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Q&A with Jon Lunceford

Demetri Ravanos

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If there is one station that has had a greater influence on me than any other, it’s WJOX in Birmingham, AL. When I was in college it was known as 690 the Sports Monster and headlined by Herb Wenches and Kevin Scarbinsky in afternoons. One day when I was driving home from class I heard them talking about a third string quarterback at Alabama who had failed a summer class and would be ineligible for the fall. They then took calls from people that were worried that it would throw off the plans for whichever of the four football coaches Bama had while I was in school there.

That is not what WJOX is today. Now it’s Jox 94.5 and staffed by people that get sports as pop culture. Make no mistake, these guys are still the authorities for all things SEC, but the conversation is just more fun and it is everywhere thanks to the station’s digital strategy.

Jon Lunceford deserves some credit for that. The guy is the perfect embodiment of the idea that the best way to get a paying job in radio is to just keep showing up until someone gives you money. Jon hosts Jox Primetime alongside Tim Melton on Jox 94.5. It is one of the few locally produced night shows you’ll find on a sports station outside of a top ten market.

He started with the station as an intern in 2008, when his college football career was cut short by injury. That one semester official internship unofficially extended for two more. Eventually he went to work for Jox’s now defunct competition 97.3 the Zone and then returned to Jox and Cumulus Broadcasting’s digital marketing department.

In the meantime he started a digital advertising company and a charitable foundation that helps run sports and fine arts programs at Birmingham schools, and he got paid to play video games. He may not be radio’s answer to Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, but the path to where he is now was unconventional, so he approaches the medium in an unconventional way, and I thought his story was worth telling.

DR: Let’s start with Jox Primetime as a brand, because it existed before you and your partner [Tim Melton] took over. It’s rare enough that a station will have a locally produced night show, but then to hand it over to two young guys without a ton of on air experience. That had to be a shock for you. Tell me about your reaction when [Jox PD] Ryan Haney says “let’s do this!”.

JL: Well, obviously I was excited and wanted to say yes when they offered me the show, but the job I was in at the time was really time intensive. So, when they asked “do you want to add another two hours on top of that?” I really had to stop and think if I could. Because I want to do it, but only if I can really dedicate myself to it and do a good job with the show.

I really liked the guys that were here before us, Matt & Scott. I did a lot of work with them and knew what they did well, and I hold Jox 94.5 in such high regard. I didn’t want to pass a show on to the listener that was clearly my third or fourth job.

So I thought about it for a couple of days, but eventually realized that I thought we could build on what those guys had done before us. Plus, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was going to say yes. I just needed to make a plan first.

DR: That idea of everyone having more than one job leads perfectly into my next question. Literally a full day’s worth of sports news and debate goes by before you even crack a mic, so when do you finally sit down and start prepping that night’s show?

JL: I listen to Jox all day long, and then when I come in, I am sitting with two monitors up. One of them is on Tweetdeck. I have literally hundreds of accounts I am looking at trying to follow everything going on, mostly college football focused, but I am looking at sports from high school up through the pros. This goes on all day. I try to start thinking about things from the moment I wake up.

I get to the office around 10 am. I do my digital work until about 4:30 and then switch into show mode at that point. That gives me an hour to really focus on what I have. Tim is a news anchor on our political talk station. He’ll come in around 2:30 and we chat for about a half hour before he goes on air at 3.

Like you said, we come on after most of the discussion has been had. So if something big happened the night before, it’s already been talked about. We literally have three four hour shows on our station that have talked about it before us, but if it’s a big story, you can’t just leave it alone. For example, Alabama won last night in basketball. People will be talking about it all day, so we can’t ignore that. It’s great leading into sports or being live while major sports are on, but it creates a fine line for sure.

DR: I want to talk more about the schedule in a second, because with Jox’s three frequencies, I am sure that creates some interesting work schedules for you, but you touched on Bama basketball. It seems like we know what Auburn is going to do every night. They’re really good. But with Alabama, they were winning games they weren’t supposed to and losing the games they weren’t supposed to. Have you figured out which result keeps people in Birmingham talking?

JL: Yeah, they lose to bad teams during the week and then come out and beat ranked teams on the weekend, so it’s not like they’re bad, but they certainly aren’t good either. It is a weird area right now. Depending on what bracketologist you consult they’re an 8 seed one week and a 10 seed the next. That’s the part that actually makes for great discussion for us.

You have Bama fans that are just happy to get the wins and then really disappointed when they lose. There’s another set that says the fact that they are in the tournament discussion is a step in the right direction. Then you have Auburn, who is across the state, killing it right now. That drives Alabama fans crazy, because Auburn was part of the FBI investigation. Two players couldn’t start the year. Bama had this great recruiting class and Auburn is in the position Bama fans thought they would be in.

DR: So for people that don’t know, Jox is on 94.5 FM. The brand also encompasses 100.5 FM and 690 AM. So you have not only the Alabama games, but also the Auburn games. How often is Jox Primetime getting pre-empted?

JL: We actually have Alabama, Auburn and UAB, but it’s all spread out. Alabama is exclusive to 94.5. Auburn is actually on our talk station, 99.5. It’s another 100,000 watt signal. That format launched about a year ago and Auburn was a part of it. Then we put UAB on what we call Jox 2, 100.5.

So with Alabama basketball, when they play during the week, we’re knocked off for the game plus an hour of pregame. Then there’s the coach’s show on Thursdays. It’s an hour and a half during football season and just an hour during basketball season. So, Thursday’s during football season, we’re doing a thirty minute show.

It can be frustrating, but I hope by next school year, when the show has built some real momentum, maybe Alabama can move to 690. That’s where the whole Jox thing started.

DR: Right, the Sports Monster!

JL: Yup. If we could just move the coach’s shows there and create more consistency in football season, that would be great!

DR: You’re super tied into pop culture and you personally have such a large digital role. As someone that grew up listening to the Sports Monster, the idea that someone like that would ever have a daily presence on Jox seems crazy to me. Tell me about your strategy there. When it comes to social media is it “we put our focus on where the most people are” or “if even one listener is there, we need to be there?”?

JL: What I want to do with everything is just create quality content. So in the digital realm, that means really understanding the ins and outs of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It means I may rebuild the website to look a certain way so that it can highlight a particular kind of content.

The idea is let’s keep the listeners with us all day. So, maybe you only like [Jox’s morning show] the Roundtable. Maybe you don’t like Finebaum. Well, we don’t want you to think there’s nothing Jox can do for you in the afternoon. We want you to know that you can come watch videos or listen to highlights of The Roundtable on our digital platforms even when those guys aren’t live.

We’re really focused on our podcasts. Like you said, it’s something Jox never would have done back in the day. We’ve got a wrestling podcast. I’m part of a show called The Jox Entertainment Crew, where we go see movies and we talk about movies. For instance, we’re going to see Black Panther tomorrow.

DR: It’s pretty dope.

JL: Yeah, I’ve heard. This is why we want to be plugged into pop culture like we are. Tim and I went to go see Star Wars Episode VII when it came out in 2015. We were there opening night, four hours early to save our seats. Remember, there were no reserved seats at that time.

So we’re in the theater and for four hours we’re looking around and seeing guys look at the ESPN app or pull up their fantasy lineups. The stereotype is the guy that is sitting in that theater opening night, four hours early are the super nerds that have never touched a football in their life, and that is just not true anymore. I’m a guy that goes to see these things on opening night, but I also played college football.

Ryan tells us all the time that Jox is a lifestyle station. Yes, we’re focused on sports, but that’s because sports is a big part of our lifestyle. So I want to create good content for every part of your lifestyle.

DR: How often does the opportunity to take some of those podcasts or that digital content and put it on air come up?

JL: So something like Jox Preps, which is a high school sports focused show I do, was really big for us last week with National Signing Day. It gets a spotlight when championship season rolls around and the state championship games are happening for football or the basketball state playoffs.

Jox may have always had a loose connection with college sports where maybe one of our hosts would be pulled in to do play-by-play, but we never had that identifiable brand. Now hosts can say “we’re going to bring in Jon Lunceford from Jox Preps to talk about National Signing Day and don’t forget the podcast is on the website”.

We do that all the time now too with the Jox Entertainment Crew where one of the hosts of that show is also a producer on The Roundtable, so they put him on or bring me in to talk about the new movies, and it turns into them making fun of us, but they plug the podcast and it makes for a good segment. When Wrestlemania comes around, I am sure we will do the same thing with the wrestling podcast. It’s not something you’d dedicate a ton of on air time do, but there are enough of our listeners that care.

DR: Is there an offseason when it comes to college football? Is there ever a time of year SEC football’s biggest storyline won’t be in that 1A block for you guys?

JL: Well, we’re done with signing day, so I think we’re kinda in the offseason here now and that will probably stretch to the NFL Draft.

DR: You live there, so you would know better than me, but this is the time of year where we gossip about transfers, so in that way it never really seems like it is out of Birmingham’s purview.

JL: Well, right. It’s never gone, but I will say, this year more than other years, basketball has really jumped up into that top spot. I mean, Alabama and Auburn, it’s not like one team happened. They both happen to be pretty good. [Auburn coach] Bruce Pearl and [Alabama coach] Avery Johnson are both big names and they give great sound bites.

We’re still going to talk about transfers and assistants moving around, but like tonight we have the Olympics on. Black Panther opens tomorrow. Both Bama and Auburn play Kentucky this week. It’s nice to say “maybe college football can move to the second hour tonight.”

DR: What is Birmingham’s appetite for those national stories? You guys always do big numbers for the NBA Finals. There are fans of more than just the SEC there obviously.

JL: No doubt. Look, Birmingham is a sports town. Even without the major franchises, you put a big event on, and there are a lot of people here glued to their TVs for it. The appetite for the NBA keeps growing here. We had a crazy offseason and trade deadline, and moves always interest people, but I have noticed less comments about it being a two team league from our listeners. People take note of LeBron news when we talk about it.

We have a lot of people here invested in the Celtics because Brad Stevens recruited a couple of Birmingham kids for those two Butler teams that made the Final Four. The Nashville Predators being so good and making the Stanley Cup Finals last year got a lot of people interested in the NHL here for a minute.

Then you’ve got Daytona starting up, and there are a lot of racing fans here. Talladega races are major cultural events in Alabama. So we try to be broad in understanding what is going on and understanding what our listeners want to talk about.

DR: When it comes to the SEC, how much does news about teams not named Alabama and Auburn make it on to Jox Primetime?

JL: A lot of people are interested in Georgia now, since they just played for the championship and then killed it on signing day. Plus, a former Bama coach is their coach. People are interested in Tennessee with another Bama assistant coaching there now. People are interested in if Dan Mullen can save Florida.

I think with football, people watch and follow teams because so much can tie back to Tuscaloosa. With basketball, it all started last year with South Carolina. That was a really fun story with them making it to the Final Four. And now all of a sudden Alabama is good, and Auburn is good, and Kentucky, this team everyone has known as unbeatable for so long is behind both of them in the SEC standings. People want to know how that happened.

Any SEC game Birmingham will probably be in the top 3 in the ratings. Well, any major game or event anyway. People love Alabama and Auburn and I think they are taking a bigger interest now in what the competition looks like in football, basketball and even baseball and softball.

DR: Because there are these loyalties that span generations for Alabama and Auburn, and a wider interest in the conference as a whole now, how much can you talk about UAB? Last year they brought their football program back. It was this national darling of a story, but locally, if you’re looking at a generic programming clock, how much do you feel like you can talk about UAB before you’ve lost the average listener’s attention?

JL: This year and next year are going to be different from each other and different from any previous year. There was probably more UAB talk on our station than before with them bringing the program back and becoming pretty good.

My co-host is a UAB grad. I went to Birmingham Southern, which is a small school here where I played football. I’m not saying we try to force small school stuff on to the air. We are just conscious of the fact that these other schools are out there and deserve to be talked about.

I look at it like this. Alabama and Auburn are always going to be tops, but what else is there in Birmingham that listeners can get invested in? UAB football is something the city was invested in. We know that a lot of that is hype that is going to go away next year. When you only have a two hour or some nights one hour show, you have to go in knowing UAB comes third.

We want to know what is going on with UAB and the other FBS teams in Alabama (Troy and South Alabama), but in terms of listener interest, it is Alabama first, Auburn second, and UAB third. And the other schools even further behind that.

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Meet the Bettors: Joe Fortenbaugh, ESPN

“If you’re taking valuable time out of your day to listen to me on television or radio, I owe you big.”

Demetri Ravanos

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When ESPN decided to go heavy into sports betting, Joe Fortenbaugh was one of the first people they called. He was hosting the morning show on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco at the time, a position he got after first coming on the radar by talking about sports betting on radio stations across the country long before the Supreme Court paved the way for states to make their own decisions on sports gambling.

Not only was he well-versed in the practice, but Fortenbaugh is undeniably handsome. He was a natural choice to be one of the faces of ESPN’s new Las Vegas studio.

After finishing his degree at Penn State, Fortenbaugh headed west with plans of finishing law school and becoming a sports agent. He got halfway there. When law school ended, he started playing online poker. Then he got an opportunity that turned his love of sports into a job with the recently launched National Football Post. He was good at what he did but had an inkling that if he learned the ins and outs of gambling, he would be even more valuable in the field.

That was thirteen years ago, and boy was Fortenbaugh right! Not only did his career blossom in the gambling space, but since making the move to ESPN, he has seen his presence on the network grow outside of gambling content, co-hosting Carlin vs. Joe on ESPN Radio.

Joe Fortenbaugh is the latest conversation in our Meet the Bettors series presented by Point to Point Marketing. We touch on the future of betting in California, ESPN’s Las Vegas past, and what kind of bets entertain the masses.

Demetri Ravanos: How does the audience respond when you talk about futures bets? I’m sure they are popular at the start of new seasons, but I wonder if people respond to them the way they do picks for the coming day or week. 

Joe Fortenbaugh: It depends on the price and the rationale. Betting a favorite like the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl because “Patrick Mahomes is the best quarterback in the NFL” isn’t going to land. Anybody can make that pick supported by that rationale. But if you can find a relative long shot with a great reason for why that player or team is undervalued, our viewers and listeners love it. I believe part of that is because it feels like you’ve joined this very small cult that has a very specific rooting interest. 

Here’s an example: back when Preston Johnson was on the show, he had an incredible breakdown of why it made good sense to bet Joel Embiid to win the MVP Award. That might not seem all that impressive right now, but this was before the start of the 2020-2021 season when Embiid was 60/1 before the campaign started. Fast forward 6 months and that 60/1 long-shot finished 2nd in the voting. Even though it didn’t cash, that was a wild ride for all of us who tailed Preston’s pick and was something that led to fantastic discussions on social media. 

A similar situation occurred back in 2021 when we all bet the Baltimore Orioles to go under their season win total. That’s back when the O’s stunk and they finished with just 52 wins that season. 

DR: You were all the opposite of a fan base. A “hater’s brigade” maybe.

JF: Every loss was a party on social media. 

DR: What is your goal for each broadcast? What does the audience need to walk away feeling for you to be successful?

JF: L&L. Laugh and Learn. 

If you’re taking valuable time out of your day to listen to me on television or radio, I owe you big. Wasting somebody’s time is a cardinal sin in this business. People are busy and have minimal free time. So, if they are choosing to spend some of that with me, I need to deliver in a big way. That’s the mindset each and every day. It’s part of the reason I get up at 4 a.m. every morning. 

It’s one thing to make a pick. It’s another to take the viewer/listener through the process of how you arrived at that pick. If I execute that part properly, a look into my process should be something the viewer/listener can learn from. And at some point, during that delivery, I want to get a laugh out of you. Dedicating an extra 5-10 minutes for each topic trying to come up with a joke or one-liner has a major impact long-term. 

I’m not sure how many people will remember me picking Denver over Minnesota in Game 3 when I was on First Take, but everybody who watched remembers me diving off the screen after Kendrick Perkins came back on-air to address all the trash I’d been talking earlier that segment.

DR: You were in California for a long time. What sense do you get of what lies ahead for that state’s gambling future?

JF: It’s the market every operator is salivating over, but none of that matters until the politicians, Native American tribes and other power players figure out how to divide the pie. 

All that red tape is preventing the California consumer from joining the party, which means illegal bookmakers will still thrive. After all, it’s not like the demand to bet on sports is small in California. It’s massive. But there are a lot of people who want to cash in on this gold rush and all that in-fighting has slowed this process to a crawl. It’s disappointing, but it’s not surprising in the least. 

DR: You’ve worked with a lot of former athletes. Have most of them taken to gambling topics easily or did you sense some hesitancy early on?

JF: There are three types of former athletes when it comes to sports betting content: Those who know it and enjoy talking about it, those who don’t really know it but are happy to try and talk about it, and those who don’t know it and aren’t interested in talking about it. 

The good news for any type of former athlete is that when paired with the right host, they can deliver a wealth of sports betting knowledge without even realizing it. It doesn’t necessarily matter what their sports betting expertise looks like. They can still provide immense value to a broadcast; they just need a knowledgeable host to ask smart questions and listen to the responses. 

I worked with Lorenzo Neal in San Francisco for six years. Lo knew his stuff, so it was a perfect match for me. I used to pepper him with questions about what it was like to play on Sunday and then turn around for a Thursday night road game. I’d ask what it was like as a member of the Chargers to play an early start time on a Sunday on the east coast. I’d have him break down what happened during the bye week and how players responded to the extra rest. All of those insights he provided were extremely valuable to the handicapping process. 

DR: Is the audience going to get the same content from you on social media as they do on TV & radio? Do you make an effort to differentiate the two so that the audience gets the full experience?

JF: It’s no secret that I need to be better and more active on social media, but here’s the thing: my wife and kids come first. If I fail as a father or as a husband, then the rest of this doesn’t matter in the least. 

In my cubicle I have a notecard hanging on the wall with the number “9,705.” Tomorrow I will replace that notecard with a new notecard that says “9,704” and I’ll repeat that process every single day because it will serve as a reminder of how many days remain until I turn 70 years old. Who knows if I’m lucky enough to make it to 70? 

I need to remind myself that life is short, and I only get one shot at it. So, if I have the opportunity to produce something for social media, I’ll take it and will apply the same approach as I apply to TV and radio: “Laugh and Learn.” But sometimes you have to draw the line when it comes to how much time you’re willing to dedicate to anything outside of your family. 

DR: What do you miss about the ESPN Bet studios in Las Vegas?

JF: The size, the staff and the location. We had a monster studio in Vegas that afforded several different looks. I was relatively new to TV at that time, so I had no idea how spoiled we were. 

The stage crew was comprised of some incredible people that I’ll always have fond memories of. We spent a lot of time joking around before shows. That kept things light, which is the way it should be in this industry. And the location was killer. Right on the Vegas strip? How could you ask for a better backdrop when producing a sports betting show? 

One thing I won’t miss is the F1 construction traffic. That was brutal.

DR: As someone that has lived in Vegas in two very different sports gambling environments, what’s it like to see the city hosting Super Bowls and Finals Fours? Did that even seem possible when you were there 15-20 years ago?

JF: I absolutely love it. That city is filled with some tremendous people, and I couldn’t be happier for them. 

While it can be staggering to think about where we were and how far we’ve come, part of me always thought it was possible for two very important reasons. First, Vegas is world class when it comes to hosting events, and we’re talking about some of the biggest events in the world in the Super Bowl and Final Four. How could you not take that into consideration? Second, Vegas is world class when it comes to throwing a party, and we’re talking about events that are synonymous with partying. It’s a match made in heaven. 

To learn more about Point-To-Point Marketing’s Podcast and Broadcast Audience Development Marketing strategies, contact Tim Bronsil at [email protected] or 513-702-5072.

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Mike Felger Nailed His Take on Rich Shertenlieb and iHeartMedia

“I want radio companies hiring radio hosts to do radio shows.”

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A photo of Rich Shertenlieb and a Screengrab of Mike Felger

If you’re a regular here at BSM, you’re most likely well aware of the goings on in Boston sports radio. You know that Rich Shertenlieb unexpectedly left 98.5 The Sports Hub and the very successful Toucher and Rich show just over six months ago. You are aware it wasn’t a harmonious departure but that there wasn’t one incident that took place causing the end of the show. You know Rob ‘Hardy’ Poole took over for Rich and you recently became aware Rich has started his own show on iHeartMedia’s classic rock station, WZLX.

As far as sports radio stories go, this is a big one and we have devoted a lot of coverage to the happenings, the speculation and now the aftermath. We have written about a few of the reactions from people in the market, some of whom have taken direct or indirect shots at Shertenlieb and some, like Mike Felger, who wished him well.

What? Wait a minute, a guy on the old team sent well wishes to the guy who left the team and went to another team? And the sun came up the next day and everything?

Yep, it happened. I couldn’t believe it either.

It’s right there on Facebook, where Felger does The Off-Air Show and generally gets into various topics that aren’t necessarily the typical sports story of the day. On this particular episode, Felger had Kendra Middleton as his guest and after they covered the pictures men direct message to Middleton, the topic of Shertenlieb’s show came up.

“I’ve sampled it, I think it sounds good,” Felger said. “It sounds like Rich. It sounds like what it would sound like when Fred was off, and Rich was in.”

If I wasn’t writing this in a column and it were in text form, I would next use the ‘head exploding emoji.’

Felger didn’t stop there. “I’m glad that he got that gig,” he said.

OMG.

Now, before we go too far, let’s get to what Felger really meant by all of this, because he wasn’t just rooting on his old teammate, he made some excellent points as to why he would say what he said.

“Anything that gets people to turn the radio on I am for,” Felger said. “I just want the industry to be good, I want radio to be strong, the industry to be strong, I want people to listen to the radio. I want radio companies hiring radio hosts to do radio shows. I take that whole thing as being healthy.”

Felger continued and wisely said, “I hope Fred and Hardy beat him soundly in the morning in the ratings, but I want Rich to do well, do well enough. I want ZLX and iHeart to do well and do well enough. I want them to have a good business and a strong revenue stream. I am rooting for that and Rich personally as well, who I know, and I wish personal success to him. I’m more interested in iHeart hiring a real radio host to do a real radio show in Boston and obviously paying him enough to it. That’s a good sign and I hope it does well enough that more radio stations keep doing that and whatever gets you to turn on the radio, I am for.”

I’m guessing 98.5 The Sports Hub owner Beasley Media Group probably wishes Felger wouldn’t have said anything about Shertenlieb and not called any attention to him or his show. But that aside, think about what Felger said here. Two things really stand out to me other than what I have already mentioned.

The first thing is that Felger is smart enough to know that it’s good for him and others that the industry is strong. I bet if you asked most radio hosts, they would say they want their competition to go away, but as Felger said, it is much better all-around that they “do well enough.” The more successful the industry, the more likely it is that compensation can remain higher. Plus, competition is good. Always. It just is. It makes people better, keeps them on their toes and overall makes people less lazy.

The second thing is what Felger said about iHeartMedia when he said, “I want radio companies hiring radio hosts to do radio shows.” For all of the shade that gets thrown on the larger media companies when layoffs occur, or local programming is replaced by voice tracking, here is an example where iHeartMedia continues to invest in a local morning show. Good on Felger to point that out.

I don’t know Mike Felger from Mike Ditka, but I do know that this is the second example I have seen where he is not afraid to speak on the competitors without having to dump all over them. A few months ago, he talked about hating to hear what was happening with Audacy and their bankruptcy. Audacy owns WEEI, a direct sports competitor of The Sports Hub.

The points Felger made then are similar to the ones he made recently about Shertenlieb and iHeartMedia. You want the conversation to be about how healthy the industry is, the fresh ideas that are happening and growth that is occurring. That’s good for everyone. Negative stories about the industry can, on the other hand, be a problem for everyone.

Felger gets it. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. He realizes the best thing that can happen is that a third sports morning show in the market does well.

Or does well enough.

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The Best Thing I Heard/Watched Recently

Kudos to the team at Bally Sports Midwest and the St. Louis Cardinals. Team President Bill DeWitt III reached out to Joe Buck and asked him to work a game with Chip Caray to bring back the nostalgia of a Buck-Caray broadcast booth. Jack Buck and Harry Caray, Joe’s dad and Chip’s grandfather, worked together for 15 seasons on St. Louis Cardinals radio broadcasts in the mid-1950s and 1960s. During that time the Cardinals appeared in the World Series three times and won it twice.

Unfortunately, the game on May 24 was rained out, so fans did not get the chance to watch Chip and Joe work the game together. However, the pregame show and beginning of the broadcast did happen and the two did a few segments together and reminisced about their family connections to the team.

I’m an incredibly biased, lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I thought it was awesome and very well done. It really is something you can enjoy if you are just a fan of baseball or broadcasting. You can see what took place by clicking here.

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In Case You Missed It

If you are interested in more on what Rich Shertenlieb is doing at WZLX, Demetri Ravanos spoke to him and profiled him in a recent article. Shertenlieb told Demetri about his exit from 98.5 The Sports Hub:

“I mean, listen, it’s kind of boring because it’s not as scandalous as people might think that it is,” he said. “You only get a couple of times in your career to be able to reevaluate what you’re doing. I would sign long term contracts for about five years. And so, you only get about once every five years to sit and say, ‘I got a chance to try to do something else.’”

You can read the feature by clicking here.

Additionally, check out Garrett Searight’s column where he wonders what could happen if Shertenlieb is successful as a mostly-sports show on a mostly-classic rock station. You can read the column by clicking here.

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Bill Walton Was Undeniably Himself on the Air

As a broadcaster, he was enthusiastically over the top – and well aware of it.

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The on-air career for Bill Walton was a powerful argument for authenticity, but almost nobody in broadcasting trusts that. They see Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA being utterly himself and people just loving it, but for some reason they think to themselves, Nah, I’ll adopt a persona.

This just in: Fake is boring.

Walton, who died Monday at age 71, was never fake, and he was rarely boring. On balance, he was himself. And in the end – and well before that – people appreciated him for it.

To be sure, the man could go on a tangent that might madden a hardened hoops watcher, the guy who lived for someone to tell him why a screen worked or how the leaping close-out on a three-point shooter rarely pays off. That definitely happened, and it happened a lot more over these past several years. I’ve watched plenty of Pac-12 basketball, put it that way.

Yet Walton will ultimately be remembered as simply and unapologetically individual. And if anything, his fame only increased over the past decade or so, even as he – how to put it? – cast his thematic net wider and wider during broadcasts.

It wasn’t always that way. In his earlier broadcasting days, like his time with the NBA on NBC, Walton toed the line fairly often, or at least as often as he could manage. It wasn’t really until later in his career that he became more broadly Bill, with all that implies.

He was open about everything – not just monologues on world affairs, historical notes and music updates, but also about himself. He was that rare public figure who didn’t mind being in public. He leaned into that. He pushed into crowds of people to talk, and he refused to be hurried on his way.

I only mention that characteristic of Walton’s here, on a site devoted to sports media, because it’s what enables us to know that the guy we heard on TV was authentic. We didn’t have to guess. Walton was publicly that same person; it was never an act.

I will say that off camera, Walton was often more gentle than you’d probably guess from hearing his oratory during games. His kindness was legendary, and one constant in his life was his steadfast encouragement of almost everyone around him. He was, in his own outsized way, a very humble person, and if you listened closely to the gamecasts you’d hear that come through.

He spoke in a staccato cadence on the air in part because it was the safest way for him to get a sentence out. Walton suffered with a debilitating stutter as a child and young adult, and he often said that finally overcoming it at age 28 was his life’s greatest achievement. A casual listener could easily mistake that on-air cadence for something forced, an act. It wasn’t.

Walton called things the way he saw them, and he loved hyperbole. He variously invoked Michelangelo, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. in describing basketball players in recent years, sometimes two or three of them at once. (Take a bow, Nikola Jokic.)

That approach is certainly not for every viewer, but it is who Walton actually was. As a broadcaster, he was enthusiastically over the top – and well aware of it. He practically spoke with a wink, but he wasn’t faking. And his increasing renown through the last decade of his life underscores the truth that his authenticity, what made him him, resonated with far more viewers than it repelled.

But networks, and too often those in their employ, don’t particularly love individuals. They love carefully called games and, generally, analysts who color inside the lines.

With the NBA Finals about to start, Bill Walton’s passing feels like a good time to revisit the disastrous decision by ESPN/ABC to blow up one of the few memorably distinctive crews on the sports landscape. And when you zero in on why Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy worked so beautifully, it’s impossible to escape the obvious: Van Gundy sounds like himself.

The league most likely didn’t love that, because being yourself means saying what you actually think. Van Gundy is great at that. The NBA and its broadcast partners, maybe not so much.

I won’t argue that we need more Bill Waltons in broadcasting, because there was only one. We certainly need more people with Walton’s kindness and empathy in actual life. But writing strictly as a sports viewer, I would absolutely love for more broadcasters to step back inside their own skins – be who they are.

You won’t forget how to be an expert; you’ll just become a more human one. The world might even love it. It has happened before.

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