Personal happiness is mostly tied to your mindset — whether you have a positive or negative outlook on the things you experience in life. In spite of having numerous responsibilities and a very hectic schedule, Jason Ross actually prefers his job to be challenging. It’s a good thing he views things favorably. Jason could become a crazy person if not.
His sports radio journey began at Sports 1140 KHTK back in 1994. Jason has remained in Sacramento ever since. Jason’s list of duties include talk show host, program director, pre/half/postgame host for Sacramento Kings basketball, and the radio voice of Sacramento State football since 1997. This definitely qualifies as challenging to say the least.
They say timing is everything. Whoever “they” happens to be has it right. Jason had to choose between two opportunites; he chose a fill-in shift for two weeks that turned into a 25-year career at the same station.
He shares great insight below in a very conversational tone. Jason also shares his thoughts about the role he covets most going forward. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: When did you figure out that you wanted to pursue sports radio as a career?
Jason Ross: It was pretty easy for me. I can pinpoint it exactly. I was a junior at UC Davis and I went to school to play sports and to possibly be a veterinarian. I was trying out for the basketball team. I made it all the way to the end and was one of the last cuts. That very weekend the men’s team was going to have their first game. One of my friends was working at the campus radio station and he said, “Hey, you know the team. You’ve been around the guys. I need someone to do color commentary with me. Would you like to sit in with me?
I thought, “Well I love sports. I’ve watched sports all my life. I want to stay involved in some way. Sure.” The second I did the first game, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do. Then I got an opportunity to do the women’s games. Everybody that was at the campus station at the time was a senior or moving on, or graduating and going to grad school.
That very next year I was a senior and I was the program director at the campus station. Then I got a chance to create my own show, do football, basketball, baseball, get commercials, sell, just all of it, everything all-encompassing. Right then and there I said, “Yeah, this is exactly what I want to do.”
Noe: You almost were a veterinarian?
Ross: (laughs) That was one of my goals. I wanted to play sports as long as I possibly could. I was actually on the baseball team my first year. I was a redshirt. It was a loose program that way where you could be a redshirt and be around. I really was just there for that, for the beginning of that first year. But then I was always playing basketball, basketball, basketball. That’s where in my third year; I tried out for that team.
I went to school thinking that would probably be my long-term goal. I think it was my sophomore summer in college; I worked at a veterinarian’s office. I liked it, but I kind of realized then that I don’t think that was the career path I wanted to go down. Shortly thereafter was when the opportunity to do some radio work happened and that’s when I fell in love with it.
Noe: What was the first station that you worked at?
Ross: I’m also unique in that regard. The second my college time ran up, I started putting out all of the flyers and feelers to see what can be next for me. I had an opportunity to go back home to Orange County and work at the Orange County Newschannel, which was a 24-hour news station at the time that was relatively new and have an internship. Or at Sports 1140, which was at the time Hot Talk 1140, in Sacramento as a part-time, fill-in board op for two weeks.
There was going to be a guy that was going to be on vacation for two weeks and the station needed a board op. I was really torn on which one to do, but I went for — as sad as it was — the money. It turned out the guy never came back. I got a job at the station and I’ve been there for 25 years. People move all over the place. I just stayed in one spot. Everybody’s got a different path, but that’s been mine.
Eventually that same summer, the station got the Sacramento Kings. We turned into a sports station. It was just incredible timing. My boss at the time said, “Hey, we’re going to need a locker room reporter. I said, “I’ll do it.” You just start saying you’ll do weekend shifts and work holidays and all of the things you have to do to move up. I’ve been at the same place longer than anyone at that station for 25 years.
Noe: The only reason you chose Sacramento was because the fill-in gig was paid?
Ross: Probably, and maybe being comfortable. I was still living in Davis. School had just ended. All of my friends were still here. I could have gone home. It seemed to make sense to at least try that to me. I had a girlfriend at the time. Friends, girlfriend, it was all still happening up here. Could I have gone home? Sure, but I took my chances on that and little did I know it would be just the greatest decision I could have made.
Noe: What do you remember most about those two weeks of fill-in work?
Ross: It was a nationally syndicated non-sports talk show. It was just learning the business, running the board, playing carts, cutting tape, just literally the old-school radio that’s not even a thing anymore. Just trying to figure that out. It just all seemed like it moved so fast — making my mistakes and figuring out the business. Not that you figure it all out certainly in two weeks, but just starting to dip your toe into it and figuring out what I didn’t know.
Noe: When you’re wearing so many hats — on-air guy, PD, doing the Kings stuff, play-by-play — what part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Ross: I would say my number one thing that I love more than anything is play-by-play. I just love the art of that. The preparation. No game is the same. The people you meet. You could have two terrible teams and you see the greatest individual performance or team performance that day. You could also see the worst thing. You see someone score seven touchdowns, someone score 60 points, someone go 0-for-25. The greatest dunk, the worst pass. I love that.
I just love all of those things about play-by-play and the art of calling it. Did I describe it perfectly there? What could I have done better? Then I try to take that same approach to the other elements too — creating a show, trying to do the best that I can for the station. I think overall my favorite thing by far is play-by-play.
Noe: Do you find yourself listening closer to play-by-play guys or sports radio hosts?
Ross: That’s a great question. Probably both because I think you can identify where someone is missing something, or what someone is good at based on your own experiences. For an example, in play-by-play — I know this has happened to me before — I take pride in knowing who everyone is out on the field and having as much prep on the court.
Football is the trickiest one. There are 11 offensive guys and 11 defensive guys. Maybe a ball is tipped and it’s a backup linebacker. In that moment you may not know who picked it off. Then you recover and you look at your chart and you find out who it is.
I can listen to a game especially on radio and hear someone that gets caught up in that same thing and describes a pass, “It’s picked off and they’re going the other way.” I say, “Oh, they don’t know who it is,” because I’ve been there. I know that they don’t know who it is and then they catch up and they go, “Oh, that was John Smith with the pick, his third of the season.” I say, “Okay, they got it. They recovered and handled it well.”
It’s the same idea on a talk show when someone asks a question, or they’re trying to go somewhere. I go, “Oh, they’re trapped. They’ve got a crutch.” Probably from what my own mistakes have been I can hear where people maybe get stuck in play-by-play or on talk shows.
Noe: What was your crutch word that was pointed out to you?
Ross: (laughs) I had a football game. Sacramento State was playing Cal State Northridge and they ran what would be like a run-and-gun offense. Their football program doesn’t even exist anymore, but they said, “Hey, I heard the game. You know how many times you said quick hitter?” I said, “Quick hitter?” Really?” They said, “You said it all the time.”
I went back and listened to the tape and it was disgusting. I literally said it for almost every pass. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t have guessed I ever said it. I’d say, “Quick hitter over the middle. Quick hitter.” I mean it was disgusting. I said it way too much, but it was great that someone told me that. You need someone policing you out there, if it’s not yourself, because it’s hard sometimes to go back and listen to your work consistently.
That was constructive. It wasn’t meant to be mean. If someone can be honest with you like that, it’s really helpful. I think we can all get caught up in saying some of the same things. That’s the art of play-by-play too is describing something similar with different words and different sayings and being creative. That was frustrating, but a good lesson.
Noe: Play-by-play is so fluid and constantly moving forward based on how the game unfolds. Do you think that impacts you as a sports radio host where maybe you tend to move through topics more fluidly than other hosts?
Ross: I’m not sure because I only know this way of doing play-by-play and doing a talk show. I think the art of doing a talk show has been extremely helpful the other way around with play-by-play. I know a couple of years ago, the Kings had a game in Philadelphia. I was back in the studio doing the pre, half, and post — threw it out to Gary Gerould to basically start the coverage and there was condensation still on the hardwood from the ice underneath.
We had a delay, and then another delay. It was filling time, and now back in the studio. I’ve done talk shows so I know how to fill time, but that was a little unique because are we filling five minutes? Is this going to be 10? Is this going to be 30? The art of being able to talk and find different storylines and find things to talk about, but also being able to cut it off if you have to go right back out to the venue. It ended up that the game was postponed and made up on another day. It was a unique night. I felt that if I was at the game by myself doing play-by-play, I would have been able to fill too, but I was back at the studio and you just kind of have to adjust.
The practice of being in a talk show format where you might have a 12, 15, 20-minute segment, hopefully with someone else, but if you’re by yourself, you’ve got to be able to fill that airspace. It’s not always easy, but hopefully you’ve got enough reps that — alright you’ve got to go for 25 minutes straight and we’re in a crisis. Alright let’s go — and just figure out how to fill the space.
Noe: When you mention how sports radio has changed over the years with smartphones and smart speakers and all these different choices that people have, what do you think is the most important aspect to keep in mind as a sports radio host as you structure your show?
Ross: I still think if it’s a topic that’s interesting to me, I hopefully then can relate that as something that’s interesting to someone else. If you’re digging for topics just to bring it up and I’m not buying it, I don’t know that the consumer there is going to go, “I’m all in on this.” Not everybody is going to love every segment of everything that you do. That’s impossible to please everybody.
I think if you find stuff that’s interesting to you for an angle, or a storyline, or a human-interest element that you feel that you can convey, then I think you’re going to do your best job at least at that, and in the end, feel good about the content you’re delivering. Again that’s not going to be for everybody, but at least then you know you were doing your best job. I think you just have to continue. I try to find the things that interest me and then that way hopefully I’m telling the best stories or relaying the best angles of those stories.
Noe: During an Army-Navy football game, they’ll take a player’s schedule and say at 0600 this guy wakes up and does this, and at 0700 he does that. That thought came to mind as it relates to your schedule. When you have so much on your plate, how does your day generally set up?
Ross: (laughs) It’s different based on the different times of the year. It’s funny that you say that because maybe when the Kings season ends, there’ll be a couple of days where it’s just not as much on my plate. But then I also find myself — it’s not bored — but it’s not as hectic. I think I prefer a lot of plates spinning. I love all of this.
Generally I really love it in October and November. The Kings are going. I’m consumed with college football on the weekend and the prep that takes all week. Then a show and being the program director. It’s completely hectic, but I love that. Different times of the year it varies, but generally I’m at the radio station by about 8:30 and trying to do program director type things for a couple of hours.
I try to transition into the radio show mode at some time during that, at least a half hour or so before the show. It’s the show from noon to 3. Then it just depends on if it’s a Kings night or not, but get back in the program director type mode. If it’s a game, you could be at the arena until 10:30 or 11 or at the station until 10:30 or 11 — it just depends on whether the game is East Coast or West Coast.
I don’t ever look at it like, “Aww man, I got to be at the station for 12 to 14 hours.” Maybe the next day there is no game and I’m at the station until 5:30 or so. It evens out and there’s less weekend work in the non-basketball and football season, but there’s always something going on and I actually prefer it that way.
Noe: Is it ever hard to avoid thinking negatively about your different roles meaning, “Hey, if I didn’t have this PD meeting, I could put a little bit more into the prep for my show,” or vice versa. Is there ever that mindset that you have to guard against?
Ross: Probably, yes, because I feel guilty at times. I’ve got a great partner now in Damien Barling who I do the midday show with. He is amazing. He is a preparer. He gets the show put together.
I try to do as much as I can, but sometimes I feel like I cheated him because, “Oh man, this day I had a meeting at 9 and a follow up at 10. A crisis happened and I’m rolling in at 11:50 and we’re 10 minutes from showtime. I have an idea of what we’re doing, but I don’t feel like I contributed enough at least on that day.
Other days I do more. It’s just kind of a day-by-day basis. If it was a perfect world, I’d have time to do all of that, but sometimes I don’t. That part has been a challenge for me for sure.
Noe: Was there ever a realization you came to that helped you approach each day the way you have?
Ross: I still have the guilt. I don’t know that I’ve ever resolved myself from that. I think I’m better than ever with time management, but again it’s never perfect. I could come to work on a day and go, “I kind of have everything lined up. I’m in good shape. I can spend some real good time on the show.” Then a phone call, an email, a text, three things happen and all of a sudden I’m in crisis mode on something that I had no plan for.
You have to be ready to handle those things even when you think, “Alright, I’m going to have a good hour and a half, two hours here, where we can really lay out a great show.” Then it falls back to me rolling in near the end and Damien doing all of the heavy lifting.
Noe: I remember times when I’d get a phone call from a salesperson two minutes before I was about to do a show. I’d think, “They have no idea what it’s like to do a show.” Do you have that thought go through your head more, or the thought of, “You have no idea what it’s like to be a program director”?
Ross: The only thought I ever get sometimes on that is when someone will say, “Hey, can we meet tomorrow at 2?” I’ll say, “I’m on the air.” Sometimes it’s a concept of, “You’re selling the show. You know I’m on 12 to 3.” That one will get me every once in a while.
If it gets too close to that window, unless it’s the biggest of bosses or a true, true crisis, sometimes I’m just not answering that phone or that email. I’ll go, “Okay, well I’ll have to get to that after the show.” Or if it seems a little more important, “Alright I’ve got a four-minute break here, I can knock out a quick email.” But I try not to lose focus on the show at least in that three-hour window. Sometimes that’s hard to avoid.
Noe: What aspect of your many roles comes the easiest to you and which aspect do you think is the most challenging?
Ross: I guess just the love of sports I hope transfers over to all of them. I don’t know how much it does to being a program director, but to the play-by-play, to the talk show it does. I like people. I think I’m good with people so that helps. The most challenging thing I think is the program director for sure. I’ve worked under so many different ones and they have their style. I can only do it my way.
I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way, but I’m trying and I try to be there for people. I try to listen. I don’t think I have it all figured out so I try to be a good listener. I try to communicate what I think is best. If someone has an idea I’m all for it. I think that one is the one that takes the most work for me. It’s my newest of the jobs.
Noe: When you’re a fellow sports radio host, do you find it challenging to critique another talent when it might be something that you’re violating yourself?
Ross: (laughs) Yes, I try to use myself as an example. I’m not perfect and it’s very subjective. There are people that like my show, there are people that don’t. There are people that love our other shows, there are people that don’t. There’s not one way that’s considered right.
I try to point out something that’s a little bit more constructive like you’ve got to hit breaks on time. Stuff like that as opposed to — I try to stay away from content. If someone’s got and idea and it seems like a reach to me, I don’t know that I would talk about that, but in the end if you can pull it off and tell a great story, or get some emotion out of that, or say something funny, well that worked.
I try to do it more in the realm of something that’s truly constructive and may be beneficial overall for the concept of the show as opposed to, “Hey, I wouldn’t talk about this,” because who follows that? You know? I try to stay away from that.
Noe: You’ve been in Sacramento for so long. Do you see yourself remaining there always, or do you think the future will play out differently?
Ross: I’ve almost been here 25 years. I’ve only been here and it’s tough to see me anywhere else. I’ve applied sporadically to other things over the 25 years, but really wondered, “Man, if I did get that job, would I really leave? I’ve been in California my whole life. My family is out here. Would I do that?”
So at this moment I can’t picture myself anywhere else. I love Sacramento. It’s been great. The station’s been great to me. The Kings. Sacramento State. The community. There’s no reason for me to leave unless there was some offer out there that I was like, “Man, I can’t turn that down.” I’m really happy where I am.
Noe: That’s cool, man. You can’t mess with happy. What do you do outside of sports — I don’t want to say as a release because this is what you love to do, but in terms of something that’s non sports-related that adds some balance to your life — what do you like doing the most?
Ross: The reality is the time I get, I try to spend as much with my family. They’re so supportive, my wife and my son. We’ve got such a great family. My brother is in town. My in-laws. There’s always people at our house. It’s just a great time to come home. It’s rarely just my wife and son. We have friends over all the time.
It’s like when you were a kid and there was always one house we’d always go to. Well, we’re the house. I think that’s really fun. We’ll have barbecues. We just like to entertain and have people over. That’s probably it. I just love to be around people that I care about and have a good time. That’s my main thing when I’m not working, which seems like I’m working all the time.
Noe: How long have you and your wife been together?
Ross: We met at the radio station, which is another reason I’m thankful for all of the things that transpired. Staying at the station that long, I met her several years into being at the station. She was an account executive so we met there and struck up a friendship. It grew from that.
She since is no longer in radio, but she did it for a long, long time. She was really good at sales. So many friends, so many memories, my wife came from radio. It all feels like it was just meant to be.
Noe: Have there been other offers that you simply turned down for all the reasons you just mentioned?
Ross: No, nothing officially. There have been a couple of NBA things that I’ve applied for. I literally remember talking to my wife thinking, “Man, if I get offered this, I think I would say no. But how could I say no to one of 30?”
Now, it didn’t happen. I’ll give you an example; Cleveland was open years ago. I think it was Joe Tait who was their longtime broadcaster. I saw that was an opening and I said, “I don’t know if I want to go to Cleveland, but I have to apply. It’s one of 30 jobs.”
I applied and nothing came of it, but I remember thinking, “Well, I feel like I’m qualified. I’ve done NBA games. What would I say if it really came down to we want to hire you?” I was really thinking, “Am I going to say no?”.
It didn’t get that far because again I’m happy here. I like it here. Maybe sometime that position will open up for me in Sacramento officially. It would have been hard to leave and it would have been hard to say no. I guess the short answer is I’m glad I wasn’t officially put in that spot to have to decide.
Noe: If you could essentially write out how you’d like the rest of your career to unfold, what would that look like for you?
Ross: I would like to do as much play-by-play as I can. I get that opportunity now, but I thirst for more of it. I’ve been lucky to be behind — and I know you know Grant Napear, Gerry Gerould is the radio guy, Grant is the TV guy — I don’t know if I’m technically behind Grant. Gary, I’ve worked so hand in hand with him for so many years. I’ve had the privilege to fill in for him. He is just a legend. He’s amazing. He is still killing it out there and he’s 78.
Whenever his time is done — he needs to write his own script — but whenever he decides he’s finished, I would love, love, love that opportunity to be the radio voice of the Kings. To go with that, to keep doing Sac State football because I’ve done that for 20+ years. If that opened up even more opportunities to do some national play-by-play, I really love radio. If TV came up I wouldn’t say no as far as play-by-play. Everything seems to be leaning towards that.
I enjoy doing the talk shows, but it’s almost like the thing I’m chasing has been play-by-play. If more things open talk show wise, certainly I would do it. I have a show now. I’m thrilled with it.
The PD job was something that became available and I thought, I’m going to grow from this. I wanted to take on that opportunity. I really have learned a lot more about myself and just managing people, and making mistakes, and making right calls, all those kind of things. I’ve enjoyed that, but I guess the thing I’m in a constant chase for is finding more play-by-play.
Noe: I hope that works out for you.
Ross: I hope so too. It’s really tricky because Gary is a friend. He’s awesome, but I know if it was my job, I’d be like, “I’m going until I’m done.” He should. He’s done it for 30-something years and he’s still great. He’s amazing.
Noe: If he was like, “What do you think, man? Do you think I should keep going?” It’d be hard to avoid saying, “No man, you should totally retire.”
Ross: (laughs) Yeah, because my friends always ask me when’s he going to stop? I’m like, “You know, I don’t know.” That’s his call. I root for him. Again, he’s a friend. He’s a mentor. He’s just awesome. I’ve been patient and I hope it would be my position after that, but nothing is ever guaranteed. I would feel really good about my chances though.
Julian Edelman Has Been FOX’s NFL Breakout Star
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments.
He was a key member of the NFL’s last true dynasty, a children’s book author, a regular talking head on NFL Network’s America’s Game anthology, an actor in the film 80 for Brady, and a multimedia favorite. And oh yeah, he is third all-time in the NFL for postseason receptions and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII. He is Julian Edelman.
These days he answers to a new calling – a rising star on FOX’s excellent NFL commentator roster. Edelman, who retired in 2020 after 12 seasons as a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, has logged impressive recent stints on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
Edelman has been an unexpected jewel in FOX’s football crown, providing behind-the-scenes, players-only insight in a casual and humorous style. On a recent edition of The Herd, Edelman’s talent was on full display.
In a discussion about Patriots’ signal caller Mac Jones, Cowherd implied that it would have been easier for the Alabama QB if he had gone to a less intense environment with an offensive-minded head coach.
Edelman countered by referencing Josh Dobbs, who played great in his first start for the Vikings after being with the team for just a couple of days. Edelman stated, “If you’re a guy, you’re a guy,” meaning that good players adapt to any situation. He added, “This is the National Football League. If you don’t win, the quarterback and the head coach get the blame. This is a production business.”
One of the refreshing aspects of Edelman’s TV game is his candor. He was deeply rooted in the Patriot Way and benefitted from all it offered him, but he pulls no punches in talking about his former team.
He does not buy into the excuse that Mac Jones has had three different offensive coordinators in his three NFL seasons. Edelman stated that ex-Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ and current OC Bill O’Brien’s offensive schemes are essentially identical.
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments. He uses his strong connections to Tom Brady and other members of the NFL’s glitterati to his advantage, but he is not violating these friendships with kiss-and-tell BS.
In his young broadcasting career, Edelman has also embraced a rare quality among media personalities, namely, the courage to admit when he is wrong. He recently stated that he thought Texans’ quarterback CJ Stroud was going to be just another failed Ohio State quarterback joining the likes of Cardale Jones, Terrell Pryor, Troy Smith, and the late Dwayne Haskins.
Julian Edelman acknowledged his error and lauded Stroud for his performance and the Houston offensive staff for keeping it simple and allowing Stroud to flourish. He then made an accurate comparison between Stroud and Dak Prescott who had a similarly amazing rookie season in 2016. He also revealed that he and Tom Brady would sit and watch Prescott play during that season and marveled at his performance.
Such neat revelations have become commonplace for Edelman who also told Cowherd that Bill Belichick had different rules for different players. This goes against the accepted theory that Belichick coached all his players the same.
When asked about good and bad locker rooms, Edelman revealed that the 2009 Patriots had some “a-holes” on the team, “guys who had a lot of money and acted like they had a lot of money.”
He also regaled Cowherd with a funny story about former teammate and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi. During his rookie season, Edelman made repeated contact with Bruschi during a team drill. After the play, Bruschi got in Edelman’s face and said, “If you ever touch me again, I’ll cut your arm off, Rook!”
In a subsequent discussion, Edelman was asked about how NFL players view Thursday night games. He said that the goal for players is to just get through the game and try to get the win. He called having a Thursday night game a “baby bye week” because of the extra prep time gained for the next week. Baby bye week – new lingo from a new age analyst.
Speaking of language, Julian Edelman may have created another new football term. He called the NFL games after Thanksgiving “cream season,” when the cream rises to the top and when football season truly starts. Edelman told Cowherd that this is when coaches raise the intensity in the building.
A week later, Edelman was a panelist on FOX’s NFL Kickoff. It was clear that the show’s producers and host Charissa Thompson were tuned into Edelman’s Herd appearance as they made his cream season line a theme of discussion.
Edelman picked the Ravens and Niners as his current cream teams and entertained Thompson and his fellow panelists with a few dairy-related puns. He was funny, saying that both these teams could end up becoming butter teams – even better than cream.
Edelman is unafraid to ruffle feathers, even if those feathers reside in Foxboro, MA. In discussing last week’s Patriots-Giants game, he boldly tweeted and stated on NFL Kickoff that the Patriots would be better off losing that game in order to get a better 2024 draft position.
If Julian Edelman has any flaws, it is that at times his analysis RPMs run into the red. In his discussion of last week’s crucial Jaguars-Texans game, he was visibly pumped up and spoke far too quickly even stumbling on some commentary. He recovered well and simply needs to slow down, trust his knowledge, and calculate his pace.
Edelman has made such an immediate impact that NFL Kickoff has even given him his own segment. It is called “The Nest” and his based on his children’s book Flying High, the story of Jules, a football-playing squirrel who is small in stature but big on heart and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?
Julian Edelman was joined in the nest by panelists Charles Woodson and Peter Schrager and provided a pretty cool analysis of current NFL wide receivers. He based his opinions on four attributes: sociability, aggressiveness, activity level, and boldness. Along the way, Edelman provide some unique commentary on the likes of Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, A.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs.
There is a rhythm to Edelman’s conversation. He is comfortable with his career, comfortable with himself, and comfortable on air. As a player, Julian Edelman was an unexpected star, a guy who parlayed personality, hard work, and hustle into a fantastic career. He is doing the same in media dishing out knowledge his way – brash, all-out, and with total abandon.
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
Mike Breen is Ready For Whatever The NBA Season Brings
“I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
Every time a new basketball season is on the precipice, there is a certain kind of enigma that permeates the landscape. Although he has been on basketball broadcasts for nearly three decades, Mike Breen still feels added nerves before donning the headset to call the NBA Finals. Last season, ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice called the 100th NBA Finals game of his broadcast career. In doing so, Breen became just the third basketball announcer on radio or television to attain such a feat.
When he first joined the broadcasts on ABC in 2006, Breen was stepping into the play-by-play role previously held by Al Michaels, working alongside color commentator Hubie Brown. He never could have imagined that the conclusion of the 2023-24 season would mark his 19th time calling the best-of-seven championship series and attributes his success to the people around him.
“There’s not a stage anywhere in the world big enough to hold that many people because that’s how many people have really been there for me and supported me and guided me and at times chastised me because you need people to always tell you the truth,” Breen said. “I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
For the last 18 NBA Finals broadcasts, Breen has worked alongside color commentator Jeff Van Gundy, a former head coach of the New York Knicks. Mark Jackson served as a color commentator as well for 15 of these series, taking a three-year detour to work as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. The broadcast trio was widely regarded as one of the best in basketball and frequently lauded for the strong chemistry they possessed on the air. Over the offseason though, Van Gundy and Jackson were laid off by ESPN as a part of cost-cutting measures by The Walt Disney Company. The decision disappointed Breen because of the bond he and his colleagues fostered and shared.
“We spent so much time together and we felt we had something special, and we were hoping that it was going to last longer, but nothing in this business lasts forever and that’s part of the business, and you have to figure that out and you move on,” Breen said. “Now the way I look at it is I’m just so grateful and honored that I had all that time sitting next to those two for so many big games over the years, but it’s hard when it ends.”
Breen is currently working with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers on ESPN’s lead NBA broadcast team. Broadcasting the NBA Finals, let alone sporting events as a whole, was never in his mind though; that is, until he was told by family friend and former New York Tech radio staffer Tony Minecola to consider going into the industry as a sportscaster.
Recognizing that he would not succeed as a professional athlete because of a lack of skill or as a doctor because of a lack of passion, Breen chose to major in broadcast journalism at Fordham University, immediately joining the campus radio station. Over his four years matriculating at the institution, he prioritized versatility and contributed to sports, news, talk and music programming.
“When you leave college and you have tape résumés and experience of being on the air on a live 50,000-watt station, it really gives you a great perspective of what it’s like to be in the business,” Breen said. “It’s kind of a great way to figure out, ‘Okay, is this something you like? Is this something you have a chance to be good at?’”
Ed Ingles, the former sports director of WCBS 880, helped instantiate that mindset for Breen when he interned with him during his days in college. Aside from his delivery, Breen took notice of how he interacted with his colleagues and other people in the industry, always demonstrating professionalism and kindness. Ingles advised Breen to get out of his comfort zone, which proved to be invaluable when Breen started his first job out of school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. at WEOK-AM/WPDH-FM.
In his first year with the outlet, he would frequently attend school board meetings and county legislative sessions in order to collect 45 seconds of sound for the morning anchor to use on their program. Whereas at a sporting event, the game is oftentimes the primary story, Breen had to review the agenda and listen to the meeting to have an understanding of what is essential to the story.
“If you can cover a school board meeting that you know nothing about and do a good job on it, then you can certainly cover an NBA basketball game and figure out the storylines and the narratives and all those types of things,” Breen said. “It really made me a better sportscaster. I wasn’t just a sportscaster; I was a broadcaster.”
Breen eventually began calling Dutchess County High School basketball games and serving as an analyst on Marist College basketball broadcasts, all while working as the morning news anchor for the radio outlet. In balancing various different roles at once, Breen found himself on the air for six days a week for an entire year. The strenuous workload allowed him to enhance his skillset and ingenuity and have the confidence that he could make a career in the profession.
Through a connection he had with a classmate at Fordham University, Breen landed a part-time producing job on Jack Spector’s sports talk program, SportsNight, on WNBC. The commitment was initially for one day per week, but as Breen’s workload at the outlet increased, he was able to leave Poughkeepsie and focus on working in New York City. There was a dearth of sports talk programming at the time; that is until the summer of 1987 when WFAN launched on 1050 AM and introduced a new format to the medium.
“We were all sitting around the radio at WNBC thinking, ‘Okay, here comes our competition on the air,’” Breen remembered. “We were laughing, saying, ‘Oh, this is never going to make it. There’s no way this is going to make it,’ and it turns out that it was just the start of something that would completely change the radio industry.”
Ironically enough, WFAN moved to WNBC’s 660 AM frequency when General Electric sold several of its stations to Emmis Communications as part of a multi-station deal. Even though the station had transitioned to a new format, Don Imus kept his morning show on the airwaves, which Breen had been a part of starting a year earlier. His segments were filled with sound effects and jokes, giving him exposure within the marketplace and allowing him to penetrate beyond his comfort zone of traditional sports broadcasting and reporting.
“It wasn’t just your normal sports update,” Breen said. “It was something where you had to use your personality; you had to use your sense of humor [and] you had to use your writing skills, and it showed a little versatility and that was important.”
MSG Networks hired Breen in 1992 as the New York Knicks radio play-by-play announcer, and he assimilated into the role while keeping his spot on Imus in the Morning. In addition to adjusting to the pace of the NBA, he also refined his approach to calling games on the radio as opposed to television. Throughout this process, Breen thought about Marist play-by-play announcer Dean Darling and how he had called the games when they worked together.
“There are very few people – and there certainly are exceptions – but there are very few people who are instantly really good on the air,” Breen said. “It takes a while to hone your skills to figure out how you want to broadcast things if you have a certain style, and that’s the No. 1 thing is to get repetitions.”
When Marv Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1997, Breen was suddenly promoted to fill the role as the television play-by-play announcer for the team. Having listened to Albert call games for many years growing up, Breen knew the importance of appealing to the local audience in the New York metropolitan area. Many of the local play-by-play announcers in the locale grew up around the city, and he affirms that the knowledge and passion is discernible to consumers. Breen met New York Yankees television play-by-play announcer and ESPN New York radio host Michael Kay, who was a fellow student at Fordham University at the time, and discussed sports and broadcasting with him.
“He would tell me, ‘Oh, I’d love to be the Yankees announcer,’ and I’d say, ‘I’d love to be the Knicks announcer,’ and we would laugh at each other [like] two fools,” Breen said. “But I think because we were both New Yorkers and we both understood the New York fan because we were and still are New York fans, I think perhaps it gave us an edge because we knew what it’s like to live in New York and root for the teams in New York, and I think, or at least I hope, the fans can feel that.”
Albert returned to the Knicks telecast in 2000, prompting Breen to move back to radio broadcasts and work with John Andariese. At the same time, he began doing work for NBC Sports, including calling NBA games with Bill Walton and announcing ski jumping at the Olympic Games. When Albert was removed from the television broadcasts for being too critical of the team, Breen returned to the position and has held the role ever since.
“I tend to be old-school in that my job is to accurately describe what’s going on and also set up my partners and give them space and the lead-ins to make them excel,” Breen said. “The personality stuff, I think that comes – I hate to use the cliché – but it comes organically in terms of you’re doing the game. If something calls for you to react that involves more personality than actually broadcasting, then you do it and you have to find that balance.”
Every time Breen takes the air, he hopes that the consumers are able to see that he is prepared, enamored with the sport and enjoys working alongside his colleagues. From his days on the Knicks’ radio broadcasts, Breen has been paired with Walt “Clyde” Frazier for 25 seasons and understands how venerated the two-time NBA champion is within the city.
As the only member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a broadcaster, Frazier strikes a chord with basketball fans and brings his credibility and proficiency to the airwaves every season. In addition, he always arrives in his signature flamboyant outfits and intersperses astute rhymes to the cadence on the hardwood.
“He’s managed to stay true to who he is, yet develop this unique on-air style that very few people have had, but the bottom line is yeah, there’s style, but there’s so much substance to what he says,” Breen explained,” and I think Knick fans love him because he tells it like it is, but at the same time, you can feel his love for the franchise.”
Since joining the NBA on ESPN broadcast team in 2003, Breen has balanced his local responsibilities with calling games at the national level. Throughout the season, he logs a considerable number of traveling miles and always puts his family first when he is not working. In fact, the reason he stopped calling other sports was not only to recharge over the summer, but also to spend time with his children.
By being absorbed in the NBA during the year, the preparation for the different types of broadcasts often overlaps. One thing he cannot prepare for, however, is the occurrence of a buzzer-beater or game-saving block.
“For me, I’ve always felt at a big moment, less is more for a broadcaster because your voice is not made [for] those high-intensity calls to go for 20 seconds,” Breen said. “Your voice can crack; who knows what else could happen, but when you make a good, strong concise call at a big moment and then let the crowd take over, I think that’s always been, for me, the best way to go.”
Although he derived his signature three-point call of “Bang!” while sitting in the stands at Fordham Rams games as a student, he did not think it worked on the air. But by the time he was calling a weekly high school basketball game for SportsChannel America, he noticed that the maelstrom of amplified sound within the gyms drowned out his voice during consequential moments. As a result, he resorted back to the monosyllabic exclamation and has stuck with it ever since.
“I’ve just been very careful about not overusing it,” Breen said. “I try to save it for big moments because if I was yelling, ‘Bang!,’ on every three-pointer, it would lose its luster, I believe.”
Breen will call NBA games from a new venue next week in Las Vegas, Nevada – T-Mobile Arena – when the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament reaches its conclusion and a champion is crowned. The Association introduced the single-elimination endeavor this year in an effort to further incentivize regular-season play and establish a new tradition.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that these In-Season Tournament games bring out a little extra in the players [and] in the fans, and we’re not even at the knockout round yet and this is only the first year,” Breen said. “….To have this kind of excitement in November and then early December, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Despite the NBA still being in its first half of the season, Breen feels encouraged by the broadcasts he has participated in thus far with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. After all, he had worked with Burke on the first NBA game she ever broadcast and could tell how talented she was. Moreover, he has been friends with Rivers for over 30 years and speculated that he would be a broadcaster when he was finished playing and coaching.
The network’s lead broadcasting team will embark on a new challenge ahead of their first NBA Playoffs working together next Saturday, Dec. 9 when they broadcast the championship game of the NBA In-Season Tournament on ABC at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST.
“It takes a while to get the on-air chemistry, and the three-person booth is not easy for the analyst because they have to figure out a way to still get all their points across with less time, and same thing for me and that’s part of it,” Breen said. “Everybody has to just find their niche, and so far they’ve been great. They’re not only great friends; they’re really talented broadcasters, and I’m really excited about the potential.”
Breen recently signed a four-year contract extension with ESPN that will keep him on the airwaves past the expiration of the network’s current media rights deal with the National Basketball Association. The rationale behind staying with the network had to do with the people at the company, avouching that it is a great place to work and how he is thrilled he will be allowed to stay longer.
“Clearly I’m hoping that they work out a deal and I’m fairly confident they will,” Breen said. “ESPN loves the NBA; the relationship between the league and ESPN has always been wonderful. So I’m rooting hard for them to say ‘Yes’ and sign on the dotted line.”
In 2021, Breen was honored as the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Electronic Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his excellence as a broadcaster, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a basketball announcer. Even with various accolades to his name though, Breen’s mission each year is to get better with every broadcast. Complacency and apathy are out of bounds as he lives out a lifelong dream and strives for an outstanding performance no matter the situation.
“You have days where you’re not feeling well; you’ve had a tough travel day; you’ve got issues going on in your life, but then you sit down at half court and they throw the ball up the opening tip,” Breen illustrated. “There’s an adrenaline there that has never gone away.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
How Radio Sellers Can Beat the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Question
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned — that we don’t answer essential questions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about technical features and company achievements with radio advertising prospects without considering the essential question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) from the client’s perspective.
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned.
However, the heartbeat of successful sales isn’t just about these features, it’s about translating them into tangible benefits that directly address the needs and challenges of our potential clients. Here are some common pitfalls in our sales approaches and strategies to get prospects to listen to “WIFM”.
Focusing Solely on Product Features
We all sometimes get caught up in detailing our radio stations’ technical specs and features without translating those features into tangible benefits for the prospect. We love to point out that our all-sports station is on AM and simulcast on digital FM.
We need to connect them directly to the prospect’s needs or problems, which might result in a disconnect.
Instead, we could say that we reach two audiences for the price of one. 45-65-year-olds are on AM, and 25-44-year-olds are on FM. More bang for your buck!
Talking About Company Achievements
While our station won the “Best radio station in XYZ town” award from the local media, which might be impressive, prospects are often more concerned about how these accolades directly benefit them.
We need to bridge the gap between our survey win and how our listeners are proud of listening to the station and will trust the recommendations we give our listeners when it comes to buying from our prospect.
Not tailoring the pitch to suit the prospect’s specific needs or pain points is a huge miss. When we use generic, one-size-fits-all approaches, we miss the opportunity to highlight how their product or service addresses the prospect’s unique challenges or goals.
Don’t tell a car dealer he needs to sell more new cars when he wants more used sales and service business.
Failure to Listen Actively
Sometimes, we focus too much on delivering our deck without actively listening to the prospect’s concerns or desires.
Pay attention to the prospect’s feedback or cues, and maybe even ask them if anything has changed before you start the presentation.
Forget About “Across the Street”
Constantly highlighting how your station is superior to competitors without explaining how it benefits the prospect is counterproductive.
For example, if your station does a limited number of endorsements, tell the prospect they will stand out amongst the other advertisers better cause they are part of a select few live endorsements.
Prospects want to know why your idea is right for them, not just that it’s better than your competition.
What’s the ROI?
A sales pitch that doesn’t explicitly outline the return on investment (ROI) or demonstrate the value the prospect stands to gain falls short.
Running spots can outrun ‘turtle-like’ positive word of mouth or Google reviews, like the Roadrunner. Tell them that.
Too Much TSL or CPM talk
Using industry jargon without explaining its relevance to the prospect’s situation can create confusion or disinterest. Don’t pitch TSL. Tell them they can run fewer spots that have more impact. Your efficient CPM demonstrates that radio can compete with any ad medium and won’t waste money.
Communicate in a language that resonates with the prospect, making the benefits clear and understandable.
No Hit and Run
Our engagement doesn’t end with the initial pitch. Don’t forget to follow up and give them ongoing support and assistance to address any concerns or questions post-sale. By showing them you are in it for them, they will feel valued.
In the sports radio ad sales game, it’s not just about announcing your stats and shoutouts; it’s about hitting a home run with benefits that score with our clients. If our pitch doesn’t answer “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM), we might end up with the L.
So, dive into our clients’ playbook, check their needs, and deliver a play that makes them cheer for you and your station. Tackle the “WIFM” challenge head-on, and don’t worry about targeting so much.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.