It Had To Be Connections For John Gambadoro
“I try to give my audience insight that nobody else has, that nobody else knows. I can tell them what’s going on with the team, what’s going on with a player, what’s going on with a coaching search. That’s what I live for.”
John Gambadoro has carved out a 23-year career as a sports radio host in the Phoenix market. A run this successful doesn’t happen based on skill alone, which Gambo clearly has. It takes passion to thrive for over two decades.
Gambo has also developed an extensive contact list in order to uncover information that nobody else has. That doesn’t happen by sitting on the couch until it’s showtime. It takes a strong work ethic. Many hosts speculate about players and teams. Gambo reaches out to them directly.
Gambo is a firm believer in connections. He stresses the importance of forming relationships to interns and people trying to establish themselves in the business. It’s fitting because Gambo has built his success on the foundation of connections himself — from his unconventional start in the sports radio business, to the information he gathers on a continuous basis. Gambo is a great example that no one in this industry becomes successful on their own.
A radio career that began in Phoenix is one that Gambo sees ending in Phoenix. He has accumulated many fond memories — one being a dunk tank of all things — and has no desire to leave the market or Arizona Sports 98.7FM. One of the most interesting details that Gambo also reveals in this interview is the sports radio host he least wants to be like. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What’s the one thing you love most about sports radio right now?
Gambo: I really think that sports radio for the last decade and a half has become the main medium for sports fans to get their news and information. Newspapers are dying. Local sports television is dying. A lot of it is down to a minute and a half a night. The best place for fans to really get their information is sports radio. We’re the one medium that hasn’t taken a hit.
Our company is growing. Our business is growing. Our listenership, it’s growing and it’s fascinating to me because everybody else — there are a lot of people in the industry that are struggling. They haven’t changed with the times.
I think what the fans like about it is, if I do an interview with the manager of the Diamondbacks, or with the general manager of a team, or a player of a team, fans get to hear that whole interview. In a newspaper you might have one line or two lines of what they said. On TV you may get just a snippet of what they said, but [on radio] you get the whole interview. You get to hear what everyone said. You get opinions. You get breaking news. It just continues to grow and get better and better while other mediums have struggled. As a radio group, I think we continue to be the main source for fans to turn to. Plus, there are still so many people in their cars on a regular basis. We’re their outlet for what they can listen to.
Noe: What would you say is the most challenging part of sports radio for you these days?
Gambo: For me personally, I go to a lot of games. I go to the Cardinal games, the Suns games, the D-back games, the ASU games. My role is a little bit different. Yes, I have a talk show and yes I’m opinionated, but I also am a reporter from my background. My background is being a newspaper reporter. I am all about developing contacts, getting sources all around the different leagues and breaking stories. That’s what I do. For me personally — it might be different for everybody else — but for me personally it’s just, man, how do you manage your time? I’ve got a wife. I’ve got kids. I’ve got D-back games to go to. I’ve got press conferences to go to. It’s busy. That’s just the hardest part is just managing your time.
Noe: When you have strong opinions and you’re also a reporter, how do you keep those relationships strong with teams if you’re hammering them at times?
Gambo: Respect. I go to the games. You have more respect when you go to the games. You’re entitled to your opinion and they don’t criticize you because you’re there. Back when I started doing sports radio in ‘97, almost everybody that had a press pass went to the games. But now that’s changed a lot. There aren’t many people that go to the games anymore. Me criticizing I think is accepted more so because, “Oh, he’s there. He was in the locker room.” I’m there.
I think when you’re not there and they never see you, there is a lack of respect. Then when other people criticize, it’s like, “Well, who are you to say something because I’ve never seen you at a game.”
I think the key is you’ve got to be accountable. We get these press passes. We all get them. We all have a press pass, but a lot of people choose not to use them. I’ve always chosen to use it.
Noe: What’s the reason there is a lack of strong sports talk competition in Phoenix?
Gambo: That’s a good question. I don’t think anybody else is committed to doing it. It takes a commitment. We have an amazing company that is committed to providing the audience with the best sports content, the best talk show hosts. We have the rights to the Cardinals, the Suns, the D-backs, the Coyotes, ASU, and now the Phoenix Rising — the soccer team.
We’re committed to content. We’re committed to a great staff. We have an amazing, amazing web department. Our podcasts, our app, our ownership group, and our management group are second-to-none.
There is nobody like our management group. They are just committed to supporting us and making sure that we have the tools necessary to dominate. That’s where it starts.
It’s just like a sports team. It starts at the top. You have to have great ownership that’s committed to winning. You have to have great management that’s committed to winning. We have that. It makes our job a lot easier when you go to work every day and you’ve got a support staff that is literally — I think ours is second to none in the country. I can’t imagine anybody has a better support staff than what we have.
Noe: Where does Kyler Murray rank among other players in the Phoenix area — past and present — in terms of being a lightning rod that produces opinions?
Gambo: Right now he’s at the top of the list because they traded up to draft a quarterback [Josh Rosen] in the first round. Then they got a second round pick for him. They bring this kid in who’s apparently too small. He has been our top topic from the day he announced that he was going to play football instead of baseball. The speculation began.
Now I go back to lightning rods like Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson. There have been a lot of lightning rods. Steve Nash when he went to the Lakers. Luis Gonzalez when he went to the Dodgers. We have a major hatred for L.A. teams here. Anytime a guy goes to L.A. — A.J. Pollock went to the Dodgers — that’s always a lightning rod. From an excitement standpoint, everybody can’t wait to see this kid Murray. I don’t think in my time here there’s been anything like it.
Noe: Who has been the most interesting Phoenix sports figure for you to talk about personally?
Gambo: Probably the Suns owner Robert Sarver because they haven’t won in nine years. He’s made a lot of poor decisions. There are a lot of opinions about him from this fan base. It’s the Suns. They were the first. They’re the most beloved. Everybody wants to see the Suns win a championship.
The Suns owner has always been a lightning rod for controversy. The guy wants to win. He wants to win badly. He does care. He’s gone about it the wrong way many times though.
There is a feeling with the fan base that a lot of fans want him out, wish he would sell the team. I think for the first time now there’s a feeling that he and the organization has turned the corner with the hiring of Monty Williams and James Jones and a new direction for the organization. But he’s been clearly one of the lightning rods because of longevity. He’s been the owner for over a decade. A lot of players come and go.
Noe: How would you describe your relationship with program director Ryan Hatch over the decade you’ve spent together?
Gambo: Fantastic. I have a ton of respect for him. He allows me to be myself. He respects the work that I do. He encourages me, supports me, and makes sure I have what I need. It’s a very good working relationship. I love working for him and I love working for the company. They are very, very good at — if you’re doing your job — they’re very good at supporting you and giving you the tools necessary to get the job done.
Noe: You were on a very successful show Gambo and Ash. Now you’re on another successful show Burns and Gambo. What is the main challenge of trying to build a new brand when the audience is used to another show?
Gambo: Gambo and Ash was like an iconic brand out here. It was a very, very popular show for 12 years. But all good things come to an end. Then when they paired me with Dave, the market was changing a little bit. At that time we had moved from an AM signal to an FM signal. I think that helped give the show a tremendous boost. David is really great at what he does. I’ve never worked with a better driver. He is a great driver of the show. That allows me to do what I do.
It’s crazy. People won’t recognize this; I work during the entire show. During the entire four-hour show I’m talking to coaches, players, and GMs on the phone. We could be talking about a topic and he wants to know an answer. I just start texting. Sometimes I’ll take a phone call during the show and I’ll literally duck out for three or four minutes and he’ll just have to keep talking and nobody knows.
I don’t read a lot of stories to get my information. Dave does that so we balance each other very well. I watch games, I go to games, and I call people. I get my information by calling players, calling coaches, calling owners, calling GMs. Dave’s very good at reading all of the stories on all of the websites that I don’t do. I just don’t do that. We gather information in different ways and it just seems to work.
I do like working with him because on a regular basis I’ve got to take a phone call to find out what’s going on with a local team. Zack Greinke gets hurt in a baseball game and I’m able to report first what’s going on because I will literally stop doing the show for two or three minutes so I can make some calls or text to try to find out what’s going on. We’re on during a very busy time. There’s always stuff going on from 2 to 6 in the afternoon. It works well. The Gambo and Ash brand is what it is and the Burns and Gambo brand it is what it is. It’s some of the same audience, but also a lot of a different audience.
Noe: What does Dave do a great job of as a driver that a weaker or lesser driver doesn’t do?
Gambo: Control me. Reel me back in at times when I need to be reeled back in. I don’t have an education. I didn’t grow up in this industry. I didn’t go to school for any of this. I barely got out of high school. I don’t speak great. [Laughs.] I grew up in an immigrant family from Italy. So for me, Dave is really good at controlling the show, driving the show, steering the show. “We’re going to go here. We’re going to go there. Okay, it’s time to get off this topic.”
I don’t introduce guests, I don’t do teases, and I don’t introduce a segment or end a segment. Him being as good as he is allows me to just concentrate on the content. I concentrate on strong opinions and content. He’s very good at leading me. He’s very good at setting me up for the information that I know or for the opinion that I’m going to have. He loves the role that he’s in. He loves doing what he does. It’s totally different from what I do. Completely different from what I do, but he’s the best at it.
Noe: How did you initially break into sports radio?
Gambo: So I was a sports writer for Newsday in New York from 1989 to ’96. Then I moved to Arizona. I was writing for the Associated Press and I was writing for Sports Arizona Magazine. Then one day I ran into a program director at a radio station — at that time it was KGME — and he was like you would be really good on the radio.
I had no experience and about a month later I was hosting afternoon drive. I had only been here for six months and I was hosting the afternoon drive show because the program director thought that I would be good on the radio. For no other reason, he just heard me talking, just asked me if I had ever done radio before. I said no and he gave me a weekend show for about four to six weeks.
After I had done four to six weeks of Saturday shows he goes, “You’re ready.” He just put me on afternoon drive. I’ve been on ever since.
Noe: Was there a lot of pushback because you sound like a New Yorker — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all — but you know how it is with local people, “Oh, you sound like you’re not from here.” Was that a thing for you?
Gambo: Absolutely. It took me a while to win people over, to get people to respect me. People either love me or hate me. As long as they have an opinion — that type of thing.
Not everybody likes me and not everybody hates me. I think a lot of people listen to the show because it’s a good show. It doesn’t mean you have to like me to listen to the show.
I’ve been here for a long time now so it’s changed a lot, but in the first few years certainly, “Who is this New Yorker? This Yankee fan telling me about my Diamondbacks? This Giant fan telling me about my Cardinals?” The accent doesn’t go away. I’ve been here for 23 years. My accent doesn’t go away. It hasn’t changed.
In the beginning there was a lot of pushback and I wasn’t really accepted, but then I worked hard and I did fall in love with the teams here. I root for the teams here, not over my teams, but I do root for all the teams here a lot. I’m a huge Diamondbacks fan, and Suns fan, and Cardinals. I want those teams to do really well. It just took time to get more experience here, to get accustomed to the lifestyle, and to fit in with the Arizona crowd.
Noe: Could you sense when you were more accepted and they started to take a liking to you?
Gambo: It was probably after the Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001. I predicted the Yankees would sweep them in four games. I said if the Diamondbacks win, I’ll sit in a dunk tank for as long as you guys want and let you guys just clobber me.
After the Diamondbacks won the World Series, they set up a dunk tank at a Fuddruckers. I had like pneumonia because I literally — for six hours there were lines — thousands of people just trying to drunk me. People were putting ice in the dunker machine. I played along and I think that was the turning point for me probably.
I think I just earned respect more than anything by working hard. More than even the Fuddruckers dunk tank, I’m accessible. My life’s an open book. I don’t block my direct messages on Twitter like other people do or on Facebook, or on Instagram. Everybody knows about my family. Everybody knows about my life. I answer people back as much as I can.
I’ve never been one of those people that wants to keep my personal life personal. People know about my wife. They know about my kids. I’m an open book. Everybody knows what’s going on in my life and I think people really feel like they know me. I always run into people like, “Ahh, I feel like I know you.” I think one of the reasons why is I really relate — I’m nothing more than just some schmuck that grew up in New York and I ended up with a radio show out here.
Noe: If any of your kids were interested in one day being a sports radio host, what advice would you give them?
Gambo: Well, my son wants to play center field for the D-backs right now. That would have to be his fallback plan. He’s an All-Star center fielder at 10 years old. I probably get two to three messages every week from people that want to get into this business. It’s a very difficult business to have success in. Very few people do because it’s hard to have ratings, to have revenue, to have longevity.
I’ve done this for 23 years now. It’s not easy, but I would always encourage people to do it because it’s a freaking blast. It’s not a job. It’s a career if you want to make it one. It’s an amazing career. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I always encourage everybody to go for it. Why not? You look at me. I barely got out of high school. I grew up in a mob family. My lifestyle was different as a New York kid than a lot of these other people.
That’s why I encourage people. I didn’t get to go to college. I didn’t have the ability to go to college. I had a buddy of mine who helped me get the job at Newsday because I really loved sports. From that point forward I just kept working hard. I was all about connections, not about how much you know because I didn’t have the resume. I didn’t have the schooling, and the background, and the college degree. To me it was all about connections. I tell all the interns that work with us, make connections. Meet people. People can help you more than a resume can. People can help you.
Noe: There is so much advice from other people in sports radio, “You need to do this and do that.” Do you hear comments and ever say, “No, you really don’t need to do that”?
Gambo: I go talk to classes a lot. They have me in and I always say I’m going to be different than everybody else that comes in here and speaks to you. When I go talk to Arizona State kids that are in the Cronkite School. I’m going to be different than everybody else. I’m going to be the only person in here that has no college experience. Everybody else that you’re going to speak to is going to come in and they are going to have gone to college and they’re going to have a fancy degree and I have none of that.
What I’m going to tell you is different. What I’m going to tell you is make as many contacts as you can. Don’t do an internship and walk out of there and just put it on your resume. Walk out of there knowing 10 people and having their phone number and seeing if they’ll help you. Bust your ass on those internships, but most importantly get to know people. People will help you.
If you’re good at what you do and you’re a good person, people will help you get a job or make a phone call for you. If I have an intern and that intern is fantastic — then that intern says I’m going to New York. Hey, I’ve got connections in New York. I can make a phone call for you. Or hey, can I put you on my resume? Of course. I think that’s something that a lot of people miss the boat on. They still think that it’s, “Oh, I’ve got to get the experience and I’ve got the college degree.”
Well, so does everybody else, man.
Everybody else has a college degree. Everybody else has internships. You’ve got to get to know people so that way they can make a call for you. That way they can encourage somebody to hire you, or at least take a look at you, or speak to you. That’s what I tell everybody is it’s connections. That’s how I grew up. I didn’t have any education. It had to be connections for me.
Noe: When you’re as opinionated as you are, I’m sure somebody has confronted you about something you’ve said. Do you appreciate that? You strike me as a guy that would actually like someone coming up to you if they have a problem with your comments.
Gambo: I always make sure that after I’m extremely controversial over a player, a GM, a coach, that I’m there the next game. I always make sure I’m there the next game. That way in case anybody wants to say something, or confront me, or even just asked me about what I said, I’m there. I always make sure no matter what if I’m really critical of a player that I’m there the next day.
Of course I’ve gotten in Twitter wars with Markieff and Marcus Morris and a fight with Cody Ross over text messages when I criticized him. So yes it’s happened. When Dennis Erickson lost a big football game one year to Washington State — I had said before the game that if he loses this game I’m going to help him pack his bags. Then when he lost the game and he came on the show I said, “Coach, I’m ready to help you pack your bags because you got to go.”
It is about being accountable. It’s about being there. Sometimes people want to just ask you about what you said and see if it’s true, but most of the time nobody will say anything. Most of the time nobody says a thing.
Noe: You’ve signed a number of contracts over the course of your career. Outside of cranking out good ratings, what advice would you give a young host who’s trying to earn as much money as possible?
Gambo: My career has been pretty successful, but for me I just want to be happy. I’m happy with the amount of money I make. Trust me I am. I can’t believe that I’m doing as well as I am. To me it’s not about breaking the bank and it’s not about always trying to get the next dollar. It’s about being content. It’s about getting to a point where you work for a good company, you love to work for that company, and you’re just happy to be there. It’s not about trying to chase the next dollar.
I’ve had two offers for national gigs — turned them both down. No desire. No desire to go do national radio. To me it’s just really about — be happy. If you’re making a good living and you’re happy with that, you don’t have to be greedy. You don’t have to keep hammering people over the head for more money and things like that. We make our money through our contract and by endorsing companies.
The only thing I would say is if you find a place and you like working there, you’re making a good living, sometimes it’s okay to be content. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I’ve had a 23-year career and loved every freaking minute of it.
I never chased another job in another market. I’ve had people chase me, but I’ve never chased another job. I’ve always wanted to be here. My radio career will start in Arizona and it will end in Arizona. When it’s done and it’s over in a few years, I won’t look back with any regrets.
Noe: If you think about your entire career, is there one thing above all else that you would change if you could?
Gambo: Let me think about that. I got to be honest with you I don’t think there is. Is that okay?
Noe: [Laughs.] Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that. Not one thing though? Not an opinion, your approach to sports radio early on, nothing?
Gambo: Wow, kind of like Frank Sinatra, you know? I did it my way. Right now I have no regrets. I’m not kidding, man. I’m just some street kid from New York that ended up having an amazing career and I’ve been very blessed.
I thank God every night that I’ve been blessed with this career because I don’t even know that I deserved it. I don’t look back with any regrets. I don’t look back like I wish I would have done something differently.
I take a lot of pride in not getting in trouble because I represent a company 24/7. It was always important to me — and I tell my bosses this all the time — I’m a local figure here. I represent this radio station 24/7. I always want to represent this radio station well. If I’m out in public and I’m with my family and somebody wants to come talk to me for two to three minutes, I don’t blow them off. If I’m shopping at the grocery store with my wife and somebody wants to say hello, I stop and talk.
I don’t ever want anybody walking away saying, “God, that guy is such a jerk. I met that guy. He’s an idiot.” I don’t ever want that. I want people to always have a good impression of me because I want them to have a good impression of the radio station.
I don’t get in trouble. Don’t have a DUI. Don’t get arrested. Don’t do anything stupid like a lot of people do. You don’t realize what you have. I don’t know the guy’s name, but there was that guy in New York that had this great career and blew the whole thing.
Noe: [Craig] Carton.
Gambo: Yeah, that guy had an amazing career. How do you blow that? You’re making tons of money hand over fist and you’re doing what everybody would love to do. Everybody would love to do what we’re doing. We’re talking sports for a living. Don’t blow it. So when I see people in the industry — there was some guy in Seattle that had a career as a newspaper guy and I think he got fired or suspended because he started hitting on some girl and she reported him to the newspaper. You remember that one?
Noe: No, I thought you were going to say — I think it was a Seattle host who got busted with a hooker or something like that.
Gambo: Yeah, right. There was a writer — some real estate writer. You should look this up. It was a pretty good story, man. The girl totally outed him on Twitter and then she called the editors. He got suspended. He was sending her all these messages and he’s a married guy. I think it’s just about representing your company well.
Noe: Is there anything specifically that you want to accomplish before your career is over?
Gambo: That’s a great question. I think about this all the time. I don’t want to stay too long. I don’t want to be Mike Francesa. I don’t want to turn into a laughingstock. I want to put in my time and get out at the right time. I don’t want to get out too late, and I don’t want to get out too early, but I definitely don’t want to stay too late because I’ve seen so many people do that. I want to get out in what would be a fair amount of time.
I’ll be 53 years old this year. Is it five more years, six more years, or seven more years? I don’t think it’s any longer than that. I’m pretty positive it’s no longer than that.
I think that’s the thing — I can relate to any audience. Younger people, older people, men, women, and I still love what I do. I have no desire the stop now, but I’ve seen people make fools of themselves by staying too long and I don’t want to do that.
Noe: When you start to see the finish line in this business more clearly, does that help you enjoy what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis even more?
Gambo: Yes, I enjoy what I do all the time. I think I’m different than anybody else that does this job in the country. I do think I’m different. I’m not saying I’m better. So don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else. I’m different. I don’t do sports radio the way other hosts do it. Again that doesn’t make it better and it doesn’t make it right. I’m just different.
I’m all about making contacts with players, coaches, GMs, owners and getting information that nobody else has. My high in this business, the thing that gets me excited, is having information that nobody else has and sharing that with my audience. Giving them insight that they can’t get anywhere else. That’s my high. That’s what I live for. That’s what I love to do. Every single day that’s my goal. Every single day that’s what I try to deliver.
I try to give my audience insight that nobody else has, that nobody else knows. I can tell them what’s going on with the team, what’s going on with a player, what’s going on with a coaching search. That’s what I live for.
I don’t think there’s anybody else in the country that does it the way I do. I don’t read the stories on the internet to get ready for a show. I don’t read a newspaper. I haven’t looked at a newspaper in forever. I don’t really go on the websites to see what other people are writing and things like that. I’ve got a partner that does a really good job of that stuff.
For me it’s about talking with players and coaches from all over the league. With the NBA Draft coming up, I talked to seven basketball teams the other day. Seven different teams on the draft lottery to find out what was going on with these teams.
That’s just kind of what I do. That’s my high because I feel like I can give my audience something that they can’t get anywhere else. That’s the enjoyment of it for me. If I get to a point where I can no longer deliver that, well then I’m done.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 email@example.com.
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.