Fred Toucher Is Making His Own Path
“I didn’t go to Syracuse and work at the school newspaper in the sports department. There’s different paths to get into the industry. You don’t have to follow the same path as everyone else.”
Not all paths are the same. And not many paths resemble Fred Toucher’s journey in radio. The Detroit native openly roots for the New York Jets, bashes New England Patriots crybaby fans, and hosts a successful morning show in Boston. How in the holy hell does that add up?
Unconventional works if you’re authentic, which certainly sums up Toucher. Along with his radio partner, Rich Shertenlieb, Toucher & Rich has been a fixture on 98.5 The Sports Hub since 2009.
Toucher was a rock radio host for over a decade. He teamed up with Rich in 2006 at rock station WBCN in Boston. They eventually migrated to sports radio a few years later where they still thrive today. As Tom Brady tweeted when Ben Roethlisberger retired — there’s more than one way to bake a cake — the same is true in radio. Toucher is proof of it.
We chat about his uncommon path, admitting you’re an outsider, his hatred for the Patriots, and Toucher’s actual last name. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: How did you end up in Boston when you’re originally from Detroit?
Fred Toettcher: I was in Atlanta for eight years. I was at 99X in Atlanta when Cumulus bought 99X. I didn’t like the Dickey brothers and they were local, which was going to be a big pain in the ass. I asked if I could get out of my contract and they didn’t put up much of a fight.
I had known Rich from working at 99X when he worked there. A consultant, Randy Lane, helped us get together and we auditioned for CBS in Phoenix. Then CBS put us in Boston doing afternoons at BCN. That’s it. Eight years in Atlanta, then started here in 2006.
BN: What led you to going from Detroit to Atlanta initially?
FT: I went to college in Florida. I got out of college and I was interning for The Mitch Albom Show in Detroit. My best friend moved to Atlanta, so I just moved to Atlanta and worked there. It was CBS’s decision to move us to Boston. It wasn’t my intent to live in Boston, it was CBS’s thought. I guess my personality is suited for the Northeast is what everyone said. Sort of more caustic, probably better than the South.
BN: What did you think at the time when it was down to Phoenix versus Boston and how it shook out?
FT: Oh, I was glad that we ended up in Boston. I’m not a big fan of Phoenix. It was weird because this actually happened; they were like all right, we really liked your audition, but we’re not going to put you in Phoenix. They were like, we’re not going to tell you where we want you; we’re going to tell you where we want you on this date.
This guy, who did the show with us when we first started, and I went to this bar in Atlanta and waited around. It was like the draft. We waited around for a phone call from my agent to tell us where we would be moving to. That was pretty strange how they did it. Then we had five days to find a place to live and everything. It probably could’ve been handled better.
BN: [Laughs] That’s a wild story. In what ways has the show changed from initially being on a rock station to now being on a sports station?
FT: Things were still pretty wild in rock radio when we got to Boston. There were so many things that we couldn’t do now and probably wouldn’t want to do now. The sports format gave us much more structure. Knowing that you had to devote a lot of time to sports on the show definitely helped in terms of focus and everything. I’m glad that we were on rock radio when we were on it, but we probably wouldn’t have lasted in one market if we were in rock radio.
I think it also gave older people permission to listen to our show. A lot of people would be like, I don’t listen to BCN anymore, I’m too old. People in their 30s were like, I’m too old for BCN. So when we went to the sports format, it’s like people felt, well, this is a format that I can listen to. Our older audience got much bigger almost immediately.
Those are the two big things is that it gave people permission and also forced us to structure the show. It wasn’t easy. We had to meet with the programmer, Mike Thomas, every day for a year after the show to hash out how the show was going to be. I’m sure that wasn’t his idea of fun. That was a pain in the ass, but it ended up obviously working out.
BN: Were those times hard or undesirable?
FT: Yeah, there was also the belief — I knew it wasn’t true — but the belief that they were just keeping us around until our contracts were up. People were like, well, they’re just going to get fired. They’re not going to be here when their contract is up. The audience was like, who the fuck are you guys? You guys don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You’re not sports guys.
Yeah, it was very difficult for the first year. It was no fun. Rich didn’t want to do sports. He tried really hard, but he didn’t really want to be doing it so that was difficult as well. The first six months were miserable.
Then the station started succeeding and every show succeeded on the same path. That’s all you’re doing at that point; you don’t want the other shows to outperform you if you’re us. We were performing as well as the other shows. Everyone started performing well about six months after we started. We weren’t number one or anything, but we were getting pretty good ratings. The pressure was starting to dwindle a little bit after six months, but the first year was not fun.
BN: If I would’ve told you back in ’09 that you’d be sitting here in 2022 enjoying the success that you have, would you have believed it?
FT: No, no, no. No one would’ve. No one would’ve thought the station would be this successful. Certainly no one would’ve thought our show would’ve been successful. I didn’t think that our show was successful. I didn’t know why they kept us. It was a big gamble for them to keep us from BCN. No one else thought they should have. No, there was no way I thought I’d still be in Boston.
I thought when BCN ended I had a pretty good inclination like a year before, I thought we were going to get fired. Then they told us they were keeping us six months before BCN went off the air. I thought I was going to get fired then and I certainly thought I was going to get fired after our first contract was up. No, I didn’t think there was any chance this was going to happen.
BN: What does it take for an outsider to be accepted as a host in Boston?
FT: To admit you’re an outsider. To not try to front like you’re not. Everything around here is impossible. The town names are impossible to pronounce. Everything is pronounced wrong. Everything is weird. If you come in and have flashcards trying to learn everything about the town, it’s going to come off very phony. My advice would be, just admit that you’re not from here. Admit if you weren’t on a sports station. Admit that you’re not a sports reporter. Just lay it out and if people accept you, they accept you. If they don’t, they don’t. But they will. I think the region values honesty.
BN: What’s your role during the BSM Summit?
FT: I don’t know. [Laughs]
BN: You just said yeah, I’ll be a part of it.
FT: Yeah, 11:30 in the morning I think I’m supposed to do something. I’m on with Felger and Carton. I’m not sure, though. [Laughs] I’m not positive. I know I’m not giving a speech. I know that. I think it’s probably a group of us. I’m hoping. I’ve prepared nothing, so I don’t know. [Laughs]
BN: Are you looking forward to it?
FT: Yeah, I haven’t been at an industry thing in a really long time. Like decades. I’ve only met my agent once, so she’ll be there. I’m sure I’ll see people I haven’t seen in a really long time. I like that stuff. I never have the opportunity to go do that kind of stuff. I’m never invited to anything.
BN: [Laughs] What are you hoping to gain by being there, or to provide by being there?
FT: Really, I’m going for fun and maybe to connect with some people that I haven’t seen. We’re syndicated now and always looking to pick up affiliates. If I’m out there and there’s someone from a small enough market that would take our show, I’d welcome that. Like everyone else, to go out and meet the people.
I hope that I have some insight. I don’t know if people go to these things to learn something. If there are people coming that want to get into sports radio, hopefully I can deliver some insight. I think my story is very odd and if I can do it, that should lead people to be inspired that they can do it.
I didn’t go to Syracuse and work at the school newspaper in the sports department. There’s different paths to get into the industry. You don’t have to follow the same path as everyone else. I think that’s probably a good message. I probably have one of the odder origin stories of anyone there. That I can offer.
BN: Is there anything from rock radio that you miss?
FT: Yeah, some days I don’t want to talk about sports at all. It’s like anything else; if you do it for a living, you get sick of it. We don’t talk about sports every break, but we have to talk about sports. There are days that I just don’t want to. Rock radio, you can do whatever you want. You don’t talk about rock music all the time.
In the long run, it’s not as good because you don’t have anything to fall back on. But there are days where I’m like, aww, I really don’t want to fuckin’ talk about sports. I don’t care. Especially if something contrived is happening that I find annoying. Like a lot of Patriots shit, I know what it’s going to be like going in the next day. I really don’t want to talk about this and hear the same thing. You’ll see stuff on Twitter and everyone’s saying the same thing and you’re like, ugh, I have to get in tomorrow and hear all of this again.
BN: What are some of the things you do today that you wouldn’t typically hear on a sports radio show?
FT: We do a lot of stuff. When I first moved to Boston, there’s this town called Brookline that’s like this really academic, annoying town. It was hell living there. Everyone’s yelling at you. There was one guy that had a megaphone on his front porch and if you stepped on his lawn he would be able to yell at you from his couch. We take the real 911 calls from Brookline and play them and make fun of them. So we do everybody’s angry in Brookline.
We do recaps where we have a kid on our show go out and talk to people, like weirdos after games. It started off being a drunken recap, but that got old. We met so many strange characters with him just being on the streets of Boston at night, just a bunch of weirdos and stuff. So we do that. We don’t have a lot of regular bits. We don’t have anything that we do on Wednesday at 8 o’clock or anything.
BN: I noticed on your email that your last name is spelled differently [Toettcher]. You don’t have a stage name, but is it a stage spelling of your last name?
FT: Yes, my regular spelling, no one would know my name is Toucher. It’s T-O-E-T-T; it’s very full-on German. No one would know what the hell it was. When I was at 99X, Sean Demery was like you have a cool last name, you should go by Toucher. It wasn’t even Fred Toucher, he was like you should go by Toucher. I’m like okay, so I did nights as Toucher. But I thought in print, no one’s going to know what the fuck this name is. So yeah, it’s phonetically spelled. Much to the delight of everyone at the doctor’s office when they ask for your email.
BN: [Laughs] What ideally would you want your future to be in radio or beyond?
FT: I would like it if the syndication grew. You always want a new challenge. I’m always interested in opportunities outside of radio. Not to exchange my career, but in addition to doing the radio show. Right now, in terms of radio, just to keep growing.
We’re syndicated in four other markets now, so it’s not really a big deal. But it’s all set up now. I can tell you it’s very lucrative. [Laughs] No money is exchanged, but we’ve paid for everything. It’s all set up. To continue to do that and to continue to grow that would be exciting. Obviously keep doing well in Boston, but to try to grow the brand just for the challenge would be a lot of fun.
BN: What’s the most fun that you’ve had during your career?
FT: I know for sure what it is. We got to be on the duck boat when the Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup. That was really, really, really cool. That was by far the best moment, the moment that I’ll always remember. It’s my I’ve-been-on-the-moon story. It’s my trump-card story. I have it in my phone, all the videos of it. There were a million and a half people in the city.
When a team here wins, they’re called duck boats. There are these things that tourists take. They are cars and they also can float. We got to be on one of them. It was us and the Bruins. There weren’t many other people that weren’t on the Bruins. That was awesome. We had only been on The Sports Hub for like two years. That was fun. That was the best.
BN: How did that come about?
FT: I don’t know. The station picked us, I think, because we’re not reporters. Probably the other shows thought it would look bad because they’re supposed to be above that. Also I was a big proponent of hockey, which helped us a lot very early. The Bruins really helped us. I developed a relationship with them at BCN. I’m a big hockey fan. No one was talking about the Bruins, so I develop this relationship with them. It was great, great timing; when they started The Sports Hub, the Bruins started to get really, really good.
I think the combination of my relationship and my pom-pom waving for them, which has stopped now, but my pom-pom waving for them and the idea that we’re not journalists I think was why the station let us go. The station could’ve put themselves on it, my management could’ve put themselves on it, but they picked us, which was very nice of them.
BN: Is there anything that you hate talking about in that area?
FT: I hate the Patriots. I don’t mind talking about them, especially now. But Deflategate was the worst. Deflategate was the worst. I hated it. We actually stopped talking about it during the height of it because I couldn’t take it anymore. Listeners going over legal documents and science data and stuff. It was so boring. The victim mentality of the Patriots fans is so annoying. I hated Deflategate. Rich would tell you the same thing. I really didn’t like it.
You have to understand people talked about it all day, every day here. All day, every day. The Patriots fans are so whiny and entitled because for 20 years, they’ve been so good. If you’re in your 30s, you don’t know anything other than the Patriots winning, which is funny because they think this is just going to continue now. They don’t know what it’s like to root for anyone else.
Any other team, there’s peaks and valleys. I’m a Jets fan, so I’ve hated the Patriots my whole life. [Laughs] And now I really hate the Patriots. But they’ve helped make me a comfortable living, so I’ve got that going for me.
BN: I’ll tell you, man, you have an amazing story. Being from Detroit, Jets fan, doing a morning show on a sports station in Boston, dude. That’s crazy.
FT: Yeah, I admit that I’m a Jets fan too, which everyone uses against me. Oh, he’s just making excuses; he’s a Jets fan. But I was very honest about that. I guarantee you a consultant wouldn’t tell you to come on Boston sports talk and say you’re a Jets fan. I can assure you. Or call their fans crybabies and losers. But it’s worked out. A consultant would tell you not to do that, so don’t always listen to consultants. They just give you the easiest road.
BN: I’d imagine that you’re selling a different product than pretty much anybody else in that market. When you come out and say I’m a Jets fan, I don’t know how to pronounce these town names, do you think there’s something about being different and authentic that helps you be successful?
FT: I think it was necessary for us. We would never have succeeded if we hadn’t done it. I mean if you think about it, I’ve always thought about it like this: If you were out to dinner with five people and you didn’t know three of them, say you’re a big Yankee fan and you were at a table and someone says, oh hey, did you see the Yankee game? And you’re like no, I’m a Red Sox fan. They’re not going to get up from the table and leave. It’s not something that you’re going to judge a person’s character by.
I think in our case, I talk a lot about my personal life. I don’t know why. It just happens for better or for worse, sometimes worse. I think just being authentic because we didn’t have the sports credibility. So yeah, you’re kind of selling yourself to people and you’re just going, this is the authentic person that I am within reason.
You probably wouldn’t talk for four hours if given your druthers, but here’s the authentic person I am talking into a microphone, so you can judge me. We’re not like Felger & Mazz who immediately had this sports credibility. They only talk about sports. They have the cred to do that. I think we were forced to kind of sell ourselves. I think just being authentic was necessary for us.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 boss 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 actively shunning the sport.
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.