk radio and so that’s just kind of what I followed. Unfortunately, I’m doing fewer and fewer play-by-play games, which is what I’d really like to be doing, but at the same time life’s been good to me. So, I keep riding the wave.

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BSM Writers

As Media Changes, Bob Costas Hopes Standards Remain

“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me.”

Derek Futterman



Courtesy: Bob Costas

Growing up in New York, Bob Costas frequently listened to broadcasters such as Red Barber, Mel Allen and Marv Albert call games on the radio. To him, their voices were inseparable from the players. Although he idolized Mickey Mantle, Costas knew the only way he would pass through the Yankee Stadium gates without charge would be by working in the press box. Recognizing that many national broadcasters began their careers by working in radio, he searched for an esteemed college program to accentuate his pursuit of a media career. Once Costas picked up a New York Knicks yearbook and learned that Glickman and Albert had both attended Syracuse University, his mind was, somewhat consequentially, made up.

“When I got there, I didn’t know for sure if I wanted to be a writer or a broadcaster,” Costas said. “Almost as soon as I got there as a freshman, I started getting airshifts doing sports reports and whatnot on the campus radio station. I felt like this was something that I enjoyed and I might have a knack for.”

Costas on the Air

Costas was fond of a specific type of sports broadcasting early in his career, one promulgated by Jim McKay and Jack Whitaker wherein an announcer is more than just someone who documents the game. It led Costas to espouse a multifaceted approach with shades of humor, journalistic elements and some historical references.

“[They] were essayists and at times journalists,” Costas said. “Not just announcers, but journalists with a respect for and a command of language with the occasional literate touch [and] I admired those people. I think I was influenced by them in that they showed me that was an avenue [and] that not every good broadcaster had to be generic.”

When Costas graduated from college, he was hired at KMOX radio by general manager Rob Hyland. He was assigned to be the new play-by-play announcer for the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) Spirit of St. Louis, and later called Missouri Tigers college basketball. 

In 1976, Al Michaels was slated to be a regional football play-by-play announcer for CBS Sports, but ended up signing a contract with ABC less than one week before the regular season. It left the network with no one to call an opening week game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers from historic Lambeau Field, resulting in CBS Sports calling Hyland to inquire about a potential replacement.

“Mr. Hyland said, ‘We’ve got a young guy here. We think he’s pretty good. He’s 24 and looks like he’s 15,’” Costas recalled. “They said, ‘Send him to Green Bay,’ and I signed a one-game contract for $500 to go to Green Bay.”

Costas continued calling regional games for CBS Sports while working at KMOX, being used every so often on football and basketball coverage. It gave him additional exposure in various marketplaces around the United States, and ultimately prepared him to join NBC Sports. By the end of 1981 though, Bryant Gumbel departed the sports division to join Jane Pauley and Chris Wallace as a co-host on TODAY. As a result, Costas was elevated to become a more visible part of NBC’s football coverage. He eventually started hosting the pregame show for the NFL on NBC, and had to learn the mechanics of the studio and how to read from a teleprompter.

“For the first several years that I did it, I didn’t use a teleprompter at all,” Costas said. “I just had notes and ad-libbed around those notes, but then as the production became more sophisticated, they’d want a specific cue to roll in B-roll or whatever, and I began using the prompter for that. I still ad-libbed in and around it because I felt more comfortable doing that.”

Costas on America’s Pastime

Costas continued hosting studio coverage for football, but had also impressed network executives when hosting NBC’s coverage of the 1983 Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Earlier that season, he had started broadcasting games with Tony Kubek on Game of the Week, a partner to which he credits accentuating his development. Kubek introduced Costas to key figures around the sport, such as players, general managers and scouts, implicitly communicating the trust he garnered in his abilities.

Throughout his career, the composition and expectations of the audience have altered, requiring Costas to adapt the way in which he calls a game. Research departments compile tedious amounts of information for broadcasters to consider, and it is in their purview to determine what deserves emphasis. When sabermetrics first began to pervade into the everyday vernacular of the sport, Costas had Bill James on KMOX to discuss his theories and baseball abstract, and he considers himself an early adopter of the metrics.

Costas is familiar with postseason baseball as a fan and broadcaster, appearing on World Series broadcasts five different times either as a host or play-by-play announcer. Through his lifetime, he has seen and embraced the evolution of the sport. Yet he is frequently labeled as a “traditionalist.” That led to extensive criticism regarding how he called last year’s American League Division Series between the New York Yankees and Cleveland Guardians on TBS.

“If it ever gets to the point in a broadcast where the statistician eclipses the storyteller, then some of the elements of romance and legend that are part of baseball are lost,” Costas expressed. “What you’re looking to do is strike a balance between those two things. They all have their purpose, but it’s a matter of balance.”

In addition to baseball, Costas also covered basketball with NBC, helping further cement the Association into the collective awareness of the viewing public. He was elevated to lead play-by-play announcer for the 1997-98 season and called three NBA Finals, including one of the most consequential shots in the history of the game. Costas, who announced games locally for the Bulls on WGN-TV during the 1979-80 season, punctuated Michael Jordan’s championship-winning basket in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals. Although he no longer calls basketball, Costas is a fan of the game and regularly tunes into the NBA Finals while staying aware of ratings.

“A good portion of it is on cable,” Costas said of league broadcasts. “There are very large rights fees paid, so that explains the league’s willingness to go in that direction, and the quality of the broadcasts are generally very, very high. There’s no criticism of the way the games are presented, but it’s less present in the minds of the casual fan than it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s.”

Costas on Reporting

When Costas was at NBC, he was presented with a proposal from producer Dick Ebersol about starting his own late-night talk show, entering a space where sportscasters had not often frequented. While he looks back at that stage of his career with a sense of appreciation, he turned down the program multiple times. Once he reluctantly agreed to host the show, Costas welcomed guests including Paul McCartney, Don Rickles and Mel Brooks among others for longform, insightful interviews.

“It wasn’t confined to five minutes or a quick soundbite,” Costas said. “I think I was well-suited to that format, and once I got my footing after the first few months of doing it, I realized that even though I hadn’t planned anything in that area, it was something that I was suited to do.”

As a journalist, Costas affirms that it is his responsibility to address uncomfortable subjects with his audience in an objective manner. Through this approach, people feel empowered to formulate their own opinions and contribute to the discourse, especially since they do not have to start the entire conversation. In working as the prime-time host of the Olympic Games on NBC for 24 years, Costas had to balance highlighting the competition with bringing light to international affairs and global issues.

“Some people are cynics, and they confuse cynicism alone with insight. That’s not me,” Costas said. “But I hope that I’ve had a healthy skepticism, and I’ve never thought there was any contradiction between embracing the drama; the theater; the human interest [and] the occasionally and genuinely moving and touching things that can happen in sports… and then turning a journalistic eye towards what’s happening within those same events or those same sports.”

Before Costas took over the hosting role from Jim McKay in 1992, they had a lengthy conversation about the duty of the host and how integral the person is in the network’s coverage. It requires being familiar with notable athletes while also having the dexterity to seamlessly pivot, take a briefing and discuss unexpected occurrences. For example, during Costas’ second Summer Olympics in 1996, he had to cover the Centennial Park bombing. At the same time, he needed to know about the competitions and the significance of certain milestones the athletes achieved.

When Costas inked his final contract with NBC in 2012, he insisted that a stipulation be placed that the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil would be the final time he would host the games on the network. At the time, Costas was also hosting Football Night in America on NBC, which led into Sunday Night Football broadcasts with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. The network suggested he take on an emeritus role similar to what Tom Brokaw did as a newscaster, a proposal to which Costas obliged.

Costas has hosted two different nationally syndicated radio programs during his career – Costas Coast to Coast (1986-1996) and Costas on the Radio (2006-2009) it’s a parallel path to the ones takes by some of the biggest names to follow in his footsteps in sports media.

Stephen A. Smith, for example, is a featured commentator on ESPN’s First Take, broadcasts an alternate telecast for select NBA matchups, appears on NBA Countdown and hosts his own podcast titled The Stephen A. Smith Show. He does all of this while building his own production company, occasionally guest starring on television shows and ensuring he is well-positioned for the future. Smith has not been shy about his desire to expand beyond sports, pondering trying to host a late-night talk show of his own. Costas, it should be noted, is the only person to ever win Emmy awards in news, sports and entertainment. He has amassed a total of 28 throughout his illustrious career, the most wins in the history of sports media. Nonetheless, he believes discussing more than sports takes a specific archetype and is not a route all personalities are inclined to forge.

“You could name a lot of people that do one thing, but they do it extraordinarily well,” Costas said. “They don’t have to check every box…. I just had varied interests, and I guess people identified that I had varying abilities, and so I was able to do that.”

Costas has been on MLB Network since its launch in 2009. This followed an eight-year run with HBO as the host of On the Record, which was later revamped into Costas NOW, but he departed the premium television network when they insisted he grant them “cable exclusivity.” He desperately wanted to join MLB Network because of his passion and interest in the game – and ultimately ended up doing so – but not before making a monumental decision about his future.

“It was a really difficult choice because HBO was the gold standard when it came to sports journalism,” Costas said. “But given my love of baseball and given the fact that NBC hadn’t had it since 2000, I went with the baseball network.”

Costas on the Gridiron

Costas’ infatuation with baseball was contrasted with a perceived indignation towards football, although Costas affirms that was not the case. He had generally been allowed to express his opinions about different topics on radio programs or television shows, but there was a point where it became too much. 

After he went on CNN to discuss the topic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) following remarks he made at the University of Maryland about football having adverse mental effects, Costas was removed from the NBC’s Super Bowl LII broadcast. The decision did not bother him, as he had been assigned to host the Super Bowl without any prior knowledge before it was publicly announced. In fact, he was somewhat apathetic towards the proceedings.

“What I did suggest was I could make a more significant contribution if, during the course of a six-hour Super Bowl pregame show, you carved out 15 to 20 minutes for a real journalistic interview with Roger Goodell,” Costas shared. “That would be good programming, and it would be solid journalistically, but Goodell declined. So then that left me with no role that I was interested in for the Super Bowl.”

The ambivalent feelings Costas had towards the sport precipitated his exit from the network, officially parting ways in January 2019 and moving to the next stage of his career. Upon his exit though, Costas knew his previous roles were in good hands with Mike Tirico at the helm. The plan from the beginning was to have Tirico assume the host role of both prime-time Olympics coverage and Football Night in America. Once Al Michaels left NBC Sports to join the incipient Thursday Night Football property at Amazon Prime Video, Tirico was duly named the new play-by-play announcer on Sunday Night Football. It was one transaction in a deluge of broadcast movement in the final offseason before the start of the NFL’s new national media rights deal, reportedly worth over $110 billion over 11 years.

“The NFL doesn’t just reign over sports TV; it reigns over all of television and over all of American entertainment,” Costas said. “It’s the only thing that consistently aggregates audiences of that size, and therefore it isn’t just valuable to the networks; it’s indispensable to the networks.”

With these sizable media rights agreements comes substantial compensation for on-air talent. ESPN is reportedly paying Joe Buck and Troy Aikman a combined $33 million to serve as the Monday Night Football broadcast tandem, a figure some people would consider overpaying. Costas does not view it that way, instead perceiving broadcasters as harbingers of credibility.

“When you think about a company spending billions and billions of dollars for a property like they do with football, and then add on all the production costs, why should it surprise anybody that they’re willing to pay a very high premium to get Joe Buck or to retain Jim Nantz or to retain Tony Romo?,” Costas articulated. “Not doing so would be the equivalent of, ‘You spend $5,000 on a suit, but now you’re not going to splurge for the tie or the belt.’ These are accessories to a larger investment, and they’re important accessories.”

ESPN announced it was signing Pat McAfee to a multiyear, multi-million dollar contract to bring his eponymous show to its linear and digital platforms. McAfee conducted the negotiations independently and will still retain full creative control over the show in its new phase. The move, however, received considerable backlash from those inside and outside of ESPN since it occurred amid Disney CEO Bob Iger’s directive to lay off 7,000 employees across all divisions of the company. On several occasions, sports media pundits and personalities alike have expressed that ESPN concentrates its attention on a small sector of talent while neglecting everyone else. While FOX Corporation, Paramount Global and various other companies have engaged in layoffs this year, none made a hire with the star appeal,  gravitas, and price tag of McAfee.

“Someone like McAfee; he moves the needle,” Costas said. “He moves it, I guess, [on] various platforms – YouTube, as well as ESPN now, so he can make a difference so that’s what they’re paying for.”

Costas on Modern Media

An existential question those in the media industry are grappling with is how to offset the effects felt by cord-cutting. In the first quarter of 2023, cable, satellite and internet providers experienced a loss of 2.3 million customers, and the latest Nielsen Media Research Total Audience Report says 34% of consumption derives from streaming services. With digital forms of media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms taking precedence in the marketplace, companies must establish alternate revenue streams while continuing to innovate. 

CNN laid off employees last year, and its parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery, will reportedly be laying off additional employees during the summer months. Costas joined the company in 2020 as a correspondent for CNN. Earlier this week, Costas appeared on the network to talk about the merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV Golf, which marked a seminal moment in the history of the game.

Warner Bros. Discovery Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav recently relieved CNN chief executive officer Chris Licht of his duties as CEO following a pernicious feature in The Atlantic. It only worsened a dwindling company morale predicated by several controversial decisions regarding coverage, casting and the network’s commitment to journalistic integrity.

While Costas expressed that he had a “cordial, but not deep relationship” with Licht and did not have shrewd insight into the decision to part ways with the embattled CEO, he does understand the shifts in news viewership and how its subject matter can penetrate into sports media. 

For years, consumers regarded MSNBC as being biased to left-leaning politics, FOX News having bias towards right-leaning politics and CNN as nonpartisan, although that sentiment has somewhat changed.

“There’s a battle for viewership, and there’s some thought that people only want to go to the places that reinforce what they already believe,” Costas said. “‘Feed me the same meal every time over and over,’ and now CNN is trying to chart a different course more down the middle. Maybe you have to be more partisan in order to attract a larger cable audience; I underline ‘maybe’ because my insight into this is not as valuable as a lot of other people who are closer to it.”

The fractionalized media landscape, whether it be pertaining to news coverage, morning sports debate shows or afternoon drive programs, has, perhaps, engendered more disparate audiences than ever before. People tend to stick with outlets they know will provide them with information and coverage more favorable to their own points of view, and there is somewhat of an implicit chilling effect associated with channel surfing in certain scenarios. Viewers are obstinate towards programs that reinforce their points of view and hesitant to change, sometimes creating misinformation or, worse, disinformation.

“I think one of the most important courses that should be taught beginning fairly early – probably at the junior high school level and certainly continuing through college – is media literacy,” Costas opined, “which is not telling you what to think, but helping you to navigate this crazy jigsaw puzzle that’s out there.”

There are many people following the business of sports media, but a smaller group of people who tend to break news and report on the beat itself. While there are reporters specialized in different niches of the industry, there are others who indolently parse stories and/or spin aspects of it to render it compatible with their platform.

Established reporters and outlets certainly engage in some level of repurposing; however, these entities safeguard what they are disseminating is true and take accountability for their mistakes. Conversely, there are perpetrators who transmogrify things into engrossing headlines designed to attract traffic. It is disheartening for journalists such as Costas.

“Many sites now, and this is true in sports perhaps especially, [are] just aggregators,” Costas said. “They do no reporting; there doesn’t appear to be any editor overseeing any of it. They just look for stuff wherever it might appear, and then they repurpose it, and almost always, the context, the tone [and] the nuance is lost. At best, it’s reduced to primary colors. At worst, it’s totally misrepresented for clicks.”

In the past, Costas remembers genuine local programming which was exclusive to certain geographical areas. Because of the advent of the internet and social media though, nothing is truly local since people from around the world can consume content live or on demand. While this has brought many people together and improved cultural perceptions, ethnocentrism persists and has hindered accurate comprehension.

“If what you say is inevitably going to some extent be distorted where ‘A’ won’t just become ‘B,’ but it might become ‘X,’ ‘Y’ or ‘Z’ by the time it’s gone through all of its iterations, you sort of say to yourself, ‘What’s the point?,’” Costas elucidated. “Sports is not brain surgery – but you can make a more or less thoughtful point when asked a question, but if it’s then going to be seen, heard or read by more people than heard it initially, and if it’s going to be mangled in the process, it’s almost like a fool’s game to be part of that.”

Costas on the Future

The term ‘pretentious’ is wholly inaccurate in describing Costas. He does not view himself as a visionary and knows that he will not be an “active participant” in the industry that much longer, but is reassured regarding the direction of sports broadcasting. He looks at revered announcers such as Jim Nantz and is able to effectively identify similarities with Curt Gowdy. Although the degree of information available to people has certainly shifted, play-by-play announcing, at its core, remains similar to the on-air product people first heard in 1929, although the lexicon and flow of a broadcast are somewhat different.

“The essentials of the craft remain the same,” Costas said. “If you’re talking about sports talk radio; if you’re talking about the internet’s coverage of sports, that in some cases bears no resemblance to the notions that people of my generation had about credibility and quality of presentation. No one’s saying that sports coverage is masterpiece theater or something that should be taught at a Ph.D. class at Princeton [University], but it can be done more or less thoughtfully. It can be done more or less credibly, and we see wide variations now in how it’s done.”

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There is Nothing Old School About a Human Touch in Radio Sales

“Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway.”

Jeff Caves



Courtesy: Shutterstock

We are not dumb or dumber when it comes to buying radio advertising. Being a radio ad sales rep is old school to some advertising buyers. To others, we write the book on how to get advertising done. Find those clients! 

The digital automated ad buying platform AudioGo described selling radio ads as old school and wrote that automated buying is smarter. I am sure that is true for some buyers who have grown up with tech and automation, namely programmatic buying, and have changed their view of a radio salesperson. They don’t see the unique value radio sales reps bring to the process. 

Digital buyers are different, and that’s okay. They may not be the right buyer for you to sell to anyway. Plenty of other local direct clients are not ready for algorithms to automate ad buys. They want a human touch, a helping hand, and the kind of expertise that no algorithm can replace. YOU. Radio salespeople add value to these types of clients. Here is why we do and how we are not the “dumb and dumber” of media of buying. 


A radio salesperson offers specific solutions to meet a client’s goals with the right target audience and within their budget. We allow real-time interaction to understand the client’s business better, so we can match up the perfect advertising strategy. We are the ultimate live FAQs page. Building strong client relationships is critical. How can trust, collaboration, and a long-term partnership be created based on algorithms?


Most successful Radio salespeople have invaluable expertise and industry knowledge they picked up through years of experience. Twenty percent of the reps do eighty percent of the business. The vets know all about 6a-8a, 4p-6p, and live endorsement spots. 

We get the nuances of radio advertising, like shifting audience demographics, programming trends, and effective messaging strategies. We can advise a client to make a much more informed (and time-saving) decision that can maximize the impact of their ad campaigns. No algorithm can see that.


Automated programmatic buying may offer convenience, but it isn’t too custom of a solution. We tailor advertising campaigns to meet the unique needs of each client. We take in specific target audience preferences, locations, and competitive market trends to produce effective strategies. We listen to real-time feedback and get results. Algorithms rely on predefined parameters and can’t customize. 


Buying advertising can be complex, with regulations, industry standards, and market trends constantly changing. Radio salespeople have the experience to anticipate roadblocks and offer proactive solutions. Additionally, we can provide insight into budgeting, negotiation, and buying other media. Algorithms lack intuition and can’t maneuver fast enough to handle the unknown. 

While automation and algorithms have their place with certain buyers, remind yourself of the value you offer clients. You provide personalized consultation, industry expertise, customized solutions, and the ability to navigate. You are indispensable to the right buyers. Now find them! 

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Vic Lombardi Turns Nuggets Disrespect into Great Content

“I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.” 

Tyler McComas



courtesy of Vic Lombardi

There was a feeling of Denver vs. Everyone during the 10 days that separated the end of the Western Conference Finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The word “boring” was being used to describe what it was going to be like watching the Nuggets play for an NBA title. It didn’t sit well with Denver media and sports fans, as the unfair tag was being consistently referenced by certain members of the national sports media.

Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports Radio in Denver, along with several of his co-workers, decided to fight against a narrative they found uneducated and unfair. In their eyes, all you had to do this season was to actually watch the Nuggets to find them interesting.  

“We assume everyone else knows what we know,” said Lombardi. “We assume that the rest of the country is watching. And all this has done, to be honest with you, has proven that a lot of national folks don’t watch as carefully as they say they do. Because if they watched they wouldn’t be as surprised as they are right now.”

There was even an on-air spat with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated on the Altitude Sports Radio airwaves. During an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Mannix said there weren’t any compelling or interesting storylines surrounding the Nuggets first-ever NBA Finals appearance.

Lombardi, along with other hosts at Altitude Sports Radio took exception to the comment and fired back with their thoughts. A few days later, Mannix appeared on the station to defend his position and stick up for what he thought was accurate. Though the tensions were high during the back-and-forth it was incredible content for the station. 

But Lombardi says he doesn’t take the spats, whether they’re public or private, all that seriously when other fellow media members. 

“The arguments, if they’re anything, they’re all in fun,” said Lombardi. “I don’t take this stuff personally. We had a little back and forth with Chris Mannix. That was fun. I actually saw him in Denver when he came out for media. I respect anyone who’s willing to make their point on the air. It’s not the media’s job, it’s not your job as a host or a writer to tell me what I find compelling or interesting. We’re all from different parts with different needs and you can’t tell me what I desire. Let me pick that. Chase a story because the public may learn something. We’re curious by nature, that’s why we got into this business. All I ask is be more curious.”

The entire team at Altitude Sports Radio did an incredible job of sticking up for their own market and creating memorable content out of it. That should be celebrated inside the station’s walls. None of the outrage was forced; it was all genuine. But what’s the lesson to learn here from media folks, both local and national with this story? 

“I think the takeaway is number one, it’s a business,” said Lombardi. “I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell. 

“Well, you start selling when you start winning. They’ve got to sort of earn their way into that club. I think with what the Nuggets have done recently, and hopefully with what they’re about to do, they’re at the adult table. The media business is not unlike anything else. The biggest common denominator is what sells. I get that. I just don’t understand why a team like this, with the most unique player most people have ever seen, why wouldn’t that sell?”

Maybe it’s still not selling nationally, but locally in Denver, Nuggets talk is on fire. For years, the Denver market has been seen as one where the Broncos and NFL rule. The Nuggets have not been close to the top of Denver sports fans’ interests and have probably fallen routinely behind the Avalanche. 

But there’s been a real craving for Nuggets talk during this historic run. Granted, it didn’t just start two weeks ago, there’s been momentum building for the team ever since Nikola Jokic started asserting himself as one of the best players in the NBA. But there’s more than just an appetite for the Broncos in the city and the past few years have shown it. 

“I think it’s just proven to people in the city that the town is much different than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago,” said Lombardi. “The Broncos continue to rule this town and will do so because the NFL is the NFL. But I can tell you this. There are sports fans outside the NFL. I’m born and raised in Denver and I always believed, what’s so wrong about being an ardent fan of every sport? If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. There’s nothing I hate more than territorializing sports. Like, ‘oh I’m just a football fan’. Or, ‘oh I’m just a hockey fan’. Why? Sports crosses all borders and boundaries.”

Lombardi and Altitude Sports Radio have settled into local coverage of the NBA Finals, rather than fighting with a national narrative. The payoff for the entire ride has been very rewarding for the station. It included what Lombardi called the “highest of highs” when the Nuggets beat the Lakers on their own floor. It even included one of the biggest events the city has seen in the last five years, when the Nuggets hosted its first-ever NBA Finals game last week. 

The last few weeks could even be considered one of the most rewarding times in station history for Altitude Sports Radio. 

“Our ratings have never been higher,” said Lombardi. “It’s a great display of, sometimes in the media, we think we know what the listener wants. We think we do and we try to force feed them. I think the national folks do that, but so do the local folks. You think they know, but if you give them a nice diet, they’ll choose what they want. And that’s what we’ve done.”

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