Talking Through Tragedy With Will Palaszczuk
May 20, 2013.
A day I’ll never forget.
I had been in the radio business a little over two years. Just 23 years old, my main duties included producing various shows throughout the day, setting up live remotes and doing color commentary for high school football games. This particular day, I was headed to set up a remote for the afternoon show that began at 2:00. I was to arrive at Norris Marine at 1:30, a boat store in my home of Norman, located less than three miles away from the city of Moore, Okla.
Spring days in Oklahoma typically mean warm, muggy days with the chance of thunderstorms. Living in this state, you accept the fact that severe weather is routinely going to be a part of your daily life. That’s just how it is. As Will Rogers, a famous columnist, radio personality and actor, amongst other things, once put it, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it’ll change.”
A quote all Oklahomans know by heart became a stunning reality on May 20th.
The potential for severe weather was high that day, but it didn’t seem that way, as I drove across town under bright, sunny skies and warm weather. Though two lives were claimed the day before due to tornadoes, the early afternoon hours were nearly picturesque and gave a snapshot of an ideal spring day.
At 2:30, the show was off and running after two opening segments. As usual, I was still on-site at the remote, just in case the connection went bad and kicked the show off the air. By then, nobody could turn their attention away from the skies that had went from sunny to dark and ominous in a matter of a few minutes. Seemingly, out of nowhere, the risk of a severe tornado was suddenly imminent as a nearby TV filled live shots of the storm located just a few miles away from our location.
At 2:56, an EF-5 tornado with a width of over one mile, dropped on the ground. It raced towards Moore, a city that had been devastated by a similar tornado just 14 years prior. For 40 minutes, the deadly twister traveled 14 miles, causing billions in damage and claiming the lives of 25 people.
By the time the storm had dissipated, two hours still remained in the show. One would probably assume the show would be cut short, however, with new affiliates just signing on, the two hosts were required to stay on the air during the entire four-hour broadcast. In one of the darkest days in the history of the state, how could one be expected to carry on with a sports radio show? How insignificant must talking about sports feel when people just lost their lives a few miles down the road?
To this day, I still admire how both of those guys, Teddy Lehman and Dusty Dvoracek, were able to handle that afternoon and finish the show. Even for the most experienced show hosts, there’s no blueprint to know how to handle a situation like that. No esteemed university, successful program director or thick textbook can teach you how to conduct a sports radio show amidst tragedy in a nearby area.
That’s the prevailing thought I had last week, as Hurricane Florence bore down on the coastal states. Several college football games were cancelled as the incoming storm was almost sure to bring along flooding, heavy damage and loss of life. When Monday came around after the damaging weekend, what was a sports radio host in South Carolina supposed to talk about? Do you discuss the weekend of college football and NFL action, just to provide an escape for people? Do you offer updates on the aftermath of the hurricane and dedicate your entire show to it? Again, there’s no blueprint for how to handle a unique situation such as this. God willing, none of you reading this will ever have to experience it.
But some have, including Will Palaszczuk a host on SportsTalkSC in South Carolina. Though Palaszczuk does his show in Columbia, which didn’t suffer near the damage that other surrounding coast cities did, several affiliates of the show across the state suffered heavy damage from the hurricane.
Sometimes, your role as a show host in this situation is to carry on as normal. Try your best to do a normal show to serve as an escape for the listener. Other times, it’s to inform and offer condolences to the situation at hand. Maybe the best way, is to mix in both, providing the best of both worlds to the listener. Regardless, it comes down to your instinct. Trust it. Whatever feels right at that time, go with it.
Palaszcuk doesn’t have a handbook to teach him how to handle a show during a week like this, but he’s making due and moving forward the best way he knows how. How exactly has his show handled it? He answered that question and more during a tragic time for his state of South Carolina.
TM: Where are your affiliates at and which ones were affected the most?
WP: Our show broadcasts out of Columbia, SC, but we have affiliates in the upstate areas such as Clemson and Greenville, and other affiliates in affected areas such as Florence and Myrtle Beach. Altogether we have about 30 affiliates, all across the state.
TM: Knowing last week that this storm was coming, and football games across the coast were being canceled, how did you guys brace for it?
WP: Our role is unique as a network sports talk show. We feel like our local affiliates are handling the micro situation as far as whats happening with local communities. We set our role as the sports talk show, we want to run a sports talk program, but we also want to be sensitive to the fact that there’s another thing going on.
We didn’t ignore the issue, but felt our role was to create a diversion. We knew there were a lot of stations that were going wall-to-wall with weather coverage, especially in the affected areas. From that standpoint, we wanted to provide what we think is our best option of programming, which is a sports talk show. We do that, but with the sensitivity that there will be certain events that are impacted by the hurricane.
We covered South Carolina’s game being cancelled, we had the athletic director on the evening it was announced. Clemson didn’t make a final call on their game until Friday, but we had their athletic director on to discuss the decision for them to decide to play. Having the relationship we do with both of those athletic departments, gave us the ability to go to them and let them voice the reasoning behind the decisions to a statewide audience.
It’s different, having covered a lot of these on a local level, I spent a lot of time in the Midwest and as you know in Oklahoma, you cover a lot of tornadoes and things of that nature. You kind of have to go into almost a news, wall-to-wall type mode. But like I said, in this instance, our role was unique that we’re a sports talk network that provides sports to a number of affiliates. We just felt our role was to create a diversion.
TM: Did you get a lot of positive feedback from that?
WP: We didn’t get as many calls as we would in a normal week, just because people were so preoccupied. The one thing we did get a good response from, was the interviews with both athletic directors. We got a lot of praise in that regard. Just the fact we were able to handle it from an outreach standpoint that we were able to get both of them on.
The one thing we try to do, is take the pulse of the South Carolina people. It was hard in this state to not be cognizant and mention the storm. We couldn’t totally ignore it, but I don’t think it would have served us any good to go wall-to-wall with it. That doesn’t serve our general purpose.
TM: What about social media? Your own, the show’s account, was that very dedicated to news stories or was it business as usual there, too?
WP: We put out, anytime there was a cancellation, especially with our smaller schools in the state. We had a couple of those. We try to use our page as not only a news gathering situation, but also to inform and show people the content we provide.
TM: How much did the cancellation of football games change the way you cover college football in the state?
WP: Well, between my partner and I, one of us is usually at a South Carolina or Clemson game. We usually split that duty up. One of us is at one, the other is at the other. It just happened to work out that my partner was at Clemson and I was at home. We didn’t see it being productive for us both to go to games, in case something was to break, especially since the storm was supposed to go through Columbia that day.
If anything was to break, I was on standby in case anything happened. Fortunately, nothing did, at least in our part of the state. But there were places that did get hit hard and we acknowledged that, right off the bat, on Monday. There are some parts of the state that are still largely affected, and we’re sensitive towards that.
The big story, sports wise, is how South Carolina is going to make up that game. As an impartial network, our role is to, sometimes, ask the tough questions. When we had Clemson’s athletic director on, we asked how he would respond to the people that are critical of his school still playing a football game during this time. I would think you’d probably get a fair answer, but it’s probably still open to criticism, because of the fact there were a lot of those emergency personnel that could have been used in other parts of the state.
TM: Maybe sometimes, we, as show hosts, can lose sight of what’s really important. Was this a good reminder for you that it’s all about serving the audience and really providing an escape for them?
WP: I do know, that at least for those two hours, it was an escape from the Weather Channel and things of that nature. When you are a producer of a consumer product, such as a sports talk show, you also, by default, are a consumer as well. You’re consuming what the masses are consuming, which is a lot of weather related news and apps. We were all in the same boat and it makes you feel very connected with the listener.
At least from our perspective, we wanted to make sure that those who wanted to come to our show for sports talk, got sports talk, but with the understanding that we were mindful with what was going on. Even though it wasn’t going on outside of our window, it was going on outside the window of several people listening to us. We continued to pump out info for how people could donate to the relief effort, the Carolina Panthers put out a t-shirt that goes straight to relief efforts, and we pumped that on Monday.
It’s something where we feel we’re the voice of the people in our state. We recognize who we are, and what our role is. In this particular situation, we believed it was to be to provide an escape.
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.