The most popular guy in town is often the backup quarterback, but Scott Zolak managed to build on that fame and reputation during his second career in Boston.
Hosting middays with Marc Bertrand as part of the ratings powerhouse that is 98.5 The Sports Hub, and working Patriots games as their lead radio analyst, Zolak is more entrenched in Boston sports now than he was as a player.
“Just a couple of guys hanging out at the bar,” it’s a tired description of sports radio, but for Zo, it’s authentic and that’s what makes him so relatable. Whether you’re listening on the radio or catching him outside the office, Zo talks to Boston sports fans the same way you hear him at work.
Brandon Contes: Did you always have an interest in media when you were done playing?
Scott Zolak: No, never. In fact Bill Parcells was one of my first coaches and he would say ‘technically the media is your enemy, they’ll try to drive a stake between you and me.’
That was ingrained in the back of your head. But there were guys I liked in the media and guys I didn’t. The open locker room period would let you develop some media relationships, one of my favorites was Will McDonough because he was close with Parcells and could give us information. I thought about communications when I was at the University of Maryland, but my mom said there aren’t many great jobs in it. I wanted to be an architect, but spring ball got in the way of studio, so I ended up studying agricultural physics and now I’m doing sports radio.
BC: Did you listen to sports radio when you were playing?
SZ: Oh yea, I listened to Boston radio, absolutely. There was one station, and it was WEEI. Glenn Ordway and those guys. You always listened to The Big Show and that’s where I got my start.
Glenn brought me on his show, I’m very grateful for him. Dale Arnold, Bob Newmyer and Eddie Andelman, I worked with those guys in the midday. I always knew John and Gerry from the morning show. There was one station to listen to and you always wanted to know what people were saying.
BC: When you and Andy Gresh had your show in Providence, before The Sports Hub was even a thought, were you hoping to get to WEEI? Or were you satisfied with staying in Rhode Island?
SZ: I didn’t know what to think at the time, and I’m grateful for Gresh because he got me in the door down there. But they just threw me on-air by telling me the seven words I couldn’t say and what nationalities I couldn’t offend. I pretty much knocked them all out of the park with apologetic letters and emails the first week I was on-air.
There wasn’t a goal to get to EEI because when I get a job, I like the job I get. But when they blew us up, yea, you’re looking to get anywhere. Thankfully, my old boss Mark Hannon had the vision for 98.5 The Sports Hub to compete with WEEI and the rest is history. Now Hannon is working over there at Entercom and we’re doing our own thing with Beasley.
BC: Were you surprised how quickly The Sports Hub not only made a dent in WEEI as Boston’s heritage sports station, but surpassed them and now just flat out dominates the ratings?
SZ: At first, yes, and then a couple months into it, no – because of the sound. We had that booming FM signal, great production quality, our behind-the-scenes people that were able to create bits, our morning guys who were rock DJs turned into a morning sports show. Toucher and Rich got great ratings, set us up in middays to then throw it over to Felger and Mazz and the rest is history. EEI eventually went to an FM signal in Providence, but by that point it was too late.
BC: Do you still consider WEEI formidable competition?
SZ: Yea man, I have a lot of friends over there. When we first started you would peak into what they’re doing daily to counterprogram. But you get to the point where you don’t pay attention, and that’s not being rude. We’re just so preoccupied with what we’re trying to do to get our shows going and make sure we’re entertaining four hours a day that you can’t worry about what other people are doing.
BC: You mentioned the friends you have at EEI. When Gerry Callahan was let go about a year and a half ago, you tweeted that his departure was handled as an embarrassment.
SZ: I don’t remember the details at the time, but I thought Gerry deserved a lot more. That morning show with him and John set the tone for the whole day in Boston sports. Gerry had that raspy delivery and then Minihane came in. Just the way it was handled, you saw it coming with the Red Sox getting involved and sort of attempting to help program that station, which eventually led to the ratings demise for them.
BC: How was Mike Thomas as a PD and leader, helping to build The Sports Hub into a ratings monster?
SZ: He never let anybody get too big. Mike was good at knocking people down and doing it in a good way. Anytime we got lazy, he was in the room. Mike knew ratings and he knew how to get ratings, his clock management was phenomenal. And he did it going from a rock format to sports. He also built our weekend programming which is something a lot of guys didn’t care about, but Mike did.
BC: How was the adjustment to a new co-host when Gresh left and you were paired with Marc Bertrand?
SZ: I can work with anybody. Stick me in a room, I just like to go. Andy was great, I also enjoyed working with Gary Tanguay. But with Bertrand and also Hardy as that third person gives an extra kick. We never have a boring show. Four hours a day, it’s hard to do the same thing and beat a dead topic, but Hardy’s production ability, Bertrand’s ability to move topics, and I think I inject some fun into it. You can’t do analytics everyday and talk numbers. We don’t do a boring show, we entertain and have fun.
BC: There are two things that you’re probably most well-known for outside of Boston, and the first is “unicorns, show ponies, where’s the beef.” Where did that call come from, was that preplanned, was it a raw reaction?
SZ: All organic. It came out naturally. I don’t preplan anything. Brady’s that mythical unicorn, you’re never going to see that type of guy again. Our morning show had this show pony thing going so it came to mind and I don’t know, I’m a big Wendy’s burger type of guy, it just came together terrifically and beautifully at the same time that night.
BC: You were already a longtime radio host when you joined the Patriots booth, but did you do any color commentary before Patriots radio?
SZ: Yea, I worked for CBS doing college, I did Navy football for six years and that’s a neutral call, you can’t inject the same kind of enthusiasm into it.
BC: Are you interested in national work or is Boston your sweet spot?
SZ: I really enjoy this area, I’m passionate about the Patriots, if I did national work you have to be different. It’s more of a neutral call, there’s less energy, you have to be down the middle for both sides. But I would be interested in any opportunity because I think I’m pretty darn good at what I do.
BC: You’re known as an unfiltered personality, how does that play in today’s media world where there’s a group of people looking to jump on someone that makes a mistake or says something offensive. Does the concept of cancel culture intimidate you at all?
SZ: It doesn’t, but I have to be careful. There are social media punks out there. Everybody’s looking at your Facebook, Instagram, your Twitter. I have a pretty good support group around me with family members that keep an eye on things and good producers that know me and might remind me when I get heated. I’ve made a mistake or two, I’ve learned from them and I won’t do it again.
BC: The second thing you’re well-known for is Deflategate and specifically the rant on NFL Network about it, are you still embarrassed to be part of the NFL over their handling of that issue?
SZ: Yea, it’s ridiculous. I played quarterback in this league for ten years. I doctored footballs to get them ready for Drew Bledsoe, Tom Tupa, myself, and Vinatieri. We never stuck gauges in them, nobody was ever concerned about air pressure in a football.
My dad was my high school coach, I played at Maryland for five years, we never stuck a gauge in a football! You squeeze the football, if you like it, it’s a good ball, if not you let more air out. The Colts started all this crap and the league runs with it. Look at how Tom Brady’s doing now with properly inflated footballs, it shows you what a hoax that was.
BC: Were you surprised to see the NFL could operate a sham big enough to indict one of its most important figures in Tom Brady?
SZ: Absolutely. During my twenty years doing this, it’s Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at the top, why would you want to take that type of guy down? They’ve done and said everything the right way and here’s Tom at 43, continuing to do the same thing he did 21 years ago.
BC: Is New England rooting for Brady right now? Or would that be like rooting for your ex-girlfriend to bounce right back and get married?
SZ: But the ex-girlfriend has to piss you off or do something to scorn you. Tom made it evident, he wants to play into his mid 40’s and the Patriots really didn’t want to back him on that. So he found another place to go. Tom won here, how do you not root for him? Initially, everybody was rooting for Brady, then when they added Gronkowski and Antonio Brown it soured some fans, but I think they’ve swung back to root for Tom and it should get the Patriots off the mat and going in the offseason.
BC: Does Brady winning in Tampa create any animosity towards Belichick from the fans?
SZ: Yea, because you want him winning here. But there’s no animosity from me, I love working with Bill. Bill’s the best and he’s going to fix this problem, they’ve just really had issues mismanaging this position and preparing for it.
BC: Belichick is often known for his curt interview responses and press conference answers. Is there a secret to interviewing Bill? Because you’re someone who is actually able to engage in a conversation with him.
SZ: I get to deal with him on different platforms, we do the Belichick Breakdown weekly and I had Bill as a coach. When you have a history with a guy, it helps. You need to know how to break into the interview by asking him football questions. Ask him about special teams, ask about the return game, left-footed punters, the decision to defer. Don’t ask him ‘who are you starting next week?’ Don’t ask him the question you know he’s not going to answer, that’s the key.
BC: How was it navigating the bombshell story of Robert Kraft and the massage parlor a couple years ago, especially considering your relationship with the Patriots and the radio station’s relationship with them.
SZ: I think we did fairly. When you have an issue like that, it needs to be talked about. But you still want to get the story straight. Was it a setup? Who drove him there? Was it handled properly? Robert has handled it phenomenally since then by not actually talking about it, but having the right people to talk to it. It’s pretty much a dead story at this point and only gets brought up here and there if litigation pops up.
BC: Have you ever been asked to tone down your opinion of something?
SZ: Not from radio, but maybe from a team or two. You get the ‘be careful’ email or text. It’s a tough thing because they also need to realize I have a job to do. This pays my benefits, these four hours a day are my livelihood. And then when I come into your building, I do another job. It’s a delicate balance to call games for the team and also to go out and do a radio show and be critical when they’re bad.
BC: Do you have a preference of working in the booth on gameday, vs doing talk radio Monday through Friday?
SZ: I love them both. I have fun during the week, but the game stuff brings my juices as a former player back up. It keeps you around the sport of football and there’s nothing better than the NFL. Nothing.
BC: Would you encourage other analysts to try and do what you do on gameday? Because I think it goes against most of what gets taught in broadcasting schools.
SZ: I’d tell them, just be your own personality. Don’t try to be someone specific because you end up being a robot and there’s nothing worse than listening to a dry broadcast. Bob Socci does a fantastic job, Gil Santos was legendary before him, but most play-by-play voices are a little dry. They need to set the scene, it’s up to you to bring the personality of the day, what do you feel like, what do the fans feel like and provide that. Being a fan of the team, when it’s great, I’m over the top. When it’s bad, I tend to hammer them. There’s a delicate balance.
BC: You can be funny and brash, but still provide real solid analysis. Is finding that balance between goofy and schooling difficult?
SZ: When you have big leads or dead time, you can have those fun moments where I’ll joke about something that’s happening with the fans or some beer that I just saw a guy grab and chug. But I’m pretty damn good when talking about coverage and seeing plays happening, you get a feel for what the coordinator is calling, and I think that’s when I’m at my best.
BC: The backup quarterback is often considered the most popular guy in town, but you’ve become like a local folk-hero with Boston fans and I think part of it is your relatability.
SZ: When I go out, if you see me at a gas station, store, or a game, I’m the guy you can come up and talk to. I like people, I love the fact that fans are passionate, I’m a guy you can talk to and I pride myself on that. I want people to like me and I want to like people.
BC: Because you sound like a fan, the audience can relate to you. I love Boomer Esiason, he’s great on radio and TV, but I don’t find him to be relatable.
SZ: [Laughs] Boomer’s the big CBS guy. Boomer grabbed me and said, ‘man you gotta calm down, you’re never gonna get the national gig.’ And I’d have to say, ‘Boomer I don’t think I’m gonna be a national guy, you’re the national guy, you and Phil Simms.’ Or Tony Romo, $17 million a year, and Drew Brees is the next one. I don’t want to be Rich Gannon, Trent Green or Dan Fouts. Dan Fouts is awful. Dan Fouts was the number two guy on CBS and he’s terrible, it’s like he did no homework.
BC: After the Patriots, what’s the next most popular team in Boston right now?
SZ: Celtics. The Red Sox, and I’m not the biggest baseball guy, but it’s a boring sport. You look at the way it’s played, the issues they’ve had trying to ramp it up, it’s a sport that has to fix some things. Hockey might even be third, I think baseball might be fourth here right now.
BC: Is that very recent? The Red Sox dropping to fourth?
SZ: The sad part for them is when they’re good and winning championships they’re great and ratings are strong. They were down about 58% this year because the team was an unwatchable product. Fans in Boston aren’t stupid and that’s part of why I love doing radio here because you can’t fool them. You can’t fool a fanbase by trying to bring an ESPN radio product to Boston. ESPN Radio will never work in Boston. You’ll see some stations try to dabble with bringing in guys from outside the market, but it never works. You can’t fool people here.
BC: This was the first time you were doing radio while the Patriots were having a bad season, are you surprised it didn’t take away from your audience or ratings at all?
SZ: Not to say negativity drives sports radio, but when people are sitting on their laurels and everything’s kosher and happy – when you’re 14-2, there’s not a lot to talk about. There’s a lot to talk about when you’re approaching 6-10. It gets the fanbase riled up and our ratings even went up since the team’s down.
BC: Are the Patriots heading for a lengthy lull?
SZ: No, even at 7-9, they had Buffalo on the ropes, Kansas City on the ropes. Both those teams were in the AFC title game. That’s two more wins if you figure those games out and now you’re 9-7. You have $65 million to spend, go get Jimmy Garoppolo and let’s fix this sucker.
BC: Does Brady winning a seventh Super Bowl even matter? At some point he has to reach a point where no matter what happens, it’s already been cemented, he’s the best.
SZ: But if he wins it this year it might be his greatest. You couldn’t gel with the team, he’s implementing things through Zoom, you can’t come together as a team, no fans, it’s a weird year. To be able to have success, win three road playoff games and beat Brees, Rodgers and Mahomes and you didn’t do it as a Patriot? This might be his most important championship ever.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
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.