God still might be bigger than the coronavirus, but college football and the American South are not. The sport that has been most delusional about the global pandemic, channeling President Trump’s continuing view that it’s merely a bug, finally is prioritizing the health of vulnerable young men over the wealth of TV billions. This is the week when a country grasps what I told Paul Finebaum a month ago on his program, a comment that subjected my otherwise tame Twitter feed to cultural warfare.
Football is the last game that should be played amid a COVID-19 storm, the sporting equivalent of 100 maskless morons dog-piling at a rave. ESPN tried its damndest to brainwash the masses and rescue the sport it literally owns and operates (and the billions it’s about to lose), but commissioners and school presidents from Power 5 conferences are forced to concede that liabilities are trumping the lie. Dabo is devastated, Saban is gobsmacked, Harbaugh is being sized up for a straitjacket and boosters will have to find other people to pay off, but who really cares?
I’m concerned about our national condition.
Without the lifeblood of football — and the NFL can protect a $15-billion season only so long before pulling the same plug — is this where America’s collective psyche turns to mush? Will the legions of COVID-iots who’ve tried to ignore the death toll and ongoing ravages now realize what an autumn without football represents? It means the carnage is staying for a while, with no departure date, leaving the economy in a shambles, our sense of freedom violated and our mental health like so much road barf as we await an absurdist election that will make us a bigger international mockery. With football in Tuscaloosa and Columbus, Happy Valley and Death Valley, and an accompanying pro season, there was a chance to maintain an equilibrium.
There is pushback from Gen-Z types who don’t know better, such as the current face of college football, Trevor Lawrence. Stunningly, with his sport teetering, the Clemson quarterback tweeted, “People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play. Players will all be sent home to their own communities, where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19. Not to mention the players coming from situations that are not good for them/their future and having to go back to that. Football is a safe haven for so many people. We are more likely to get the virus in everyday life than playing football.’’ He makes fine points. What he doesn’t mention is the lack of social distancing on a college campus.
Can I at least enjoy Collin Morikawa’s exhilarating victory at the PGA Championship for a nanosecond or two?
Apparently not. College football’s shutdown only reminds us that Major League Baseball is a sickening minefield, dangerously continuing a foolish season as the virus sidelines the Cardinals for a third week. Manager Mike Shildt said some of the infected nine players and seven staff members were hospitalized for brief periods, which should be the breaking point for so-called MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who might want to look at college football and follow suit. Instead, he proceeds with this shameful stagger toward potential tragedy. At least MLB players are paid as they dodge virus droplets — including their own. Protocols still are being flouted even after the outbreaks of the Cardinals and Marlins, with the A’s and cheatin’ Astros engaging in just the kind of wild, dugouts-clearing brawl that spreads the virus. Oakland’s Ramon Laureano, a former Astro, reportedly responded to a mother-related slur from Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron and attacked the Houston dugout.
“Get back to the dugout!’’ umpires shouted, their cries echoing through the empty Coliseum.
They were ignored, just as the players ignore Manfred. He should have foreseen this might happen, considering A’s pitcher Mike Fiers snitched on the Astros, his former team, in what launched the electronic sign-stealing scandal that tarnished Houston’s 2017 World Series title. Look, I realize everyone is bitter about the Asterisks and wants payback. Joe Kelly already exacted it for the Dodgers. Enough. Finish the game before a brawl becomes a superspreader. What exactly does Manfred do again, anyway?
Then there was Cleveland pitcher Zach Plesac, who left the team hotel and went out in Chicago after beating the White Sox. The Indians made him drive back to Ohio in a rental car, this after Plesac said recently, “Any time you can maintain social distancing, it’s going to be what we focus on. There are common sense situations, where you see things are packed, or going out to the bars and drinking — doing stuff that shouldn’t be important to us right now.’’
Will the Indians be the next team shelved by a virus outbreak? It’s daffy to think a hollow crackdown — Manfred claims he’ll ban offenders from the postseason — will compel all players to wear masks in dugouts and stop fighting, high-fiving, spitting, hugging, remaining in seats on planes and going out at night. Earlier in the Astros series, the A’s mobbed hero Marcus Semien, with Austin Allen leaping high to join the scrum. If MLB somehow outlasts a shotgun regular season, there’s no chance, without a Bubble, that an expanded postseason will survive when an infected team simply can’t be shut down for a week.
“I don’t know what our future looks like at this point,’’ said Cardinals president John Mozeliak.“For all of the optimism we had a couple days ago, it’s frustrating for everyone involved.I haven’t slept in days.’’ Any wishful thinkers still left in sports? Still want to accuse me of negativity when realism is the word? It’s a shame, because before Sunday’s barrage of news, I felt something comforting, almost assuring, about having the remote control in my hand again all weekend. Sports wasn’t “back.’’ But it was there, after a long absence, as I remember it well.
Push a button and there’s Big Boy Golf in San Francisco, where Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka should have been striking bodybuilding poses while Bryson DeChambeau was channeling his inner Mark McGwire. Weird as it was watching Hans and Franz on the links, it was weirder amid the unearthly silence of a municipal course, where leaders kept track of rivals’ scores not by crowd roars but phone apps and video boards. Still, it was a major sports event, at long last.
And we were talking about it, especially the part about Koepka telling the world how his supposed friend, Johnson, gags with 54-hole leads in majors. Of course, Johnson did just that in a mad scramble that had seven players tied for the lead at one late point. But Koepka imploded himself. So, who broke out of the pack? Not Hans, not Franz, but 5-foot-9 Morikawa, more poised than all of the aforementioned, maybe because he has been working with a sports psychologist since he was eight. Abusive, perhaps?Not when you saw him chip in from 40 feet to take the lead on No. 14, then rip a monster drive to set up an eagle at No. 16. Behold the lowest final round by a PGA champion in 25 years, the youngest player to break 65 in the final round of a major victory — ever. Was a legend born at Harding Park, not far from where Morikawa starred at Cal? The last three players to win the PGA at age 23: Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
Too bad there was no gallery to salute him. He was left to sit with his girlfriend, beside a lonely parking lot, waiting for the victory ceremony — where he dropped the lid off the trophy. What a shame that his glorious drive, which might become the launching point of a legacy, was greeted by just a few claps instead of a monstrous noise blast. “This is the one time I really wish there were crowds right there,” Morikawa said. “I heard some claps but not a ton.’’
Let’s hope he’ll hear many roars in the future.
And that fans can deliver them.
Even if seasons are fleeting and the coronavirus ultimately shuts down ballparks and Bubbles throughout North America, sports had managed to keep us talking about … sports! Flip the channel to see Mike Trout hammer another home run, change another diaper and suffer another loss with a scandalous franchise that doesn’t deserve him. Flip again to watch the transcendent Luka Doncic one-upping Giannis Antetokounmpo, prompting his lucky Mavericks coach, Rick Carlisle, to literally applaud, compare him to Larry Bird and say this after his 36-point, 19-assist, 14-rebound freak show: “Luka is not only a great basketball player, he’s a great performer. I’d pay money to watch him play.’’ He meant inside the NBA Bubble, where there is no paid admission, but you do have the Clippers trolling Damian Lillard, the Raptors thinking repeat and the greatness of T.J. Warren — T.J. Warren? — in tech-enhanced, pixelated visuals that look crystalline.
Oh, and are Western Conference teams actually plotting against the Lakers, trying to finagle the scary Trail Blazers into the No. 8 seed and put LeBron James out of his sequestered misery with a first-round postseason ouster. “I miss the hell out of my family,’’ said James, whose team clearly has Bubble issues beyond homesickness. “My wife, my kids, my mother. And so on and so on. So, it’s a huge challenge. You can’t replicate actual presence when you’re waking up and you’re in the living room or you’re in the kitchen or you’re outside playing with your kids or playing with your daughter, playing video games with your boys or working out with your boys. I’m not there.’’
On one end of the cable programming block, Tiger couldn’t putt, which is tough when he’s nearing 45 and still four major titles shy of Nicklaus. “It’s getting tighter and getting harder to win events,’’ said Woods, 21 years older than Morikawa. On the other end, Connor McDavid was losing in his home arena to the mediocre Blackhawks and costing the NHL a chance to market him. Cars and horses were racing elsewhere, commingling with UFC fighters. And is that a live shot of a 43-year-old wellness entrepreneur throwing a football in Tampa?
This would seem to be a sports fan’s pleasure beach, a cornucopia of events power-blasted your way at all hours of the day and night, even if it requires an extra $5 for a “Spectrum TV Sports Pack’’ in Los Angeles when zero refunds were issued during months of two-decades-old game reruns. Some of what we’ve seen is damned impressive, such as the quality and intensity of competition. I saw Devin Booker, on a weekday afternoon, drain a spinning, turnaround jumper while smothered by Paul George as the buzzer sounded and his rear end dusted the floor. He has been so good that Draymond Green, moonlighting for TNT, was fined $50,000 for tampering when he said, “Get my man out of Phoenix. It’s not good for him. It’s not good for his career.’’ The NBA and NHL — along with golf, the ultimate in sports social distancing — are giving us content that sometimes seems as good as the norm. Is it because athletes have nothing else to do, no longer dealing with previous everyday demands? Is it because 20,000 people aren’t booing and cursing their moms that NBA players are hitting higher percentages of free throws and corner three-pointers inside the Bubble?
“Seriously, it’s a great stage to play,’’ Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni marveled. “There’s not a lot of distractions. It’s the same court every night. You get your shooting, depth perception and all that. It’s pure basketball. You see some of the talents these guys have, are coming out. I think it’s only going to get better. The playoffs are going to be terrific.’’
As for Trout, again the talk of baseball? “I was hoping now that Trout was a dad, the dad bod might have snuck up on him, but that isn’t the case,” Mariners manager Scott Servais cracked.
A jerking knee wants to ask, then: Is sports, miraculously, adapting to the coronavirus and positioned for a long haul of completing seasons and crowning champions?
Your conscience, balanced by a daily life fortunately not governed by that remote and the screen it controls, is quick to interrupt and beg the usual restraint. College football and baseball interrupted, too. It reminds the jerking knee: The resumption of games is still very funky and fraught, with TV ratings ebbing and flowing, and if you think otherwise, continue to imagine hundreds of 3 1/2-hour scrums where sweating, panting, spitting, bleeding and colliding football players are practicing the very antithesis of distancing.
The lords of college football are concluding the season is unplayable, with the Mid-American Conference becoming the first FBS league to postpone an entire season and Colorado State suspending the sport indefinitely amid reports of racism and verbal abuse. The NFL should be next, especially when Aaron Donald, among the league’s most feared defenders, reveals himself as a raging COVID-iot so unfazed by the virus that he refuses to wear a league-recommended face shield. “Once you are out there grinding with the guys, you kind of block all that out and it’s just football again,’’ Donald said. “I need air when I’m out there running around and breathing with them, long drives and stuff. I feel like, we’re out there, we’re playing up close. There is nothing you can really do. If a guy got it and I tackle the guy, then I probably got it because he is going to be sweating and spitting and slobbering all in my face.’’
If you don’t believe me about the lunacy of it all, ask Tiger. Captured by a boom mike on the course, Woods and McIlroy sounded like talk hosts while discussing sports and the Big Corona. “Once one person has it in in (an NFL) locker room, they’re all going to get it,” Woods said.
“MLB is doing well,’’ said McIlroy, who must be living in a cave.
“If they have one more outbreak, they’re done,” Woods shot back.
So, um, yeah, the biggest error one can make is getting used to Sports In A Pandemic. Enjoy and savor it, while you have it, but also know it’s the very definition of temporary and makeshift, uneven and volatile, and that any of it could end at any time for any reason — even chicken wings at a strip club — in a catastrophic year on Planet Earth when the worst still could be ahead. I’m not even referring to the direct spread of COVID-19 possible in all corners and nooks of sports leagues. The danger is the accompanying weariness that comes with the oppressive, stifling, 24-7 challenge of playing hide-and-seek with an invisible monster that doesn’t care about sports.
Fatigue is the lurking saboteur. The mental health of thousands of athletes and support personnel is at risk, which increases the chance of a protocol violation, intended or not, that could cause the one outbreak that bursts the NBA Bubble or melts an NHL Igloo or ends a baseball or football season. We’re actually expecting athletes to remain isolated, some for months, with little more than wine shipments, video games, ESPN/TSN and league-organized activities for entertainment? Hasn’t the chirping of a proximity sensor — when venturing within six feet of another human being for 10 seconds, the pandemic version of traveling — already gotten old?
We’re barely a week into August. The NBA season ends in mid-October. And who’s grumbling all the time? The one icon the league is depending on most in the Bubble. “It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said. “I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground.’’
Funny how Doncic doesn’t care about such issues.
It’s the mental exhaustion, the limitations of humanity, that could bring down the grand sports plan. This is a marathon, and the participants are just passing the 3-mile mark of a 26.2-mile race. If I’m Manfred, I’m heeding every word uttered by Trout, who didn’t have to return to the Angels after his wife delivered their first child but did anyway. Trout, who has wanted daily COVID-19 testing from the beginning, reiterated his thoughts that MLB could doom itself with every-other-day swabbing.
“I’ve said this from Day 1: If you don’t have testing every day, it’s going to be tough,’’ he said. “You’re always trying to catch up and trying to catch it. You know, if we get tested Friday, we have to wait two days to get the results back and you don’t know what’s going to happen in between. You’ve seen it with the Marlins. You’ve seen it with the Cardinals. It’s definitely scary for baseball. I’ve been saying this the whole time, it only takes one person to screw this up.’’
Say, Zach Plesac.
The racial injustice scenes have been proud and emotional throughout sports, even in unusual places such as hockey rinks and NASCAR tracks — and loaded with expected vitriol from the White House. Pulling out his playbook from the Colin Kaepernick years, President Trump used “Fox and Friends’’ to rip the NBA for its emphasis on Black Lives Matter and sideline kneeling protests after he helped open doors for the league’s restart.
“I think it’s disgraceful,’’ Trump said. “We work with (the NBA). We work very hard trying to get them open. I was pushing them to get open. And then I see everyone kneeling during the anthem. It’s not acceptable to me. When I see them kneeling, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. And the ratings for the basketball are way down, if you know. And I hear some others are way down, including baseball. Because all of a sudden, now baseball’s is in the act (of kneeling). We have to stand up for our flag. We have to stand up for our country. We have to stand up for our anthem. And a lot of people agree with me. Hey, if I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. OK. And that’s OK with me. But I will always stand for our country and for our flag.”
You knew what was coming next. “The game will go on without his eyes on it,” James said of Trump. “I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball: We could care less.” When told of Trump’s remark that he has done more for Black people than any U.S. President “with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln,’’ James said, “You trying to make me laugh right now?’’ Clippers coach Doc Rivers, too, responded in kind, referring to Trump’s stance as “disgraceful.’’
For the record, ratings for basketball aren’t “way down,’’ but they aren’t what they were before the pandemic. Baseball ratings were in the crapper to begin with. That said, it’s important that sports understands this about 2020: Now more than ever, people need games to escape the strife, not exacerbate it. That’s what we’ve discovered this sinister summer. As the world burns, we still care about Collin Morikawa, the over-under on Aaron Judge’s home runs and why an NBA Finals featuring Giannis and Luka — the world’s two best players? — might be the most fun. The coronavirus can’t bury sports conversations.
But it can bury sports.
Jay Mariotti, called “the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes a weekly media column for Barrett Sports Media and regular sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
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.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
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.