Around the Diamond With Kevin McAlpin
Have you ever attempted to plan out an ultimate baseball trip? A cross-country journey that takes you to various cities and ballparks in America? It’s the ultimate dream for any hardcore baseball fan to experience all the nuances each stadium from Safeco Field to Fenway Park has to offer. For most, that’s a dream that will remain a fantasy. However, for Kevin McAlpin, it’s a daily job.
But to know how McAlpin is traveling the country with the Atlanta Braves Radio Network, you first have to know about his journey. A Temple University grad, McAlpin’s road started at a small AM station north of Philadelphia owned by Eagles play-by-play voice Merrill Reese.
He was told he would do a little bit of everything, which was meant literally. McAlpin would serve multiple roles, ranging from news and sports updates, to play-by-play for high school football and basketball, to over-night shifts at the station, even when he felt his parents and girlfriend were only ones listening. It was invaluable experience to a young kid that was fresh off an internship with the Philadelphia Phillies in ballpark operations.
From there, an opportunity with an ESPN station in Philadelphia came about, but it wasn’t the role he was looking for. Strictly dealing with promotions, McAlpin wanted to find a way, whatever the cost, to get back in front of the mic. He did so by approaching his program director and expressing the desire to fill any opening the station had.
That’s valuable experience to any young person in the business. If you want a larger role in the station, sit down with your PD and show you’re willing to work any shift to make it happen. That’s exactly what McAlpin did, as at the age of 25, he was pulling a Friday night un-paid 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was certainly a start in the right direction.
While most of his friends were probably out and enjoying the Philadelphia nightlife, McAlpin was balancing 90-second updates every 20 minutes, with Boston Market dinner dates alongside his girlfriend in a back room of the station. Now his wife, McAlpin calls Melissa the ‘Real MVP’ of the family, as she not only stuck by his side during the tough times, but essentially becomes a single mom during baseball season.
Wives of successful personalities in the business don’t get the recognition they deserve, but show me someone who’s had a decent run in radio and I’ll show you someone who’s likely had a woman by his side throughout the entire journey. McAlpin is no different.
Shortly after proving his worth as an over-night update anchor, McAlpin finally got the big break he was waiting for. Meredith Marakovits, who’s now a reporter for YES Network covering the Yankees, left the station, which opened up a position covering the Phillies as a beat reporter. Once again, McAlpin approached his PD and expressed his desire for the position. And once again, he received the new opportunity by showing ambition.
Though the station didn’t have much money in the budget, McAlpin offered the station a deal. He’d do the first home stand to show his capabilities and a decision would be made following the series. As fate would have it, the station loved what he brought and put him on the beat for the following two seasons. McAlpin didn’t get to travel with the team in either season, but did all 81 home games for a Phillies squad that eventually became one of the best teams in the National League.
In his new role, McAlpin had a chance to meet a lot of the visiting teams, including the Atlanta Braves, who used him as a stringer for 50 bucks per game. The job included obtaining post-game audio from the Braves’ clubhouse and sending it to their post game show. It may have seemed insignificant at the time, but it would turn out to be a major connection.
After the 2011 season, McAlpin noticed a job posted online for the Braves Radio Network. Wanting to expand its coverage, the network was looking for a full-time radio reporter to travel with the team and be there from the first day of spring training until the last game of the season.
McAlpin then reached out to a few people he had already communicated with at the Braves Radio Network and asked what they knew about the position. After being one of a couple hundred applicants, his previous working relationship paid off, when he was offered the reporter position for the 2012 season.
For McAlpin, the 2018 season marks year No. 7 with the Braves Radio Network. His career has allowed him opportunities such as meeting Vin Scully, signing his name inside the Green Monster at Fenway Park and even the opportunity to cover the farewell season for Chipper Jones. When it comes to baseball, he’s experienced almost everything the game has to offer.
If you take away anything from McAlpin’s experience, let it be these two lessons: First, if you’re looking for a new role at your station, make it known to your PD. Amazing things can happen in your career if you simply ask and show the desire to work. Secondly, make as many contacts as possible. Whether it’s at a press conference, game, wherever, make sure you’re meeting new contacts not only from people in your market, but others as well.
TM: When was the very first time you got in a radio station?
KM: I always knew I wanted to do radio or TV since I was in middle school. My high school outside of Philadelphia actually had a radio station. I was able to get my feet wet and get on the air by the time I was a freshman in high school, which was pretty awesome because there’s not a lot of high schools that have those type of opportunities. A cool fact about it, It’s actually the oldest high school radio station in the country. I was mostly a music DJ and other little things. I was just trying to get a feel of how the business works.
TM: What’s a normal game day like for you?
KM: Typically, I’m in the clubhouse about four hours before the game starts. I’m there gathering sound we use for the pre game show, as well as one-on-one interviews we use for our weekly show. After that, I go upstairs to edit all the sound and send it in to the studio so those guys can have it for the pre-game show. Once the game starts, I’m covering it and doing updates on social media, stuff like that.
After the game, I’m getting all the audio for the post game show from the manager, starting pitcher and usually a couple of players. We do a lot of different Braves content, here in Atlanta. So, my day actually starts at 7:45 in the morning when I do about a 10-minute segment with our morning show, called Atlanta Braves Today. We do that every week day from the final week of spring training to the end of the season.
Basically, I get to the ball park around 3:30 most days, if I’m lucky we’ll get a three-hour game and I’ll get home around midnight or 12:30.
TM: Since you’re in the clubhouse for every single game of the year, how important is it for you to build really good relationships with the players and coaching staff?
KM: That’s everything. It takes a long time to establish trust with guys, fortunately I’ve been able to do that with basically everyone I’ve dealt with over the years. The one thing, is that it only takes one screw up to de-rail that relationship you spent so much time building up.
I think a lot of it is just earning their trust and with traveling with the team, some things happen away from the field that you’ll see and hear but keep to yourself, if you know what I mean. I always respect the guys and never run with things I see off the field. I know where our time is and where our place is, I’m lucky enough to go on the team plane and stay in the team hotel, so I just respect that guy’s privacy as much as possible. It takes one stupid tweet to mess up a relationship and it’s really hard to do your job when you do that.
TM: With that being said, since you’re with the Braves Radio Network, is it your role to ask tough questions to a guy that’s in a slump or not playing well?
KM: Yeah, I think you have to because the listeners aren’t idiots. There’s only so much you can try and put a positive spin on. That’s always been my personality, it’s always been how I was raised, to be a happy, look at the bright side kind of guy. But look, if a guy is struggling, you have to point that out.
I think there’s a way you do that without crushing a guy. You can say, look, this guy is 1 for his last 20, but he had a similar stretch last year and still had 200 hits. I think you have to be honest with the fans and people that are listening, but I don’t think you have to go out of your way to bury a guy either.
It’s easy to say Freddie Freeman is on pace to win the MVP, but it’s not as easy to question what’s going on with Ozzie Albies lately. You’ve just got to find a balance and the players understand we have a job to do. I don’t think many of the players read or listen to what we put out, some do and they’ll tell you about it, but I think you owe it to the listener to be honest and open.
TM: Is it hard to find a story line for all 162 games during the season?
KM: It’s hard. Even when things are going well for the team. It’s just so different from any other sport, because it is every day and you’re always trying to come up with new storylines. I think the one area we’ve been lucky with, is all the storylines that have rolled through since there’s been so many new faces on the roster the last four years.
It can be challenging when the team has won 8 in a row, because even though that’s good, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to create a story line from. That probably sounds weird, but it’s just another reason why baseball is so different. There’s some days where there’s not a whole lot going on, so you have to dig and find something worth talking about.
TM: I’m guessing you have to be really up to speed on every team in the National League?
KM: Yeah, and with Interleague play, you have to an eye on the American League. We go to Toronto this week, we’ll be in Canada about 40 hours after we play a night game and then we’ll turn around and play the next afternoon and fly out after.
We played Boston in Fenway Park a couple weeks ago, which was easy because they’ve been killing everyone so you didn’t have to dig too deep for stuff on them. It’s not so easy when you play the Tampa Bay Rays. We played down there a couple weeks ago.
So yeah, I try to do my homework on those teams a couple of days in advance, so when I go into a clubhouse of a team that we don’t see a lot, I’m ready and having an idea on what’s going on with them. I’ll reach out to guys that cover the other teams to see who’s accessible and best to talk to, as well as who to stay away from. But yeah, it’s not just the NL, it’s everybody.
Fortunately, all the info you could need is at your fingertips, but you have to do keep an eye and ear on what everyone in the game is doing. To me, that’s the fun part.
TM: How tough is it having a family and having to leave so much during the season? Is that the toughest part of your job?
KM: I would say yes, it’s tough. I have a three-year-old and for 7 months I’m part-time dad. I think the thing people don’t realize, is even when I’m home, I’ll see him for 45 minutes before he goes to daycare and then on FaceTime after he gets home.
There’s a misconception, because when we’re home, we’re not really home. I do the best I can when we have an off day. I’ll spend the whole day with my son, turn my phone off and try to disconnect for a while, but it’s just so hard because there’s always something happening.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m so lucky to be able to travel. I went to more cities in my first year covering the Braves than my parents have went to in their whole lives. I put in perspective the fact I’m traveling to places I never thought I’d go. We now know where the best places are to get lunch, or where the best bartender in town is, it’s just cool to be able to go to Los Angeles and have spots that you always hit.
At the end of the day, I just take the positives with the negatives. I get to be home for the offseason that lasts 4 and a half months. There’s not a lot of people that can say they work every day for 7 and a half months but get 4 and half months off. I’m home for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, all the fun holidays. I would sacrifice a 4th of July barbecue to be with my family for those holidays. There’s sacrifices in every job, mine are just a little different.
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.