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Rob Parker Used To Not Be This Much Fun

“I give the bosses at FOX Sports Radio, Don Martin and Scott Shapiro, a lot of credit from this standpoint; this is not your traditional way of doing things. Normally Chris and I, and this is the way we started, would have been paired up with guys who are radio guys.”

Brian Noe

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Coach ‘em hard and hug ‘em later. This was the philosophy of legendary Alabama head football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. It’s a style that is imitated by Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians and also executed by San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich. They have the ability to aggressively demand the best of their players, while at the same time showing them great respect and care.

Switching gears and having a healthy mixture of both is challenging. The same holds true in sports radio. It can be difficult for hosts to convey strong stances while still remaining likable. It’s challenging to be intense and also amusing. Not every host can do both. It’s an approach that Rob Parker of FOX Sports Radio and FS1 has mastered. He has a unique blend of delivering strong opinions while keeping things fun with his lighthearted humor.

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Rob is truly one of the great dudes in the industry. He’s also is a busy man. Rob hosts The Odd Couple with Chris Broussard on FOX Sports Radio weeknights from 4-7pm PT. He also teaches at USC, hosts the Inside the Parker podcast, and appears regularly on FS1’s Undisputed and The Herd. Rob made time to touch on many key points in this interview including the importance of incorporating old school and new school and a willingness to be the lone wolf. Rob also talks about the most rewarding experience he’s ever had, the worst brand of radio anybody can do, and faxes.

Yes, faxes. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What year was it when you hosted your first sports radio show?

Rob Parker: I always had an interest in sports radio when I was a kid. I can remember growing up in New York — John Sterling, who’s now the Yankees radio voice, he had a show on WMCA. I used to be glued to it and listen to him like crazy. The other guy was Art Rush Jr. who had a sports show at WABC in New York. I remember those two guys very vividly. I’m talking about I was a young guy at 8, 9, 10 listening to sports talk radio, which normally that’s not what kids that age are doing. But I used to be mad when the show went off because I couldn’t get enough.

I always had an interest in radio from that standpoint. I never thought about doing or having my own show. But I go to Detroit and I’m a columnist at the Free Press. In 1994 they’re starting Detroit’s first all sports station WDFN AM 1130. I hear about it. I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who’s the boss. I don’t know anything. I just heard they’re going to start this all sports station in Detroit.

I’m up in Fenway Park for Opening Day. This is pre cell phones and all that. There’s a phone call in the press box and they say hey, is Rob Parker in the press box? I’m like who’s calling me at Fenway Park on Opening Day? I’m like did something bad happen? Who would be calling me?

It’s Lorna Gladstone who was the PD for this new station that she was starting up. She calls me and she says hey, I talked to a lot of people around town. Your name came up often. They think you’re very opinionated and would be good to do a talk show. So I’m like oh, okay. Wow, okay. She said I know you’re obviously at Opening Day. When you come back from Boston would you meet with me? I’m like great.

Literally, I get back and we have this meeting. Five minutes in — I had never hosted a show, I had been on a couple of shows but I had never hosted a show — she says I know this isn’t good for negotiations but I want to hire you. I was just like what? Literally. She said yep. Not only that, this was the other part that just blew me away, so I’m thinking I’m going to get a weekend show or midday. She said you’re going to do afternoon drive and you’re going to pick your partner. I was the first person ever hired at WDFN the all sports station. Then I got to pick my partner, which was incredible.

Noe: How did you go about picking your partner?

Rob: I did the show called The Odd Couple. It was me and a guy named Mike Stone, who at the time was a producer at the local News Channel 4 in Detroit. I had known Stoney a little bit just from covering stuff, but I didn’t know him, know him. When we did talk, we used to always disagree on everything. He’d come with his side. I had my side. I remembered that.

Lorna brought in a couple of other guys for me to go out to lunch with and to meet. They were from all over the country. In those days they did a search for people. None of them really clicked with me. At that point she was going to hire Stoney to do evenings on a show called Mike and Ike. I said well, what about Stoney? I think we would be a good pair. She said really? I said yeah, we kind of clash a lot when we talk about sports. The show was billed, “Can this sports writer and this sports fan share a radio show without driving each other crazy?” That was my first show.

It was — right out of the box — wildly successful. So much so, Brian, this is the crazy part, I was only on the show for less than a year because I wound up leaving to go to New York to be a columnist. Five or six months into the show, we go to a Red Wings game. What I used to say to Stoney all the time when he’d say something crazy, I used to always say, “Come on, Stoney. What are you talking about?” It became a thing. We’re at a Red Wings game and no lie, somebody holds up a sign in the crowd that said, “Come on, Stoney.” I just could not believe it.

Noe: Do you think you would get bored if you were doing radio with a partner that viewed things very similarly as yourself?

Rob: I think so. I think it would be boring. To me it’s not personal. It’s just a sports opinion. That’s all it is. I say the only thing you can’t argue about is math. Two and two is four no matter who’s doing the math. Everything else is debatable.

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I don’t look at it as a bad thing if we disagree. I don’t think you can force it or try to pretend, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. I’m always trying to get my partner to change his mind or at least take a look at what I’m saying and where I’m coming from.

Noe: When you go back to the early days, what was an important lesson you needed to learn about sports radio that you didn’t know initially?

Rob: I think early on maybe I wasn’t as much fun as I am now. Where you laugh at yourself. Remember I was coming from a newspaper columnist job. There wasn’t a lot of comedy in that. I think I just learned that everything is not that serious. People are driving in their cars, going to wherever they are. They’re looking for something to kill the time and make it enjoyable. Everything is not life and death. Everything is not the end of the world. I can laugh at myself. I can laugh at other people. Once I understood that, I got even better at it.

Noe: What was it that made you realize that?

Rob: A couple of things. People would respond. I could just see the response. Back then, I know I’m dating myself, but there were no emails or anything. People used to fax in because they couldn’t call from work. (Laughs.) What a novel idea. Isn’t that great? They used to fax in. We would get faxes if we did something funny or silly and people would just go crazy about it. They would love it.

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Noe: How many years had you been covering sports as a writer before you got into sports radio?

Rob: I started in 1986 and got my first show in ‘94. So what is that eight years? Yeah, and it was good from the standpoint that I came in with a little something extra than maybe most guys on the radio who hadn’t covered teams and haven’t been around. I always felt like I spoke from authority. I think that really helped, ‘cause I’m at the games. We’re talking about a player, I talked to him one-on-one earlier today, or yesterday, or last week. I always felt like my voice was more authoritative from the access and the people that I knew.

Noe: What’s something about writing that sports radio doesn’t provide, or something about sports radio that writing never provided you?

Rob: The immediacy of sports radio and actually connecting with the fan. I think that’s neat. I love to talk to callers. I love to see what the average Joe is thinking. Most people are calling in listening to hear my opinion, which I get, but sometimes I think you’ve got to have a little voice of the fan as well because they see things a little differently than we do.

Noe: What’s the most nervous you’ve been in your entire career?

Rob: It might have been — and only for a brief moment — but I think the first time me and my partner got to fill in on Sporting News Radio nationally. At first I was just thinking wow, this is going to be on all over the country. Maybe for a minute I thought about it and it was like daunting. Then we started the show and we just did what we normally did. Leading up to it, I was just like this is a big break. Maybe they might like us. So I was a little nervous.

Noe: What would you say is your proudest achievement so far? 

Rob: I think the show that I’m on now with Chris — The Odd Couple. From this standpoint, I don’t know and I’m not positive, but I think it’s the first nationally syndicated show with two African-American hosts. For a long time, most national shows didn’t have any African Americans hosting. I think it’s a fun, informative show. I really think people like it. I really think it struck a nerve from being mad at me or Chris, or laughing with me and Chris, and just feeling like it’s a part of your day. I really believe that for some people it’s a part of their day.

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We’ve been on for 10 months and we still get calls every day when people say they’re so compelled to tell us how much they like the show. I thought that would wear off after two or three months, you know when something’s new. They all say the same thing; man, you make my commute so much better for my 30- 40-minute drive home from work. I listen every day. You can’t ask for anything better than for people to say that.

Noe: Some people that agree with you will preface their call by stating how rarely it happens. It’s like, “Rob, man, I hardly ever agree with you, but I agree with you on this.” Does that make you laugh?

Rob: It makes me laugh all the time. It’s like am I from Mars? You never agree with me ever? Wow, I don’t think I’m that radical. You know what I mean?

Noe: Yeah, it’s funny like that. What are some of the emotions you feel about being successful in this business, and you happen to be black, in an industry that lacks diversity?

Rob: I think it’s positive not only for me but for guys that come after. That’s what I’m always looking at. I give the bosses at FOX Sports Radio, Don Martin and Scott Shapiro, a lot of credit from this standpoint; this is not your traditional way of doing things. Normally Chris and I, and this is the way we started, would have been paired up with guys who are radio guys. We come from the writing side.

They just decided that they didn’t have to do that. They thought our opinions and our approach were strong enough that we could just do it with two writers without having to have a quote unquote radio guy. Granted, I’ve had a radio show for a long time, but you know what I mean, people who are trained to be radio guys. I give them credit for that. Years from now when other guys get their chances, that’s what I’m most proud of.

Noe: Is there pressure? Do you feel like you better come correct or you could be costing somebody else an opportunity down the road?

Rob: I don’t look at it that way, but I could see where some people would. I approach it as my job, which I take very seriously and work hard at. But I always feel like I’m going to be successful no matter what. I do believe in that. If Chris and I are really successful and have a show that people like and there’s a buzz about it and we’re doing well, that’s going to open the door. Other stations and PDs are going to look and say, that FOX Sports Radio, they had these two brothas on and it did really well. I think it opens up the idea.

I sit here right now and tell you the most disappointed I am in sports talk radio is in the city of Detroit, which you know Detroit is 85 percent black. They have no full-time black hosts on talk radio in Detroit, which is mind-boggling. Especially since in 1994, when they started The Fan in Detroit I was doing afternoon drive. The guy after me from 6 to 10, Ike Griffin, is black and he did the nighttime show. Our sports update anchor on the morning show was black. This is 1994. They start a station. Two of the hosts are black and the main update guy in the morning is black. Now here we are in 2019 and there are no black guys on the radio. I don’t know how they live with themselves as a city that’s mostly black. I find it to be disheartening and disappointing.

Noe: When your strong opinions fire up some of the moron listeners that respond with racist comments, does it bother you?

Rob: What bothers me is that do they really believe that I’m talking about Tom Brady because he’s white? I just find that to be comical because I rip on LeBron James. Is he white? LeBron is one of the greatest players who ever played. So it obviously has nothing to do with race. That’s the thing that I just can’t get over. Or my comparison — I’m saying Joe Montana is the greatest quarterback I ever saw. Joe Montana is white. How in the world can it be a race thing? I’m not saying Doug Williams is the greatest quarterback who ever played. If I said Doug Williams is the greatest quarterback who ever played, then you have a case.

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Noe: You like to crack jokes and have fun. When you get crazy stuff like that thrown at you, does it ever impact your mood or approach to the show?

Rob: Nah, I brush it to the side. I’ve been in the business way too long. I’ve seen a lot. Along with the negative stuff, I get so much positive stuff. It rejuvenates me from the standpoint of — I get, “Man, you keep it 100 all the time. Man, I love what you do. Don’t let anybody change you. Don’t follow suit with all the other guys.” They know I’m willing to stand out there and be the lone wolf. People appreciate it.

When I hear that stuff, I know I’m on the right track. I’m touching people out there every day and they appreciate the work I’m doing. I always say I work for the fans. That’s who I work for.

Noe: What’s something you’ve learned about Chris that you didn’t know before you were doing the show with him?

Rob: That’s a good question because Chris and I have known each other for 25 years, but obviously not in this capacity, as writers in the night covering games and stuff like that. He’s smart, he’s well prepared, and he has a great sense of humor, which I did know he had. He can laugh at himself. But his preparation is impressive to me. You expect him to know the NBA, but football and even when we talk baseball, he’s prepared and he’s ready to go. I like that.

Noe: Do you think some of that preparation comes from wanting to prove people wrong? He covered the NBA for so many years, it’s similar to a basketball player breaking into the industry who’s looked at as, “Well, you’re just a basketball guy. What you know about football?” Do you think that drives Chris?

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Rob: I do. I do. I think he knows that he has to shake a tag. The tag is not negative that you’re an expert in one sport, but to get people to listen to you about other things, it’s not easy. Like a Shannon Sharpe who had to convince people that he knew more. Okay we’ll give you the NFL. You played in it. You’re a Hall of Famer. But to be able to have me listen to you for 20 minutes on an NBA topic and know that you know what you’re talking about. That’s not easy to do.

Noe: What are the classes that you teach at USC and how has that been going for you?

Rob: It is the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. I just cannot get over how much I enjoy it. How great the kids are. How into it they are. They get my juices flowing because I see they’re ambitious and want to achieve or want to do big things in journalism. I just love it. I taught Sports Commentary. This coming semester in September I’m teaching Introduction Into Sports Media. So it’ll be about radio, digital and print, and television. It’ll be awesome.

Noe: There’s so much to tell someone about being in sports radio. What are two of the top things that you think are the most important to tell someone that is new to the industry?

Rob: I would say A) Don’t guess. Be prepared. If you’re talking about a topic, you should be prepared on it. You shouldn’t ask questions or say well, I’m not sure. I don’t know. You should prep for it. But number one, you’ve got to have an opinion. You just have to. This whole we’ll wait and see and all that, that’s the worst radio you can do. Obviously we could do that, but as I tell people on the radio all the time, we have three hours to kill today. I can’t wait ‘till his career is over to evaluate him. You know? It doesn’t work like that.

Noe: How much have you learned from the kids based on what they’ll say to you, what they’ll ask, what they’re interested in? How much has helped you?

Rob: Oh, it has helped me a lot. The millennials and these young kids — where their head is. What it is that they like. What they want to hear. I do take some from them and try to incorporate it. I never want to get too bogged down on numbers and analytics and all that. It’s important to include some, but it’s not the end-all be-all. I think you kind of have to incorporate old school and new school.

The one thing that I found interesting when talking about stuff that I’ve done or whatever, they love the old stories. They love when I talk about being there, or being at Michael Jordan’s game when he hit that shot against Craig Ehlo, or being at the 1986 World Series when the ball goes through Bill Buckner’s legs. They love those old stories, which you wouldn’t think, but it kind of puts context to everything. It also tells them who they’re listening to. Their professor is somebody who’s been there and done that and been around.

I think that’s what gets them going. It’s like man, this guy covered that. This guy was at that. It’s one thing to have a professor — and I’m not knocking any teachers or anything — but it’s another thing to have a guy who you just watched in the morning before you came to school. You watched me on Undisputed on FS1. Then you came to school and I’m teaching you. I think that’s powerful.

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Noe: At USC you get to reach some younger kids. You do your thing on The Odd Couple and reach a big audience. You also have your baseball podcast and reach another audience. Is that the coolest thing right now that you have a wide reach of different ages and backgrounds?

Rob: Absolutely. It’s incredible. Here’s the other thing; being in New York this week on vacation and just kind of bopping around, because I’ve been on TV for a long time, I expect people every once in awhile to say hey, it’s Rob. Or, Rob, what’s up? But what’s changed is when people say oh, I love the show.

I say oh, that’s cool. Undisputed? You know what they say? No, The Odd Couple. I listen all the time. It’s just a change. It used to only be the TV and now the radio has kicked in to where people always bring up the radio show.

Noe: As far as the [Inside the Parker] podcast, how much have you been enjoying that?

Rob: Absolutely love it. Oh my God. Love it so much that this is my vacation week and I refused to not do it. I did it on my vacation. That’s the only thing I did this week was my podcast. I cannot believe when I look at the downloads how many people are downloading it. It’s incredible.

Noe: I know you’re such a baseball fan, but you know the deal. You’re not going to be doing three hours of baseball on a national radio show. What’s it like for you to be really interested in a sport that’s lower in the pecking order?

Rob: I get it. I don’t always agree with it. I think in sports talk radio there’s a lot of lazy radio going on. That’s what I call it. We talked about the same four or five people and subjects in the NBA, the same four or five in the NFL. That’s what we do, which means we don’t have to watch as much stuff or care about everything going on. I think that’s the one thing I wish we wouldn’t do.

I get it. Play the hits. I’m not a fool. But there are some other stories and as long as you can make stuff compelling, that’s all you have to do. I don’t expect to break down a Twins game on a Tuesday night for three hours. Do you know what I mean? If something compelling happens in baseball, we should talk about it. It should be no doubt about it. Just talk about it.

Noe: When you’re listening to other hosts — just stylistically — what’s a style that makes you roll your eyes like, “Is this guy serious right now?”

Rob: That is the read the internet and regurgitate what you read from other people. Horrible. Like you offer nothing. You’re not giving people anything. You have to offer up something. Own a story. Make a phone call. Talk to somebody. Do a little more research. Be able to deliver something more than just, okay today LeBron couldn’t give his number to Anthony Davis. Oh, ain’t that a shame.

Whereas more might be taking a look at it and just making it like LeBron should have known better. Or he has a pattern of jumping the gun. Or my story that day was Nike nixed the deal because LeBron’s jerseys don’t sell like they used to. That’s a knock on LeBron that they wouldn’t do it. Why are there boxes and boxes of Laker LeBron jerseys laying around that they don’t want to take a hit on? That’s the way I would look at it. To me that’s the story. Nike wasn’t willing to eat the LeBron jerseys, and they don’t think that Anthony Davis is going to sell enough jerseys to offset that.

Noe: It just dawned on me and I don’t know why — when are you going to get those Jordans and when am I going to get my chicken wings from Chris [Broussard] after our winning bets?

Rob: You still haven’t gotten your — I’m gonna get on Chris when we get back together. I’ll get on Chris because you know I pay my bets off.

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Noe: Yes. Every time.

Rob: I’m never getting those Jordans because Chris is a cheapskate.

Noe: (Laughs.) What was the bet for the Jordans?

Rob: I said that the Lakers wouldn’t make the playoffs last season. That’s a pretty big bet, right? His out clause was, well, if LeBron is hurt the bet’s off. I’m like that’s not how it goes. “Oh, but if LeBron’s out there’s no way you can” — I said no, that’s not how you make a bet. So you’re telling me if he pulls a hammy and he’s out for five days that’s going to negate the bet? That’s basically giving himself an out. I don’t believe in that. That’s a big bet for me to say that a LeBron James team isn’t making the playoffs.

Noe: Sure it is. He owes you some Jordans, man. When you look at your career, is there anything you would change if you were able to?

Rob: Yeah, I think I would. If I could have done it all over again, I would have covered a hockey team for a couple of years as a beat guy. I did everything else and I think that would have made me a little more well rounded. That’s the only thing I didn’t do. Even though I covered a lot of hockey. I covered hockey in New York. I covered hockey in Detroit. I obviously covered Stanley Cups, playoffs, all that. 

Actually one of the funniest lines I ever wrote was about a hockey game. You’re too young but there was a goalie named Tim Cheveldae who was with the Red Wings. It’s the playoffs and Tim Cheveldae gave up a couple of soft goals in the game and they lost. I wrote that it was the worst performance by a man in a mask since Adam West played Batman on the old TV sitcom.

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So here’s the bad part about it; you ready? The writer from Sports Illustrated — I can’t remember his name — loved the line so much that he used it in his article. He used that line, but didn’t give me credit. He wrote, “One Detroit columnist wrote,” and I just thought to myself, somebody with that kind of line that you’re going to use and [no credit] — so everybody in the business thought, at that time Mitch Albom was the big columnist in Detroit — everybody had to believe that Mitch wrote that. He didn’t give me credit.

Noe: That’s messed up, man.

Rob: Come on. A black guy writes a line like that about a hockey player? And don’t get credit?

Noe: Is there anything that you’d still like to accomplish that you haven’t been able to yet?

Rob: Yeah, I mean a TV show. A national TV show. I love being on Undisputed. I love being on The Herd. But I would love a shot at doing a show with Chris maybe on television.

Noe: Would you say that’s your main goal going forward?

Rob: Yeah, because once I made my debut on the baseball Whiparound show on FS1, that was a big step. That was a proud moment because I do believe, and I’m not 100 percent positive, but I do believe it’s the first time that a national black baseball analyst was not a former player. I don’t think they’ve ever had a guy, a black guy, who wasn’t a former Major League player talk about baseball.

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Noe: Wow, that’s crazy. How do you view it when you hear that you’re the first? It’s 2019, man.

Rob: I know. I still shake my head at it sometimes because I can’t believe it. I think I told you when I first got hired at the Detroit Free Press as a sports columnist the year was 1993. When they hired me, I was the first black sports columnist in the paper’s history. Brian, the paper was 161 years old. In Detroit. Do you hear me? How about that? Not Iowa City. In Detroit.

BSM Writers

In Defense Of Colin Cowherd

“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”

Demetri Ravanos

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I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.

Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.

Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.

Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?

A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.

That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.

The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.

Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!

This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).

“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.

On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.

Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.

You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?

It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.

Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?

I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.

School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.

Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.

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BSM Writers

Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

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Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.

“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…

Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.

“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman.  “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”  

Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.

This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.

She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.

“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”

Waldman has also changed the industry.

She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.

Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.

“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”

Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.

For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.

“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”

There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.

Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.

It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.

“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”

Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.

And many of these people were co-workers.

“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman. 

It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.

She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.

“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t.  You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”

There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.

“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”

While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.

The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88.  I just wish he were here.” 

Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.

Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.

“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.

“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports.  You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming.  I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”

And made it she did.

And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.

“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman. 

Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.

“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.

She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.

“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer.  That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”  

And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.

But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.

Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.

“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women.  I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.” 

During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.

But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?

“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”

To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”

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No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words

“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “

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For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.

If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.

So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.

Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.

Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.

Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.

Keeping up?

As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.

Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.

When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.

On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.

You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.

Pot, meet kettle.

I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.

Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.

And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.

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