Steve Hartman Loves Sports. The Rest Is Just Crap
“I think that goals can work for certain people. I think people are motivated by them. But personally it’s not my deal. My only goal from a career standpoint is to work in sports as long as I can.”
We often hear about athletes that maximize their talent and ability. Not only has sports broadcaster Steve Hartman gotten everything out of his talent and ability, he has also maximized his time. For the past 20 years, he’s been working seven days a week. Let that wash over you for a minute. Over a 20-year span, Bill Belichick’s “no days off” chant would be a great description for the bulk of Steve’s career.
Take a deep breath and try not to feel fatigued just by reading about Steve Hartman’s workload. Each Monday through Friday from 3-6pm, Steve hosts the Loose Cannons on XTRA 1360 FOX Sports San Diego along with Rich Ohrnberger and John Schaeffer. Steve hosts national shows for FOX Sports Radio from 10am-1pm PT on Saturdays and from 10am-2pm each Sunday. But wait there’s more — Steve also serves as a television sports anchor each Saturday and Sunday evening for KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles. I could at least use a power nap after typing up that massive schedule.
Steve shares some of his insightful philosophies in the interview below. His thoughts about amplifying radio partners and making sure they shine the brightest is brilliant. He also talks about his most valuable asset, which would benefit mostly everybody reading this piece. Steve shares some radio stories that are legitimately outstanding. The story about a $24,000 check is funny, but the absolutely crazy tale of Steve channeling his inner Andrew Dice Clay on the air in full f-bomb mode is legendary. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Working the amount that you do — legendary might be going too far, but it’s well known within the business — why do you feel the need to have such a heavy workload?
Steve Hartman: Well I tell you what, Brian, originally when I expanded in 1998 — I was just doing my normal Monday through Friday radio show — I got offered an opportunity to do weekend television. I was in San Diego and was offered a weekend television job in L.A. I had two young boys at the time. I was doing the economics. I could make more money doing two days of weekend television than my wife with two babies at home could probably make on a full-time job. That’s how it started.
As time has gone on basically trying to explain this to people my first thought is what we do — at least from my standpoint, everyone has a different opinion — is not exactly working. I don’t want to completely downplay it because obviously I’ve been doing radio for 30 years and television for over 20 years. There is a certain skill set that obviously is acquired over time. But we’re really doing — or at least I’m doing — my vocation is my avocation.
On the weekends for instance, I’m sitting there watching football games, which I’d probably be doing sitting at home anyway, except I’m getting paid to do it and talk about the games. It’s more of having something to do every day, being accountable every day. I’m 61 now. It defies logic. My father retired at 63 and passed away a year ago at age 89. My grandfather — my dad’s dad — retired at 62 and lived to be 97. They had the long retirements. But I don’t really look at it that way. I feel like working every day keeps me sharp, keeps me focused, and gives me something to do every single day. At this point in my career, that’s pretty much why I do it.
Noe: What do you think you would do if the same situation at The Mighty 1090 happened at your station and they were like, “Hey man, sorry, no station. You’ve got no weekday show.” Would you look for another gig, or just say that’s that?
Steve: That’s a good question. My general attitude now is that my current situation with my San Diego show, my network radio, and my television work, they’re really three separate entities. If any one of them should stop — again depending on the finances and everything else — I don’t know at this point if I would actually seek to replace. I say that now, but as you know in this business, Brian, my most valuable asset in my career has been saying yes. I just say yes.
Even going beyond yes, for instance, on the Sunday national show I requested to Scott Shapiro to take the shift. Originally he was hesitant, but the one thing he said — well two things, he was complimentary of my work — but more importantly he goes, “I know you’re going to be there every Sunday. You just don’t take any days off.” What do they say? The best ability is your availability. I’ve used that as sort of a motto throughout my career that if you hire me and I’m going to be there. Period.
It was very funny, when I got let go by the network at the end of 2013, when they blew up my show with Pat O’Brien and they pretty much cleaned house and sort of redid the national shows, it was the first time I’d ever been let go, ever, in my entire career. It was funny because my contract had two months left through the end of February 2014 and Annie Zidarevich called me and said that your last check is going to be a hard check. It’s going to include unused vacation pay.
I didn’t say anything because that didn’t sound right to me. I used to think it was like if you don’t use it, you lose it. I didn’t say anything. I just thought a couple extra $1,000 would be good. I got the check. I had over $24,000 in unused vacation. It was like wow, okay, maybe I should have taken a few more days off along the way. I don’t know if it’s so much about a work ethic as it is something that I just personally sort of need to keep me focused and stimulated to do something every day.
Noe: Take a baseball player that’s in the major leagues and then he gets designated for assignment and he’s in the minor leagues. You know how fans look at that, it’s like, “Aww man, you’re not in the majors anymore.” When you go from a weekday national show to a weekday local show, there are people in the business that look at it the same way. How do you look at it?
Steve: I think that my situation in broadcasting is different than a lot of guys in the business, and that is I never sought to be in the business. I went to UCLA. I was sports editor of my college paper 40 years ago. When I got out of college you really had two choices. Newspapers were very prominent in those days, but I wanted to work in sports PR. I wanted to work for a team. I interviewed with the Dodgers, the Angels, the Rams, and got hired by the Los Angeles Raiders. They had just won the Super Bowl in 1984. I was 26 years old and I worked for the Raiders for four and a half years.
I hastily quit my Raider job because it was the ‘80s. I had seen the movie Wall Street one too many times. This guy convinced me that he was Gordon Gekko and I was going to be his Bud Fox and we were going to make a lot of money. I was 30 years old. I had asked for a raise from Mr. Davis. He said we were 5-10 this year. I’m thinking we were 5-10? I wasn’t the one that thought that Rusty Hilger was the second coming of Joe Namath. I got out of sports for exactly four months and quit that job because I realized I was a fish out of water.
I was looking for another PR job. In the meantime just to kill time, I was working as a sidekick on a radio show with a man named Bud Furillo, who is a mentor of mine, a longtime L.A. newspaper and radio guy. He was the one that got the call from John Lynch in San Diego about the idea of creating an all sports station after WFAN had launched in New York. Long story short, instead of hiring Bud because he wanted more money, they hired me instead. The rest was history.
My attitude about my whole career is — people have had visions of my career that are different than my own visions. When 690 hit big in the mid ‘90s, I’m getting calls from everywhere. When ESPN launched their radio network Len Weiner called me. I knew Len from WFAN. He said I want you on national. I’m like, I’m not interested in national. I live in Southern California. I’m an L.A. guy. I live in San Diego. I go back and forth. So I turned down everything. I had no interest in doing national radio. I was forced into national radio.
When 690 blew open, they moved us up to L.A. I had a very successful L.A. show with Mychel Thompson and Vic the Brick. Without me even knowing, they dropped the bomb that we were going to switch to a national show. I didn’t want to do national. Eventually with Pat [O’Brien], even though I love Pat personally, it was an awful show. We were getting Talkers putting us as the #11 show and I’m thinking this is the worst show I’ve ever done.
I was honestly relieved when we got the plug pulled on the national show. When they came back to me and said, look Steve, we’ve been trying desperately to get this FOX affiliate in San Diego off the ground. I said I’m there. Simple as that. Certainly at this point, I know people look at San Diego like it’s got to be the worst sports city in America. They have a baseball team few people care about. Obviously we lost the NFL team. But it really allows me to do very much an open forum show because I know we have a lot of transplants, which makes Southern California always unique.
Honestly I’ve never really cared what other people thought about my career because from the very get-go — look, Jim Rome was my update guy. He was fiercely ambitious. I give him all the credit for the career that he created and the millions of dollars that he made. That just wasn’t me. I wasn’t that ambitious. People were more ambitious for me than I was for myself because the whole time I kept thinking are they really paying me to do this? Even 30 years in the business I’m sort of like let me get this straight, I get paid to talk sports. That to me just still blows my mind.
Noe: Keeping in mind that you think the show with Pat O’Brien is one of the worst shows you’ve ever done, what in your opinion are the ingredients of a good sports radio show and the ingredients of a bad one?
Steve: Well Brian — you can call it old school — I’m a sports guy. I talk sports. I’m not into popular culture. I mean I’ll go to the movies once in a while. That’s not why I’m there. My attitude is if you’re turning into a sports talk show, I want to hear sports. Even when I first broke into this business and I saw people creating shows, like creating characters on the air, I’m thinking to myself I can’t do that. Either this is going to work with me just talking sports or I’m just going to have to find another line of work. I just talk sports.
My frustration — Pat was a popular culture guy. Pat knew people. I love Pat dearly, but the problem was the network decided to put Pat in the lead seat. That I thought was a bad idea for Pat and it made it a very difficult show because I’m a sports guy. If I’m not sitting next to someone that I can talk sports with, that creates a problem for me. I want to be able to converse in sports.
I can guarantee you this, Brian; no one has sat next to more people in the history of sports talk radio than I have. It is not even close. I’ve counted at least 80 people that I have co-hosted a show with over the course of my career. Some long-term, some not, but my ability to work with somebody else has always been based on — I want to know what they know, and then I will steer the conversation to what they’re comfortable talking about.
Dahntay Jones was a prime example. Dahntay only wanted to talk NBA, and more than that, he wanted to sort of be a de facto NBA general manager. The seven or eight shows we did together that’s all I did was let’s make a deal. Let’s work these deals and he was into it. He was breaking it down, making calls, and everything else. I try to play to the strength of my partners. If I can’t talk sports with the person I’m talking to, then why are we there? In my opinion it’s sports, talk, radio. The rest of it is just crap.
Noe: Who was the most talented co-host that you worked with?
Steve: Wow. That’s a really hard thing. My first Loose Cannon partner was Chet Forte. Chet was of course the legendary director/producer of Monday Night Football. Here I was trying to launch my career — and this guy was a novice in radio — but he was also a guy that when ABC got Monday Night Football in 1970, Roone Arledge told Chet, look, this game cannot sound or look like any other game. Ever.
Chet was so creative. It took me a while because we used to scream at each other on air. I literally thought this is a train wreck. Then the Union Tribune in San Diego wrote this glowing review of our show and I’m like are they listening to the same show I’m doing? It also gave me a sense that — basically what I try to do with my partners is just amplify who they are, then adjust myself to whatever their personality is.
As far as talent is concerned, I think there are insanely talented people throughout the business. I think you’re extremely talented. I love Ben [Maller]. I think Ben is a very talented guy at night. Some guys fit their slots really well. Then there are other people in the business that I think are just faking it. I can tell instantly who the real sports guy is and who the non-sports guy is. I won’t mention any names but there are some obviously very prominent people in our business that have a lot of notoriety and a lot of attention. I know they’re not really sports people. That’s okay. I don’t care. I prefer to be able to sit down and really talk to people that live it and breathe it. That’s just my personal preference.
Noe: Critiquing a co-host can be a delicate thing. You don’t really coach them up as if you’re a program director and give evaluations. You might have subtle ways of saying, “Hey, do more of that.” Do you ever find yourself nudging your co-hosts in subtle ways to help the show or help them improve?
Steve: Well going back to the beginning with Chet, I tried seriously to manipulate. We all try to do this to people in general to work into our world, and it just didn’t work. I don’t. I really don’t. I’m going to do a quick evaluation on who they are. My feeling is I’m going to make them feel like they’re the star of the show. Even if I am essentially the star of the show, I’m going to make them feel like they’re the star of the show. I’ve done this with every, single, person that I’ve ever worked with.
What happens is I think you build a trust. If you work long enough with someone, then you can push that trust. You can get personal. You can challenge them. But that comes with time. It’s like anyone else in your life. Sometimes I pushed it really to the max. I’ve had partners that were not comfortable with the back and forth and maybe conceded to me a little too easily. There are times when I sometimes will back off because I want to get more out of them.
You’re on a team. I’ve always said this to people; the easiest thing to do is a show by yourself. There’s no easier thing than sitting in there by yourself and talking — because there’s no challenge. You can say whatever you want to say. There’s no one challenging you. People say, “Oh well, it must be hard when you’re alone.” It’s just the opposite. When you’re by yourself it’s the easiest thing ever. What do you talk about? You can talk about whatever you want. But when you’re sitting with somebody and you’re in a team situation, you’re only as good as the team. If you think you’re doing great, but your partner isn’t doing well, guess what? The show’s not doing well. I always play to my partner. Always. And I will always do that.
Noe: That’s a great philosophy. Is there a regret that you have in your career? If there’s any one thing you could change, would you change something in particular?
Steve: You know it’s interesting because there are times when I thought that maybe I made a wrong decision, but I don’t know if I have a shining light on me or whatever, but everything seems to turn out okay. I have zero regrets and again I have zero regrets because I went into the business with no expectations. I’ve never been a goal-oriented person. I never had any goals. I have just lived life. I don’t wake up thinking, all right where am I going to be a year from now, two years from now? I don’t ever think of those things.
When I work every day I’m just thinking about that day. I get up and I’m like, all right what do I have to do today? Let’s get it done. I turn the page, sleep well, and get ready for another day. So no, I think that ultimately I’m not talking about destiny — I’m not a huge believer in that — but it just seems like talking about my career, not my life, but just in my career that everything has just worked out the way I guess it was supposed to work out.
If I’m on Twitter — I rarely tweet — but occasionally if I tweet something that’s bringing up a negative situation in the L.A. market, there will be people saying, oh are you still alive? You know all this stuff. I don’t block anybody. I sort of laugh at the whole thing, but no, I really have no regrets. Honestly in my current situation if I could just maintain these three jobs for an indefinite period, I’d be the happiest guy around.
Noe: Do you think that goals can sometimes be a bad thing — that if you’re striving for something and not getting there that it can mess with your head?
Steve: Well it’s interesting now. I have three kids. My sons are 23, 21, and my daughter is 18. Obviously as a parent I think you want to make sure that they have a general idea of where they want to go. I was a stats kid. Everyone knows that I’m like this trivia guy — it’s not so much trivia — I’m a numbers guy. When I got my first pack of baseball cards when I was seven years old it was by accident. It said baseball bubble gum five cents. It looked like a big piece of gum and there were these cards. I didn’t know who the players were, but when I flipped the card over and saw all these columns of numbers, it was love at first sight. This is how my career went. Then I just started building, building, building on this.
When you talk about goals — I like to accomplish things. I’m more of a guy that has that to-do list and crossing things off. That’s more satisfying to me than setting a goal down the road. I think my goal has simply been this; if I can continue having a career in the world of sports in whatever manner — whether as a broadcaster, working for a team or anything — that was the only goal I had. Can I make a living in the world of sports? I’m not a former athlete. I’m just some dorky kid out of the Valley. Can I actually make a career in the sports world?
Fortunately for me to sort of be part of the ground floor of sports talk radio in the early ‘90s, it was fortune that I could never have imagined. Just a quirk, it was just a chance that I ever actually got into the business. I think that goals can work for certain people. I think people are motivated by them. But personally it’s not my deal. My only goal from a career standpoint is to work in sports as long as I can.
Noe: What’s your opinion about The Mighty 1090 in San Diego going away?
Steve: I’m never happy about people losing jobs. Let’s make that clear. People talk about competition and everything else — I wish there were 20 sports radio stations in L.A. and San Diego — the more opportunities for everyone else. There are so many people that want jobs. I thought it was terrible, but it was also something I saw coming. When I got let go by the network and I was sort of just taking a look at the landscape before I ended up at FOX San Diego. 1090 was there, but I knew they were a house of cards. I knew they hadn’t paid their bills for years.
They have the same dilemma we had with the old 690. We had that blowtorch signal out of Mexico, which made us the super powerhouse. The difference was 690 had a huge number in L.A. and Orange County. We owned Orange County. 710 had tried to launch sports against us and we just crushed them. We owned the whole Southern California market. 1090 despite having a same signal that we had at 690 never showed a blip in L.A. and Orange County. Their focus was purely San Diego. The cost of that stick — when they lost the Padres I knew they were dead. They didn’t have any revenue streams to pay the bills.
That’s the other thing; you have to be smart. I know this, 1360, when you’re with iHeartMedia, 90 percent of our listeners — we have a 5,000-watt signal, 1360 is not a big signal — but we also know that about 90 percent of our audience is listening to us on iHeartRadio. They can get a clear signal wherever they’re going and that’s how people listen to it.
Now, do we get credit for all those people? No, but I also know that I’m part of a major conglomerate. We have a lot of successful FM stations, AM stations, news stations in San Diego, so we’re protected. It doesn’t mean they can’t pull the plug on us. It just means that your chances for survival are better than it would be if you were an independent, which essentially 1090 was.
It was the same thing with The Beast in L.A. They started this new station The Beast in L.A. on a station, 980, that I knew was up for sale. My old producer at FOX Radio, Erik Peterson, was working over there. He called me about leaving San Diego to come over to do the midday show. I said I’ll tell you what, Erik, if you guys are still on the air in six months, call me. Less than two minutes later, they were off the air. They just hired Chris Myers to do that midday show. So I think you do have to have a pretty good sense of actually what’s going on out there to survive in this business. You know how they always say big fish, small pond? Sometimes it’s better to be a small fish in a big pond if you’re looking for longevity. I’ll put it that way.
Noe: What’s the craziest story you could tell me about a show you did, or a segment you were on, where you sat back and said this wild right now?
Steve: All right well there is no question the craziest show I ever did this was back in 1997. We are at 690 and what had happened was that John Lynch, our original owner, had sold out to Jacor, which eventually got gobbled up by Clear Channel. We had a new PD. I had a new partner. Chet Forte had died in 1996. I was working with Bill Werndl. This guy was putting a lot of pressure — because we were just sports guys — and he wanted us to do segments that were joke segments, like people calling in with jokes and everything. It was just ridiculous.
We also got in trouble with this guy because he had encouraged us to interview a guy who did Harry Caray imitations, insisting he did a Dan Dierdorf imitation. This made national news. We brought a guy on doing a Dan Dierdorf imitation on a night when the Chargers were hosting a Monday night game. Dan Dierdorf blasted our station and filed a lawsuit against us because they claimed the Dierdorf guy sounded like he was drunk.
We got to the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 1997 the first day. It just so happens this guy was out of town. So on that first day — you know 16 games on a Thursday — I went to our producer and I said this is the way we’re going to do our three-hour show today. Now understand this, we could get away with it because we had a Mexican transmitter. All right? Only because we had a Mexican transmitter. I want you to go on the air and say that Steve and Bill think they have the day off because we’re carrying NCAA tournament games, (but in reality we’re not). We have set up a secret microphone in Steve’s house to listen in on him and Billy watching the games. So I called Jim Laslavic who was the main sports anchor at the NBC affiliate in San Diego and Brad Holland, my former UCLA cohort, who was then the basketball coach at the University of San Diego to join us in studio.
Even though our producer was saying they had a secret mic at my house, in reality we were actually in the studio. We purposefully sat off mic. We turned on the games. We cranked out some beer, pork rinds, chips, and everything else, and proceeded to watch the games as if we were sitting in my living room dropping f-bombs, shit, screaming — this was on the air for three hours. They would go to commercial break. The producer would come on saying if you’re wondering what we’re listening to we have a secret mic at Steve Hartman’s house. It just so happens Jim Laslavic and Brad Holland have stopped on by. And I’m like, “Billy what f***? God dammit, man. You’re stinking up my f***in’ bathroom, man. Can’t you get you’re shit” — this is going out on the air. Our board op is trying to dump, again we’re sort of off mic, but f***s and shits are going on the air all over the place for three hours.
The next day all hell broke loose. This is back in the days — the phone lines were lighting up all over the building. At the end of it the L.A. Times called. The producer came on the next day saying that he apologized, that Steve didn’t know anything about it, blah blah blah blah blah. I mean this whole thing — we created this thing. To this day people still think it was real. We never came clean that it was staged. We just apologized for it. Eventually when this guy got back, he didn’t fire me. He was like what the f***?! I said you told me to be outrageous. I gave you outrageous.
My whole purpose of doing that was back off and let me do my f***in’ sports show. We went back to sports talk. I think in the next book we were like top three in the city in men 25-54, and that was the end of it. It is a show that people that heard it to this day — I mean this is over 20 years ago — still claimed they heard. It’s like all the people that claim they were there when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. I think there were 1,500 people in Hershey. I’ve had so many people say they heard that show. I wish I had a tape of it. I was trying to make a point that day of just — forget the crazy shit. If you want crazy, I’ll give you the craziest shit you ever heard, but let me do sports talk. I guarantee you there’s never been a show like that. Ever. Ev-er. The only reason I knew that we weren’t going to get our license pulled is because we had the Mexican transmitter. We weren’t under the FCC regulations because of that.
Noe: (laughs) Wow. That’s amazing, man.
Steve: It’s sort of a dream show for every guy that really wants to just cut loose before there were podcasts and everything else. That was the ultimate podcast before they actually existed.
Noe: For someone who rarely ever takes time off, what’s something you have done instead of working on those occasions?
Steve: To show you how weird I am, like two weeks ago I took three days off midweek to fly to Atlanta, Georgia to sit in the archives of the College Football Hall of Fame and research statistics on college football players. Now no one in the world understands this — only the curator of the College Football Hall of Fame; I love college football.
Baseball stats have been exhausted, but I’ve taken on the biggest beast of all and that’s the history of college football. I’m talking about game-by-game statistics for kick returns, punt returns, punts — not just rushing records — of prominent players in history. I literally took three days, flew to Atlanta, sat in an archive room for about 10 hours a day, and dug through old media guides. That’s like my dream day off. That’s one of my things.
It gets back to my original obsession with sports stats. That has never changed. That is still what drives me in sports. My career in broadcasting is a way for me to pay my bills and do something I have interest in, but it’s not really who I am.
What I am is the same guy I was when I was seven years old. I’m a guy that’s obsessed with sports numbers, stats and stuff like that. While some guys have dedicated their lives to baseball reference, I can make more money broadcasting. Of course with three children now all in college, I have bills to pay and everything else. That’s how I do it. I never take weeks off. I would take a day — I did take my daughter for a couple of days to New York as she was visiting NYU — but that’s it. I never take a weekend off. Ever. I do my double shifts every Saturday and Sunday. I cannot remember the last time I took a day off ever on the weekends.
Noe: Before we end, if you circle back — it’s kind of like Cal Ripken’s streak — what were the years and what was the span where you hadn’t taken a day off?
Steve: There was a 14-year span. From 1998, when I started working television in L.A., until 2012 when KTLA took me off the weekends and put me on the morning show. That was pretty much my endless streak. If I took any days off, honestly it was a handful. So basically in a 14-year span from ‘98 the 2012 when in July they pulled me off the weekends to put me on the morning news. I took advantage of those weekends. I remember taking my kids to football games. I took advantage of that, but that was my big streak there from ‘98 to 2012 where I literally — any days off you can count them on one hand.
Noe: Do you remember what you did on that day off in 2012?
Steve: I do remember this. I will tell you this. Not so much 2012, but when I got taken off the national show. Bruce [Gilbert] had asked me to work a couple of weeks after Pat just walked out. That first Monday — this was the first Monday where I had not been employed — so this is January of 2014. This is the first time technically I had not been employed as a Monday through Friday radio guy since 1989. I thought this will be good. I have time.
That first Monday I think I went to a Jersey Mike’s to eat a casual lunch. That one day literally felt like it was a week. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I really did not know. In the back of your mind when you work all the time — because there’s always going to be a day when you’re like, man I could use a day. I think about those things, but that was the harsh reality to me that that’s not the way I was programmed. I realized that day that I’ve got to get back to working all the time. It’s just the way I’m programmed, and here I am. I’m back to what I love to do. I’m doing nine shifts.
Really February of this year was the first time I ever actually signed on to do seven days a week of radio. I had done six days a week of radio, I worked television obviously on the weekends working seven days a week, but since February this is the first time in my career I’ve done radio seven days a week. We’re rolling and I couldn’t be happier. It’s great. I don’t know people in our business that are like, “Ahh man, I can’t wait till I retire.” Why? Retire to what? If they’re going to continue the pay you to talk sports, why would you not sort of do that forever?
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 email@example.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN boss 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 actively shunning the sport.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.