Dan Bickley Likes Winning With A Team
“You always want to keep growing and I’ve had people in Chicago over the years ask me, why don’t you come back home? But that feels like going backwards to me.”
There’s a unique but special history in the city of Chicago when it comes to print media, though it’s hard to pin down exactly why. Maybe it was because both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times were so respected during their heyday, or maybe it was because there were so many iconic writers in the city that brought personality and strong opinions to their columns. Regardless of the main reason, Chicago was truly a great newspaper town for several decades.
Dan Bickley lived through the golden era of print media in the city. He grew up infatuated with the regular columns from Mike Royko, as did so many other Chicagoans. It was such a memorable experience of his life, that he can still recall the exact smell of the cold newspapers he read at night, after his father brought them home from his shift as a bartender at a Chicago steakhouse.
“Every night my father would come home with an armful of newspapers for me,” Bickley said. “Mike Royko had an incredible way of relating to the common person and I thought it was the most liberating and incredible thing I had ever read.”
Needless to say, those nights lit a fire under Bickley. There was no confusion as to what he wanted to do with his life. The newspaper industry was his true passion.
Fast forward a few years and Bickley is now the guy he always dreamed of being. He was a beat reporter at the Sun-Times and was assigned to cover the early championship runs of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The city was on fire. The newspaper industry in the city was on fire. Bickley didn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I remember covering Bulls games at Chicago Stadium and then driving down to the Sun-Times building to pick up newspapers that were literally hot off the press,” Bickley said. “I would take them to Callahan’s, which was a neighborhood tavern a couple blocks away. I’d walk in at 1:30 in the morning with tomorrow’s paper and people would look at them like they were from another planet. They looked at it with such reverence and they didn’t understand how they could have tomorrow’s paper in their hands while sitting at the bar.”
Bickley recalls those years as being magical. A time when people looked at reporters and reporting in journalism as a noble profession. The industry meant a lot to Chicago. So much so, that local newspaper writers were often looked at as celebrities.
As long as Bickley could remember, he wanted to be a columnist. He was living a great life as a beat reporter in late 90’s Chicago, but being the guy everyone in the city looked forward to reading was a step he always dreamed of. The problem was that writers such as Jay Mariotti and Rick Telander created a heavy log jam at the Sun-Times that made upward mobility hard to see.
“Say what you want about Jay Mariotti, but he lit the town on fire.” Bickley said. “His columns were hard-hitting, they were fearless, they were topical and it really kind of galvanized everything.”
Meanwhile in Phoenix, the city was about to get a new MLB team. The Arizona Diamondbacks would be the fourth pro franchise in town, along with the NBA’s Suns, the NFL’s Cardinals and the NHL’s Coyotes. This meant the local newspaper, The Arizona Republic, needed to hire an additional columnist to the one it already had. Bickley probably thought he would never leave Chicago, but in 1998 he moved to the desert to realize his dream of being a columnist.
For the guy that had such a deep love and admiration of newspapers, it would be wildly entertaining to tell him in the late 90’s he would someday be doing a daily radio show and writing exclusively online. His reaction would have been priceless, but Bickley is incredibly happy with how his career has turned out. The co-host of Bickley and Marotta and writer for ArizonaSports.com has turned himself into an Arizona institution and one that local sports fans both listen to and read on a daily basis.
He’s exactly the guy he looked up to as a kid. The only difference is that he traded the cold Chicago wind for the dry heat of the Phoenix desert.
“Over the course of time, as you saw the industry start to die, and more to the point, as I started to work for Bonneville, and I started to work for Scott Sutherland and Ryan Hatch, the workplace culture where I’m at is off the charts in a positive way,” Bickley said. “People who work there know there’s no better place to work in Arizona than for Bonneville and those two gentlemen I call my bosses. I started to realize, this is the synergy and this is the energy and the team I really want to be a part of. It kind of made it easy for me to make that transition.”
Every weekday morning from 6 to 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, you can hear Bickley alongside co-hosts Vince Marotta, Sarah Kezele and Jarrett Carlen. Was radio ever a thought for him during his time in newspapers? Actually, yes.
Bickley did fill-in work in Chicago as well as the regular guests segments on local stations in Arizona. Radio was something that always appealed to him, because it was a way for him to show his creativity, along with his personality.
“I always thought, I really, really like this,” Bickley said. “One day I finally got an editor at the Arizona Republic, who is a great man, his name was Ward Bushee. One day I came to him and asked, would you mind if I did this in addition to my role as a newspaper columnist? He said yeah, if it’s something you really want to do. Go run with it.”
Sports radio opened a lane in another platform for Bickley to express himself. He soon found out that being a writer and a radio host dovetail nicely into one another. Essentially, he was reporting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He loved every second of it. It was a labor of love.
“It’s rare to have a talent who has such strong opinions and a unique perspective that makes them a must-listen on the broadcast side, a must-read with thought-provoking columns on ArizonaSports.com and delivers exceptional results for our clients and marketing partners,” said Ryan Hatch, VP of Programming and Content for Bonneville, which owns Arizona Sports 98.7. “Dan is the complete package.”
What’s most impressive about Bickley is that he made the decision to pursue radio and then made sure he did everything necessary to become a huge success at it. That didn’t come without a strong intent of learning the how-to’s of the business. He made it a point to get better by constantly listening to himself to help refine his craft.
Creative spaces are where Bickley excels. In fact, it seems like he really surrounds himself with those opportunities. His writing space definitely gives him that freedom, as well as the daily radio show, but he’s also in a band that’s pretty good.
“I started a band over 10 years ago called Whiskey’s Quicker. I’m surrounded by four incredible musicians. I’m above average at best but it’s something I always wanted to do. Somewhere along my journey, I realized that if I never tried this it would be a regret I always had. 10 years later I have a band that is surprisingly really, really good. It allows me the opportunity to jam with my 20-year-old son. We played our first gig together, which was just a sublime, incredible experience. I’d like to challenge myself and I like to stretch out in a lot of different directions, that’s something that’s brought me a ton of enjoyment.”
If you couple in the Suns’ recent NBA Finals run and the Cardinals’ looking like the most exciting team in the NFL, few years have compared to the current landscape of sports radio in Arizona. Bickley worked in the golden era of newspapers in Chicago, just maybe, 20-plus years after, he’s working in the golden era of sports radio in Phoenix.
“Radio allows you to cover a lot of different topics and it allows you to show other areas of your personality,” Bickley said. “It’s really enjoyable having a team to work with, in terms of a radio show. I have to say this all the time, it’s one thing to experience individual success but it’s so much more rewarding to go somewhere with the team. When you rely on others to reach certain levels of success, there’s a synergy about that and there’s teamwork about that, which makes it really powerful.”
Chicago is where he grew up and cut his teeth, but Arizona has been home for over two decades. If Bickley has it his way, it’ll be home for several more decades. He loves his role with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM and is truly passionate about the people he works with. The desert is home.
“As of right now, I’ve got so many things in place here, I’m not sure what other city or job would appeal more to me than the one I have right now,” Bickley said. “You always want to keep growing and I’ve had people in Chicago over the years ask me, why don’t you come back home? But that feels like going backwards to me. I like to keep moving forward. I have such a great infrastructure around me of coworkers, bosses and a job that’s highly rewarding, as well as a highly earned reputation that I built over the course of the past 20 years.”
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 email@example.com.
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.