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Michael Kay Balances The Yankees, Sports Talk, And Now Kay-Rod

“Take a job and run with it, and make-believe like you’re doing Game 7 of the World Series. That’s how you should operate.”

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Spring is in the air as Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association came to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement last week, preserving the 162-game season and opening a condensed, four-week spring training. That means fans will be able to return to the ballpark to root for their favorite players and their favorite teams. Broadcasters will be back in the booth with something to talk about.

Since 1992, New York Yankees fans have had a familiar voice behind the microphone, first on the radio on WABC for five World Series championships, and from 2002 to present, on the YES Network. From the time he was nine years old, all Michael Kay ever wanted was to be a broadcaster for his favorite team, the Yankees, and now, he has been living out that dream for the last 30 years.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in early 2020 and resulted in a truncated 60-game major league season being played, it accelerated sizable industry changes, such as the practice of broadcasting away games remotely. For Kay, making that adjustment was more about the timing than it was about redeveloping chemistry with his rotation of game analysts, and while they were able to eventually settle in a routine, Kay never had any doubt that they would one day return to traveling for road games. Rather, the doubt he had was related to if they would call all of the road games in-person, or whether they would only travel for select matchups. Kay put the speculation to rest, confirming that the YES Network plans to send its broadcast team to all Yankees’ road games for the 2022 season.

“We’ve [been] told that we’re going to be traveling [for] every single game,” said Kay. “I think we made due with what we had to do because of the circumstances – nobody expected [the pandemic] to happen; nobody could ever have forecasted that would happen, but we got through it.”

While he serves as the full-time television play-by-play announcer for the New York Yankees, there is no sole analyst that is scheduled to do every game with Kay this season. While the YES Network still has former major leaguers David Cone, Paul O’Neill and John Flaherty as analysts for the 2022 campaign, longtime network analyst and former all-star outfielder Ken Singleton announced his retirement from broadcasting late last season. As a result, the YES Network added two more analysts to the rotation – in Carlos Beltrán and Cameron Maybin.

When he was first getting his start broadcasting Yankees games though, Kay worked in radio directly alongside John Sterling on WABC. Sterling has been calling Yankees games since 1989, and Kay affirms that working alongside him helped advance his understanding of broadcasting.

“Working with John, I think, prepared me or anything because he always wanted it to be like a conversation between two friends, and the listener on the radio was kind-of eavesdropping on it and being part of [as] the third person that’s really not contributing but listening in,” explained Kay. “He keeps you on your toes – you never know where he’s going to come from, and I think that keeps you sharp. You should expect anything, and you should expect anything.”

The year 2002 served not only as Kay’s first year as the television play-by-play announcer for the New York Yankees, but also his first year as a radio host for ESPN Radio in New York. The Michael Kay Show was not Kay’s first foray into radio though, as he had briefly hosted shows on WABC and, while in college, at Fordham University’s radio station WFUV.

The difference came in not only working with co-hosts Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg, but also in balancing his duties as an on-air host in the number one media market in the country and a play-by-play broadcaster for the most accomplished franchise in the history of professional sports.

So what does a typical workday look like for Michael Kay during the baseball season? Typically, Kay leaves his home at noon to get to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, N.Y. by 1 p.m., from where he hosts his radio show, which is simulcast on the YES Network, from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The moment he finishes on the radio, Kay enters the television booth to call that night’s Yankees game, and usually will make it home between 11 and 11:30 p.m.

Kay’s show airs on 98.7 ESPN New York. The station currently has a local early morning show with DiPietro & Rothenberg from 5 to 8 a.m., but then transitions into national programming, including Keshawn, JWill and Max, Greeny, and Bart & Hahn until 3 p.m., when Kay takes the air until 7 p.m. In the New York City media market, Kay is uncertain if it is most ideal to have a programming lineup situated in that fashion.

“I don’t know if that’s the perfect way to have it done with lead-ins and things like that because if something happens in New York City, you want to be able to turn on the radio and know that you’re going to have it covered,” explained Kay. “In one of our national shows – and they do an unbelievable job – they may not be talking about a New York thing at that point…. But they do about as great a job as localizing as they can but I still think radio, especially sports radio, is hyperlocal.”

Much like the Subway Series rivalry between the Yankees and the New York Mets, the ratings battle between 98.7 ESPN New York and WFAN is closely followed among those in sports media, especially in the afternoon slot with Kay’s show going head-to-head with Carton & Roberts. The Michael Kay Show has picked up some wins in the ratings; however, Kay knows the ratings do not tell the whole story about the show’s true accumulated audience on all platforms. In fact, the Nielsen ratings do not measure podcast listeners or those watching the YES Network’s simulcast of the show. Kay says that has formed the basis of an industry-wide critique regarding their dependency in the future, especially with the growing proclivity towards cross-platform integration.

“I’ve always found it quite curious that you can judge the listenership of a radio show by maybe 10 people having a meter out of all the millions of people that are in our potential listening audience – but that’s the way they do business,” said Kay. “I think it is an extraordinarily inexact science, but unfortunately that’s the only way we have to keep score right now.”

With the velocity of the growth of aural consumption in the podcasting space, some professionals have predicted a phasing out of terrestrial radio in exchange for on-demand consumption. Live radio shows have percolated into that space through posting individual segments and entire episodes on-demand as podcasts, with some radio stations, such as ESPN Cleveland, transforming it into part of a larger audio network of subscription-based content. Kay knows that while the growth of audio-based podcasts cannot be ignored, it lacks one major hallmark feature of terrestrial radio; that is, the ability to go live.

“People that predict the doom of radio because of podcasts – I just don’t see it because podcasts are not in the moment,” said Kay. “You just can’t react in real-time, and I think that’s the value of radio. When something’s breaking, you turn to a radio station to hear what’s going on; you don’t turn to a podcast.”

A 1982 graduate of Fordham University, Kay has worked through shifts in sports media from many different perspectives – a writer, play-by-play broadcaster, radio host, and a forthcoming role that will fuse all three into one. ESPN announced in early January that it had signed Kay to a contract to embark on a new, special viewing presentation to air on ESPN2 called Sunday Night Baseball with Kay-Rod.

Kay will be joined by former New York Yankees all-star infielder and World Series Champion Álex Rodríguez on this new kind of telecast which Kay says is a preview into how broadcasts may be done moving forward.

“We’re just essentially going to do a radio talk show while we’re watching the game,” said Kay. “[It’s] not quite the Manningcast, but somewhere between the Manningcast and a regular broadcast…. That’s going to be fun to do, and I’ll get a chance at seeing how I do nationally with those games.”

Not only will Kay and Rodríguez call eight games together during the 2022 season on ESPN2 as part of their special viewing presentation (including some Yankees vs. Red Sox games); they will also be the broadcast team for two exclusive ESPN MLB regular season games and contribute to coverage of one playoff series. Despite the new gig, though, Kay will not miss any of his regularly-scheduled Yankees games on the YES Network this season. Much like how he balances his radio show with play-by-play obligations during the regular season, Kay knows he will be able to handle both gigs on select Sundays throughout the year.

“If I do a YES [Network] game on a Sunday afternoon, and it’s not a Yankee game on Sunday Night Baseball that we’re doing, [I’ll] just get to the spot that we’re going to be doing the Kay-Rod cast and do it, so I can still keep the most important thing going – which is the Yankees – and try my hand at the national stuff,” Kay said.

The question to that respect is whether people will come back to baseball after a 99-day lockout filled with contentious negotiations and constant periods of disappointment for Major League Baseball fans. While the strife, which many fans labeled a fight between millionaires and billionaires, has come to an end for now, the game undoubtedly has work to do to reestablish its eminence as “America’s pastime.” Kay knows the game is up for the task, and will continue to grow its fanbase, especially amid the expansion of the postseason and new broadcast rights deals.

“I don’t see how people could be so ticked off that it’s going to drive them away from baseball,” expressed Kay. “If you walk away from baseball because of this labor dispute – which essentially was a lockdown during most of the winter where there wouldn’t be much going on anyway – then you were looking for reasons to get out. If you really love baseball, I don’t think they really did enough to alienate anybody.”

Kay grew up just 10 minutes away from Yankee Stadium, and constantly followed the team growing up, along with his favorite player – former Yankees shortstop Bobby Murcer – to realize his dream of being their play-by-play announcer. He says that broadcasting baseball nationally has, in essence, completed his lineup of career aspirations, and maintains that he is fortunate and blessed to be in the position that he holds today. For those in the pipeline; that is, the next generation of broadcasters, his advice within an exciting and new media landscape: Never punch a clock.

“You work when you can work. You get on the air when you can get on the air. The more reps that you can get, the better,” said Kay. “Take a job and run with it, and make-believe like you’re doing Game 7 of the World Series. That’s how you should operate.”

Aside from the small fraction of people with an innate talent to work in sports media, the majority of people have to work to earn their spot in this industry – and the primary things they can control, affirmed Kay, is their effort and treatment of other people.

“[If] you give top effort – 100% – when somebody else is giving 95%, the one who’s giving 100% is the one who’s going to get noticed and probably promoted,” said Kay. “I think the people that stand out are the people that treat people the right way and the people that work hard.”

BSM Writers

Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing

…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.

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WRONG BAD

In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.

“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.

“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”

Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.

The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?

That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.

You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.

“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”

Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.

Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”

Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”

Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”

Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”

It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.

WORTH EVERY PENNY

I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.

My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.

My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.

After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.

Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.

Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”

My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.

My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.

Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.

And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.

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BSM Writers

Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours. 

But is that why you sell sports radio?

In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.

A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family. 

Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.

I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.  

I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.

Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important. 

So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.

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