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Bill King Isn’t Following Anyone’s Rules in Radio

Tyler McComas

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Everyone called him crazy. Program directors strongly advised him not to do it. Why would anyone ever try to cover college football recruiting on the radio?

Nobody else was doing it. It had never been done before. There’s no market for it. Nobody cares about it. It’s not good radio.

Those were just a few things that Bill King heard when he decided he wanted to be the first to talk recruiting on his show. Though everyone told him not to, King saw an opportunity that most didn’t. What he knew, is that college football recruiting was going to eventually be a big part of how we cover the sport. He was right. And the payoff was huge success and national notoriety. 

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When King was in college in the early 80’s, sports radio really wasn’t a thing. Not only didn’t it exist, but even if it did, King likely wouldn’t have been interested in pursuing it as a career. In fact, he never took one media class in college. His focus was on biochemistry. Going to medical school was the real prize, but he chose to sit out a year of school after graduating. Naturally, that led King to having to find a new job to make ends meet. 

You can’t always choose your co-workers. King found that out when he realized he was the young guy amidst a whole lot of older adults in the building. They had their system during the day. The radio was always cranked up on political radio, something King instantly disliked. However, being the new guy, he had no choice but to work through it.

WLAC in Nashville was the station he was hearing every day at work, a 50,000 watt signal that boomed all across the southeast. Finally, a sports show arrived at the station and it aired when King was still at work. He became interested in it right away, maybe even more than he suspected he would. Sure, he thought the hosts weren’t up to standard, even though he didn’t have the qualifications to have that opinion, but the show struck him enough to call the station for an internship. He had never considered sports radio as a job, but here he was, about to make the most important decision of his professional career. 

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King didn’t even know if he would be good at sports radio, he just wanted to try it. After going into the station and asking for an opportunity, he was told he’d receive a call.

He didn’t for 6 long months.

All the while, King pondered if to call the station and ask him for an update. Finally, scared to death, he did. WLAC needed someone to come in on Saturdays. No, not to be behind the mic, but to do errands and chores for the regular host that was in on weekends. King didn’t care. He was in the building. That’s all he needed. 

One of the many things that makes King so identifiable now, is the big, booming voice he has. It’s unmistakable and instantly recognizable. But early in this radio career, he was told it was going to be a hindrance. People even went as far to say that it was going to be the reason he would never find himself behind a mic. King didn’t have any sort of background in radio, so he had no idea if they were right or not. How could he? Once again, they were wrong.

Years later, Sirius would tell him how much they loved his voice.

King started off just like every other young broadcaster in the business. He read baseball scores, mundane baseball lists, talked pro sports and more. At the time, he didn’t care. He just wanted to be on the air and was finally getting the opportunity to do so. His 5-8 p.m. show on WLAC bled into 26 different states, which started to get him a whole lot of notoriety across the country. The only problem, was that he was faking that he enjoyed other sports besides college football. He really didn’t. In fact, he cut out the NFL altogether in the early 90’s, wanting to focus way more on the college game that he had a much deeper love for. 

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Every person living has regrets in life, either personally or professionally. Everyone has a moment or two where they wish they would have chosen a different option. The important thing is can you point back to several good decisions you made? Well, Bill King can. 

Today, he’s happy he walked into the radio station for an internship. He’s happy he chose to cover college football recruiting when everybody else said it wasn’t smart. He’s happy he chose to cover the sport he ultimately cares about the most. A lot of good things have happened to the guy that never thought about doing sports radio in college.  

King is still going strong, covering college football on a daily basis at WNSR in Nashville where he recently celebrated his 30th year in the industry (Congrats, Bill!). Previously, he was with Sirius XM from 2005 to 2014. He’s another example that to be successful, you don’t have to attend an esteemed university or have an extensive radio background out of college. All you need is the passion to be great. King has that and it’s just another reason why he became the best in covering college sports on the radio. 

TM: We always talk about coaching trees, but you have a lot of people that have formally been under you to go on and do big things. Is that cool to see so many people work under to go on and succeed, such as Braden Gall, Chris Childers and Jeff Thurn, to just name a few?

BK: Yeah, I mean I think my role there is probably a little overrated. I never sat down to someone and said I’d take them under my wing and that I would get them there, I think these guys are just really talented and made it all on their own. If I had something to do with it just by setting an example, then so be it. But I think my role there is more circumstantial and not so much some guru that gave them all they keys (laughs). Flat out, I just think those guys are really talented, I think I’m fortunate that we were associated with each other. 

TM: What was the decision to tie to ultimately tie yourself so closely to college football? 

BK: I’d say during the 80’s, and I’m an ’84 college graduate, I became very attached to college football and very bored with the NFL. Probably, in the early 90’s, I quit watching the NFL altogether. Other than running into different rooms where it’s on, I never see it.

I just love the Saturday feel and the energy and I’m not sure why that happened. It wasn’t a decision, it’s just where my mind went. I let myself freely go and became enamored with the Saturday game and the energy behind it. You start early and finish late. The time period that cable came about with the opportunity to watch more and more games every week, that’s when I got into radio.

During that time, Florida State and Miami had it going, Alabama won a national title in ’92, Steve Spurrier was just getting started at Florida, all these things were happening and it became incredibly encompassing to me. I just went that direction. 

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TM: Is Nashville the ideal place for you to do the style of show that you want to do?

BK: It is for me. I think that data may say that Birmingham, though that area isn’t as big or booming like Nashville, but you can make the same argument with Birmingham and Atlanta. Atlanta, to me, is really more of a pro sports town. You’ve got to remember, I’m from Nashville, so in my mind it’s here. 

TM: What about on Monday’s during college football season? You’re covering the entire sport as well as a specific region of the country, how do you determine what the big topics are?

BK: I don’t know that I have a process. But I have a couple rules on Monday, one I don’t ever schedule guests. It’s just me and the audience, that’s it. I want it to be free-thinking, free-flowing, I want different opinions and diversity. But Tyler, I swear, I don’t go in there with a note or a script or anything else. The mic is on and I go. It’s a blank canvas and we paint it however we’re going to paint it. That’s how I like it. 

TM: Though you want everyone to come for college football, what about when the Nashville Predators are in the Stanley Cup? Are you still all college football?

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BK: They only thing local about my show, is that I’m here. The topics are never associated with a local situation. I respect the pro teams here but we don’t spend any time on them. I want to be different. Every town, pretty much has every show and every show is the same drum beat. The hosts are different, everyone has their own style, voices and personalities, but the topics are the same thing. I don’t want to do that show.

I left that style many, many years ago. I don’t think I can do that show, because I don’t think I can fake liking those topics. Right now, this town is going crazy about the Titans and the local shows are spending all their time on them. You know what? More power to them. Good things are happening to the team and it’s a good franchise, same with the Predators. I just can’t fake like I enjoy it every day. I just want to do my own thing and be different. 

TM: What do you look for when you schedule a guest? What do you want them to bring to the show?

BK: I want them to have a PHD in the topic. I want you to own it. I’ll be able to tell if you own it or not. And frankly, sometimes we give people a shot, and with all due respect, they don’t own it, you can tell.

Not only do you need to own it, but you need to sound good doing it. There’s an art form there, where you may know it, but you can’t verbalize it. I need someone that can do it all. That’s another reason why I don’t really care if you’re in the business or not. It’s not a prerequisite, the best Alabama guy I’ve ever had on, is a guy that works at The University of Kentucky. He owns the Alabama topic as well as anyone that I have on about any other topic. 

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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