Whether it’s hosting “Inside the NBA” or calling a Major League Baseball playoff series, Ernie Johnson makes sports broadcasting seem easy.
There has not been much joy for Orioles fans with the Birds losing the first two games of the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals, and TBS delivering lackluster telecasts.
The delay of the first pitch on opening night in Baltimore because super-bright TV lights on the set of the TBS pre-game show in center field were left on was an unforgivable gaffe. And Cal Ripken’s lifeless analysis during both games has been almost as depressing as the Orioles’ play.
But as the series resumes tonight in Kansas City with Game 3, one of the few bright spots has been Johnson’s easygoing but animated play-by-play. The Turner Sports broadcaster never seems to be forcing himself on the action. Instead, he lets the game come to him at its own speed, especially in a playoff series.
“Less is always more in a playoff game,” Johnson said in an interview at Camden Yards before the start of Game 2 on Saturday. “Sometimes, you go to a regular season baseball game and you’re in Game 110 of 162, and there’s nothing riding on the game, well, you lay out [say nothing at the microphone] and you can hear a popcorn vendor. But here in a playoff game, it lends itself to saying less.”
Johnson said he tries to put himself “in the position of a fan at home” watching the game on TBS.
“I’ve done this as a baseball fan all my life watching a game on TV, and I’m saying [to the announcer], ‘Hey, take breath. You don’t need to talk all the time. I don’t need to hear you.’” Johnson said. “I want fans to live this game through the TV set. If that requires me setting the stage at certain points and re-setting it for people who are just joining us, fine.
“But when you’ve got 48,000 fans waving towels and screaming, and the graphic on the screen says, ‘Three balls and two strikes,’ you don’t have to say a lot. The pictures and the sound tell the story.”
Johnson says he learned that approach to broadcasting from his father, Ernie, a pitcher for the Boston and Milwaukee Braves and then the Baltimore Orioles from 1950 to 1959. After his major league playing career, the senior Johnson did color and play-by-play on radio and TV for the Atlanta Braves for 37 years starting in 1962, a remarkable run.
Johnson’s father died in 2011. But indicative of the bond that remains between father and son, Johnson was wearing his father’s 1957 World Series ring and 1958 National League Championship cuff links from the Milwaukee Braves on Saturday.
“I had the world’s greatest childhood. I used to hang around by the batting cage and have Hank Aaron ask me how my Little League team was doing,” Johnson said of his years growing up in Milwaukee where his father’s team — led by Aaron, the home run king — won the World Series over the New York Yankees in 1957.
“I sat in the back of the broadcast booth for ages watching my dad do his job. And not just watching how he did his job, but how he interacted with people and how he regarded his job. He felt very blessed, very lucky to be doing this. And he always told me, ‘Ernie, this game’s not about me. It’s about the people on the field. Don’t ever let the game be about you,” Johnson said.
“And that’s what I’ve always tried to do. I try to stay out of the way unless I’m really needed. I don’t need to be yapping over pictures that are conveying the electricity at Camden Yards. I don’t have to say, ‘Boy listen to this crowd.’ You’re listening to it.”
Johnson said his respect for those who play the games also shapes his relationship with the former athletes who are now his analysts — Ron Darling and Ripken in the TBS booth at baseball playoff games and Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith in the TNT studio for “Inside the NBA,” one of the liveliest sports shows on television.
“Some people say doing a studio show and doing play by play are two totally different animals,” Johnson said. “And to an extent, that’s true. But in my role, I’m still trying to engage the guys who played the game. Whether I’m in the studio or in the booth doing this, I’m trying to get Cal and Ron where they’re at their best, and I’m trying to get Kenny, Shaq and Charles where they’re at their best. And that involves asking questions on and off the air.”
Johnson said that after seeing the O’s struggle at the plate against the Royals’ bullpen Friday night, he asked Darling how he would be approaching the O’s lineup if he were still pitching.
“I was talking to Ronnie today, and I said, ‘Hey, you’re in a playoff game here and you’re looking at an Orioles’ roster that doesn’t have [Manny] Machado, doesn’t have [Matt] Wieters, doesn’t have Chris Davis. Are you looking down that lineup card [with their replacements] and saying, ‘That an out, that’s an out, that’s an out?
“And he said, ‘That’s exactly what you do. You go down the lineup and you’re looking here, you’re looking here, and you’re looking here. And this guy’s got to be oh-for-four, this guy’s got to be oh-for-three, this guy has to be hitless, too. But if I get to this guy with a base open, I’d much rather not face him.’ That’s the kind of stuff you can only get from a former pitcher like Ron Darling. And it’s my job to try and get it.”
The truth is, however, that you can only go so far in trying to get it, and then it’s up to the analysts to start delivering. That has not happened so much in the ALCS with Ripken, at least.
Even though Johnson’s been working as a professional sportscaster since his junior year at the University of Georgia in 1977, the 58-year-old announcer insisted the job still excites him.
“Don’t call it work – it’s not,” he said. “There’s something very special at this point in my life in being able to do something that my dad did for so long. It’s still very cool to be able to do this.”
For more visit the Baltimore Sun where this story was originally published
SURVEY: 16.9% of All Sports Radio Listeners Are Streaming
The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielsen reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
According to Nielsen, All Sports radio stations are the third-most streamed spoken word format, just behind Talk/Personality and News/Talk/Info. The trend is continuing to show that streaming is on the uptick.
The survey found that in May 2022, 16.9% of sports talk radio’s audience tunes in via the station’s online stream. That news comes as Nielson reported that 11.3% of all radio listenership comes thru a stream, up from 6.9% in May of 2020.
Nielsen notes that in the 45 PPM markets they are grabbing data from and the 4,800+ stations that stream in those markets, just 30% of them are encoded. That encoding allows for Nielsen to accurately measure the streams. They used the listener data from 1,500 stations across the U.S., in its latest report, AM/FM Radio Streaming Growth in PPM Markets.
The survey also showed that streaming levels differ widely by radio format. Spoken word formats display strong streaming listenership (Talk/Personality: 31.2%, News/Talk/Info: 19.1%, All Sports: 16.9%). In fact, Nielsen found that 1/3 of all AM/FM streaming in PPM markets is to spoken word formats.
New Study Finds Listeners to MLB on Radio Are Willing to Spend
More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team… 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
When it comes to advertiser’s attempting to reach an affluent and engaged audience, sports talk radio might have a whale on their hands. Major League Baseball play-by-play features an audience that has money and has no problems spending it.
In a recent MRI-Simmons study, data shows that consumers who listen to MLB broadcasts on the radio are the perfect audience for sports marketers. According to the analysis, done by Katz Radio Group, nearly two thirds (62%) of those surveyed consider themselves “super fans” of baseball. That number is 58% higher than the average.
Those “super fans” are willing to spend to support their team, as well. More than one third (34%) of the respondents recently purchased clothing/apparel that features their favorite team. Those fans are also far more willing to make the trip to see their team. The study found that 27% have visited a ballpark in the past year. That compares to only 19% of the average MLB fan base has made an apparel purchase to support their team while just 11% have gone to a game in person in that same time span.
The news continues getting better for advertisers. Continued analysis reveals that 66% of listeners are currently employed and have a median household income greater than $106,000.
Listeners to MLB games on the radio are also 34% more likely to place a sports bet and 106% more likely to be a participant in fantasy baseball.
Jeff Dean Signs Off At ESPN Tucson for The Final Time
Dean said on Facebook: “…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Fans will no longer be able to tune into ESPN Tucson and hear Jeff Dean hosting his show. Friday morning was his last show, according to his Facebook and Twitter pages.
The Jeff Dean Show had been airing from 7-9a MT weekday mornings. Dean took to social media to relay the news and the reason behind him stepping away from the microphone. Dean said on Facebook:
“This morning I signed off from my radio show on ESPN Tucson for the final time. I have been devoting too much of my life and my time to working multiple jobs…the years of burning the candle at both ends has taken a dire toll on my health and for the first time in my life, I’m going to put myself and my livelihood first”
Dean went on to emphasize that he isn’t stepping away from ESPN Tucson, he’s just taking himself off the air. He also added that “gladly, I will be continuing my position as PA announcer of University of Arizona Football and Men’s basketball.”
Dean would also go onto Twitter to add even further context for his self-removal from the ESPN Tucson airwaves. He added, “It’s not a decision I arrived at hastily, as it’s been a 6 month mental grind to make the ultimate decision that had to be made, and I’m not particularly happy about it, but I have to put my health first, we all do, and make sure we’re around long enough to enjoy life”.
Dean had been ESPN Tucson’s morning host since November 2019.