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Programming WFNZ is a Dream Come True For DiGiacomo

Brian Noe

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“If you can’t entertain, challenge, and engage a listener, you have no spot on my radio station.” Those sound like the words of a raging taskmaster, but they are actually the words of WFNZ program director Tony DiGiacomo (Dee-jock-omo). Tony is enthusiasm defined. He has a true passion for sports radio and makes a fun job even more enjoyable for the people around him.

I think Tony shares some similarities with Jim Harbaugh. They both attack the day with “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” Although they truly love what they do and the people they work with, they will not hesitate to turn off the buddy-buddy approach while pushing talent to new heights. They both have some unique quirks too. I can see Tony rocking khakis or something else off the wall like Harbaugh.

It’s an art to help talent improve while actually enhancing their passion for the industry. Tony does an outstanding job of accomplishing both. You can feel his enthusiasm for sports radio, his hosts in Charlotte, and his favorite baseball team below. It’s unfortunate that Tony uses all of his vigor to describe his love for the Cubs, but we all can’t be perfect. Enjoy, everybody.

Noe: I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend in sports radio. There’s Bruce Gilbert, Dan Zampillo in LA, you. You guys are all Cub fans. Are there any St. Louis Cardinal fans calling the shots in sports radio these days?

Tony: (laughs) Not that I know of. There is, however, a guy here on WBT our sister station named John Hancock — a 30-year radio vet who was just inducted into the WBT Hall of Fame — who’s a die-hard Cardinal fan. I do know that. He’s in our building, but no I can’t think of one actually. I know Matt Nahigian in San Francisco at The Game is also a die-hard Cub fan. I’m sure he’ll appreciate having that out there. A lot of Cub fans are running the show at sports radio stations across the country.

Cardinal fans, man. You know what? They’re a rare breed. People think Cub fans are nuts. Cardinal fans are even crazier. Cardinal fans believe baseball starts and stops in St. Louis. They don’t open their eyes to the rest of the Major League Baseball world. Where Cub fans can appreciate the success of the Yankees and the Red Sox and even the Cardinals over the years, because at our core we are baseball fans, because we suffered through losing for so damn long, man. So yeah, that is a trend. That’s not a disturbing one though, Brian.

Noe: It is very disturbing. It needs to change immediately. If I see any up-and-coming programmers that are Cardinal fans, I will definitely try to get them on the radar. So tell me Tone, how did you get your start in sports radio?

Tony: I grew up a kid wanting to be Harry Caray. I think like every Chicago kid who was interested in getting into broadcasting, they wanted to be like Harry Caray who was my idol growing up. I just loved the way he described baseball. It wasn’t so much the funky stuff he did with the glasses and “this Bud’s for you” and all that stuff, but I just loved how he described the game. He took you inside a broadcast booth with theater of the mind. He told great stories. I thought Harry was actually really good on radio too. He was doing radio games on WGN.

So I wanted to be Harry Caray, but then I realized that, hey, I had to pay for school. I went to community college for a couple of years, and in that two-year phase, I grew even more fond of the business. I then chose Columbia College in downtown Chicago. A lot of guys and gals have graduated from there. From Pat Sajak to Pat O’Brien to others that are in the Chicago media industry still. I heard it was a great school and spent two and a half years there. Their job placement scenario was perfect.

I got my first internship at WBBM — actually WMAQ at the time, which is now WBBM. I was a Bears network producer as an intern. I did that for a year, which was a great experience. Then, Brian Davis, the bald guy who calls the Oklahoma City Thunder games, actually turned me on to Sporting News Radio and said, “I know this guy named Mark Gentzkow who’s looking for some guys.” He was the PD at the time there. “Looking for some guys on a part-time basis and I think you and your twin brother will be great for this.”

So, that’s how I got my start at Sporting News Radio part-time. Running weekends, editing sound, cutting tape, all that stuff. My first job on a full-time basis was in 2000 running the Bob Kemp Show overnight and Rick Ballou who was on from 9 to 1. Rick is now in Jacksonville, and I think Bob is still in Arizona.

I worked overnights for four years and I actually dug it, man. I thought it was really, really fun. You got to learn so much in that time slot because the pressure was off on guest booking and all of that. It was where I could hone my skills as a producer and a programmer. I learned a ton from those two shows from 8 o’clock at night until 5 in the morning.

From there, I just rose thru the ranks at Sporting News. Then when Sporting News was bought by ACBJ Journals — which ironically is based here in Charlotte — when the Shaw’s took over they were moving the company to LA. I said, “I really don’t want to go to LA.” Then a couple of phone calls later, I found myself in Charlotte hired by DJ Stout who is one of my mentors, and still programming country radio here in Charlotte. That’s how I got down here.

It’s been a long and not so much windy road, but a solid road. To work in two markets like Chicago and Charlotte has been fantastic. A big city top-five market to a 23rd-ranked market, and to just be able to enjoy the ins and outs of a network, and go from network to local has been fascinating to learn. It’s made me a better programmer.

Noe: Did you have a vision or a goal to be in programming?

Tony: No, I wanted to be on the air. I always thought I was going to be on the air, and I fell in love with producing and programming. I fell in love with the rush of booking a guest. I fell in love with the rush of creating a great imaging piece. I fell in love with a great bit. I loved the interaction between host and producer and then becoming a sidekick on shows at the network.

Then moving down here and becoming a third-chair sidekick on the show “PrimeTime with the Packman.” I fell in love with that role. I got the best of both worlds. I was able to chime in on the air and add to great content while also delivering and producing the great content, which I thought was invaluable to listeners to have the experience of doing both.

I don’t think anybody tries to be a producer. I think everybody grew up through the ranks or in high school or in college, they want to be on the air. They want to aspire to be on the air. If you’re not aspiring to be that, I think they’re in it for the wrong reasons because everybody should want to be on the air. That’s the ultimate. But I do think the production side and producing side gives you a different rush which is also exhilarating. When a show comes together formatically and you can walk in studio at the end of a four-hour show and fist bump your host and be like, “You know, that was a great show.” That’s the best part about sports radio.There’s no monotony in this job and I love that.

Noe: Do you think there are hosts that might be better suited to be producers or programmers but are just unwilling to go down that road?

Tony: I do and it’s not that they’re not talented because I think everybody on the air has talent, but I think it’s the way you see yourself and the stage you’re at in your career. I think a lot of hosts think that that’s all they’ll do for the rest of their life. When in reality if they flipped a coin and realized how good they were at production and formatting and programming, they would actually fall in love with this side of the job.

This side of the industry is awesome. I come in as a programmer every day thinking what could I do today to make the station better? Whether it’s to coach a guy up, image a little better, suggest a guest to help a show or something else. It keeps things fun and interesting. I’ve been around some guys over the years and I’ll look at them and think, “Man, you’re really good on the air, but you’ve topped out. I think you’d be an excellent assistant PD, or an excellent PD, or heck even a great executive producer of a show.” But most don’t think about that. I also think there are some PD’s and producers who are really good on the air and just don’t allow themselves to expand their role and pursue those opportunities, so I think it works both ways.

Noe: What’s the toughest decision you’ve had to make as a program director?

Tony: Man, I’ve made some tough calls here in a year and a half. Looking back on it, we had to make a decision here to elevate a show which we formed about a year and a month ago. We had this dynamic show in “Garcia & Bailey.” Frank Garcia, a former NFL player, and Kyle Bailey who is an up-and-coming rising star from Charleston. We formed the show and I knew right away the chemistry was great. That’s something you can’t coach. Great chemistry is either there or it isn’t. You can coach the formatics and get guys better at the logistics of how to win the PPM game, but you can’t coach chemistry.

I also knew that our afternoon drive show, “Primetime with Chris Kroeger”, had been in afternoons for a long time and it too is a dynamic show. I met with my ops manager and we got together and said, “You know what, there’s this dynamic show that we believe is best suited for afternoon drive and we’ve got to make that adjustment.” It had nothing to do with Chris not being great because he definitely is, it was just about the way I saw the station flowing. Chris is a dynamite fit in middays and he’s already thriving since we made the move. That was a very tough decision. Certainly my toughest one.

There are times of course where you’re going to have to unfortunately cut a guy. Whether it’s for financial reasons or someone not delivering ratings. I think the tougher situations are when you have a really successful show in one daypart, and want to move them to another daypart, but still have another strong performer in that slot. My belief is that every daypart is important but you also have to consider where everyone fits and that’s not always easy to explain.

Noe: How do you go about that process? I don’t know what Chris’ mentality is, but someone might view that and say, “Hey, man. I used to be the starting quarterback and now you’re bringing me in as the Kordell Stewart slash player.” How do you talk a guy up and make him believe that he’s still very valued?

Tony: You’ve got to be honest with people and explain why you’re doing it. You have to let them know how they’re performing individually and as a team, from the producer, to the host, to the board op, to the engineer, and communicate that it’s not always about rating points. Sometimes it’s just about the dynamic of the shows that you have in front of you and where you feel they fit best.

As long as you’re honest with them, and you share your reasons, and remind them that you’re still a huge fan of what they’re doing and they’re not going anywhere other than to a different timeslot, I think you’ll continue to win together. It’s up to them to take you at your word and remain confident in themselves and sometimes that’s the hardest challenge, keeping a guy’s head right.

You know as well as I do, Brian, that in this job you go through ebbs and flows. One month you’re confident. One month nothing’s working for you and you lose yourself. Then you find yourself right back in the fast lane two months later. I believe that if you’re honest as a PD, you garner the respect of everybody on your team and find yourself having a lot of success together.

Noe: What’s a trait that’s a deal-breaker for you when you’re evaluating a host? Just something that’s unappealing and would cause you to say, “Nope. I’m not interested in this guy.”

Tony: I think just faking It. I think not being honest. You can tell when a guy is throwing something up against the wall to make it stick. Not believing in their opinion. Not feeling convicted in their opinion. That’s a big thing for me. Look, you don’t have to be so outrageous that I’m getting emails every day about how over the top you are, but I want you to have conviction in your thoughts.

I want you to have three things — I think, I feel, I believe. As long as you have those three things all the time you’re going to succeed. So if I don’t hear that out of a guy, that’s the biggest turn off of a host. If you’re just coming on the radio and reading the newspaper, I can do that every day. The guy listening can do that every day. He’s got his cell phone and can read scores in the palm of his hand. Engage a guy. If you can’t entertain, challenge, and engage a listener, you have no spot on my radio station.

Noe: What do you think is the most common mistake that hosts make?

Tony: I think the biggest mistake some make is not formatting a show. I think winging it is a huge mistake. If you do not format your show — and I’m not saying you have to format it like the best national host out there or the best local host in a market, but if you have no flow or plan for where you’re going, you are dying on a vine. The listener can tell, and the PD can definitely tell. And honestly the producer can tell. It may be easy to turn it on if you’ve done it for a while and start talking, but when you’re winging it, you’re not doing three things you should be doing, and that’s engaging, entertaining, and challenging.

I hear guys come on the air sometimes in different markets saying, “Hey, the Cavs and the Celtics played last night, let’s recap the game.” Okay, well what do you want to recap? What points do you want to hit on? Which way do you want to take the audience? How are you going to challenge them to think a different way? How are you going to incorporate sound?

You have to have a plan. You have to have a flow to what you’re doing. You can’t just, every time you turn on the mic in each segment, talk about something different. You have to have an educated way to do that hour and you don’t do that by winging it.

Noe: You’re a very enthusiastic guy. Do you find that you tune a host out if they don’t have energy or passion?

Tony: As energetic as I sound right now, when you’re too over the top and too high-strung the listener can tune you out. I don’t want my guys to be like me. I’m on a different level. Not to say that they can’t be like that every once in awhile, but I want my guys to be who they are. You know when a guy’s got energy. You also know when a guy is tired and just isn’t bringing it.

I don’t find that to be a tune out. I find that to be actually engaging if the guy is like that every day. I find it to be real. I don’t like the approach of the Stephen A. Smith’s of the world where it’s just in your face, yelling and screaming at you every day. You don’t have to talk louder or yell at me to get your point across. You can do that in a nice, calm manner. I don’t need you to yell at me and talk louder to get your point across. It’s the same point you’re going to bring to me if you do it the other way around.

Noe: Do you think it’s tougher to bring the energy out of a host that doesn’t have it, or to try to lower the caffeine level of a guy that is high-strung?

Tony: That’s a great question, because I’ve had examples of that. Mac in the morning, Chris McClain my morning show host, he is high energy, wake you up in the morning, caffeine rush every hour. I think it’s a lot easier to tone a guy down than try and drag energy out of him. A guy either has energy or he doesn’t. That’s just the way it is. Telling a guy to amp it up sounds fake because when they do amp it up it doesn’t sound real.

Having a guy tone it down is much easier in my opinion. I do that a lot with Chris McClain. I’ll get in around 7:30 in the morning and be like, “Hey, bro. You’re screaming at me today. While I love that you’re waking people up, let’s just tone it down a bit. Keep it on a level where everybody driving around is not going to tune you out because you’re yelling at them.”

Noe: The NFL just passed a new policy regarding the national anthem. What are your desires as a PD when it comes to your staff talking about topics that might transition from sports and bleed into politics?

Tony: My philosophy is I want you to talk about it, but I also want you to be educated. I want you to know your audience. By know your audience I mean, know how far you can go. I want you to give your opinion. I want you to give your take. I want to keep politics out of it, but if it’s a political issue I want you to be educated on the political part of the issue.

I had this example come up last Wednesday. I had Stan Norfleet filling in for Chris Kroeger while he was gone for a little bit. Stan works out of Atlanta, and does some work here for us too. He’s a very educated black man. A former high school and college football player who’s educated on the subject. He could’ve gone one of two ways. He could have gone so over the top because of race that I would have looked in there every segment and said, “Bro, what are you doing? Cut your mic off.” He went the opposite way. He educated people on what the rule change was, how it’s going to affect the NFL, and gave his take on it while not being political or one sided. He also listened to everybody that called in, and engaged them in conversation.

One of the things that we are not good at as talk show hosts — listening. I think listeners are the same way. I think listeners have a hard time hearing what hosts say sometimes. They just want to hear things a certain way. But if you are educated on the topic, you can have a thought-provoking conversation, and I will never turn your mic off. Ever. It’s the one thing that you’ve just got to be okay with — pushing the envelope. But push the envelope in an educated way.

Noe: You hear all of the talk about athletes sticking to sports. If you take that concept and apply it to sports radio, I don’t think that you can have that approach in this day and age. These are the main topics that people talk about. How you can constantly avoid all of them?

Tony: You can’t. The stick-to-sports guy is one guy that gets on my nerves all the time. Those guys call every day. They text you. They tweet you, “Stick to sports.” Well guess what? It is not entertaining. It is not engaging. It is not challenging to talk about a box score. What you’re going to do on sports radio is talk about a game in a way that you can find an angle, reasons why a team lost, reasons why a team won, and in this political time in sports especially, you can do that. You can get into a debate because there’s so much out there to educate yourself on in the debate to where it is thought-provoking, can’t-turn-the-radio-off sports radio. That’s what I love. The listener wants that. As long as you know your audience, you will succeed at that every day.

Now there are times where it becomes so racially stressed that you have to cut the conversation off and change gears. I think as a host if you’re good enough, you’ll know when that is. That moment will hit you during a four-hour talk show to where you go, “Alright, enough’s enough. We’ve gone too far. We’ve got to rein it in.”

But I love thought-provoking radio. It’s what we’re in the business for. If I wanted rip-and-read radio, I’d watch SportsCenter. It’s rip-and-read TV. You get a score. You get the highlights. You break the game down a little bit. Then you move on to the next game. If I wanted that, I’d listen to music during the day and watch SportsCenter in the morning.

I want my guys to challenge and engage. That’s the fun part about sports radio. When you can turn on a radio and my host makes you late for a meeting because of what they’re talking about, that’s awesome. It’s why we do this job.

Noe: I was thinking about the interviews that I’ve been on throughout the years. They always ask where you see yourself in five to 10 years. I never know what to say. I just want to do a good job, man. Do you have a vision of where you want to be?

Tony: Yeah, man. I love this town. I love this market. I’ve always thought if I can make this radio station a top-five performer every book, I’m doing my job. That’s my goal, to make WFNZ a top-three, top-five player in sports radio. Honestly, I love Charlotte. Not to say I wouldn’t go anywhere else to do sports radio, but I’ve grown so in love with this market and the sports landscape of this market and this brand. It’s a heritage brand. 25-years-old overall, and 20 years old in this current live-and-local format 6a to 7p.

When I took over for DJ Stout, the passion I have for Charlotte and for FNZ is just tremendous. While maybe I’d love one day to go back to Chicago or be in a top-five market again, I really love Charlotte. If I can stay here for my last 20 years in this business, I’d have no problem with that. I love this station. I love this community. I love our local sports. This is only a 22-year-old sports market. The Hornets and the Panthers are not that old. So we are growing on a daily basis.

Who knows what other professional teams might come here in the future. I think it’s the best time to be in this market and working for Entercom. I see myself in 10 years being right here. If not, Boston, Chicago, New York is where I’d want to be if I didn’t remain in Charlotte, but I want to be here. I don’t want to go anywhere else.

Noe: I just want your unbiased opinion on this. It’s going to be another 100+ years before the Cubs win a World Series again, right?

Tony: (laughs) No, it’s not going to be another 100+ years. You know what? I’ve thought about this a lot Brian. My brother Joe’s a die-hard. He’ll love that I’m mentioning him in here. The guys that you mentioned at the beginning of this conversation are passionate Cub fans, but my brother is one of them rare cats that lives and breathes every pitch from April 1st to October. If the Cubs are not 20 games over .500 every month, he freaks out.

I believe the Cubs will win another World Series in the next five years. It might even be this year. They are notorious for starting slow, but they have too many talented young guys, and too much of a star-powered young core to not win another World Series. I believe this team as currently constructed will contend for the World Series and win it this year, especially if they add a piece or two.

I’m proud to be a Cub fan right now, but I’m a lifelong supporter of my team. I think the best part about what happened in 2016 was hearing my dad cry on the phone. My dad, God bless him 70 years old, he went to games back in the 70’s when nobody went to Wrigley Field. When Wrigleyville was the worst part of Chicago outside of this little baseball stadium built in a neighborhood. So he suffered through every losing season more than my brother and I did. And to hear him cry over the phone in happiness, Man, I teared up. To call my dad from a sports bar here in Charlotte to a sports bar down in Tampa where he lives, and hear another grown-ass man cry about a Cub World Series, that was the best moment in my life. I’ll experience that once again with my father. I guarantee it.

Noe: That’s cool, man. Well, I think it’ll happen sometime between now and the next one hundred years, sadly. Hopefully, not this year. I’m not ready for this year. I need at least a good 15-year window in between.

Tony: I tell my brother all the time, and all of the Cub fans that call in, tweet or email me down here — you can’t win it every year. But if we’re in contention every year to make the playoffs and to go to the World Series, I am completely happy with that. Especially after all of those years of losing.

BSM Writers

790 The Ticket Was Something Special And Stugotz Knows It

“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen, that they’ve ever heard.”

Demetri Ravanos

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When I was making the transition from the rock world to talk radio, there was one show I looked at as a guide. I got laid off from 96 Rock in Raleigh, NC in the summer of 2011. That was the beginning of my flirtations with streaming and podcasts, which is how I stumbled onto The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on 790 The Ticket out of Miami.

Coming from a format that I felt out of place in at times, I instantly latched onto a show that reveled in pointing out how out of place it was in its own format. It became a daily listen for me, which opened me up to hearing other voices on the station like Jonathan Zaslow, Joy Taylor, Brian London, Brendan Tobin, Brett Romberg and others.

There were unique thinkers and passionate sports fans in every day part on 790 The Ticket. What set the station apart though is that I never heard anyone that sounded uncomfortable when the conversation turned to something that wasn’t a Dolphins’ loss or LeBron’s stat line. They talked sports the way normal human beings talk about sports. It was part of their lives, not the only thing they paid attention to.

Look at the outpouring of love for the station on Thursday. Hosts, producers and programmers from across the country took to social media to eulogize the station when the news broke that it would cease to exist the following week.

I can’t say for sure that all of those people felt the same way I did about the station and I cannot say whether or not it was for the same reasons. What I can say is 790 The Ticket had an influence that stretched far beyond South Florida.

Jon Weiner, better known as “Stugotz” to fans of the The Dan Le Batard Show, helped start the station in 2004. He told me that it didn’t take long for him to learn just how much The Ticket’s approach was making an impression on everyone in sports radio.

“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen or heard,” he said in a phone call on Sunday. “I had people from out of market who had secure jobs at places that weren’t startups sending resumes and tapes because they wanted to be part of it. So yeah, we were aware and it is what we were going for. We got there pretty quickly and we were aware of the impact, not just in South Florida, but throughout the country.”

Last week, Brian “The Beast” London said his internal alarm bells first went off when he heard the Miami Heat were giving up their relationship with 790 the Ticket. The station and the team had been partners since 2008. He said in a YouTube video that it was hard to imagine the team’s games being heard anywhere else.

I asked Stugotz if he had the same feeling when he heard that news. He said in hindsight, he realized it was the beginning of the end, but he didn’t really get a sense something was up until Jonathan Zaslow was let go.

“[Zaslow] had been there since basically day one with us. And so I just kind of figured, yeah, between the Heat and then that I felt, okay, you don’t make a move like that unless there’s going to be some sort of seismic change. Otherwise, there’d be no reason to let him go. That was the moment I was like ‘okay, 790 is likely going away.'”

His feelings are no secret. He took to social media immediately on Thursday and said that the news that 790 The Ticket would soon be going away filled him with both sadness and pride. What Stugotz told me in our phone call was that he realizes that the station lasted about 15 years longer than it should have.

When the station was sold to Lincoln Financial Media, he was not expecting that company to want to keep a sports station. Senior Vice President Dennis Collins surprised him.

“The company saw so much potential in what we had built, both from a lineup and a sales perspective that they kept it going and that’s why it lasted all the way to 2022. We got it up and going and were responsible for the first three or four years, but Dennis saw the growth potential with the lineup we put together. That made me feel great because I had a pit in my stomach like ‘Oh, man, this thing we started is going to go away. It’s going to be three, four years and gone.’ And he said, ‘No, we love it. We want to keep it going’. So that was a huge compliment to everyone.”

Stugotz described the original owner of 790 The Ticket as a “young, good looking real estate mogul driving around in Lamborghinis.” That certainly helped the image of the station when it launched, but it is also a phenomenon that was very of the moment. It’s not 2004 anymore. Lamborghini-owning real estate moguls aren’t chomping at the bit to pour money into radio stations.

The conditions may be similar to what Stugotz and his partners saw in 2004. You could look at the radio landscape in Miami and see a way that a new challenger could fit in the sports radio scene. But what are the chances it actually happens?

It’s a great question,” Stugotz said. “So just to go back to that time, two sports radio stations were popping up in every market. I’m not certain if that’s still the case anymore just because of podcasting and the way the way younger people are consuming media through Tik Tok, Snapchat, and other things that aren’t AM radio.”

He is quick to commend Audacy, the current owners of the 790 AM frequency. Dan Le Batard and Jorge Sedano were part of his early lineups at 790 The Ticket because Stugotz recognized the Cuban-American community in Miami was not being served in the sports space in 2004, just like it isn’t being properly served in the news/talk space right now. That’s why there’s room for the conservative-leaning brand Radio Libre in Miami and other markets are likely paying attention.

“It seems like a good plan, and I know it’s something that the Spanish population should have and deserves to have and probably was not being catered to correctly. So, yeah, I could see there’s a warning sign to some other sports radio stations or news stations in other markets where the Hispanic population is great. Absolutely!”

It is a shame that 790 The Ticket is no more and it is concerning that a station with its legacy and influence can simply disappear. But if we are being real, it isn’t the first station of its kind to suffer that fate and it won’t be the last.

As the media business changes and leaves sports stations vulnerable to something cheaper and with broader appeal, 790 The Ticket and stations like it should be touted as examples of how to rise above the noise and make an impact. Stugotz and his partners looked around in 2004 and said “we can be different and we can do this better” and that’s exactly what they did.

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BSM Writers

Chris Simms And His Self-Professed ‘Big Mouth’ Enjoying Life At NBC

“One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”

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To be a good football analyst, one certainly has to know and love the sport but you also can’t be afraid to use the most important tool that you have to do the job. Chris Simms has all of those attributes and NBC lets him use them to the best of his abilities.

“I love football and I love X’s and O’s and I got a big mouth so it’s a great combination,” said Simms. “Between my podcast, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Sunday Night Football, I get plenty of time to talk and get my studies out there.”

There’s no doubt that Chris inherited that self-professed big mouth from his father, former NFL quarterback and longtime NFL on CBS analyst, Phil Simms.

So, the question had to be asked…does Chris have a bigger mouth than his father?

“Yeah, I probably do,” admitted the younger Simms. “That’s a big mouth to overcome, but I think I probably got him beat in that department.”

Chris Simms set out to follow in his father’s footsteps on the field and played quarterback for Ramapo High School in New Jersey where he earned a pair of All-State honors. After graduating high school in 1999, Simms moved on to play quarterback at the University of Texas where he posted a 26-6 career record as a starter and was the team MVP during his senior season in 2002.

Simms was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft and he would guide the Bucs to a playoff berth in 2005.  He would also go on to play for the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos completing a seven-year NFL playing career. He spent one season as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots before taking his talents to the world of broadcasting.

He started with FOX Sports as a college football announcer in 2013 and then joined Bleacher Report in 2014 while also serving as a color commentator for the NFL on CBS.

And then in 2017, Simms joined NBC Sports where he has certainly found a home.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Simms. “It’s a great company to work for. Just good people all around. They’ve given me the platform to be me. One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”

Simms wears many different suits at NBC Sports, most notably his role as a studio analyst on Football Night in America leading into Sunday Night Football. He’s also a part of the SNF post-game show Sunday Night Football Final on Peacock, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Chris Simms Unbuttoned, a streaming/digital show that is also a podcast multiple days a week.

But the most eyeballs are on him during Football Night in America, the most watched studio show in sports.

“I grew up wanting to play in these games more than be the guy in the studio but this is like the second-best thing,” said Simms. “I was kind of that kid at 4 or 5 (years old) who could tell you every player in the NFL, their number and all that type of stuff. It’s the NFL on the biggest stage. It’s such a well-done show. I get to be there with Maria Taylor along with Tony Dungy, and Jason Garrett, and Mike Florio, and Matthew Berry. We got a great team and it makes Sunday fun.”

From the “it takes one to know one” category, Simms has also made a name for himself with his ranking of NFL quarterbacks. He’s very diligent when it comes to watching the live action and also in his film study and his top-40 rankings have become a hot topic within the business and around the office coolers.

Simms is well aware that his rankings have become a lightning rod of discussion.

“It all kind of started organically just because I would make statements,” said Simms. “People were like ‘Why don’t you start making a list?’ It’s a really hard thing to do. It offends a lot of people and I hate that. I root for all of these guys and I say on my podcast all the time I hope this guy proves me wrong. I hope he shits on me and shows me that I was wrong. It’s certainly not personal. One of the things I pride myself on is studying and immersing myself in the game all of the time.”

Simms became a full-time employee of NBC Sports in 2019, but his first role with the network came in 2017 when he became a studio analyst for Notre Dame Football.

Here’s a kid that grew up in North Jersey where there’s a ton of Notre Dame alumni and he’s standing on the sidelines at South Bend as part of Fighting Irish telecasts.

“Another special entity,” said Simms. “I used to get chills being out on the field every Saturday there. It gave me great experience in a different way with the halftime show and the pre-game show. One of the years I was kind of the third man in the booth but I was on the sideline. It gave me some reps on in-game stuff as well. I think most importantly what that did for me more than anything is that it opened up more eyes at NBC about me.”

And now Simms’ work has him in the discussion for a new potential opportunity down the road. 

NBC, alongside FOX and CBS, has secured a seven-year media rights deal with the Big Ten Conference that will commence next season. NBC will air Big Ten Saturday Night, the first time that Big Ten Football will have a dedicated primetime broadcast on a national broadcast network. Peacock will stream an additional eight Big Ten games each season and NBC/Peacock will air the 2026 Big Ten Championship Game.

There have been rumblings that Simms could be involved in the coverage. Is he interested?

“I’m intrigued by it,” admitted Simms. “I’m very all NFL right now but broadcasting game is fun. It’s definitely something on my radar for sure. I do have some producers here in the building that are like ‘I’m going to tell the boss I want you to do some of the Big 10 games this year and what do you think about announcing?’ I’ve already had some people in my ear talking about it. It’s awesome for the company regardless. It just expands our football world. As far as me being involved, we’ll see.” 

In a relatively short amount of time, Chris Simms has built up quite the broadcasting portfolio. From FOX to Bleacher Report and CBS to his current expanded role with NBC, Simms has established himself as one of the premier NFL analysts in the business and his podcast has given him the freedom to do something that he loves to do. Including putting his money where his mouth is. 

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The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges

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Alternate broadcasts are all the rage these days, and ESPN, in conjunction with Omaha Productions, debuted a new one this weekend as The Pat McAfee Show aired an alternate broadcast of the Clemson and North Carolina State game Saturday evening.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that Manningcast copy-cats were destined for failure. And while I don’t believe McAfee’s debut was a failure by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t help but notice it brings its own set of challenges.

First and foremost, College Football Primetime with The Pat McAfee Show — the world’s most convoluted way to say “The McAfeecast” — doesn’t really resemble the Manningcast. And rightfully so. I’m not sure there are two more polar opposite sports media brands than the Mannings and McAfee. The Mannings are funny, but not too funny and never “blue”, while often concerned about how finely quaffed their hair looks and whether the button-down shirt color matches with the Nordstrom quarter-zip they’ve donned. Meanwhile, McAfee wears his black tank-top, like usual, and put his best Pittsburgh-ese foot forward.

Even though the Mannings and McAfee are opposites doesn’t mean they can’t work together, however. The alternate broadcast was a win for Manning, a win for McAfee, a win for ESPN, and a win for viewers.

People love Pat McAfee. Plain and simple. For a multitude of reasons that we can get into in a later story, but let’s focus on that for a moment. It was a big portion of my column a few weeks ago. The Manningcast works because people like Peyton and Eli. The KayRodcast doesn’t work because people hate Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez. It’s honestly, truly, that simple.

I think it benefitted the McAfeecast to debut with a smaller game, which seems counterintuitive because it was a matchup of top ten teams in primetime. But let’s be realistic, a number five versus number ten ACC game doesn’t hold the same weight as a number five versus number ten Big Ten or SEC game. And it helped McAfee and crew, because there are obvious kinks to work out.

Firstly, there are entirely too many people on the screen. I’m going to have nice words to say about BostonConnr than the eight-and-a-half-year-old that went viral earlier this summer, but god love ya, your time to shine likely isn’t on primetime on ESPN. In my opinion, for the McAfeecast to really work in the future, a similar setup to the Manningcast with McAfee and A.J. Hawk being the prominent figures on screen is the best solution to the problem. I know McAfee believes in his boys. It’s one of his more endearing qualities, and is frankly part of the reason his show is so successful. But you’re reaching a different audience on ESPN2 on Saturday nights, and the reason the either tuned in or will stay is because of McAfee’s presence.

I didn’t get a great feel for McAfee’s thoughts or reactions on the game simply because you didn’t get a closeup of his face. The best moments of the Manningcast, outside of Eli flipping the double birds or Peyton saying “I can’t hear shit”, have been when the pair have been absolutely disgusted by a decision made by a coach or player and their face shows it without any words following up their reactions. And McAfee definitely holds that ability, and I wish I would have gotten a better sense of his facial reactions on-screen.

Also, and I know this is something McAfee can’t actually control, he had to be a bit more reserved on cable television. Part of the allure of The Pat McAfee Show is the — let’s call it extreme candor — with which he speaks. I believe that’s the scholarly way to write “he says f*** frequently”. And believe me, I subscribe to the theory that the FCC should allow hosts the ability to say obscenities 15 times per week, so I’m down for McAfee’s swearing. But you’re just simply never going to get that on ESPN2. You’re likely never going to get that if the broadcast aired on ESPN+, either. For a “family friendly” company Disney, those cards are just flat out never going to be on the table for McAfee.

One of the things McAfee is known for is his boundless energy, which felt lacking at times on Saturday, but it’s understandable. The man was on College GameDay earlier in the day, flew back to the studio to do the alternate broadcast after travelling the day before to get to Clemson to be on GameDay. I’m sure that takes a toll. On top of that, you’re doing something new for the first time, while trying to, essentially, heard cats on the screen, and you can be a little wiped out by the end of the night.

However, the goodwill McAfee has bought with fans over his extreme generosity was on display as the alternate broadcast donated more than $100,000 to Dabo Swinney’s charity, The Jimmy V Foundation, and the American Red Cross. It was a brilliant move for a debut broadcast, because it acts as a slight shield for criticism. How can you complain about something that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity?

The alternate broadcast, for the most part, avoided the biggest problem I have with the Manningcast. The interviews. I’ve never been watching Monday Night Football, or the Manningcast for that matter, and thought “Man, I wish they were talking to Tracy Morgan right now!” McAfee brought on Peyton Manning, for obvious reasons, and former NC State quarterback Phillip Rivers. That’s it. They didn’t rely on guests to carry them through down periods. The eight folks on screen did most of the heavy lifting, and for that, I thank them.

The McAfeecast was certainly different than any other alternate broadcast I’ve consumed. The crew shooting hoops for extra donations to charity during stoppages of play definitely kept things light and interesting. I couldn’t help but be invested in whether or not someone would bury three out of five threes during an injury timeout for more money for charity.

Speaking of injury timeouts, McAfee planned a giveaway and told fans to use a certain hashtag and when to screenshot or take a picture of their TV. Immediately following him saying “now!”, an injured player appeared on the screen, and he instantly shouted “No! Not now! No! We don’t want that, and we hope he’s ok”. It was a light-hearted, nearly hilarious moment that brought levity to the situation.

The highlight of the cast, however, was — in true McAfee style — picking up on things other broadcasters wouldn’t, like an angry fan. The entire crew shouting at the same time in this specific moment was spectacular television.

Overall, I thought the McAfeecast got off on the right foot. There is undeniably a market for an alternate broadcast based around the former NFL punter’s personality, and I look forward to seeing where the show goes from here.

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