As Bob Wischusen was working the 2021 PGA Championship for ESPN, there were rumors swirling that the network was in the mix to re-acquire NHL’s broadcast rights. Wischusen, who had been a fill-in play-by-play voice on radio for the New York Rangers years ago, wanted to be part of the coverage and decided to let his current employer know about it.
“Immediately,” said Wischusen. “Even before it was official.”
During some down time at the PGA, the veteran announcer decided to pay a visit to the on-site office of ESPN Vice-President and Executive Producer Mike McQuade. As it turns out, McQuade was going to be one of the main decision-makers for ESPN’s NHL coverage. In addition to that, McQuade is a Rangers fan and remembers that Wischusen had called games before.
Wischusen decided to query McQuade about it and the discussion went very well.
“I went into his office in the trailer and I said, ‘I know we’re knee-deep in golf here,’” said Wischusen, “’but I just want to let you know that if this turns out to be true, I’d like to be involved.’ And he was like ‘yeah, you’re involved…yeah I think it’s going to happen…you’re involved.’”
And it was as easy as that!
Once it became official that ESPN, along with Turner Sports, would take over the NHL television rights from NBC starting this season, Wischusen would be calling hockey games for the first time in about fifteen years. Hardcore hockey fans had to be wondering who he was and why ESPN stayed in-house for their play-by-play roster, but Wischusen has earned a lot of praise for his work, especially during the playoffs.
“People said a lot of nice things and that was great,” said Wischusen. “I guess if I was a lifelong hockey person, I might have felt the same way… who are these guys?”
If you are a hockey fan and you didn’t know that Bob Wischusen could call a hockey game, you certainly know that now. Wischusen, the long-time radio voice of the New York Jets, has been nationally known for calling college football, arena football and college basketball games on ESPN for almost two decades. There weren’t too many people around the country that could have ever imagined that Wischusen would be on ESPN’s roster for hockey.
But even though it had been about fifteen years since Wischusen last called a hockey game, ESPN made the wise choice to use him.
“I knew what we did (ESPN using in-house announcers) was going to be under a microscope,” said Wischusen. “That’s why I felt a little bit of added pressure to hold my end up. No one remembered me as a hockey play-by-play guy so I was lucky that they had the faith in me to do it because they really were kind of going on blind faith.”
“It wasn’t like they had tapes to back and listen to. I guess they just trusted after close to 20 years of being a play-by-play guy at ESPN, that when I really believed that I could do this again, that they had faith in me and let me do it.”
By the end of the season and a hectic playoff schedule, Wischusen rewarded his network for their confidence in him. The reaction from everyone around the sport, including the fans, has been overwhelmingly positive. During the season and the playoffs, Wischusen worked games for the linear ESPN channels as well as some exclusive national games that were streamed on ESPN+.
But when the season started, Wischusen knew he was going to need some time to shake off some of the rust.
“I was legitimately nervous before my first game or two,” said Wischusen. “I know I got better as the year went on, no question. You don’t really know if you can do it again until you actually prove it yourself that you can.”
And prove it he did.
What made Wischusen’s performance all the more impressive is that a lot has changed since he last called NHL games. The game is certainly a lot faster in 2022 than it was when Wischusen called Rangers games. There’s also more overall skill in the league now and that makes it extremely challenging for even the best hockey announcers to keep up with the action.
You have to be prepared because things can happen now at the blink of an eye.
“In the early 2000’s I’d have my line chart and if I was a little unsure of who might have been out there you had a moment to glance down at your line chart,” recalled Wischusen. “Not now. You start glancing at your notes, you are two or three passes behind. The puck might be in the net while you’re not looking at the ice.”
Hockey has always been one of Wischusen’s favorite sports. He was still able to call Rangers games when he was getting started at ESPN in a part-time role. Once he was promoted to a full-time play-by-play voice at ESPN, Wischusen could no longer do NHL games because NBC had acquired the television rights just before he left MSG.
It would be some time before he would get the opportunity to do hockey again.
“The NHL rights and me going to ESPN were kind of like ships passing in the night,” said Wischusen. “I remember at the time thinking… that stinks. This is something that I really enjoy and probably could have been a part of.”
And now he is a part of it again. One of the great things about ESPN getting back into the NHL business is the return of the iconic theme music. When word started to get around that ESPN was going to get a piece of the NHL package, many hockey fans were wondering and hoping if ESPN would bring the music back. They did.
“That theme music is almost as identifiable as the Monday Night Football theme music,” said Wischusen. “If you’re not a hockey fan, you know that music means hockey on ESPN going back to the days of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement and Tom Mees. You know that everyone is going to be paying attention.”
Now that his hockey season has ended, Wischusen will shift his attention to the football season, but not before he enjoys some well-deserved rest and relaxation. There’s also the matter of re-introducing himself to his family. This last road trip he was on, between the hockey and PGA Championship, was quite lengthy.
“At this point, it’s re-setting my mind to have my children remember what I look like,” joked Wischusen. He is also reacclimating himself to not having to live out of a suitcase.
“I did laundry and got a haircut on this road trip. My hair was noticeably longer by the time the trip was over than when it began. I ran out of clothes. That’s an ESPN first for me.”
So, while NFL minicamps are approaching and training camp is right around the corner, you’ll have to forgive Wischusen if he’s not focusing on that just yet.
“I need to not have my brain think about names and numbers on jerseys for at least a little while,” said Wischusen.
Bob Wischusen’s schedule will be picking up again soon with NFL and college football as well as college basketball, but the 2022-23 NHL season will commence in October. Now that he’s back doing hockey games, it’s something else that he will be excited about preparing for and now hockey fans will be excited to hear him call games next season.
A far cry from before this season when many of them were saying “who is Bob Wischusen?”.
Well, he’s a hockey guy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
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.