Exhibition baseball games are more important than they’ve ever been for the players. Obviously, everyone needs to get back in game shape after a long absence, but most importantly, they’re needed for the acclimation of playing in an empty stadium with no atmosphere to speak of.
But the players and managers aren’t the only ones in the ballpark that needed the weekend and the early part of this week to get used to their new surroundings. Broadcasters need this time, too, as each one tries to figure out the right flow of doing a game with no fans or even via a monitor away from the actual game.
So how different will baseball play-by-play be in 2020? I reached out to three broadcasters to gauge both what they’ve already experienced as well as challenges they’re anticipating.
Tyler McComas: Your first broadcast was Saturday night between the Yankees and Mets. Were you able to be at Citi Field or did you have to do the game from Yankee Stadium?
Michael Kay – Yankees play-by-play announcer on YES: Yankee Stadium because we’re not allowed to travel, even to Citi Field. There’s just no room in the booths.
TM: With that being said, how was it broadcasting the game off a monitor for the first time?
MK: It was a little strange. Not as strange as I thought it was going to be. I usually don’t work off a monitor. I broadcast off the field. So that was odd, having to call everything off a monitor.
Also, you’re taking the home team’s feed. My director and producer usually follow what I say and give me shots as I’m going, but that’s not the way it’s going to be this year. So I almost had to follow the SNY cameras everywhere they were going. We had one camera to ourselves, so that was a little bit odd. I’m not complaining, everybody has to do it. As long as we have baseball, we suck it up and do it.
TM: The players need these games to get acclimated to the environment, or lack thereof, in the ballpark. Can the same be said for you?
MK: Absolutely. It can’t hurt. Practice makes perfect and this is stuff that we’ve never experienced before. It really is important, we’re doing all three of the exhibition games and I think it was a really good idea to do it, because it does give you a sense of what it’s going to be like. It’s not going to be that much different from the real game we do on Thursday, so it really was a great call to do it. It serves the fans, as well as us in the broadcast booth.
TM: You’re used to being around the players and managers, maybe at dinner or even on the field during batting practice. I’m sure you get nice nuggets of info during that time, which you can repeat on the broadcast. You’re not going to have that this year. Does that make prep more difficult?
MK: Well, you just have to prep in the best way that you can. Pretty much what baseball is doing, is what football has done its entire existence, which is kind of marginalizing what you know. They pick who’s going to go on the Zoom call, you can’t have any one-on-one time, and that’s one of the hallmarks of being a baseball broadcaster.
You walk up to somebody in the clubhouse or you see them behind the batting cage and you can pick stuff up. It’s going to be very different that way, because you’re not going to have those stories. If you’re someone who’s been watching baseball for a long time, then you might notice it. I know that I’ll notice those stories won’t be available, but it’s just the world we’re living in right now.
TM: The Yankees might have the best team on paper it’s had in a long time. Coupled with the fact everyone has to watch the games on YES, is the silver lining to all of this that the broadcast might get the highest ratings it’s ever gotten?
MK: I guess that would be a silver lining. We’re going to provide some kind of diversion and hopefully approach normalcy for people, so that’s a good thing. People are looking for live events to watch. The Last Dance got huge numbers on ESPN and that’s not even a live event. NASCAR has done well, golf has done well and I’m sure baseball is going to do great, as well. I’d rather the ratings be just a little bit lower and we have everything back to normal in the world.
TM: I’m sure you’ve watched and listened to various games over the weekend. Did you pick up on anything that you can use for this season?
Tom McCarthy – Phillies play-by-play television announcer: We did a game on Sunday night on TV. We did the Orioles and Phillies exhibition game. I had done some intrasquad games last week on the YouTube channel, so we kind a got a feeling of how it was going to be and that was really helpful. All of us broadcasters have done this before in a very minimal way.
I did the Caribbean World Series seven years ago for the MLB Network when they first launched. I’ve done a handful of tryouts for CBS and for NBC Sports Philadelphia. I kind of had a feeling of how it was going to work but I think the intrasquad games last week and last night’s game really helped us. Tonight is a test because it’s the first time that we’re doing a game off the monitor, with the Phillies playing at the Yankees.
McComas: How do you feel about the piped in crowd noise? Is it a blessing in that it provides a sense of normalcy to the broadcast or is it more of a hindrance, in that it drowns out the ambient noises the game still provides?
McCarthy: I didn’t find that it was at all cumbersome. I thought it was actually good. I even thought it was going to be a little bit louder and I think there’s a chance that’s going to happen as we move forward. I didn’t find it to be intrusive at all. Are there different ways you could do it? Sure, absolutely. I think we’ve all learned that we have to be open minded with everything during this because it’s so different and so weird.
TM: How important are these exhibition games for you, seeing as no fans will be in the stands?
Ken Korach – A’s play-by-play radio voice: I think it’s really important. I really do. It’s not so much that nobody will be in the stands, although that will be an adjustment, but they’re piping in crowd noise over the PA and that’s a whole story in and of itself. But the biggest things, number one, is that on Tuesday, the A’s are playing the Giants in San Francisco. That’ll be our first time doing the game from the Coliseum. We’ll be calling the game off the TV monitor, obviously that’s the biggest adjustment.
The other thing, there’s a certain trepidation of getting back into the groove and seeing how it all feels in the press box. Getting to get be back in the press box and seeing how it’s all going to feel for a couple of days before the regular season starts, I feel like that’s really important.
TM: From a technical standpoint, how are you approaching the positioning of your crowd mic?
KK: We have a mic that’s right next to or by the home plate screen. We do that for the crack of the bat. We also have the ability to pick up on the TV sound effects. I don’t think that’s going to change a whole lot. You’ll be able to hear the crowd noise coming in over the PA system, so I don’t think the mechanics from a technical standpoint is going to change a whole lot when the team is at home. Now on the road it’s a huge difference, because we are relying on getting the audio. Let’s say the A’s are playing in Houston and we’re in Oakland, we’re going to rely on the audio coming back from Houston. That’s going to be a different technical challenge.
TM: Are there any advantages to the unique situation that radio play-by-play broadcasters are presented with this year?
KK: Obviously I haven’t done a game yet, but I don’t see any advantages to it. I really don’t. I listened to a couple of the games over the weekend to get a feel for it and I feel like it’s necessary to have the crowd noise. Everyone knows there’s no fans in the stands, you’re not trying to fool anyone, but having that nice little hum in the background, it sounded pretty good to me when I heard the games that I heard on Saturday.
The biggest thing is that you live for those moments when the game is on the line in the ninth-inning and the crowd is really giving off a ton of energy, so you’re not going to have that. For us and the players, you rely on that energy and you’re not going to have it. But we all kind of know that going in.
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.
Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes
Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.
Stephen Strom can be heard hosting ‘The Sports Talkers Podcast’ for Barrett Sports Media. In addition to hosting here, Stephen works as a broadcasting assistant for the Miami Heat and color analyst for Nova Southeastern. Additional career experiences include working for SiriusXM, performing analyst duties for Princeton basketball, and hosting shows for TalkNorth.com. You can find him on Twitter @SStrom_.
Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game
“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”
If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without long thoughts and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up.
In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.
“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”
Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.
“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kinda learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”
But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?
“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ok, what the hell have you done? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”
Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible.
“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”
Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk.
“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”
To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, wow, this is a PD I would love to work for. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, he’s incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts, but he’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him.
“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”
I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?
“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”
Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show.
“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”
So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun
“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”
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.
Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt
He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.
It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated.
Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY.
A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him.
He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”
Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed.
ROAD TO FOX
After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season.
Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw.
According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”
He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen.
Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.
When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers.
If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision.
Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons.
WHY IS HE SO GOOD?
Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.
While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.
The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst. It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York.
I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.
In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.