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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.

BSM Writers

30 Sports Media Predictions for 2023

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The sports media industry is a unique animal that can never be tamed, and 2023 will be no different. The news cycle of all the latest moves, acquisitions and technological transformations are what keep sites like this running.

It’s an industry that everyone is interested and everyone has an opinion on because it affects their everyday lives – whether they want to admit it or not. 

How will that industry change in 2023? Here are some of my way too late, three weeks in media predictions for 2023.

  1. By the end of the year, NBA rights will be close to settled. ESPN and TNT will continue to keep their rights but it’ll be a much smaller package. TNT and CBS will bid together and split inventory. TNT won’t air Thursday games until after January, CBS will air weekend afternoon games. ESPN will be added into the NBA All-Star rotation and air the game every other year. TNT/CBS will be added to the Finals rotation and air a simulcasted Finals on the years it doesn’t air on ESPN and ABC. NBC/Peacock will acquire a streaming exclusive package of Tuesday games with some playoff games and a couple of random regular season games for NBC to promote the package on Peacock. The Finals will air in Spanish on Telemundo and Peacock. Amazon will acquire the rights to the in-season tournament, play-in games and air a free game of the week produced by the RSNs to promote NBA League Pass as an Amazon Prime Channel customers can buy.
  2. The NBA will create its own behind the scenes show with Amazon Prime
  3. NASCAR will continue to split its rights between Fox and NBC/Peacock
  4. ESPN and Fox will split the College Football Playoff but ESPN will keep the college football national championship and Rose Bowl exclusively no matter what year it is in the deal
  5. Amazon will acquire Pac-12 After Dark Saturday night rights and take the Pac-12 Network over the top – making it an Amazon Prime Channel. ESPN acquires the rest of Pac-12’s rights
  6. A celebrity sports production company will take control of Pac-12 Network’s unscripted programming and distribute it on Amazon
  7. Bill Simmons will host an NBA megacast produced by Omaha Productions for ESPN
  8. Omaha Productions will take control of an ESPN channel (ESPNU or ESPNEWS) and produce its own slate of programming and/or move the podcasts it produces over to the network for linear viewing
  9. Jake Paul’s media company, through PFL’s relationship with ESPN, will produce programming for ESPN+
  10. The Pat McAfee Show will air live on delay on FanDuel TV in addition to the YouTube stream
  11. NWSL rights will be split between Apple and CBS. The final will simulcast on both outlets.
  12. ESPN and the UFC will agree to a new deal
  13. Endeavor will acquire WWE and keep Vince McMahon and Nick Khan in charge
  14. WWE Raw will stay on USA Network, WWE Network stays with Peacock, WWE Smackdown will go to Disney+/ESPN+
  15. Netflix airs their first live sporting event as well as live after-shows about its sports reality shows
  16. Bally Sports and the MLB come to a streaming agreement that includes MLB.tv
  17. NFL Media will be acquired by Sony, which will use Embassy Row to produce all shows (they already produce GMFB and Amazon’s live sports talk). All international games will move to NFL Network with the exception of those earmarked for ESPN+ and Peacock. Sony will use NFL Network/NFL+ as an extra way to promote movies, leverage Game Show Network in cable negotiations and package it together with Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune into an OTT bundle of its own.
  18. Tom Brady will not join Fox Sports and his deal will be voided
  19. LeBron’s Uninterrupted will produce NBA games for a new rights holder, probably Amazon if they win rights
  20. Dan Patrick will announce his semi-retirement, he’ll stop hosting on Fridays, continue podcasting and leave radio as a whole in 2024. Marcellus Wiley and Ross Tucker as a duo will replace him, with DP’s production company producing the radio/TV simulcast
  21. ESPN and FanDuel will sign an expanded partnership in a surprise after it was rumored that ESPN and DraftKings had a deal
  22. A major professional sports team will sign part of its local rights away to an OTA company (Nexstar or Scripps), using those games to start its own local subscription service
  23. The WNBA will sign a rights deal with ESPN, CBS, Amazon, and NBC/Peacock. ESPN will keep the Finals exclusively.
  24. DirecTV will keep the commercial rights to Sunday Ticket
  25. NBC RSN’s will air on Peacock
  26. Super Bowl averages 102 million viewers if the game is close, 97 million if its a blowout
  27. NBA Finals and World Series both average 10 million viewers
  28. NBA takes over production of its own network, teams up with Microsoft when the new rights deal begins
  29. The CW acquires rights to another low-level sports, sublicenses college sports, air celebrity boxing/combat sports
  30. DraftKings launches its own TV network (maybe even a diginet?), airs Dan LeBatard’s show

Here are some non-sports media predictions:

  1. CNN starts its own primetime panel show similar to The View or The Five with both genders, mixture of newscasters and comedians/personalities
  2. CNN hires Hasan Minhaj to host in primetime once a week on Thursday nights
  3. Tom Llamas takes over NBC Nightly News, Lester Holt goes back to Dateline, becomes NBC’s Diane Sawyer with the goal of getting big newsmaker interviews that turn into primetime specials while also creating specials for NBC News Now
  4. Digital outlets team up together to create a smart TV news network that takes ad dollars away from NBC News Now and ABC News Live
  5. CBS News head is replaced by Wendy McMahon
  6. Al Roker retires from Today, stays on as a host on the 3rd hour
  7. Today gets syndicated to non-NBC stations
  8. GMA3 keeps Amy Robach, TJ Holmes goes to Nightline and 20/20, Deborah Roberts takes over for Robach on 20/20, DeMarco Morgan will co-host w/Robach
  9. It’s announced that the 2024 Oscars will be simulcasted on Disney+ 
  10. Charles Barkley gets a monthly showcase of some type on CNN
  11. NewsNation launches a newscast with Elizabeth Vargas on The CW
  12. The CW gets a new name
  13. Seth Meyers’ show does in fact move to MSNBC and NBC affiliates get an hour back 
  14. Stephen A. Smith gets a chance to talk politics on a TV network on a regular basis, either on a cable net/ABC News Live or a premium channel
  15. Bill Maher and John Oliver will produce some sort of content for CNN
  16. Chelsea Handler takes over The Daily Show
  17. Desus Nice takes over CBS’ late night slot for James Corden
  18. Paramount Global is sold 
  19. More live sports talk moves to TNT or TBS including NBA TV shows
  20. Vice is sold, its channel is sold to a different company
  21. Ana Cabrera takes over 11 a.m. on MSNBC
  22. HLN will no longer broadcast on television, it’ll be a true crime FAST channel
  23. Robin Meade becomes a host on NewsNation
  24. A major news network opens a bureau w/ a big name talent hosting from Nashville or a news brand launches in the region targeting middle America with major names and investment
  25. A news show rivaling 60 Minutes will launch on Netflix
  26. Vox will bolster its FAST channel with some talent from cable news
  27. Fox News will lose lawsuit to Dominion and forced to pivot some programming to straight news as will Newsmax

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BSM Writers

Robbie Hummel Beat Others His Age to the Broadcasting Booth

“I thought about how, in a way, not wanting to play overseas and giving up professional basketball at the age of 28 or 29; I kind of beat people my age to the profession.”

Derek Futterman

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For most basketball team personnel and fans, the injured list garners a negative connotation because it sidelines athletes, alters routines and threatens the longevity of playing careers, like that of Robbie Hummel.

Sometimes, though, athletes simply get unlucky and suffer injuries because of external factors, some of which are not even related to the game itself. Then when one fully recovers, it can seem like a matter of time before they are penciled in on the injured list and within a state of limbo. Oftentimes, injuries on any given night seem inevitable, and unfortunately for Hummel, he knows this tale all too well.

Throughout his collegiate and professional career, Hummel experienced a deluge of obstacles when it came to staying healthy. As a top recruit out of Valparaiso High School, he matriculated at Purdue University where he studied management and played for the Boilermakers men’s basketball team.

Following a successful freshman season in which he was named a member of the First Team All-Big Ten, Hummel suffered from back spasms and a broken vertebra, limiting his availability and minutes on the court. The next year amid a stretch of 10 straight wins in conference play, Hummel tore his right ACL and in recovery, re-tore it, forcing him to sit out of his senior year and redshirt to play again and prove his worth.

After his redshirt senior year where he stayed relatively healthy and was named the recipient of the Thomas A. Brady Comeback Award, Hummel was drafted 58th overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2012. In that first year though, he played professionally in Spain and endured a right meniscus injury.

Upon his recovery, he took the court with the Timberwolves in 2013, appearing in 98 games over two seasons with the team. In the middle of that second year, his professional career was cut short when he fractured the fourth metacarpal in his right hand and was ruled out indefinitely – but he never gave up on the NBA or the sport of basketball.

As a native of Valparaiso, Indiana, Hummel was often around the hardwood either as a player or a fan. The game was rooted in the area’s culture and a regular part of people’s lives, especially in the wintertime when the weather was not conducive to playing sports outdoors.

Whether it was watching Bryce Drew hit “The Shot” for Valparaiso University, attending high school basketball games in his youth, or following the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s, basketball was the center of Hummel’s world.

“I was a kid that filled out 20 brackets just to see if I could get one that was right,” Hummel said. “….I loved to play and I still love to play. I wish I could move better – now that I’m 33, I don’t move great – but I love the game; I’ve been around it for such a long time.”

Upon enduring the injury as a member of the Timberwolves, Hummel traveled to Syracuse University to participate in Sportscaster U. The program, offered for free to NBA players, was organized by the National Basketball Players’ Association in conjunction with the university’s heralded S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and taught by Syracuse Orangemen color commentator Matt Park.

Over the years, some of the camp’s attendees have included Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Tobias Harris, all of whom learn from Park and other program contributors in settings meant to replicate the industry.

“It was just a crash course in all things broadcasting,” Hummel said. “….We called a game for TV; we called a game for radio; we did a demonstration at Syracuse’s practice facility like you’d see on a College GameDay-type setting. You got a really good idea of all the things you could possibly do in the media.”

Hummel began the subsequent year playing overseas in Italy with Olimpia Milano with the thought of broadcasting in the back of his mind. It became more prevalent though when he tore the labrum in his shoulder, forcing him to return to the United States to get surgery and undergo rehabilitation for six months.

During this time, Purdue Boilermakers head coach Matt Painter reached out to Hummel and asked if he wanted to help out with the team, offering his home as a place of residence. Hummel agreed to work with the team in West Lafayette, Ind. and continued to work his way back from the injury.

Shortly thereafter, the Big Ten Network called Hummel to inquire about his interest in becoming involved with some of its in-studio coverage of conference tournament games. To reiterate, Hummel had not given up on returning to play in the National Basketball Association but wanted to experiment working in the space and gradually adapted as time went on.

In fact, he proceeded in the 2016 preseason with the Denver Nuggets but was waived before the start of the regular season. As a result, he signed to play internationally in Russia but longed to be home with his family and friends. Making one last attempt at an NBA comeback, Hummel was preparing for a workout with the Milwaukee Bucks but hurt his back the day before, an occurrence he considered a sign that it was time to move on.

Luckily for Hummel, he had accepted the chance to appear on the Big Ten Network and was noticed by a broadcasting agent during the stint. Despite lacking broadcasting experience, the agent was interested in potentially representing him and the two kept in touch regarding future opportunities in the industry.

Once Hummel knew his playing days were over, he and his agent worked on closing a deal for him to join the Big Ten Network and ESPN as a color commentator and studio analyst. He looks at the misfortunes in his career on the bright side, associating his various injuries as steps to his discovery of a career in sports media.

“I thought about how, in a way, not wanting to play overseas and giving up professional basketball at the age of 28 or 29; I kind of beat people my age to the profession,” Hummel said. “A lot of people play until they’re 32-33 years old and I have been doing this for five years now. They’re retiring now and trying to get into this and I kind of beat people my age to it.”

Although Hummel has continued taking the floor as part of FIBA 3×3 World Cup – in which he was named the 2019 USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year after leading his team to a gold medal finish – broadcasting is his primary focus and means to stay connected to the game. His travel schedule is quite intensive and sometimes involves multiple cities in the span of just a few days in which he broadcasts basketball games on different mediums.

This requires continuous preparation to be sure he is ready for the next broadcast and his process is intensive: it consists of watching 30-40 clips of individual player highlights using Synergy Sports Technology; compiling a spreadsheet with relevant stats and information; and keeping a notebook with information about the previous games he has called.

Yet relying on comprehensive preparation and knowledge of tendencies usually goes out the window by gametime, instead focusing on what is taking place on the floor and reacting to it. When the game takes place, the preparation instead serves the purpose of contextualizing situations and enabling Hummel to more effectively think in the moment.

“I make a sheet – but I only make one just because writing stuff down helps me remember,” Hummel said. “I think that I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve been very comfortable not having to look down. If I put it on the sheet, I look it over before the game and I can draw from that as I’m watching the game. I think [that] has been a process because early on, I’m sure I was looking down a decent amount and you’re missing stuff.”

Just as most color commentators aim to do, Hummel brings a different perspective to the broadcast than his play-by-play announcer thanks to the perspectives afforded to him playing professional basketball. He tries to simplify his deft knowledge of the game, acquired through years of experience at different levels, to make it coherent for the average viewer. He looks at Jay Bilas and Jim Spanarkel for validation in his style in which he simply tells it like it is using familiar vernacular to best serve his audience.

“I think I would be somebody who’s not speaking in cliché,” he said. “I think that I really try to watch what’s happening on the floor, and I think my favorite guys that do this that I listen to have been people who have been very good at making complex basketball plays more simple for the viewer.”

Hummel is not far removed from playing professional basketball when comparing him to other color commentators or studio analysts – but the haste evolution of the sport has engendered him to adapt. The game today is predicated on an increased volume of three-point shooting and a positionless style of play prioritizing defensive matchups. Much like sports media, its rapid transformation coerces flexibility in thinking and versatility in performance.

“I think that going through those situations and understanding how you want to guard these things is really beneficial to then talk about that on air,” Hummel said. “You can see the way that teams are scheming and you can kind of relate [it to] your own experience.”

Throughout his time working in sports media, Hummel has paired with several play-by-play announcers – most regularly Jason Benetti, Brandon Gaudin and Kevin Kugler. In frequently working with the same group of play-by-play announcers (although that has somewhat changed this year), Hummel is able to do his part in fostering synergy, facilitating a more seamless broadcast.

The familiarity with Benetti, for example, kept Hummel from interfering with his call of David Jean-Baptiste’s game-winning three-point shot on Westwood One Radio. The last-second heave, which took place just past halfcourt, defeated the Furman Paladins in the Southern Conference Tournament championship game to send Jean-Baptiste’s team, the Chattanooga Mocs, to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016.

“He talked for a minute straight and I’m glad I wasn’t jumping in or interrupting him because he was so good,” Hummel said of Benetti’s call. “Just kind of taking that in and watching those Chattanooga kids get to go to the NCAA tournament; then on the other side of that [to] see Furman – and you hate this part – the devastation on one side [and] the elation on the other.”

The process of cultivating synergy demands time and genuine investment, along with cooperation on both sides in order to effectuate a compelling broadcast product for consumers on a nightly basis. Through activities such as going out to dinner or conversing about topics not related to the job, colleagues are able to learn more about one another and bring a personal element to the broadcast when appropriate.

“I think getting to know your partner is incredibly helpful,” Hummel said. “I’ve been very lucky that I’ve worked with great people. It’s something that I definitely recognize and am thankful for because those guys are great.”

When Hummel is doing games for Westwood One Radio, it is more difficult to find space in which to intersperse his analysis and opinion than it is on the Big Ten Network and ESPN. During one broadcast, it was apparent to him that the Michigan State Wolverines were pushing the pace of play during the NCAA tournament, necessitating the play-by-play announcer to keep up with the game and call the action.

“You feel like you’re maybe stealing a paycheck in the sense that it’s so much more of a play-by-play guy’s game,” Hummel explained regarding broadcasting games on radio, “and it makes sense because the play-by-play guy has to really let the viewer know what’s going on. TV is much more of [an] analyst’s game because you can watch; you can see it with your two eyes [and] the play-by-play guy doesn’t have to say every little thing that’s happening.”

Hummel enjoys calling college basketball games and hopes to continue doing it for a long time, but he would like to pair it with another job down the road: calling NBA games. Last season during an outbreak of COVID-19 within the Chicago Bulls organization, he was asked to step in on a few broadcasts to fill in for radio analyst Bill Wennington. It was representative of a full-circle moment, as Hummel grew up listening to former Bulls announcer Doug Collins and followed the dynasty led by Hall of Fame guard Michael Jordan since the team played just one hour away from his hometown.

Yet it came in an unfavorable circumstance, a scenario Hummel did not wish had occurred, but nonetheless gave him his first chance at broadcasting an NBA game. It was the beginning of an unprecedented stretch in which Hummel worked with a slew of different commentators – including K.C. Johnson on three minutes’ notice for one game in January – and experienced back-to-back game-winning shots by all-star forward DeMar DeRozan.

“To do the Bulls games and get to be back in that setting was terrific,” Hummel said. “….It was a great time [and] I hope I get to do more. I hated the fact that I was doing it because Stacey King and Bill Wennington got COVID; that’s not what you want to have happen to get that opportunity.”

It just so happened that during his stretch on the Bulls broadcasts, another team had experienced a similar outbreak of COVID-19 and needed Hummel to be prepared not to fill in on its broadcast – but to potentially suit up and appear in an NBA game. On Dec. 19, the Bulls were facing the Los Angeles Lakers and Hummel was not sure whether he would be broadcasting or playing in the game. Thankfully, no Lakers players ended up testing positive for the infectious disease and Hummel was behind the mic.

In a similar mold to what Kirk Herbstreit just completed in regularly broadcasting college football with Chris Fowler on ESPN and NFL Thursday Night Football games with Al Michaels on Amazon Prime Video, Hummel has interest in potentially one day taking on a dual role. There are subtle differences between basketball at the college and professional levels, according to Hummel, largely because of the elevated style of play in the latter. It was after filling in on the Bulls’ broadcasts when he recognized the margin between both entities in terms of shot-making and athleticism.

“I love the atmosphere of college basketball and the pageantry,” Hummel said. “I think that playing for your school is such a special, unique thing for these kids and just the atmospheres that we see in college hoops…. To see those things up close is very special but the NBA, from a talent perspective, is just [at] a different level.”

Off the court, a difference between these two levels of basketball is in the responsibilities of the athletes. In college, the athletes are students majoring in different subjects; therefore, they are responsible for attending classes and achieving a satisfactory level of academic performance. In the NBA, the athletes are students of the game of basketball, immersing themselves in the sport although some pursue additional outside business ventures. No matter the level or the circumstance though, there is a quality Hummel believes he must exhibit to earn and maintain the respect of team personnel, fans and colleagues.

“I think fairness is the biggest part,” he said. “[Being] critical and giving a guy his props when those props are due; [and] it’s not personal saying a kid takes a bad shot or makes a bad decision. [It] doesn’t mean he’s a bad player or a bad kid. I think as long as you’re verbalizing that, it’s okay to be critical when that time [comes].”

Hummel has broadcast the first two weeks of the NCAA tournament on Westwood One Radio and would like to one day have a chance to do it on television. If the right situation were to become available in which to coach, he would consider lending his vision and expertise to help a team win in that way as well. No matter what the future holds for him though, he aspires to remain involved in the game of basketball, the sport that continuously knocked him down but, in so doing, gave him a lucky break and fostered a new career.

“This is a career that I want to do for a long time,” Hummel said. “I feel fortunate that I get to do it because it is a privilege to get to watch high-level basketball whether it’s in the Big Ten or other conferences or doing some Bulls games…. I am fortunate in that regard and it is kind of crazy to look back as to how it can be a silver lining.”

For athletes, stepping away from any sport can be a difficult challenge, leading them to want to remain immersed in it. Throughout his time playing basketball, Robbie Hummel had a sense that his future may lie working in sports media since he was always fascinated with who was calling the games in which he played and listening to their commentary.

He also became friendly with Larry Clisby, the play-by-play announcer at Purdue University, and, from him, learned about the industry and the art of broadcasting itself. Without his indefatigable drive to succeed in a new chapter of his life, Hummel may not have made it to where he is today: one of the nation’s top college basketball analysts with an auspicious future ahead.

“I think taking advantage and picking the brain of the play-by-play guy at your college when you’re there [and] talking to guys who are doing games [is important],” Hummel advised former athletes, “and then if anything kind of comes by chance, [it could] maybe be something that you could do. I do look back and [ponder] if I had said ‘No’ to [the] Big Ten Network and said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to focus on helping the team.’ I might not be doing this.”

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BSM Writers

The Sales Survey Says…

“I surveyed the survey as well and have five takeaways that could make you more money.”

Jeff Caves

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I pay attention anytime a survey comes out about what media salespeople think. The Center for Sales Strategy (CSS) took the time to survey 139 sales managers and 153 salespeople who all had 11 or more years of sales experience in radio, TV, cable, digital, and newspapers. The survey was conducted in October of last year across several different market sizes. The survey results can lead you down some paths that could help you make more money, feel more satisfied in your work and get some help doing it. These are intended to provide management with better insight into resource investment, sales staff direction, and increased revenue for this year. 

The study focused on the sales department structure, learning, and development, setting appointments and the sales process, sales enablement, and the media industry’s outlook and culture. You can download a copy of the report if you give them your email here. I surveyed the survey as well and have five takeaways that could make you more money.

WHERE TO WORK?

49% of sales managers want you to be in the office 50% of the time. So, if you have a manager who believes this when they call for two in-office meetings or training sessions per week, don’t get on Zoom. Be there! And go in Friday morning too. Be honest if you have a manager who doesn’t care where you work. Do you get more done at home in private or with peer pressure and energy at the office? 

DON’T LET YOURSELF FEEL UNDERAPPRECIATED

If you feel like the 38% of salespeople who report only feeling sometimes valued or never, or you are amongst the 1/3 who feel like your manager only talks to you about your positives because they have to do something about it, suggest to the manager what motivates you to improve and see if that makes a difference. If it is that important to you and you are unhappy, move on. Go down the street. 72% of sales managers think their staff should increase, not decrease.

SEE SOMEBODY

63% of salespeople have between two and five face-to-face meetings with prospects weekly. Sadly, 37% do not. 93% of our managers want to see salespeople have four or more per week. Make it a goal to zoom or see one prospect per day. Does that sound THAT difficult? 80% of the sellers agree that it is much harder to get an appointment in 2022 than in 2017. Give the prospect a written proposal of what you discuss. 75% of your managers think you present too few written proposals weekly. ONE SHEETS and avatars! ! How can a prospect buy what isn’t defined? 

KNOW YOUR PACE

Half all salespeople say it takes less than 30 days to find, present and close a prospect. 88% say it takes less than 90 days. The truth is probably in the middle. When you do your pipeline report, remember these stats. Allow a few months for the fruits of your labor. 

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The top 3 categories of business being chased are recruitment, home services, and healthcare. DO IT. 

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