“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.
Beyond The Mask: Henrik Lundqvist Embraced 2nd Career in Sports Media
“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal.”
Plucking the strings of an acoustic guitar, Henrik Lundqvist found himself beneath the bright lights once again, poised to put on a worthy performance. Just as he aimed to stop pucks from going in the net as the star goaltender of the New York Rangers for 15 seasons, Lundqvist sought to captivate viewers as half of a musical duo featuring former NHL forward Paul Bissonnette.
Their performance of “Good Riddance” by Green Day was in tribute to Rick Tocchet, a former NHL on TNT studio analyst who recently departed the network to serve as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
Lundqvist serves as a studio analyst for TNT’s coverage of the NHL, breaking down players and teams throughout the broadcast and bringing his own unique style to the set. His pursuit of a post-playing career in sports media was no guarantee from the moment he retired in August 2021; in fact, he never intended to stop playing the game and competing for a Stanley Cup championship at that time.
During the 2019-20 season, Lundqvist had lost playing time to young goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, and by the year’s end, his deal was bought out by the team. In an effort to continue playing, Lundqvist signed a contract with the Washington Capitals – marking the first time in his NHL career that he would not step between the pipes for the Rangers.
Lundqvist never played a game for the team though, as it was discovered in a medical exam that he would need open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve while also having an aortic root and ascending aortic replacement. Less than two months after the successful five-hour operation, he was back on the ice rehabbing and attempting to make a full recovery – but a few months in, he began to feel unexpected chest pain. Following a medical checkup, Lundqvist was told he had inflammation around his heart. It was a significant setback that required him to step off the ice, take off his goaltender equipment and rest for several months.
After discussions with his family and friends, Lundqvist determined that the risk of taking the ice outweighed the rewards and officially stepped away from the game. Rather than conjuring hypothetical scenarios wherein he did not experience the misfortune and played for the Capitals, Lundqvist looked to the future amid the ongoing global pandemic and thought about how he could best enjoy his retirement.
“I was just mentally in a very good place,” Lundqvist said. “I didn’t have a choice; I guess that makes it easier sometimes when the decision is made because you can’t go back-and-forth – ‘Should I?’ ‘Should I not?’ Yeah, I wanted to play but it was just not meant to be for me.”
Before any definitive resolution on his future endeavors was made though, the Rangers announced that the team would retire Lundqvist’s No. 30 in a pregame ceremony during the 2021-22 season, making him just the 11th player bestowed that honor in franchise history. As a five-time NHL All-Star selection, 2011 Vezina Trophy winner, and holder of numerous franchise records, Lundqvist had the accolades to merit this profound distinction.
Moreover, he was an important component in growing the game of hockey and contributing to the greater community, serving as the official spokesperson for the Garden of Dreams Foundation and founder of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation. He also was a two-time recipient of the organization’s prestigious Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, honoring the player “who goes above and beyond the call of duty.”
Throughout the night, attendees regaled Lundqvist with chants of “Hen-rik!” and were treated to flashbacks of some of his memorable career moments. The night was of monumental importance for Lundqvist, during which he expressed his gratitude to the Rangers’ organization, former teammates and fans. Then, Lundqvist — referred to as “The King” — promptly took his place among team legends beneath the concave ceiling of “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
“When I look back at my career, I know, to me, it was all about preparation; how I practiced and how I prepared for each game at practice,” Lundqvist said. “There’s no regrets, and I hope people, when they think about how I played, [know] that it was 100% heart and commitment to the game.”
Before this ceremony though, Lundqvist and Rangers owner James Dolan had held several meetings with one another. The purpose of these conversations was to determine the best way for Lundqvist to remain involved with the team, its fans, and the community. In the end, he was named as a lead studio analyst on MSG Networks’ broadcasts of New York Rangers hockey before the start of the 2021-22 season: the start of his foray in sports media.
This past summer, Lundqvist negotiated a new deal with Madison Square Garden Sports and Madison Square Garden Entertainment in which he maintained his in-studio responsibilities while increasing involvement in other areas of its sports and entertainment ventures. In this new role, Lundqvist supports the business operations for both companies, assisting in digital content development, alumni relations, and partner and sponsor activities.
When Lundqvist is not in the studio or the office, he can often be found at Madison Square Garden taking in New York Rangers hockey, New York Knicks basketball, or one of the arena’s renowned musical performances. Usually, when he is in attendance, he is shown on the arena’s center-hung video board as an “NYC Celebrity” and receives a thunderous ovation from the crowd.
“The network is just part of it, but it feels great to come there,” Lundqvist said of Madison Square Garden. “Every time I go there – to see the people that I’ve known for so long – but also I love that place; I love The Garden. I think the energy [and] the variety of things that happen there is something I really appreciate. It feels really good to be a part of that.”
Sitting alongside former teammate and studio analyst Steve Valiqutte and sportscaster John Giannone, Lundqvist appears in the MSG Networks studios, located across the street from the arena, for select New York Rangers games. From the onset, he brought his allure and expertise to the set and appealed to viewers – so much so that national networks quickly began to take notice.
“I enjoy watching hockey [and] talking hockey, but the main thing to me is the team; the people that you work with,” Lundqvist said. “The guys on the panel [and the] crew behind. I really enjoy that part of it and having a lot of fun off-camera.”
One month later, Lundqvist was on his first national broadcast for the NHL on TNT where he and Bissonnette famously performed a cover of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica that went viral on social media. It had been known that Lundqvist was a musician, famously performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in his Rangers uniform to celebrate the end of the 2012-13 NHL lockout.
In fact, during his retirement ceremony, the Rangers gifted him with a custom-made guitar painted by David Gunnarsson, the same artist who used to paint Lundqvist’s goalie masks.
Aside from occasional music performances, Lundqvist brings an esoteric base of knowledge to the NHL on TNT panel as its only goaltender. Whether it be through player breakdowns, interviews, or dialogue with other analysts, Lundqvist has a perspective to which few professional hockey players can relate. There are various goaltenders among local studio panels surrounding live hockey game broadcasts, and Lundqvist is in a unique situation with MSG Networks in that he and Valiquette are both former goaltenders. Yet on Turner Sports’ national coverage, he is the only voice speaking to this different part of the game.
“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal,” Lundqvist explained. “Yes, you need to stop the puck, but a huge part of being a goalie is analyzing what’s going on. We can never really dictate the play so you need to analyze what’s happening right in front of you.”
In broadcasting at both the local and national level, Lundqvist is cognizant of the differences in each network’s studio programs. Lundqvist says appearing on the MSG Networks studio panel is more about being direct with the viewer, whereas the NHL on TNT views its panel as being conversational in nature. With Turner Sports, Lundqvist also asks his colleagues about the different teams around the league since he is most familiar with the Rangers both as a former player and studio analyst.
“I’m closer to the Rangers; I see more of what’s going on,” Lundqvist stated. “When you work [national] games, maybe you focus in on teams on the West Coast or [part] of the league you don’t see as often. You try to talk to the other guys on the panel and the crew and figure out things that are interesting about those teams.”
Hockey is a team sport, and Lundqvist felt grateful to play with his teammates and face his competitors over the years. Now as an analyst though, it is his job to analyze their games and critique them when necessary; however, he does not try to be excessively critical.
Lundqvist knows the trials and tribulations associated with the sport and can relate to scenarios many players face on a nightly basis. Therefore, he thinks about his own experience before giving an opinion, especially a critique, instantiating it with comprehensible, recondite knowledge and/or by recounting a similar situation.
“I’d much rather give them positive feedback obviously because I know it is a tough game,” Lundqvist said, “and sometimes it might look like an easy mistake, but if you can give the viewer a better explanation of why he did that, they might have a different view of that mistake.”
Now metaphorically being beyond the goalie mask, Lundqvist’s vision of the game has evidently shifted. He discerns just how intense the schedule is and the rapid pace of the game, axioms he was aware of while playing but inherently avoided thinking about. He has implemented his refined viewpoint of the game accordingly into his analysis, simultaneously utilizing the mindset and savvy he cultivated on the ice. It is, quite simply, a balancing act.
“I think people can be pretty quick to jump on guys and critique them,” Lundqvist said. “That’s where maybe you take an extra look and try to understand why it happened and give those reasons. I think that’s where it helps if you played the game [for] a long time and just love the game [because] you have a pretty good understanding of why guys react a certain way.”
The challenge tacitly embedded in the jobs of most studio analysts – Lundqvist’s included – is in presenting the information to the audience in a manner through which it learns without being confused. It is a delicate craft that takes time and genuine understanding to master, especially related to promulgating hockey analytics as Valiquette does on MSG Networks and within his company, Clear Sight Analytics.
“There’s a lot of educated viewers out there, but there’s also a lot of people that maybe don’t watch as much hockey,” Lundqvist said, “so you want to find that middle ground where you kind of educate both sides.”
By broadcasting both locally and nationally in addition to working in a specially-designed business operations role, Lundqvist is staying around the rink in his retirement while facilitating the growth of hockey. Despite the profusion of young talent, dynamic action and jaw-dropping plays, viewership of the sport on ESPN and TNT’s linear channels has dropped 22% from last season, according to a report by Sports Business Journal.
For Lundqvist though, he does not feel much has changed from playing regarding his responsibility to advance the reach and appeal of the sport. He played professionally for 20 years, beginning his career in his home country of Sweden, primarily in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). In the 2004-05 season, his final campaign before arriving in New York City, Lundqvist had won the award for most valuable player. Furthermore, he was recognized as the best goalie and best player, leading Frölunda HC to its second Elitserien championship in three seasons.
His NHL debut came five years after he was selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers but unlike many rookies over the years, he came polished and prepared to embrace the lights of Broadway. Following an injury to starting goaltender Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist was inserted into the starting lineup and, from that moment on, virtually never came out.
By the end of his first year, he had been named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was a Vezina Trophy finalist for best goaltender. Additionally, he remains the only goaltender to begin his NHL career with seven consecutive 30-plus win seasons.
“I think the league is doing a great job of growing the game,” Lundqvist said. “In the end, it comes down to the product and right now, it’s a great product. I feel really good about, the best way I can, to promote the game [by] talking about it, but… it feels like I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”
One means through which Lundqvist attempts to grow the game is within the studio demos he performs with the NHL on TNT, displaying different facets of the game in a technical manner. The show also embraces the characteristics of their analysts and implements them in lighthearted segments, such as zamboni races, putting competitions, Swedish lessons and, of course, musical performances.
“I’m huge on mindset and the pressure,” Lundqvist said. “I love to talk about that type of stuff and give the viewer a better understanding of what goes through their heads. In terms of personality, I don’t know if I can say [that] I’m a serious guy because I love to have fun and laugh and do fun things.”
Lundqvist thoroughly enjoys what he is doing both locally and nationally, and he ensures he surrounds himself with people he wants to be around. There are plenty of other broadcast opportunities for former hockey players, such as moving into the booth as a color commentator or between the benches as a rinkside reporter. At this moment though, he is more focused on being immersed in his current roles, performing them to the best of his ability while ensuring he allocates time to spend with friends and family.
“I see myself more as an analyst in the studio more than traveling around and being in the rink,” he said. “I think that’s another thing with the schedule; it works really well with my schedule to have one or two commitments with the networks, but then I have other things going on in my life that I commit to.”
Plenty of comparisons can be drawn between playing professional hockey and covering the sport from the studio in terms of preparation and synergy. Yet the end result is not as clearly defined since “winning” in television is quantifiably defined as generating ratings and revenue. Undoubtedly, Lundqvist is focused on doing what he can to bolster hockey’s popularity; however, he also wants to enjoy this new phase of his career being around the game he loves.
“In sports, you win or you lose,” Lundqvist explained. “With TV, you want to be yourself [and] you want to get your point out – but at the same time, if you do it at the same time you’re having a good time, I feel like that’s good TV.”
Once their careers conclude, many athletes think about pursuing a post-playing career and oftentimes end up taking on a role in sports broadcasting. On MSG Networks alone, there are plenty of former players who take part in studio coverage on live game broadcasts, such as Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres, Bryce Salvador of the New Jersey Devils, and Matt Martin of the New York Islanders. At the national level, Turner Sports employs Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Wayne Gretzky for its studio broadcasts, while ESPN’s top studio crew includes Mark Messier and Chris Chelios.
All of these former professional hockey players had an obligation to regularly speak with media members, answering questions about games and the season at large. Lundqvist maintained a professional relationship with journalists and beat reporters, and he most enjoyed taking questions when the team was doing well. Regardless of what the end result of a game was though, he had a responsibility to divulge his thoughts and, in turn, be subject to criticism and/or negative feedback.
His stellar career and persona all came from emanating a passion for the game – and it continues to manifest itself beyond the television screen. Listening to those passionate about the game discuss it usually engenders euphony and lucidity to viewers, analogous to the sound of the puck hitting the pads or entering the glove. It is a timbre Lundqvist created 27,076 times throughout his NHL career (regular season and playoffs) in preventing goals, and one he now aims to explain en masse.
“The reason why I kept going to the rink and put all the hours in was because I really enjoyed it,” Lundqvist said. “If you decide to go into media or whatever it might be, I think the bottom line is [that] you have to enjoy it and make sure you have good people around you.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?
The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.
Diamond Sports has been anything but a diamond in the sports world. As subscribers leave cable and satellite for streaming services, companies are dropping RSNs nationwide because they are too expensive to carry. This has caused an impending bankruptcy for the company, which owns the local rights to dozens of sports teams nationwide. It is also putting the NBA, NHL, and MLB at major financial risk.
In the short term, it is known that teams will still broadcast on their RSNs even if they aren’t getting the paychecks they were promised in previous rights deals. This will affect teams’ ability to pay players and could even create an unfair advantage among the haves of the sports world like the Yankees and Lakers and the have-nots. The NFL doesn’t face the same problems that the other leagues are facing because its rights have been nationalized.
With the NFL’s continued television dominance, college conferences also bundling up games together for more money, and the MLS guaranteeing themselves television revenue after packaging local and national rights together, could we see the other leagues follow suit? It is an option that is much easier said than done but it seems like we are moving closer to it becoming reality.
The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.
The biggest problem the NBA and other leagues would face are that the local rights to all of its teams don’t expire at the same time. If the league were to sign a deal that included giving all local rights to a streamer, the amount which the league was getting paid would be very unique year after year. It would be crazy for a streamer to pay a huge chunk of money to the NBA all at once if the number of teams they have local rights to changes every year.
It would also be insane to pay an astronomical amount if the streamer is only getting the local rights to small-market teams like the Cavs and the Pistons. A major market team like the Lakers doesn’t renew their local rights until 2032. We’re still in 2023. How does that affect the league’s operating costs?
The NBA would also have to figure out whether teams whose rights don’t expire yet deserve to be included in the pot of money garnered from selling local rights to a streamer. Whether they are or they aren’t, does it put each team at different competitive advantages and/or disadvantages when trying to acquire free agents or front-office personnel?
One of the most interesting puzzles to figure out is what influence a league owner like Washington’s Ted Leonsis has in this potential measure when all is said and done. Leonsis just acquired complete control of the regional sports network — currently named NBC Sports Washington — that broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games for millions of dollars, although the exact amount remains undisclosed.
What does Leonsis do with his network if his team’s games can no longer air there? Can his team opt out of participating in a potential league offering? Or if the games continue to air on his network but are simulcasted locally on the streamer that wins local rights on a national scale, does the streamer have the ability to pay less money for rights?
If so, does that make the deal as lucrative for the NBA? And what does that mean for retransmission fees that cable companies like Comcast pay to Leonsis and other RSNs they’re still carrying?
The league will face a similar problem with the Lakers, Bulls, Knicks and other franchises that either wholly own or partially own a part of the RSNs where they broadcast their games.
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions which is why they are written here in this column. Unfortunately for the leagues, they don’t have the answers either. But if the NBA figures out a way to nationalize their product even more and make streaming games more appealing by ending local blackouts, it’ll benefit the game more than it hurts the game.
NBA, NHL, and MLB games are still some of the highest-rated programs locally in many markets when you look at how they rate vs. other cable and broadcast offerings. But at this point, the ability to charge everyone for a program that only ten percent of subscribers are watching is a losing business proponent.
The leagues should start from scratch and sell a mass package of games for maximum profit. It gives fans a more centralized location to watch their favorite teams and puts the leagues on a much more steady path than where they could be headed sooner rather than later.
Diamond in the rough to sparkling jewel of light? Only time will tell.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
Do You Have Affirmations Of Gratitude?
“We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right?”
Having gratitude for your life is all the rage. If you, like me, have trouble starting your day with positive affirmations and maintaining a positive outlook about your job, read on!
We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right? Here is another version. Try a few affirmations of gratitude instead.
“I HAVE A JOB.”
With interest rates rising, inflation increasing, and spending down; corporations are laying people off. PayPal laid off 7% of its entire workforce. Amazon let 18,000 go. Alphabet (Google) said goodbye to 12,000 jobs. Radio sales managers need to hire people like you – experienced sellers with a track record of bringing home the bacon.
“I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER.”
You solve a problem for your company when it comes to revenue. You know people, and you sell advertising better than anything they can come up with…so far.
Yes, they are trying to replace you, but Zoom Info reports iHeart’s self-serve spot buying service, AdBuilder, is doing under 5 million in business. You have time to solidify your value. Be happy you are the rainmaker.
“I WORK IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS.”
Sports talk radio is the ultimate companion to millions of listeners. They aren’t robots, and your stations improve their lives by talking about what they care about 24/7. Celebrate selling access to callers, Twitter followers and FANS who go to games. You also get to work with local celebrities that everybody knows but you know best. We all need a connection to other people and want to be seen and heard.
“I GET TO CHANGE HOW I FEEL ABOUT MYSELF.”
In this job, you determine your value, feelings about your work, and who you work with. You get to set a strategy and talk to the businesspeople you want to help and do business with. It’s like running your own business with a tremendous support staff. Try to do it independently, and you will appreciate accounting, traffic, production, and sales assistance. Those wins produce deposits in your bank account.
“I HAVE COMPETITION!”
That format competitor across the street does things differently and sometimes better than you or tries to imitate you and looks terrible. They motivate you to beat them to a new account or put a moat around your best clients so they can’t be touched. They keep you sharp and willing to try new things. Good competition schemes to take money from your station, and your management needs you to protect them. And they also provide a place for you to work one day. The FTC wants to eliminate non-competes so you can walk across the street this year.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.