When I was younger, I never thought about life after sports for a professional athlete. Athletes were celebrities who had money and fame regardless of how long their playing careers lasted, post-retirement wasn’t as important to me.
Now that I’ve crossed into my thirties, nearing the age many professional athletes retire, I can’t imagine being told I’m no longer able to do what I’ve worked my entire life for. I can’t imagine being “retired” at the age of 31 and the void that it can create for a person.
Former New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro falls into the category of having his playing career cut short and needing to figure out what’s next. Someone that was forced to retire at the age of 31, DiPietro dealt with finding a second career and attempting to fill the void of no longer being a professional athlete.
Concussions, hip, knee and ankle injuries led to a steep decline and ultimately his release, but DiPietro is grateful he found a job he’s excited to wake up for every morning. He experienced nearly everything as an athlete and now the 37-year old is able to take those experiences on-air, mixing them with his off the cuff, comedic personality to make great radio every day on ESPN NY. If it were up to Rick, he’d still be in net for the Islanders, but he’s adjusted well to his new career on the radio, one that he’s passionate about.
For DiPietro, co-hosting a daily radio show on ESPN NY from 10am – 1pm with Dave Rothenberg and former NFL defensive end Chris Canty, is a pretty good life after hockey.
Brandon Contes: How did you get started in radio? Was it something you inquired about, or did ESPN and Alan Hahn come to you first?
Rick DiPietro: It’s actually a great story. I was down in Charlotte, attempting to make a comeback and play hockey again, but it didn’t end up working out and at a certain point I had to face reality that it wasn’t going to happen. I’ll never forget, I was actually sitting in the car with my father-in-law and we were listening to Alan on the radio, who I did have a previous relationship with, and my father-in-law asked me, ‘What’s next? What are you gonna do?’
I had no idea, we went back and forth and I said I love sports, I watch everything, it would be cool to be on the radio. I happened to text Alan about a hockey stat while I was listening to his show and he told me, ‘since I know you, you can’t keep your mouth shut and all you like to do is talk, you should try this radio thing, I think you’d like it.’
Alan had me in studio one night and we were actually filling in for Rothenberg, oddly enough. We did one show, we had a ton of fun and he tagged it, ‘we’ll keep doing this until they tell us to stop’ and it just kept going from there. We went from filling in, to getting our own nightly show, 7 to 10 and then we moved from nights to afternoons, then middays and it just continued from there. So with the help of Alan, I just kinda fell into radio.
BC: When you were younger, did you have a passion for radio at all or is it something that developed later?
RD: I always had a passion for sports, but I never really listened to sports talk radio much. Maybe it was because they were saying negative things about me. [Laughs]
I tried to avoid consuming media while playing, but once I was done, I started listening a little bit and then I did some TV work, but I really fell in love with radio.
BC: Have you listened to other talk radio shows at all, especially now that you’ve gotten into it more?
RD: I listen to everything, I try to consume as much as possible, between radio, TV and everything else.
BC: Mostly sports-related?
RD: Mostly sports. I listen to a lot, like Colin Cowherd and I listen to The Kay Show, I listen to all the shows on our station and I’ll go through the dial just to see what other people are doing and talking about.
BC: What was the hardest part in your transition to radio?
RD: The fact that I was a hockey player, because we don’t talk much hockey, I think people initially questioned my ability to talk about other sports and I remember talking about that with our program director. The question of, how would I do with all sports, and that was probably the biggest hurdle. Because I played in the NHL, everyone thinks that’s all I know, but once you get past that, they see I have knowledge of all sports.
It also goes beyond just basic sports knowledge. The biggest thing for radio and doing this five days a week is it changes the way you watch sports, because as you’re watching the game, you’re trying to create an interesting conversation out of what you’re seeing.
BC: I get that it’s difficult from a credibility standpoint to convince the listeners you have well-rounded sports knowledge, but you can’t talk a lot of Islander hockey on the radio, you don’t talk much hockey in general, so that crutch isn’t there. You were thrown into it and had no choice but to talk other sports. I would think it was harder for Chris Canty to prove himself because he was brought in to talk only football at first and then he was added to the full show later on, so he really had to prove that he could talk other sports.
RD: The best way to describe it is if you look at sports radio or you look at sports talk shows on television, because the NFL is king, these shows talk mostly football.
Radio talks so much football, so if you played football you can always talk about that, all other sports play a lesser role so it’s more naturally assumed a former football player can just learn them as we go. I obviously do know quite a bit of hockey, but what good is that?
BC: Did you ever find yourself trying to come up with any sort of unique angle or go all in on a point just to prove that you know other sports or did you just let it happen organically and let the audience realize it on their own that you can talk Mets, Knicks and Jets?
RD: I know I played hockey, but my passion is baseball. My favorite sport growing up was baseball. I still play men’s league baseball, but proving myself as a radio host to people is just a daily thing. Having the credibility that I watch and pay attention to everything is a daily thing. I don’t think I go out of my way, the audience would notice that. You want to be interesting, you want people to look forward to your opinion and that has to do with credibility, but it also has to do with being entertaining.
BC: Do you like developing show topics? Obviously you’re here early, are you somebody that is trying to come up with different ideas, or is it more let me know what the topics are and let’s get on-air and talk about it?
RD: It’s not even necessarily the topic, I think that every good radio show and everyone on that radio show has a specific role. What I try to do on our show is bring the personal experiences from being an athlete – tell the audience what’s going on behind the scenes and give the mindset of Odell Beckham Jr. or whoever we’re talking about, and then on top of that, just trying to be funny. I think that’s part of my role on the station is to be funny and people not knowing what’s going to come out of my mouth, be unpredictable.
We used to do quite a bit with songs and parodies, but myself, Dave and Chris, we’ll communicate with each other what was going on the night before, what we want to talk about and what interesting ideas we each have. You want to try and draw up as much passion from the listener, whether that’s good or bad passion. You don’t want to be down the middle, people either have to agree or strongly disagree to get them to take the time to pick up the phone and call in.
BC: Alan was obviously working in media a long time before you guys started on the radio together, is that how you developed a relationship with him?
RD: Yeah, I’ll never forget, I get drafted by the Islanders up in Calgary and Alan was there covering it. I went through all of the different requirements after getting drafted and then they told me, okay now you’re going to sit down with the New York media.
So I’m thinking it’s New York, I have this idea of what the New York media is and then I get there and it’s just me and Alan sitting at a table [Laughs]. That’s when we first met then and we always had a pretty good relationship after that. We would always go back and forth with our opinions and we developed a friendship.
BC: What year did you start radio?
RD: It was about five years ago.
BC: And Alan wasn’t even doing radio for that long when he recruited you?
RD: No, he was just filling in, but because he was doing such a good job on MSG with the Knicks, he was looking for more media opportunities and started doing shows here at ESPN. I think he had a weekend show initially and then he would fill-in over the summer.
BC: Which is a little different because usually with a former pro athlete looking to break into radio, they’ll pair them with an industry veteran, but here you were with someone that was still learning just like you were.
RD: Yea, for the both of us, it was here you go, here’s your own radio show, go run with it. And between me and him we were like…what are we supposed to do? So we just decided to have as much fun as possible and hoped it would translate on the radio.
BC: Was there anyone that was helpful to you guys in developing? Or you just built your own thing?
RD: You know this, you listen to a lot of radio and it starts with chemistry, if you have natural chemistry, everything else comes easier. Our Program Director at the time, Justin Craig and [Vice President] Tim McCarthy were great. Justin took a chance on me when he thought I was just a hockey guy.
I remember when I was starting out, I gave an Islander update. It was just a 10-second score update and he walks in the studio to ask what I was doing, and I didn’t know what he was talking about, but he said no one wants to hear about the NHL right now [Laughs].
But Justin Craig, Tim McCarthy, Ryan Hurley, we have a great team here, our producers Ray Deenihan and Ray Santiago, we had RJ Santillo who works on The Kay Show now, everyone was really helpful, everyone really pays attention to what’s going on, so if you ask them to take a quick listen to see what you can work on, they’re all very helpful.
BC: Did you know Dave Rothenberg before he replaced Alan?
BC: Was that a difficult transition? More so than adjusting to Dave, was it difficult to have the forced breakup with Alan, like you said, you guys had that line, “we’re going to keep doing this until they make us stop”, and then they made you stop.
RD: It was tough. We got into a situation where, with the time of the show being moved around and Alan’s covering the Knicks for MSG and their West Coast trips and the times he needs to be on TV, it just became impossible. It got to the point where we couldn’t do the radio show anymore and by then, I listened to a lot of Dave’s shows to know what to expect and he’s a pro’s pro. He was able to step right in and drive the show. We’ve created a chemistry and it’s been a pretty smooth transition.
BC: Has all the tinkering been difficult? You haven’t been in radio that long and you’ve worked with Alan part-time, Alan at night, Alan in the midday, 1 – 3 then 10 – 1. Chris Canty being added to the show, then Alan’s out and Rothenberg is in. For someone trying to break into the business, to have all of those changes in five years, that’s a lot.
RD: [Laughs] It’s like my Islanders career.
I think it’s helped me to be more well-rounded. Especially with three voices and trying to keep with the formatics of a sports talk radio show where it’s – have an opinion, take some calls, stick to the clock. I think you come to the realization that you don’t have to make a point about everything. So sometimes you sit back, listen and then as Chris or Dave are talking, you come up with a unique take. I think it’s helped and it’s made me better, having the ability to work with different people and work in different situations. Even when I call in to The Kay Show, it’s helped to be able to adapt on the fly to whoever you’re working with.
BC: How about The Kay Show being the only other local show on the weekday lineup? Is it a strange dynamic that you’re the midday show, but you don’t have a local lead-in, so you come to the studio and it’s quiet, and then you leave and there’s still no local show right after you, so it’s almost kind of hard to develop any sort of flow between your show and the afternoon show.
RD: I did really like when we were 1-3 because even during breaks, I thought it was great to come out and have Kay and Don there. They were all sitting in the office and even having them coming in for the crosstalk, I enjoyed that. I like having that comradery, I like when I can text Kay and say something about Peter Rosenberg and we’ll go back and forth, but it was even better when we were on 1 – 3 because it gave us the opportunity to bring Pete in or for me to jump on their show. It’s definitely different.
BC: Has radio helped with the adjustment of not being a professional athlete anymore and to fill that void?
RD: Yeah, I think to a certain degree. I’m very lucky because there are a lot of guys that once they’re done playing their sport, they have nothing to do. I don’t think I’ll ever find anything that I can be as passionate about as when I was playing in the NHL.
I think the hardest part for most professional athletes when we’re done is that we’re so regimented. Everything’s on a schedule, so you wake up and know you have something to do and I think the fact that I wake up and have something to do, it’s definitely helped my transition out of the sport – absolutely.
BC: Especially because you weren’t even viewed as an older player, but even athletes that are viewed as older players, they’re 35, 40 years old. They still have so much energy and passion, but it’s forced away, so you’re not at a point where you’re ready to just settle into retirement and do nothing.
RD: No, I would go crazy. I’m lucky to have an unbelievable wife and two great kids and obviously a lot of my time and energy goes into that, but there are only so many athletes like Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis that have the exact career you hope for. Win a championship, get into the hall-of-fame and go off into the sunset completely satisfied. That wasn’t how my NHL career ended, so I always felt there had to be something else I wanted to do and luckily for me I found this.
BC: You signed the 15-year contract, you’re one of the top players in the sport, a fan favorite, representing your country in the Olympics. You’re probably feeling invincible, that this is something that will last forever, but it ended quickly for you, and the way it ends with the fans turning on you while you’re trying to get healthy and get back makes it more difficult. But when you first got released, you made the suicide comments about driving off the Throgs Neck Bridge, and then you said you were kidding.
RD: Yea, it was a joke.
BC: It was completely a joke?
BC: You might not have been thinking about driving off a bridge, but was depression setting in at the end of your career?
RD: Oh yea, absolutely. You’re talking about me having my life planned out, a 15-year contract where if things go the right way after dealing with what we dealt with, being bad and having a high draft picks for a lot of years, eventually we’d get to the point during that 15-year deal where the team would be really good and potentially win the Stanley Cup. I’d be close to 40 at the end of the contract, so in my mind it was – go through the process, win the Stanley Cup, retire, have my number retired and then keep working for the organization. That’s how it would go. I wouldn’t be looking for a job, because I would’ve naturally progressed into being an Islander for life.
It went from the perfect plan, to being put on waivers, sent down, commuting from Long Island to Bridgeport every morning at 5am and yea it was tough. It was tough especially because in my mind, being a young guy, I felt like I could still do it, but to have my body betray me the way it did, it wasn’t easy to deal with. And you’re right, the fact is, 32, 33 years old – I mean what am I doing for the next 50 years of my life?
BC: Right, you’re not thinking about moving to Florida and retiring.
RD: Not at all. It’s a scary thought to just all of a sudden wake up one day and be like “Okay, that career is over. Now what?”.
BC: At what point did you come to the realization that hockey was no longer an option?
RD: In Charlotte. I was with my wife. That’s the hardest conversation to have, to finally admit it to yourself that you just can’t do it anymore. But we were in Charlotte, staying at an extended stay hotel and it was me, my wife, and my mother-in-law sharing a king size bed, trying to make this comeback. And if it wasn’t one thing, it was the hips, the knees and everything else, all of a sudden my ankle started blowing up, I was getting it drained before practice, it was just a mess.
My wife was at one of my games and she saw me limping up onto the ice trying to play and finally said ‘what are you doing?’ And I was still like what do you mean? She said, ‘you can’t even walk and you’re trying to play goalie’ and it was then that I said you’re right, I can’t play at the level that I want to play at. And that was it.
BC: How many concussions did you have?
RD: On record? I think eight.
BC: And you think you had more than that?
RD: Oh, yeah…yeah…definitely.
BC: Have you seen any long-term effects from that at all or is CTE a concern?
RD: Yea, it’s a concern. I don’t think I’m at that point yet, but I struggled a lot with post-concussions.
I knew I didn’t feel right, but it’s one of those things that you just try to battle through it. And again, thank God for my wife because she would say, ‘let me talk to the doctor, I’ll give them the updates because you won’t tell them the truth.’ It’s definitely a concern of mine, but nothing I can do for it now.
BC: Was there ever any animosity towards the fans at the end of your career?
RD: I was never upset with the fans because I understood it, but I don’t think people really understood the long-term deal. They just saw it was 15-years, but the whole point of the deal was sitting down with Charles Wang and trying to get around the salary cap. Throughout the 15-years, my contract would always be reasonable, so we went with a long-term deal to keep the annual number from ever being an albatross of a contract. We wanted to be able to build around my number.
We’ll get calls about Greg Bird and I’ll always argue with fans because it is the worst thing in the world for a professional athlete to be hurt. No professional athlete wants to be hurt.
Fans don’t understand how bad it is, the team makes it uncomfortable because you can’t be around your teammates. It becomes a job, it’s not fun and because I’ve dealt with so many injuries, it seemed like people thought I liked being hurt. I’m not addicted to surgery, playing games is a lot easier than rehabbing injuries. It wasn’t easy, but it was less about the fans and more about the fact that I don’t feel like I achieved what I set out to achieve. There’s still a lot of regret and it’s something that still bothers me every day to be completely honest.
BC: Do you ever find yourself falling back into what you categorized as a dark place?
RD: No. Having my wife and kids helps, although it is a little scary that my son wants to be a goalie – we’ll see how that turns out. It’s not easy to sit here and watch playoff hockey knowing that if I didn’t get hurt, I could still be playing. It’s not easy, but I guess that’s why radio has been a blessing. Having a job where I leave my house at 7am to talk about other sports for the day helps keep my mind off it.
BC: But you’re still able to root for the Islanders?
RD: Oh yea. I’ll always root for the Islanders. I couldn’t be happier for their success. That was the biggest thing that bothered me when I was an Islander. There was a separation from the great Islander teams of the 80’s and us. People don’t realize how passionate Islander fans are, but people are getting a chance to see that now.
BC: Did your experience playing and the way it ended affect the way you can talk about players on the radio?
RD: I feel like I’ve been through pretty much everything, so I know if there’s something that someone’s going through, I feel like I’ve been through it no matter what it is.
Obviously, except for – and that’s why we have Canty [Laughs] because I haven’t won a championship, so it’s tough for me to speak on that. But yea, I think I’ve been exposed to a lot and have personal first-hand experience dealing with everything that comes with being a high draft pick, having disappointment, being in the Olympics and anything that an athlete can go through, I’ve been through it.
BC: Have you ever talked to, or helped players with the transition of going from professional athlete into finding your next career? Because you mentioned being in a dark place and there’s no way you could go through everything you did and not deal with any sort of depression, a lot of athletes go through that and finding the second career isn’t easy.
RD: They always say athletes die twice. I actually had a good conversation with Steve Webb who was my first roommate with the Islanders and that’s something that he and the NHL are now really focusing on – life for hockey players or professional athletes in general after their careers are over. He’s working with the NHLPA, but I think all unions are trying to really step up and give these players opportunities once they’re done playing. But I was fortunate, not only for this job, but I met the perfect woman that really bought into me as a player and then moving forward it didn’t matter that I wasn’t in the NHL anymore and I think a lot of guys don’t have that, which makes the transition harder.
I try to tell the younger athletes to just take advantage of the time you’re playing because it doesn’t last forever. One day it’s going to be gone and you have to be selfish and really focus on taking advantage of your talents and getting the most out of them. That’s why what LeBron, KD and some of today’s stars have done with getting involved in other businesses away from sports is so smart because when you’re playing, all the doors are open and all of those relationships are available. Make sure you take care of those relationships while you’re playing because once you’re done, it’s a lot harder to get those doors to open.
BC: Does radio fulfill any sort of competitive void? Obviously you see the Kay and Francesa radio wars up close, but does radio help fulfill your competitive nature you had when you were an athlete?
RD: I’m always competitive in anything I do, but the one thing I miss most about playing in the NHL, is you always know how you did. There’s always a winner and a loser, there’s a scoreboard. In here, you may think you had one good show, a month or three months of good shows, but you just don’t know. You can kind of judge with social media and phone calls to get an idea if people like what you’re doing, but that’s what I miss the most. Every time I left the rink, I knew if I did my job or not.
BC: Do you pay attention to ratings? And it’s tough because as we were talking before, you guys are on a bit of an island. You’re sandwiched by national shows, whereas the midday show on FAN follows and precedes other local content.
RD: We pay attention to it. In this business, you have to pay attention to it because the point is to get a rating to sell your show and that’s the bottom line. I think we’ve done a good job of selling the show, but our ratings could definitely be better. That’s definitely something that we’re working on.
BC: Were you surprised a couple years ago when you got into a back and forth with Francesa over an Islanders take and calling him “fatso.”
RD: I was surprised Mike went back and forth because he’s pretty hell bent on not acknowledging anyone else’s show, but I just reacted to what I was told. I take offense to the fact that once the Islanders or Rangers are in the playoffs, that’s when everyone wants to talk about hockey, but when I want to talk about hockey, no one else does.
The playoffs roll around and all of a sudden everyone’s an expert. Someone either tweeted it to me or called Alan and I, but someone told us Mike was killing the Islanders because the coach wouldn’t go on his show when they were in the playoffs, but he never wanted the coach on before they were in the playoffs, so why should he have to go on Mike’s show now?! I was just standing up for the Islanders.
BC: It brought a lot of attention to the show, so is that type of back and forth something you enjoy and think is good for radio?
RD: Yea, I think the back and forth is interesting in radio. I love the Kay – Francesa stuff. I’d like to have more of that here where we go back and forth with shows about different things. The three hours we do here, the four hours that Kay does, it’s a show and we’ll do whatever we can to be as entertaining as possible, if that means having beef with a different show or station, I have no problem with that.
BC: You have a relationship with Boomer and Carton, were you surprised Craig went on with Kay after all the negative comments he made about them over the years?
RD: I wasn’t surprised. I know originally he wanted to go on WFAN, but I think Boomer made the right decision in understanding it would be uncomfortable for Gio to have Craigy come back, and then Francesa didn’t want to do it, but how could Kay pass that interview up?
I was interested. I listened and watched the entire thing. He’s talented, he’s an entertaining guy. I was much more shocked by the whole thing going down initially than I was about him going on The Kay Show.
BC: Are you still in touch with him?
RD: I am. I’ve talked to him a couple times. He’s getting through it…
BC: Do you listen back to old shows?
RD: Yea, that’s something I always used to do as a player, go back to look at the good and bad. I don’t know if it’s just my personality, but I never think I did a good job. Sometimes you have to listen back to hear if you really didn’t do a good job or if it’s better than you thought it was, but that’s all part of improving.
BC: How far back will you go? Do you go back years, or just listen back to today’s show?
RD: A little bit of both, but more recent shows. I don’t really like hearing my own voice on the radio. It makes me cringe a little bit, but I try to make sure I know how the show sounds, what works, what was good, what was bad. I want to make sure we’re growing, I never want to be stagnant.
BC: Is incorporating three voices a difficult dynamic? You started out with you and Alan, and Chris Canty was brought along slowly, right? He was only on with you guys on Fridays at first?
RD: Yea, Chris was joining us from Baltimore, but we also had Bill Daughtry on at that time. It’s definitely different having three people vs. two, but also hosting daytime compared to when we were on 7 – 10pm is so different. I could get away with so much more 7 – 10 than I can get away with now.
To stick to the clock, which we try to do, and then take calls and incorporate everything with everyone having an opinion, it’s not easy. Whether it’s me, Dave or Chris, sometimes you have to be willing to take a backseat.
BC: Right, you have an understanding that if you have a lesser take and stay back on one topic, you’ll still get your opportunity to be the dominant voice on something else.
RD: We all have strong opinions and we all watch everything, but we’ll still take some calls and answer questions and we’ll get to a topic where one of us hasn’t seen it so that person lays low for a bit, but it’s almost like a competition between the three of us as to who’s consumed the most from the night before.
We’ll be asked a question about a game that we’ve all seen, so we all have an opinion and now it comes down to who has the strongest opinion and which one of us will sit back a bit. It takes time, but I think we’re still getting better at it.
BC: Do you like radio better than TV?
BC: You did TV first?
RD: Yea, I did some pre and post stuff with the Islanders. I was even doing stuff on Cold Pizza way back. I’ll do SportsCenter, Get Up and those shows. I like it, but to take three hours and have a conversation on the radio, you can get in-depth with those conversations and it’s more fun.
BC: Did you do national radio at all?
RD: I have. I did some Sunday shows in the past, I’ve also filled in on the morning shows, Mike and Mike and Golic and Wingo.
BC: How was that compared to local radio?
RD: I honestly like all of it. There isn’t much I don’t like about radio. I like the interaction with co-hosts, I love when passionate fans call in, I love the disagreements. I love people that love sports and are passionate about sports and I’m just really happy to be on-air.
BC: You mentioned you could get away with more when you’re hosting 7 – 10pm and the goal is obviously to be part of a station’s weekday lineup like you are, but did you like it better when you were on at night?
RD: The demographic of the audience that we’re looking for, age-wise, is in mine and your wheelhouse. So what I think is funny and what I enjoy talking about, I think the people we’re targeting would also find funny. Trying to tiptoe that line without crossing it, because we are Disney and there are things I want to say, innuendoes that are funny, and trying to get those out while tiptoeing that line can be a challenge, but at night I could go off the rails and say some crazier things without getting in trouble.
BC: Did you ever say anything you did get in trouble for?
RD: Not really, but I’ve certainly been dumped quite a bit. [Laughs]
I don’t even have the record. Ron Hainsey, one of my good friends, plays for the Maple Leafs, filled in and did some shows with me over the summer. He has the record. We lost 21 seconds of radio, back to back to back dumps, he thought he had the best comment and little did he know we were dumping the whole thing.
BC: So what’s your goal in radio or the media? You’re on in the midday on ESPN New York, that’s a great gig, but you’re still young and I’m sure driven and competitive – what’s the next step?
RD: I obviously can’t control the time-slots or anything, so the only thing for us is to continue getting better and hopefully us getting better translates into better ratings. That, for us is the next step. We have to find a way to consistently be a top 10 show. It starts there for us and once we get to that point, we’ll continue to build.
For anyone that does this job, you have to make your show appointment listening. You have to have people at home watching a game and the first thing that comes to their mind is, ‘I can’t wait to hear what Canty, DiPietro and Rothenberg have to say about this tomorrow.’
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
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.