John Gambadoro has carved out a 23-year career as a sports radio host in the Phoenix market. A run this successful doesn’t happen based on skill alone, which Gambo clearly has. It takes passion to thrive for over two decades.
Gambo has also developed an extensive contact list in order to uncover information that nobody else has. That doesn’t happen by sitting on the couch until it’s showtime. It takes a strong work ethic. Many hosts speculate about players and teams. Gambo reaches out to them directly.
Gambo is a firm believer in connections. He stresses the importance of forming relationships to interns and people trying to establish themselves in the business. It’s fitting because Gambo has built his success on the foundation of connections himself — from his unconventional start in the sports radio business, to the information he gathers on a continuous basis. Gambo is a great example that no one in this industry becomes successful on their own.
A radio career that began in Phoenix is one that Gambo sees ending in Phoenix. He has accumulated many fond memories — one being a dunk tank of all things — and has no desire to leave the market or Arizona Sports 98.7FM. One of the most interesting details that Gambo also reveals in this interview is the sports radio host he least wants to be like. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What’s the one thing you love most about sports radio right now?
Gambo: I really think that sports radio for the last decade and a half has become the main medium for sports fans to get their news and information. Newspapers are dying. Local sports television is dying. A lot of it is down to a minute and a half a night. The best place for fans to really get their information is sports radio. We’re the one medium that hasn’t taken a hit.
Our company is growing. Our business is growing. Our listenership, it’s growing and it’s fascinating to me because everybody else — there are a lot of people in the industry that are struggling. They haven’t changed with the times.
I think what the fans like about it is, if I do an interview with the manager of the Diamondbacks, or with the general manager of a team, or a player of a team, fans get to hear that whole interview. In a newspaper you might have one line or two lines of what they said. On TV you may get just a snippet of what they said, but [on radio] you get the whole interview. You get to hear what everyone said. You get opinions. You get breaking news. It just continues to grow and get better and better while other mediums have struggled. As a radio group, I think we continue to be the main source for fans to turn to. Plus, there are still so many people in their cars on a regular basis. We’re their outlet for what they can listen to.
Noe: What would you say is the most challenging part of sports radio for you these days?
Gambo: For me personally, I go to a lot of games. I go to the Cardinal games, the Suns games, the D-back games, the ASU games. My role is a little bit different. Yes, I have a talk show and yes I’m opinionated, but I also am a reporter from my background. My background is being a newspaper reporter. I am all about developing contacts, getting sources all around the different leagues and breaking stories. That’s what I do. For me personally — it might be different for everybody else — but for me personally it’s just, man, how do you manage your time? I’ve got a wife. I’ve got kids. I’ve got D-back games to go to. I’ve got press conferences to go to. It’s busy. That’s just the hardest part is just managing your time.
Noe: When you have strong opinions and you’re also a reporter, how do you keep those relationships strong with teams if you’re hammering them at times?
Gambo: Respect. I go to the games. You have more respect when you go to the games. You’re entitled to your opinion and they don’t criticize you because you’re there. Back when I started doing sports radio in ‘97, almost everybody that had a press pass went to the games. But now that’s changed a lot. There aren’t many people that go to the games anymore. Me criticizing I think is accepted more so because, “Oh, he’s there. He was in the locker room.” I’m there.
I think when you’re not there and they never see you, there is a lack of respect. Then when other people criticize, it’s like, “Well, who are you to say something because I’ve never seen you at a game.”
I think the key is you’ve got to be accountable. We get these press passes. We all get them. We all have a press pass, but a lot of people choose not to use them. I’ve always chosen to use it.
Noe: What’s the reason there is a lack of strong sports talk competition in Phoenix?
Gambo: That’s a good question. I don’t think anybody else is committed to doing it. It takes a commitment. We have an amazing company that is committed to providing the audience with the best sports content, the best talk show hosts. We have the rights to the Cardinals, the Suns, the D-backs, the Coyotes, ASU, and now the Phoenix Rising — the soccer team.
We’re committed to content. We’re committed to a great staff. We have an amazing, amazing web department. Our podcasts, our app, our ownership group, and our management group are second-to-none.
There is nobody like our management group. They are just committed to supporting us and making sure that we have the tools necessary to dominate. That’s where it starts.
It’s just like a sports team. It starts at the top. You have to have great ownership that’s committed to winning. You have to have great management that’s committed to winning. We have that. It makes our job a lot easier when you go to work every day and you’ve got a support staff that is literally — I think ours is second to none in the country. I can’t imagine anybody has a better support staff than what we have.
Noe: Where does Kyler Murray rank among other players in the Phoenix area — past and present — in terms of being a lightning rod that produces opinions?
Gambo: Right now he’s at the top of the list because they traded up to draft a quarterback [Josh Rosen] in the first round. Then they got a second round pick for him. They bring this kid in who’s apparently too small. He has been our top topic from the day he announced that he was going to play football instead of baseball. The speculation began.
Now I go back to lightning rods like Jeremy Roenick and Keith Tkachuk, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson. There have been a lot of lightning rods. Steve Nash when he went to the Lakers. Luis Gonzalez when he went to the Dodgers. We have a major hatred for L.A. teams here. Anytime a guy goes to L.A. — A.J. Pollock went to the Dodgers — that’s always a lightning rod. From an excitement standpoint, everybody can’t wait to see this kid Murray. I don’t think in my time here there’s been anything like it.
Noe: Who has been the most interesting Phoenix sports figure for you to talk about personally?
Gambo: Probably the Suns owner Robert Sarver because they haven’t won in nine years. He’s made a lot of poor decisions. There are a lot of opinions about him from this fan base. It’s the Suns. They were the first. They’re the most beloved. Everybody wants to see the Suns win a championship.
The Suns owner has always been a lightning rod for controversy. The guy wants to win. He wants to win badly. He does care. He’s gone about it the wrong way many times though.
There is a feeling with the fan base that a lot of fans want him out, wish he would sell the team. I think for the first time now there’s a feeling that he and the organization has turned the corner with the hiring of Monty Williams and James Jones and a new direction for the organization. But he’s been clearly one of the lightning rods because of longevity. He’s been the owner for over a decade. A lot of players come and go.
Noe: How would you describe your relationship with program director Ryan Hatch over the decade you’ve spent together?
Gambo: Fantastic. I have a ton of respect for him. He allows me to be myself. He respects the work that I do. He encourages me, supports me, and makes sure I have what I need. It’s a very good working relationship. I love working for him and I love working for the company. They are very, very good at — if you’re doing your job — they’re very good at supporting you and giving you the tools necessary to get the job done.
Noe: You were on a very successful show Gambo and Ash. Now you’re on another successful show Burns and Gambo. What is the main challenge of trying to build a new brand when the audience is used to another show?
Gambo: Gambo and Ash was like an iconic brand out here. It was a very, very popular show for 12 years. But all good things come to an end. Then when they paired me with Dave, the market was changing a little bit. At that time we had moved from an AM signal to an FM signal. I think that helped give the show a tremendous boost. David is really great at what he does. I’ve never worked with a better driver. He is a great driver of the show. That allows me to do what I do.
It’s crazy. People won’t recognize this; I work during the entire show. During the entire four-hour show I’m talking to coaches, players, and GMs on the phone. We could be talking about a topic and he wants to know an answer. I just start texting. Sometimes I’ll take a phone call during the show and I’ll literally duck out for three or four minutes and he’ll just have to keep talking and nobody knows.
I don’t read a lot of stories to get my information. Dave does that so we balance each other very well. I watch games, I go to games, and I call people. I get my information by calling players, calling coaches, calling owners, calling GMs. Dave’s very good at reading all of the stories on all of the websites that I don’t do. I just don’t do that. We gather information in different ways and it just seems to work.
I do like working with him because on a regular basis I’ve got to take a phone call to find out what’s going on with a local team. Zack Greinke gets hurt in a baseball game and I’m able to report first what’s going on because I will literally stop doing the show for two or three minutes so I can make some calls or text to try to find out what’s going on. We’re on during a very busy time. There’s always stuff going on from 2 to 6 in the afternoon. It works well. The Gambo and Ash brand is what it is and the Burns and Gambo brand it is what it is. It’s some of the same audience, but also a lot of a different audience.
Noe: What does Dave do a great job of as a driver that a weaker or lesser driver doesn’t do?
Gambo: Control me. Reel me back in at times when I need to be reeled back in. I don’t have an education. I didn’t grow up in this industry. I didn’t go to school for any of this. I barely got out of high school. I don’t speak great. [Laughs.] I grew up in an immigrant family from Italy. So for me, Dave is really good at controlling the show, driving the show, steering the show. “We’re going to go here. We’re going to go there. Okay, it’s time to get off this topic.”
I don’t introduce guests, I don’t do teases, and I don’t introduce a segment or end a segment. Him being as good as he is allows me to just concentrate on the content. I concentrate on strong opinions and content. He’s very good at leading me. He’s very good at setting me up for the information that I know or for the opinion that I’m going to have. He loves the role that he’s in. He loves doing what he does. It’s totally different from what I do. Completely different from what I do, but he’s the best at it.
Noe: How did you initially break into sports radio?
Gambo: So I was a sports writer for Newsday in New York from 1989 to ’96. Then I moved to Arizona. I was writing for the Associated Press and I was writing for Sports Arizona Magazine. Then one day I ran into a program director at a radio station — at that time it was KGME — and he was like you would be really good on the radio.
I had no experience and about a month later I was hosting afternoon drive. I had only been here for six months and I was hosting the afternoon drive show because the program director thought that I would be good on the radio. For no other reason, he just heard me talking, just asked me if I had ever done radio before. I said no and he gave me a weekend show for about four to six weeks.
After I had done four to six weeks of Saturday shows he goes, “You’re ready.” He just put me on afternoon drive. I’ve been on ever since.
Noe: Was there a lot of pushback because you sound like a New Yorker — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all — but you know how it is with local people, “Oh, you sound like you’re not from here.” Was that a thing for you?
Gambo: Absolutely. It took me a while to win people over, to get people to respect me. People either love me or hate me. As long as they have an opinion — that type of thing.
Not everybody likes me and not everybody hates me. I think a lot of people listen to the show because it’s a good show. It doesn’t mean you have to like me to listen to the show.
I’ve been here for a long time now so it’s changed a lot, but in the first few years certainly, “Who is this New Yorker? This Yankee fan telling me about my Diamondbacks? This Giant fan telling me about my Cardinals?” The accent doesn’t go away. I’ve been here for 23 years. My accent doesn’t go away. It hasn’t changed.
In the beginning there was a lot of pushback and I wasn’t really accepted, but then I worked hard and I did fall in love with the teams here. I root for the teams here, not over my teams, but I do root for all the teams here a lot. I’m a huge Diamondbacks fan, and Suns fan, and Cardinals. I want those teams to do really well. It just took time to get more experience here, to get accustomed to the lifestyle, and to fit in with the Arizona crowd.
Noe: Could you sense when you were more accepted and they started to take a liking to you?
Gambo: It was probably after the Diamondbacks won the World Series in 2001. I predicted the Yankees would sweep them in four games. I said if the Diamondbacks win, I’ll sit in a dunk tank for as long as you guys want and let you guys just clobber me.
After the Diamondbacks won the World Series, they set up a dunk tank at a Fuddruckers. I had like pneumonia because I literally — for six hours there were lines — thousands of people just trying to drunk me. People were putting ice in the dunker machine. I played along and I think that was the turning point for me probably.
I think I just earned respect more than anything by working hard. More than even the Fuddruckers dunk tank, I’m accessible. My life’s an open book. I don’t block my direct messages on Twitter like other people do or on Facebook, or on Instagram. Everybody knows about my family. Everybody knows about my life. I answer people back as much as I can.
I’ve never been one of those people that wants to keep my personal life personal. People know about my wife. They know about my kids. I’m an open book. Everybody knows what’s going on in my life and I think people really feel like they know me. I always run into people like, “Ahh, I feel like I know you.” I think one of the reasons why is I really relate — I’m nothing more than just some schmuck that grew up in New York and I ended up with a radio show out here.
Noe: If any of your kids were interested in one day being a sports radio host, what advice would you give them?
Gambo: Well, my son wants to play center field for the D-backs right now. That would have to be his fallback plan. He’s an All-Star center fielder at 10 years old. I probably get two to three messages every week from people that want to get into this business. It’s a very difficult business to have success in. Very few people do because it’s hard to have ratings, to have revenue, to have longevity.
I’ve done this for 23 years now. It’s not easy, but I would always encourage people to do it because it’s a freaking blast. It’s not a job. It’s a career if you want to make it one. It’s an amazing career. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I always encourage everybody to go for it. Why not? You look at me. I barely got out of high school. I grew up in a mob family. My lifestyle was different as a New York kid than a lot of these other people.
That’s why I encourage people. I didn’t get to go to college. I didn’t have the ability to go to college. I had a buddy of mine who helped me get the job at Newsday because I really loved sports. From that point forward I just kept working hard. I was all about connections, not about how much you know because I didn’t have the resume. I didn’t have the schooling, and the background, and the college degree. To me it was all about connections. I tell all the interns that work with us, make connections. Meet people. People can help you more than a resume can. People can help you.
Noe: There is so much advice from other people in sports radio, “You need to do this and do that.” Do you hear comments and ever say, “No, you really don’t need to do that”?
Gambo: I go talk to classes a lot. They have me in and I always say I’m going to be different than everybody else that comes in here and speaks to you. When I go talk to Arizona State kids that are in the Cronkite School. I’m going to be different than everybody else. I’m going to be the only person in here that has no college experience. Everybody else that you’re going to speak to is going to come in and they are going to have gone to college and they’re going to have a fancy degree and I have none of that.
What I’m going to tell you is different. What I’m going to tell you is make as many contacts as you can. Don’t do an internship and walk out of there and just put it on your resume. Walk out of there knowing 10 people and having their phone number and seeing if they’ll help you. Bust your ass on those internships, but most importantly get to know people. People will help you.
If you’re good at what you do and you’re a good person, people will help you get a job or make a phone call for you. If I have an intern and that intern is fantastic — then that intern says I’m going to New York. Hey, I’ve got connections in New York. I can make a phone call for you. Or hey, can I put you on my resume? Of course. I think that’s something that a lot of people miss the boat on. They still think that it’s, “Oh, I’ve got to get the experience and I’ve got the college degree.”
Well, so does everybody else, man.
Everybody else has a college degree. Everybody else has internships. You’ve got to get to know people so that way they can make a call for you. That way they can encourage somebody to hire you, or at least take a look at you, or speak to you. That’s what I tell everybody is it’s connections. That’s how I grew up. I didn’t have any education. It had to be connections for me.
Noe: When you’re as opinionated as you are, I’m sure somebody has confronted you about something you’ve said. Do you appreciate that? You strike me as a guy that would actually like someone coming up to you if they have a problem with your comments.
Gambo: I always make sure that after I’m extremely controversial over a player, a GM, a coach, that I’m there the next game. I always make sure I’m there the next game. That way in case anybody wants to say something, or confront me, or even just asked me about what I said, I’m there. I always make sure no matter what if I’m really critical of a player that I’m there the next day.
Of course I’ve gotten in Twitter wars with Markieff and Marcus Morris and a fight with Cody Ross over text messages when I criticized him. So yes it’s happened. When Dennis Erickson lost a big football game one year to Washington State — I had said before the game that if he loses this game I’m going to help him pack his bags. Then when he lost the game and he came on the show I said, “Coach, I’m ready to help you pack your bags because you got to go.”
It is about being accountable. It’s about being there. Sometimes people want to just ask you about what you said and see if it’s true, but most of the time nobody will say anything. Most of the time nobody says a thing.
Noe: You’ve signed a number of contracts over the course of your career. Outside of cranking out good ratings, what advice would you give a young host who’s trying to earn as much money as possible?
Gambo: My career has been pretty successful, but for me I just want to be happy. I’m happy with the amount of money I make. Trust me I am. I can’t believe that I’m doing as well as I am. To me it’s not about breaking the bank and it’s not about always trying to get the next dollar. It’s about being content. It’s about getting to a point where you work for a good company, you love to work for that company, and you’re just happy to be there. It’s not about trying to chase the next dollar.
I’ve had two offers for national gigs — turned them both down. No desire. No desire to go do national radio. To me it’s just really about — be happy. If you’re making a good living and you’re happy with that, you don’t have to be greedy. You don’t have to keep hammering people over the head for more money and things like that. We make our money through our contract and by endorsing companies.
The only thing I would say is if you find a place and you like working there, you’re making a good living, sometimes it’s okay to be content. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. I’ve had a 23-year career and loved every freaking minute of it.
I never chased another job in another market. I’ve had people chase me, but I’ve never chased another job. I’ve always wanted to be here. My radio career will start in Arizona and it will end in Arizona. When it’s done and it’s over in a few years, I won’t look back with any regrets.
Noe: If you think about your entire career, is there one thing above all else that you would change if you could?
Gambo: Let me think about that. I got to be honest with you I don’t think there is. Is that okay?
Noe: [Laughs.] Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that. Not one thing though? Not an opinion, your approach to sports radio early on, nothing?
Gambo: Wow, kind of like Frank Sinatra, you know? I did it my way. Right now I have no regrets. I’m not kidding, man. I’m just some street kid from New York that ended up having an amazing career and I’ve been very blessed.
I thank God every night that I’ve been blessed with this career because I don’t even know that I deserved it. I don’t look back with any regrets. I don’t look back like I wish I would have done something differently.
I take a lot of pride in not getting in trouble because I represent a company 24/7. It was always important to me — and I tell my bosses this all the time — I’m a local figure here. I represent this radio station 24/7. I always want to represent this radio station well. If I’m out in public and I’m with my family and somebody wants to come talk to me for two to three minutes, I don’t blow them off. If I’m shopping at the grocery store with my wife and somebody wants to say hello, I stop and talk.
I don’t ever want anybody walking away saying, “God, that guy is such a jerk. I met that guy. He’s an idiot.” I don’t ever want that. I want people to always have a good impression of me because I want them to have a good impression of the radio station.
I don’t get in trouble. Don’t have a DUI. Don’t get arrested. Don’t do anything stupid like a lot of people do. You don’t realize what you have. I don’t know the guy’s name, but there was that guy in New York that had this great career and blew the whole thing.
Noe: [Craig] Carton.
Gambo: Yeah, that guy had an amazing career. How do you blow that? You’re making tons of money hand over fist and you’re doing what everybody would love to do. Everybody would love to do what we’re doing. We’re talking sports for a living. Don’t blow it. So when I see people in the industry — there was some guy in Seattle that had a career as a newspaper guy and I think he got fired or suspended because he started hitting on some girl and she reported him to the newspaper. You remember that one?
Noe: No, I thought you were going to say — I think it was a Seattle host who got busted with a hooker or something like that.
Gambo: Yeah, right. There was a writer — some real estate writer. You should look this up. It was a pretty good story, man. The girl totally outed him on Twitter and then she called the editors. He got suspended. He was sending her all these messages and he’s a married guy. I think it’s just about representing your company well.
Noe: Is there anything specifically that you want to accomplish before your career is over?
Gambo: That’s a great question. I think about this all the time. I don’t want to stay too long. I don’t want to be Mike Francesa. I don’t want to turn into a laughingstock. I want to put in my time and get out at the right time. I don’t want to get out too late, and I don’t want to get out too early, but I definitely don’t want to stay too late because I’ve seen so many people do that. I want to get out in what would be a fair amount of time.
I’ll be 53 years old this year. Is it five more years, six more years, or seven more years? I don’t think it’s any longer than that. I’m pretty positive it’s no longer than that.
I think that’s the thing — I can relate to any audience. Younger people, older people, men, women, and I still love what I do. I have no desire the stop now, but I’ve seen people make fools of themselves by staying too long and I don’t want to do that.
Noe: When you start to see the finish line in this business more clearly, does that help you enjoy what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis even more?
Gambo: Yes, I enjoy what I do all the time. I think I’m different than anybody else that does this job in the country. I do think I’m different. I’m not saying I’m better. So don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m better than anybody else. I’m different. I don’t do sports radio the way other hosts do it. Again that doesn’t make it better and it doesn’t make it right. I’m just different.
I’m all about making contacts with players, coaches, GMs, owners and getting information that nobody else has. My high in this business, the thing that gets me excited, is having information that nobody else has and sharing that with my audience. Giving them insight that they can’t get anywhere else. That’s my high. That’s what I live for. That’s what I love to do. Every single day that’s my goal. Every single day that’s what I try to deliver.
I try to give my audience insight that nobody else has, that nobody else knows. I can tell them what’s going on with the team, what’s going on with a player, what’s going on with a coaching search. That’s what I live for.
I don’t think there’s anybody else in the country that does it the way I do. I don’t read the stories on the internet to get ready for a show. I don’t read a newspaper. I haven’t looked at a newspaper in forever. I don’t really go on the websites to see what other people are writing and things like that. I’ve got a partner that does a really good job of that stuff.
For me it’s about talking with players and coaches from all over the league. With the NBA Draft coming up, I talked to seven basketball teams the other day. Seven different teams on the draft lottery to find out what was going on with these teams.
That’s just kind of what I do. That’s my high because I feel like I can give my audience something that they can’t get anywhere else. That’s the enjoyment of it for me. If I get to a point where I can no longer deliver that, well then I’m done.
Mike Silver Has An NFL Backstage Pass
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships.”
It was the 2010 NFL Draft and standout wide receiver Dez Bryant was eligible to be selected by a professional football team. As a journalist, Mike Silver has always looked to enterprise stories and wanted to be with Bryant when the moment he had been waiting for finally arrived.
Through a preexisting relationship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, he got in touch with Bryant and received permission to attend his draft celebration. Before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant revealed to him that then-Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland had asked him during the pre-draft process if his mother was a prostitute.
Once that information was published in Silver’s column, Ireland had to publicly apologize and was subsequently put under investigation by the team’s majority owner Stephen Ross.
“People were like, ‘How did you get that?,’ but I was very proud because really the way I got it was because Deion Sanders respected me enough based on things that had happened decades earlier and the way that I conducted myself that I was able to ultimately get to Dez,” Silver expressed. “That to me is a validation. I’ve nurtured relationships for years and years that have led to zero reporting and thought, ‘It’s okay; it’s just part of the process. It is what it is.’”
From the start, Silver was a believer in journalism and the power the profession had in divulging stories in pursuit of the truth. Born in San Francisco, Calif. and raised in Los Angeles, he would read The Los Angeles Times sports section for a half hour per day, observing the proclivities and vernacular of other writers. As a high school student, he co-authored a sports column in the Palisades Charter High School Tideline with current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, gaining practical experience in journalism and cultivating professional relationships.
“I was the only Warriors fan in our school because I was born in San Francisco so he used to clown me for being a Warriors and 49ers fan like everyone else in our school – so I ended up having the last laugh,” Silver said. “By old standards, you’d say, ‘You can’t cover Steve Kerr. That’s your friend.’ I think in 2022 if I have to cover Steve Kerr, I’ll just be like, ‘You know what? Everyone knows we’re friends. I’m just going to be up front about it.’”
Silver attended the University of California, Berkeley where he earned his bachelor’s degree in mass communication and media studies. The school was not known for profound levels of success within its football and basketball programs, according to Silver; however, the student newspaper was a place to gain repetitions in covering sports and having finished work published, printed and distributed.
Towards the end of his time in college, Silver wrote stories that were published in The Los Angeles Times, the newspaper he grew up reading and from which he drew inspiration to become a journalist.
“We would tell the players we covered, ‘Hey, we’re trying to go to the pros too, and we’re not going to get jobs in this industry if we don’t write the truth,’” Silver said. “We were trying to break in as legitimate journalists and we definitely ruffled some feathers along the way.”
Once he graduated from school, Silver began his professional career writing for The Sacramento Union where he covered the San Francisco 49ers. Silver grew up as a football fan and was familiar with the team but always tried to find original, untold angles to differentiate his stories from others. Shortly thereafter, he transitioned to join The Santa Clara Press Democrat as a beat writer and used the time to further develop his writing and reporting skills. Five years later, he was in talks to land his dream job as a writer in Sports Illustrated, a prolific sports magazine focused on producing original content.
Sports Illustrated was released on Wednesdays and operated under the belief of trying to omit any stories that may have been reported in the days prior. The goal was to tell stories that were under the radar and would be impactful and memorable for its readers.
During a typical week, Silver would visit both the home and road teams in their own cities with the hopes of connecting with players and team personnel. After a game, he would go to the locker room, yet he would try to avoid doing one-on-one interviews since the content would likely be published elsewhere before the magazine was released.
Then, his writing process commenced and often went through the night, as Sports Illustrated had a 9 a.m. EST deadline the following morning. By taking the approach of enterprising stories, Silver quickly became one of the most venerated and trusted sportswriters in the country, composing over 70 cover stories for the publication.
With the advent of the internet though, journalism and communication was forever changed allowing for the free flow of information and ideas in a timely manner.
“Now I can arrogantly write to whatever length I want and every precious word of mine could be broadcast to the masses, but [back then] you better have it the exact length because it’s going on a page,” Silver said. “You’re maybe reading over a story 15 times or more to get it just right before the seven layers of editing kick in. You’re also leaving theoretically half of your great stuff on the cutting room table never to surface again or seldom.”
Nurturing a relationship built on trust and professionalism is hardly facile in nature, and it required enduring persistence and resolute determination to achieve for Silver. Through these relationships, he has been able to create both distinctive and original types of content. As innovations in technology engendered shifts in consumption patterns though, he decided to do what he originally perceived as being unthinkable and left Sports Illustrated after nearly 13 years.
“When I went there, I felt like we had 30 of the 35 best sportswriters in America and it was murderer’s row,” Silver said of Sports Illustrated. “I had a great, great experience there the whole time so I never thought I’d leave.”
After meeting with Yahoo Sports Executive Editor Dave Morgan and being given an offer with flexibility in the job and a promise of a lucrative salary, Silver knew it was simply too good to pass up. He opted to still write a column on Sundays to counterprogram Peter King at Sports Illustrated, who authored his own weekly “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.
Additionally, Silver agreed to write two additional branded columns per week in a quest to adapt to the digital age of media.
“I was trying to stay current and connect to an internet generation and keep up with the way that people were consuming their content at that time,” Silver said. “….We just had a spirit at Yahoo that we weren’t owned by anyone, we didn’t have a deal with the league and we were going to report the news in a very unfiltered way.”
An advent of the digital age in media has been the practice of writers appearing on television to present their information en masse, requiring changes in their delivery. Unlike in a written piece, reporting on television requires efficiently making key points and speaking in shorter phrases to allow the viewer to easily follow the discussion. Moreover, writers are sometimes presented with questions that may provoke deeper thought or analysis, and occasionally challenge their lines of reporting.
Silver never thought he would work in television, but as a part of his contract with NFL Media, he was writing columns and serving as an analyst on select NFL Network programming. In working on television on a league-owned entity, it forced him to step out of his comfort zone and pursue mastery of a new skill set.
“I never wanted to do TV voice and be cheesy and look like someone who was trained for the medium so my strategy was more to try to be myself on camera and see how that translated,” Silver articulated. “It seemed to work to some degree – and then obviously I picked up a lot of tricks of the trade and techniques and got better reps. Essentially, I think reporting is reporting [and] information is information.”
Moving into television, a medium with sports coverage that is, at its core, nonlinear due to the potential for breaking news and unexpected occurrences, changed the manner in which the information was presented and/or prioritized on the air. In a column, Silver’s goal was to find original angles and obtain anecdotes and quotes to implement into the storytelling. Now on television, sources were still used largely on the condition of deep background, meaning no individual or group could be attributed to the information in any way.
“With TV, there was an element of, ‘Hey man, I’m just trying to sound smart when I talk about you guys,’ which is code for, ‘I don’t have to use your name when I say this stuff, but when I’m weighing on why you just traded for Trent Richardson, help me understand what’s really going on with the Indianapolis Colts at this moment,’” Silver explained. “That’s just a random example. I liked [television] more than I thought I would.”
Silver’s contract was not renewed at NFL Network in 2021, providing a stark change in his lifestyle and leaving him looking for a job in the midst of trying economic times. Through a relationship he had with sports radio host Colin Cowherd, he was given the opportunity to join his upstart podcast platform The Volume as a host. Cowherd eagerly recruited Silver to the platform following a lunch in which the topic came up naturally in conversation about future endeavors.
“When you go through a career transition like that, let alone during a pandemic, you find out a referendum on all your relationships and I have a lot of them from players, coaches, owners and GMs to media people and friends in other industries, etc.,” he explained. “Colin Cowherd is someone I’ll never, ever, ever forget or stop being grateful to…. We were kind of talking some stuff out and he was like, ‘Why don’t we do a show on my network?,’ and we started talking about what that would be. We left lunch… and about 10 minutes later he called me and said, ‘Okay, here’s what I think,’ and kind of continued it.”
Today, Silver is hosting an interview-based program called Open Mike featuring guests from the world of professional football. Recent guests on the program have included Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff, New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh and Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marvin Jones. Prior to joining The Volume, Silver had hosted a podcast with his daughter called Pass It Down, which ultimately ran for over 50 episodes and gave him experience working within the medium.
“I’m sitting there spending an hour with [Las Vegas] Raiders GM Dave Ziegler or [Buffalo Bills] linebacker Von Miller or whoever we have on,” Silver said. “You’re not only getting to know that person; you’re watching the way I connect with that person and usually have a body of work with that person, and there’s a comfort level there too.”
John Marvel was Silver’s direct boss at NFL Media and a friend he kept in touch with for many years. Through various correspondences and the dynamic media landscape, they decided to start their own media venture called Backstage Media. The company has a first-look deal with Meadowlark Media – a company co-founded by John Skipper, who also serves as its chief executive officer. Skipper was formerly the president of ESPN and someone Silver wished he had worked for earlier in his career.
“I did not know John Skipper before I left NFL Network,” he said. “I didn’t particularly have a dream to [ever] work at ESPN. We’ve had conversations over the years – ESPN and I – and it never seemed like the perfect fit for me. Now that I know John Skipper, it’s like ‘I would have worked for that guy any time.’ He’s fantastic, [and] I’m just so pumped to be in business with him.”
The company, which focuses on producing documentaries and other unscripted programming through the intersection of sports, music and entertainment, has various projects in development. The idea was derived out of both of their penchants for storytelling and an attempt to utilize new platforms built for engagement within the modern-day media marketplace.
“We’re hoping that documentaries, docuseries [and] episodic podcasts – mostly unscripted – …will be kind of our wheelhouse,” Silver said. “….There’s about four big things that are [hopefully] close to being announced. One’s football; one’s boxing; one is basketball; and one is kind of a blend of some things. I feel like we have a pretty diverse set of interests.”
Joining The San Francisco Chronicle as a football reporter has been indicative of a full-circle moment for Silver, as he is once again around the San Francisco 49ers and writing columns about the team and other sports around the Bay Area at large. Today, he is working with Scott Ostler and Ann Kllion, and directly with Eric Branch on the outlet’s 49ers coverage. Through it all, he seeks to continue gaining access to places that the ordinary person would only be able to dream about in order to tell compelling and informative stories, no matter how they may be delivered or on what platform(s) to which it may be distributed.
“I’m old school in a lot of my mentality in terms of journalism and storytelling and all of that,” Silver said. “I think those things don’t go away. I think it’s journalism first; relationship first; access first; storytelling first; and you figure out the rest.”
As for the future of the profession which has ostensibly become less defined because of the evolution of social media and communication, relationships and storytelling have truly become the differentiators. Silver aims to continue practicing what has allowed him to gain exclusive scoops in the industry and tell stories that would otherwise, perhaps, fly under the radar, but do so in a way that does not jeopardize his sources.
“I’m going to try to develop relationships and cultivate relationships where people trust me and give me a sense of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m going to try to get into places that you, as the consumer, couldn’t otherwise go and take you there, and I’m going to err on the side of the relationship as opposed to finding out one thing that could cause a splash that day on Twitter.”
Some athletes are hosting podcasts or writing columns to directly communicate with their fans, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green on The Volume, intensifying the quest for engagement and attraction. Yet Silver advises journalists looking to break into the industry not to get distracted in meeting certain metrics, instead adhering to best practices and reporting truthful information without ambiguity.
“Just don’t get undone by the noise,” Silver said. “Put your head down; hyperfocus; grind; tell good stories; do journalism and hopefully over the course of time, that will stand out. I’d still like to believe that.”
Covering professional sports, specifically football, generates a large amount of potential storylines on which journalists can report – and today, digital platforms give them the ability to cover them in different ways. While some scoops may requit a large article, others may be able to be told in 280 characters or less, such as a trade rumor or injury. The amount of information Silver and his colleagues uncovered working for a print publication and then had to omit because of space limitations underscores a key journalistic principle of efficient and truthful storytelling. In today’s media landscape, he hopes to be able to do that regardless of its means of dissemination.
“If you went back and just looked at our normal… feature or story off a game [and] the level we reported on a Wednesday and translated that to a Twitter generation, people would lose their minds about how much we found out and how much we reported with on-the-record quotes usually, and they’d be like, ‘He said what!?,” Silver said. “That’s all we knew and that’s [how] we did it…. I don’t think people understand how much the threshold has changed. It’s all good. The most important things hopefully haven’t changed.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Video Simulcasts Are Now A Must Have For Sports Radio
All of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
Video simulcasts of sports talk radio and podcasts have gone up extraordinarily in quality as of late. The craft started as a novelty that very few participated in. ESPN and YES Network dominated the genre with their simulcasts of Mike and Mike in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog respectively. Slowly but surely other sports networks and RSN’s picked up the genre over time and it has now become a major component within sports coverage in the streaming world.
The most popular and prominent shows in the medium right now include The Dan Patrick Show, The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, The Pat McAfee Show, and The Rich Eisen Show. These four shows in particular have done an excellent job of independently producing and building out their video content to look visually appealing while also engage with the audience through graphics, pictures, stats on screen. In McAfee’s case, his company even entered into a rights agreement with the NFL for highlights.
Finding their shows can be difficult at times. Eisen’s show has moved from television to Peacock and to Roku Channel all within the span of a couple years. When LeBatard’s shipping container first began their live video voyage they didn’t have a consistent schedule. Patrick’s show has also leapt between RSNs, national networks, YouTube and its current home on Peacock. But all of these shows have done an amazing job of constantly communicating with their audiences to make sure they’re aware of changes coming their way.
The video simulcasts have become so lucrative for these shows that they’ve found sponsors to advertise against what they’re offering and they ensure that they pay attention to the look of the show. Commercials that feel like television play during Patrick and Eisen’s shows. Logos are displayed during LeBatard’s broadcast and NFL Films vignettes that you would find on NFL Network air in the middle of McAfee’s broadcast.
McAfee’s show recently moved into a new studio in Indianapolis specifically built for them by FanDuel and just yesterday LeBatard announced they would be moving into their own state of the art studio in Miami that will help expand their creativity. Patrick’s show doesn’t even have guests call into their show anymore – most join via Zoom. Eisen’s guests are more often than not in studio. All of these shows also upload highlights relatively quickly to YouTube. They’re still audio-first but video is no longer secondary. It is 1A in terms of importance.
As much as these simulcasts feel close to real TV, there are still some hijinks that fans have to get used to that aren’t the same as a regular TV broadcast. During LeBatard’s broadcast, a rolling loop of their own self produced album plays during breaks. While the songs are hilarious in nature, if you’re a weekly viewer of their simulcast it might get tiresome to hear every time there is a break.
A loop of some of the show’s greatest moments and some of the side projects Meadowlark Media produces might be more engaging and help reduce drop off rate. McAfee’s show also struggles with white balancing their cameras almost every telecast. At times in the middle of a conversation during the show, discoloration occurs before changing back to normal skin tones.
Patrick’s show has used the same set of graphics since it began simulcasting on NBC’s linear sports network years ago which could be a turnoff for younger viewers of the internet era who always want change in order to grab their attention. Eisen’s show has awkward interruptions happen in the middle of conversations because commercial breaks are different in length on terrestrial radio vs. streaming.
At the end of the day though, these shows are the epitome of what it means to have grit and guts to achieve your American dream. Although their productions are subsidized and/or licensed by big media platforms and sports books, their social media presence and the actual production of these shows was built on their own. During the first couple of weeks after LeBatard’s show left ESPN, the former columnist could often be heard teasing listeners that they were working on building a video enterprise and how difficult it was.
It’s hard to stand on your own in sports talk media without the backing of superpowers like ESPN, Fox, NBC, CBS and Turner who have been producing live broadcasts for decades. But these shows have found a way to do so in a new world that is tailored towards doing everything on your own.
Jessie Karangu is a columnist for BSM and graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland but comes from Kenyan roots. Jessie has had a passion for sports media and the world of television since he was a child. His career has included stints with USA Today, Tegna, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Sightline Media. He can be found on Twitter @JMKTVShow.
5 Ideas For December Sales Success
How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea?
Now is the time to put your foot on the gas for a great start to 2023-not waiting til January. With Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day all falling on weekends, you can’t count on who will be at work the Friday or Monday around those holidays in December.
So, looking forward from here, you only have 15 or so days that you can count on your clients and prospects to be at work before the end of 2022. And, if they are at work, consider their motivation or lack of it before approaching them. But here are five ways to attack December.
Cutting a year-end deal
Make sure you go back from the potential start date of the schedule and allow for production, proposal, and acceptance. That usually means you need a week from when you present a year-end idea to when the schedule starts. So, aim to have all appointments booked by 12/9, so you can sell 2-week packages that begin Monday, 12/19. That will give you a sense of urgency and gives you five solid business days to sell your ass off starting Monday.
Make all your pricing and payment terms expire by Friday, 12/9. You can always extend if need be once they give a partial commitment. You want anybody involved in the decision to sign off and let you cut this deal! The idea here is to create urgency and work ahead.
Beat the bushes
Do you want to wake up on 1/2/23 with an empty pipeline? How much better will you enjoy Christmas and New Year knowing you have some presentations to make to prospects who want to roll into 2023 with a new idea? Don’t try to qualify these prospects over the phone. Do it in January when both of you are fresh but get that commitment NOW. Look for your new client avatar.
From now til the end of the year is also an excellent time to meet with your sales assistant, traffic manager, production person, or anybody who helps you at the station. Sit down with them face to face and see what you can do better to make their job easier. Give them some ideas on how they can help you as well. Mend some fences or make new friends; the reason tis the season. Surprise them with a Cheetos popcorn tin for less than $10. Please do it. You will be surprised by what you hear because this is a popular time of year for layoffs, transfers, and people taking new jobs.
Practice a new pitch
December is also a great time to record yourself doing a webinar and start planning to let your content do the talking. Wouldn’t it be nice if your 10-minute talk on how to make live reads work, how to buy radio, or why your audience buys the most widgets produced some warm leads? Practice and get going!
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@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.