Damon Bruce Has Been At The Center of a Gold Rush
“Things like getting an email from a guy that listened to me in high school, and he says he’s now out of college by 10 years, married with kids, and he’s still listening to me on the radio, it’s just amazing to be a part of these lives.”
There’s not a moment in history that’s more associated with the state of California than the Gold Rush of 1849. It’s such a well-known moment, that local sports teams within the state have adopted names that honor the event, such as the Golden State Warriors and San Franciso 49’ers.
But what you didn’t know is there was recently a second gold rush in California. No, this one had nothing to do with a pick-axe or mining pans, instead, it was all about the Warriors going to five-straight NBA Finals and re-inventing the game of basketball, the 49ers playing in two Super Bowls and the Giants winning three World Series in a five-year span. All of it created a sports radio gold rush the Bay Area had never seen before.
At the center of all of it, has been Damon Bruce of 95.7 The Game, who just celebrated his 15-year anniversary of being host in The Bay. Even though he grew up in upstate New York and spent his college years in the Midwest, he’s engrained himself into the San Francisco community and has become one of the best sports talk hosts the market has ever seen.
“Being here for 15 years has been an absolute honor,” said Bruce. “I don’t work for a living, which makes me one of the wealthiest men in the world. I want to continue to avoid ever having to go to work.”
Bruce’s legacy in The Bay all begins with a man named Lee Hammer, who was the first program director to bring him to the West Coast. At the time, Hammer was the PD at KNBR and saw something in a young Bruce that he thought would translate well in the market.
“The one thing I remember about Damon was his passion and his desire to succeed,” said Hammer. “There was no doubt in my mind about his work ethic and his commitment to being a great sports talk show host. I had the opening at 1050 and he was the right guy at the right time. And looking back, I think things have worked out pretty well.”
Bruce is eternally grateful for Hammer bringing him to a place he’s called home for the past 15 years. In that time frame, he worked at KNBR for nine and one-half years, before moving to 95.7 The Game for the next six years. It was Jason Barrett that eventually convinced him to move across the street to The Game and host afternoon drive, where Bruce is still hosting today. Barrett truly changed the arc of Bruce’s career and brought him into a situation where he flourished.
“Damon used to say ‘I do the show, you guys do the business’, said Barrett. “I liked that because it told me he knew what he was good at and where he needed help. I also saw how he had improved as a professional. More importantly, he was an excellent talk show host with something to prove, and he offered a strong contrast to what was available in the market in afternoon drive. I thought he fit the identity of what The Game was striving to be, and the station had a platform and economic package that he valued too. That made it the right fit at the right time for both sides.”
15 years in the same market is truly an incredible accomplishment. Especially in a top market, where you’ve been one of the best local hosts for the entirety of that span. More than anything, what appeals to Bruce is the realization he’s what so many people listen to on their commute home. For him it’s flattering that so many people have made him a part of their daily lives.
“I’ve developed a wonderful relationship with an audience that’s really invested back in me,” said Bruce. “That means so much, for people to think I’m a big part of their sports life. Things like getting an email from a guy that listened to me in high school, and he says he’s now out of college by 10 years, married with kids, and he’s still listening to me on the radio, it’s just amazing to be a part of these lives. I guess I’ll call it ‘market equity’. I have a lot of market equity here and for many reasons; I’m not going anywhere. I love it here. I’m the Golden Gate Bridge, I’m not leaving.”
At just 45 years old, Bruce still has a lot of takes left on the air at 95.7 The Game. In fact, his best work as a host may still be ahead of him. One, because his fastball is still very much there. Two, because he has great talent surrounding him like Ray Ratto and Matt Kolsky. Bruce can hoist up strong takes like Steph Curry shoots 3’s, but he also has a Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to help carry the daily load.
A 15-year celebration is humbling, but in a lot of ways, this is only the start to a career that will span many more years in The Bay.
“The reason Damon has lasted for 15 years in the San Francisco market is because he lives and breathes being a talk show host and his style stands out,” said Barrett. “His voice and command are instantly noticeable, he’s unwavering with his opinions, and he’s always prepared. Whether you like him or not, he makes you think.
“Behind the scenes, he was also appreciative of his supporting staff. One of the first people who’d bust my chops for a producer or board op to earn a raise or praise was Damon. I remember when I added Gianna Franco as the afternoon update anchor and an on-air contributor, each of them were initially concerned. Would Damon be easy to work with, did he value a female point of view, would the move be seen as a station PR stunt, etc.? It was the first time I had a chance to evaluate if Damon would be open minded and trust me to help him make the show better. I told both of them I thought they’d hit it off and be great together and I believed that but where they took that relationship was far beyond even what I had envisioned. Damon would call Gianna his work wife, Gianna was a huge advocate of Damon’s too, and I saw a similar connection form between Damon and his producers Kyle Englehart, and Jon Goulet. To sum it up, Damon’s lasted because he’s fully invested in sports radio, he’s made adjustments, and he’s very good at his craft.”
As great as Bruce has been, a host is sometimes only as good as the PD he works with. For Bruce, the most envious part of his carrer is the programmers he’s had above him. From Hammer, to Barrett to Matt Nahigian, currently the PD at 95.7 The Game, he’s had the opportunity to be coached by the best.
“Matt Nahigian is the best program director I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, in terms of building a brand, setting a time for the station, I think he’s done a remarkable job establishing 95.7 The Game,” said Damon. “Jason Barrett gave birth to this station, but Matt raised it and put it into college. Barrett and Nahigian are the two-best program directors of my career,”
“His credibility and success in the marketplace have been incredible,” said Nahigian. “You have to have anchors of radio stations. You have to have signature names that people talk about in the market to be successful. That’s what Damon is. When you talk to people about 95.7 The Game, they talk about the local teams, but they also talk about Damon Bruce.”
Hopefully, Bruce has taken a moment to sit back and reflect on the great career he’s put together. He’s at least earned that. His sports radio experiences the past 15 years are more than most hosts could hope to have in five life times.
“The high point has been getting a ringside seat to one of the greatest NBA thoughts ever expressed,” Bruce. “Watching the Golden State Warriors go from not mattering to mattering more than everything assembled in this league, was just an amazing experience. I’ve been out here for the Bay Area gold rush. I’ve been to a whole bunch of NFC title games, A couple of Super Bowls, the Stanley Cup Finals, five straight NBA Finals, three World Series by the Giants, a whole bunch of come up short playoff games by the A’s. It’s just been great. I’ve been out here for a sports gold rush. I really can’t think of one moment that just stands out and I think I’m happy to say that.”
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.