How Sports Radio Deals With Tragedy
“Not only was it unprecedented nationally, with the way everyone felt like they lost a friend, but I think in Los Angeles, they lost a family member.”
Mike Breen said what we were all thinking during his broadcast of the Knicks-Nets game on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
“Just don’t feel like broadcasting.”
It was an unbelievably beautiful and emotional tribute that left Breen in tears. All of America joined him in sadness.
Whether it was a local host in Los Angeles or even one of the many doing national radio shows, everyone behind the mic on Sunday felt exactly what Breen was feeling in that moment. But as tough as it may was, being on the air was an absolute necessity. Many Americans, whether they loved or hated the Lakers, whether they cheered or booed Kobe, all looked for an outlet to help cope with the sudden and unexpected loss. Sports radio was that outlet.
When the news broke, Greg Bergman, assistant PD at 710 ESPN Los Angeles knew his team had to get on the air. His first order of business, was to get on the phone with the station’s PD, Amanda Brown. From there, the two made the necessary arrangements to try and help carry the city through the day.
“We called Steve Mason and LZ Granderson, it was just really all hands on deck,” said Bergman. “We made contact with every host. We made sure to call a board op or two to come down to the station. We also had someone cutting up sound so that we could play it on the air. Our social team came down so that we could be putting out quotes on social media. They even had a guy outside Staples Center that was filming everything that was happening. We just had to make sure everyone was on the same page, being available and getting down there and going to work.”
Nick Cattles was hosting on ESPN Radio and planned on discussing, how just hours before he went on air, Lebron passed Kobe in career points. Unfortunately, his show took a more somber tone. There’s no script for how you handle a situation like the one that unfolded on Sunday. Especially when multiple erroneous reports were being floated around on social media. It’s already tough enough for a host to have to guide his audience through a tragedy like Kobe’s passing, it’s even harder when trying to decipher which reports are actually true to relay on the air.
“During a moment like that, you just have to take direction from the people above you to make it as easy as possible,” said Cattles. “It really came down to communication during the show, between producer and me, and then my producer getting the OK or the not OK from the top. ESPN is great when it comes to having enough hands on deck.
“There were a lot of people, when this story started to break, that were in the studio up in Bristol, if not hovering around the studio. It was difficult to try to focus on hosting while seeing everything that was coming through on Twitter, because you just didn’t know what was true and what wasn’t. I think in a case like that, you want to rest on the side of caution and not say something you’re going to regret later.”
One way to help get through such an agonizingly tough show, was to quickly book guests. Whether it was a reporter that covered the Lakers, a former player that played with or against Kobe or even someone that knew him personally, multiple perspectives and stories played well over the air on Sunday.
John Ireland, radio play-by-play announcer for the Lakers and co-host of Mason and Ireland on 710 ESPN LA was on the team plane when the news broke of Kobe’s passing. While on the air via cell phone with ESPN Los Angeles, he said, “I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to get over the looks of the faces of the people that were closest to him.”
Yes, that’s chilling to read. But it’s also authentic and real. As tough as it is, that’s the type of content his station can be proud of during such an emotional day.
Clips of former Lakers great James Worthy were played over the air on local stations in Los Angeles. Worthy said, “It’s something you don’t want to hear. And you can’t believe it when you hear it. Extremely devastating. My mother used to always say that you can’t put a question mark behind God’s period. Something has happened to a great person and a father that has given us everything.”
Station promos were specifically made for the day’s events. The unmistakable voice of Jim Cutler led-in from breaks with the read of, “We are with you today. Dealing with the news of the death of one of our favorite players and people to ever be a part of our life. Celebrating the life of Kobe Bryant on 710 ESPN.”
Anything and everything was used to try and provide an escape for the city, even if it was just for a few hours. Dave Shore was the Operations Manager for ESPN Los Angeles from 2010-2015. He was also a pregame host and sideline reporter for the Lakers’ radio broadcast. He witnessed first-hand how much Kobe meant to the community. He also thinks there isn’t a public figure that means more to the city.
“I think this was unprecedented,” Shore said. “Not only was it unprecedented nationally, with the way everyone felt like they lost a friend, but I think in Los Angeles, they lost a family member. Seeing the photos of what used to be just right outside my office there on the courtyard around the Staples Center, to see everybody that had shown up and were just standing and putting down flowers, that’s what they felt inclined to do. That’s what he meant to the city.”
Sunday was a tough day of radio, but one nobody that was behind the mic will ever forget. Steve Mason, alongside Andy and Brian Kamenetzky, said, “It just doesn’t seem possible.”
The trio spent their time Sunday on ESPN Los Angeles discussing his incredible career after basketball, what kind of father he was and how much his death stings the city. Between the three, things were said such as:
“There were new things with Kobe, that if you were a fan of him, you could take pride in. There were brand new achievements that didn’t just end the day he retired.”
“No matter what profession you’re in, you can apply the Mamba mentality to your work.”
“And of course, he loved being a dad. Gah, I’m going to tear up saying that in past tense.”
All of the emotion that was felt when the news broke didn’t fade off into the night. The hurt was still there when Monday morning arrived.
Colin Cowherd was one of the many that got choked up remembering Kobe. Petros and Money of AM 570 LA Sports had guests such as Clayton Kershaw, Mark Madsen, Cody Bellinger and others throughout the show to share their thoughts on his legacy. Though the initial shock may be gone, radio in Los Angeles will still have a somber tone for several more days.
But all you can do as a station is to work through it and give your listeners the best content possible. Whether it was hosts in Boston talking about the bombing at the Boston Marathon, New York City sports radio trying to pull the city together after 9/11 or the very situation going on with Kobe’s death in Los Angeles, this is where sports radio can never be duplicated. It knows the pulse of its city and what people need to hear. Like Shore told me over the phone, “There’s no one better than your local host to help walk somebody through by hand.”
Whether or not hosts in Los Angeles, around the state of California and even the ones hosting national radio shows know it, they served a major role in the healing process on Sunday. That’s truly what it’s all about. The consensus amongst the ones on the air will probably be that they’ve never experienced anything like this in their careers, but it should be one where many should take pride in the effort they showed on such a tragic day.
“I’m very proud of the way that we handled it,” said Bergman. “It was pretty incredible what they did on such short notice and without any objections. LZ Granderson flew down from San Francisco to be here. Travis Rogers drove from Santa Barbara to the station. Alan Sliwa, who did the last four hours, drove from Lake Arrowhead on his time off to come be here. Mason was at home doing his own podcast and other things, which he had to drop everything and leave to come down here. It was such a complete effort but also on such a difficult day. We’re all Kobe fans. It’s a Kobe town. I’m incredibly proud of what everyone did.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.