Don Martin Values The Opportunity To Learn and Network at The BSM Summit
“Jason was the first one to bring all of us together. It wasn’t so much what somebody said, it’s what somebody did.”
Sports talk radio is the people business. Connecting with an audience. (People.) Connecting with managers that might hire you one day. (People.) Understanding and utilizing new technology is a bridge that helps strengthen connections. That’s great, but if you stink at forming relationships to begin with, that bridge really does you no good. I don’t think I’ve met anybody in the sports radio world that preaches the value of connecting with people more than Don Martin.
As the Executive Vice President of Programming at iHeartRadio, and the General Manager of AM 570 in Los Angeles, Don has connected with many, many people throughout his career. That’s why he’s such an advocate for the upcoming BSM Summit in L.A. from March 21st-22nd. If forming and strengthening relationships is a priority, which it should be, that’s a great place to do it.
You can feel Don’s signature enthusiasm through his words below. He talks about his reaction to crosstown rivals sharing the same stage at the Summit. Don gives an interesting response to what’s next in sports radio. He has a great message for people that are on the fence about attending the Summit, and as an added bonus, Don works Wilt Chamberlain, Shawn Michaels and Phil Jackson into the discussion. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Can you think of a specific example of something you heard at one of the previous Summits, where you thought ‘Man, that’s a great idea’, and you put it into practice yourself?
Don Martin: It’s an interesting question because I go into the Summit probably a little different than most others because of where I am at this stage of my career. I think more for me the thing that stuck out is Jason [Barrett] was the first one to bring all of us together. It wasn’t so much what somebody said, it’s what somebody did.
Before that, there was always news talk, and they would kind of throw in the sports guys here and there, but no one ever pulled off the sports conference, and brought out the best of the best, and had everybody on stage talking about certain aspects of this game and where we came from, and how we got here, and what the future looks like. I think that’s the biggest thing for me is that the guy decided to pull off something that hadn’t been done.
I just take my hat off to him for pulling it together and having it live. He pulled it off, and then you had it live through a pandemic. And it’s still going. I think that the biggest thing I got out of the Summit is watching Jason Barrett and his folks — because it’s not him, it’s a village, and you’re one of them — that come together and do just a spectacular job of bringing all of us together.
We’ve never done that before and then we all sit around saying, okay, what are we doing well? What can we do better? And let’s sit around and share some crazy stories of all the years that we’ve been doing this.
That’s probably the best part of it for me, the camaraderie. It’s the getting together with everybody. We see each other at the Super Bowl, or certain events, but dollars are tight and people don’t get to travel as much. When we went back to New York last year, there’s only a handful of us from the West that were able to go because a lot of the companies didn’t allow people to travel. Now everybody is coming this way, you’re going to get a lot of these people and flavors of the West.
He does a great job of that, getting the talk show hosts and everybody in. I just think it’s a lifting up of a format more than it is necessarily what did you garner from that. It’s a coming together and lifting up as a format and understanding that we get more out of this business and this format together than we do as individuals.
BN: If it’s more about the people for you, would you also look at it as a shot in the arm? You’re doing a job day in, day out. When you get to see everybody, do you feel more invigorated about the industry as a whole after a conference like this?
DM: You can get that, but I want to tell you, most of the folks that you’re going to see up on stage better be doing that within their own ecosystems every day, giving that shot in the arm. We’re the guys, the ladies, that need to be the folks that are doing that. I think what’s refreshing is to see that, like I said, there’s definitely a lot more to gain in numbers than there is individually.
We’re all feeling the same things. We’re all playing the same game. If you’re not into this game, if it’s a struggle, and if you’re pulling through each day, it’s probably not the right game to be in. This game here, it better be 90% what beats in your chest and 10% what beats in your head. It has to. I can teach folks all day long formatics. I can teach folks the business. I can teach folks all day long how to come together as a team. You can’t teach passion, and you can’t teach grit, want-to and fight.
The goal is helping each other find people who want to get into this game that have that fire burning in their belly. That’s what you get out of this is how do we come together and find more young people, find more diversity of voices, find more diversity of people, teach, coach, pull it together. That’s our responsibility because we were able to get that from somebody along the way. I had wonderful mentors. For us, it’s our responsibility right now to give back and make this thing sing.
BN: Is there anybody in particular that you’re looking forward to hear speak?
DM: I want to hear from everybody. There’s not a guest that I want to hear speak as far as go out and find a Phil Jackson. Who I want to hear speak is all of the voices. The one thing that Jason has done so well is get this diversity of voices together. It’s from folks that are starting out, all the way through folks at the end of their career. I want to hear from those people, not any one celebrity. I want to hear from the diversity of voices because it gives you a look into this business from all aspects.
Every single panel at this conference is filled with wonderful, diverse voices. I just like to see the magic in their eye when they talk. I want to see the passion in what they bring to the table because I can’t feel what they feel. I need to feel that from them. I don’t care whether it’s Shawn Michaels that he’s bringing in now, whether it’s talk show hosts from local to national. I also want to know what some of the younger programmers are feeling. I’d like to know what they’re feeling and why.
I want to hear from everybody over the course of two days, so you glean something from folks that are young, that are in the middle part of their career, and those at the end of their career. I want to hear from everybody in the space, a diversity of voices. If you’re thinking of coming to this event, this is the one event of the year that you should come to because that’s what you’re going to get.
You’re going to listen to a lot of different topics, which is awesome. I want people to come to his event. Yes, you should go buy a ticket, show up, park yourself in this coliseum, and listen to what these people have to say if you want to be in this game.
BN: At a conference like this, if you’re looking at the pamphlet and see the rundown of the panels and which subjects will be talked about, what do you circle and say, oh, man, I’m really looking forward to this panel?
DM: Anything that’s new within the game. Last year, it was the gambling. This year, I’ll stay with that a little bit too. I will always listen to those changing pieces of the puzzle. I love the understanding of social, and how we’re utilizing social. We’re no longer building quote-unquote radio stations; we’re now building talent ecosystems. You need to understand all these new technologies.
We create the product, all of our guys, now how are you delivering that product because we need to be wherever the audience is. What’s interesting to me is any panel that allows us to stretch our imagination beyond where we’re at.
We’ve done that over the last three years. I don’t want to act like this is going to be a unique one this year. We’ve all had to stretch now because we had to stretch into digital, we had to stretch into on-demand podcasts, original podcasting, video casts, we’ve had to stretch into all of the 360. Anybody that can help me understand it better, something new, something fast. The world is always changing for us. Every single day more technology comes out. As long as I can always know what the new technology, what the new button is.
Then I like to challenge our folks to create it themselves. I want us to come up with the never-been-done. We’re always learning. There’s something to get out of every single panel. You just have to be open-minded and sit there and absorb it. But don’t go in critical. Go in with an open mind saying I’m here to just be a sponge and have a good time. If you’re not constantly learning, get out.
BN: As far as the never-been-done-before, remote broadcasts were once unheard of, now it seems like small potatoes compared to what might happen next. Is there anything you’ve got your eye on, or anything that you’re hearing about that hasn’t been done before, but could happen in the relative near future?
DM: You don’t know what is the next one. Someone’s out there inventing that right now. You better just have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on, be open to it, give it a shot and let’s go. We are no longer radio guys, we’re audio. In any way you’re going to put it out; some of the audio has video. Some of the audio is just straight audio cut up in a different way. When we first started this, podcasts were one, two, three, four hours. Now they’re doing them in 20 minutes. You have to be open to change. How is the new group going to consume what we put out?
With the constant changing landscape of social, it’s the short content that seems to be winning. It’s also understanding that we need to be wherever the audience is. The audience is ever changing. Now you have this young Gen Z group that all they want is TikTok. They want those quick bursts of things.
Then I find out this last year, AM 570 here in Los Angeles, we started our TikTok in March. Next thing you know, we had one of the highest increases in TikTok of all of the eight iHeart stations in the market. And we have big stations, KIIS, KOST, MYfm, KFI. What I found out was our sports audience absolutely — from 18 to 75 — love TikTok. Who would’ve thunk it?
Now the other interesting thing, Bri, is that we’re living in a time where you have the two biggest generations in the history of the country living simultaneously, which makes it really interesting. Now you’ve got to be able to take care of the young and the old. It’s difficult for a talk show host.
But you know what? It’s also what makes it fun. It’s like when football puts in a new rule or basketball puts in a new rule, that’s our new rule. How do you keep both sides of that entertained? I love the way you do it because you have a passion for it. You did it with two brand new shows for us. You kept both sides going. It’s a tough thing to do.
I was watching a little video of Wilt Chamberlain the other day and he was talking about how none of these basketball players can cross decades and generations. It’s unfair to ask them to. He even said he didn’t think Michael Jordan could have played with him because he would’ve hurt him. Now he’s saying the same thing about LeBron.
In the world we’re living in, we’ve got to continue to progress while glorifying what was behind us. You still have that generation listening. How do you keep them both cool? That’s what’s fun. That’s what I’m looking for. That’s the next. The next is the balancing act. We’re going to all start doing a lot more video too. It’s fun. It’s so vibrant and crazy.
BN: You’ve been on panels before. Is it like sports radio where in this segment we’re supposed to be talking about Lamar Jackson, but the update guy just said something about Ja Morant, and I want to talk about Ja Morant. Is it ever like that, where you’ve got to make sure you’re coloring within the lines although you might want to talk about a different subject?
DM: How about every time.
DM: How about every time because you’re only there for 30 minutes. And most of us — like you just saw me right now — could talk 30 minutes without a problem. Now you’re going to share it with three different people. If I break it down mentally, and I sit there and say, okay, Jason, so you want three people that have a whole lot to say each to have 10 minutes? How the heck do you get in everything you want to say in 10 minutes? [Laughs]
So yeah, you really do need to listen to the narrative as far as the direction that’s going to be given from the person that’s going to be the lead of the group. And be succinct, it’s almost like being in a deposition; you have to just stick to the answer, please, don’t come off the rails. How do you get it all out in 10 minutes? Hell, you and I just talked for 20.
BN: I know it. What would you say to someone that says well, I gotta get on a plane, and I gotta make hotel reservations, I don’t know, man. What would you say to a person that’s thinking about going to the Summit but hasn’t said, I’m all-in, I’ll be there?
DM: Life is about investing in yourself. You have a lot of decisions to make as you invest in yourself, whether you invest in yourself in a college education, you invest in yourself in a business school, whatever you decide. Okay, this is an investment in yourself. Jason does a tremendous job of stacking all these panels with people that have a ridiculous amount of knowledge based on just living this business. When you talk about the experience that the people up on that stage are going to have and bring to the table, there’s a tremendous amount of knowledge that is being handed out. And the camaraderie.
Remember, 50% of this game is who you know, so you want to go and know these people. Go up and shake Eric Shanks’ hand. Go say hi to Julie Talbott. Walk up there and tell Colin Cowherd you listen. You have Mason and Ireland, and Petros and Money for the first time on a stage together, it’s going to be comedic genius.
Just go and figure out if this is what you want to do for your career, invest in yourself. Be there, bring a notebook, listen, take in that information. My only advice is, take little nuggets from everybody. Don’t take a whole lot from any one person, take little nuggets from everybody, and make your own world. Everybody can be a success in this. If you put in the work, you have the passion, and you’re willing and able to go to things like this.
BN: I just think it’s so cool, Petros and Money on the same stage as Mason and Ireland, two different shows on competing stations in the same town. As the man heading AM 570, what do you think about that panel being put together?
DM: I love it. Now I consider both Mason and Ireland friends. Ireland has worked with me in the past. He was with us at 570, and he was with us with UCLA. Mychal Thompson, remember, we were the home of the Lakers for many, many years. I’ve got a tremendous amount of friends that work in that building, and vice versa. When you’re in this game long enough, everybody crosses over because there are only so many chess spaces on a board at each one of these stations. You do a lot of that.
That’s what makes this conference so unique and so fun. You’ll see me with my arm around Bruce Gilbert who’s across the street running Westwood One while I’m over here at FOX. You’re going to have ESPN guys, you’re going to have Good Karma guys. We transcend the business during this conference. It’s not about individual companies. We all work for companies, but we’re all in this game together. There’s so much more strength in numbers.
We need to one day be aiming outside of the sports vertical, into the talk and music verticals, and getting our new listeners. We don’t need to be beating each other up. We need to go outside of this vertical and bring in new listeners from those other formats. This is what brings that together. That’s how we win. Grow this format, not from beating each other up but from going and getting new people.
I’m the Executive Vice President of Programming for iHeart, including Premiere, which is FOX Sports Radio. On the other side of the coin, I am the general manager of AM 570 here in Los Angeles. I’m wearing multiple hats. When I’m sitting here, I go up against 710 every day. And then in my other job with Scott [Shapiro], I go up against ESPN, Westwood One, and anybody else that’s out there, CBS, NBC, it doesn’t matter. At this conference, we drop our uniforms at the lobby and we all go in together. We’re one team, we’re sports broadcasting.
BN: How long does it take for you to put the uniform back on after the conference?
DM: You know what, it’s kind of like being in the NFL or in the NBA. You show up together at the stadium in your suit. You go into the locker room, put on your uniform, and you want to go and beat the shit out of that person across the hall in that other locker room. Then when the game’s over, you meet in the middle of the floor or the middle of the field, everybody takes a knee and you hold hands, then you go put your suit on and you go out and party with them. It’s the business. It’s the world.
That’s the thing, our business is no different than their business. It’s not. And everything in this game, as you know better than anybody, is networking. What happens when your job goes away? Well, you better know the guy across the street. The answer to your question is we’re all in it together.
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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.