Getting to know Mo Egger is a testament to what a small world radio is. Mo got his start producing Jim Scott’s morning show at WLW in Cincinnati. Jim’s son, Scott Fitzgerald (obviously not his real name) has been one of my very best friends in this industry for the better part of a decade. I didn’t know this before I picked up the phone to call Mo, but at the end of our conversation we started swapping stories about this family we both have an emotional connection to.
In his radio career, Mo has moved up at iHeartMedia’s Cincinnati office. He has never moved out, and he doesn’t have any plans to either.
Like so many of his listeners, Mo Egger was born in Cincinnati and he plans to stay in Cincinnati. The Reds and Bengals unite the town’s sports fans, while the Buckeyes, Bearcats, Muskateers, Wildcats, and maybe half a dozen other college teams divide it.
My conversation with ESPN 1530’s afternoon host touched on legendary Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman’s final season behind a microphone, Mo’s sensitivity to local college basketball fans, how we have each screwed up our kids, and the finer details of making and eating authentic Cincinnati chili.
Demetri: Why do you you think there is no competition for you guys in Cincinnati? I know there are multiple sports stations in the market, but they’re all in your building, right?
Mo: Yeah. It is just sort of the way ownership in the market played out. We happen to own all of the AM sticks here that matter.
When I was in high school and college there was a company called AM/FM I think. They had a sports talk radio station that was really quite good. We actually ended up hiring a lot of their guys. One of them is still with us.
They were on the air from 1994 until like 2000 or 2001. They had a morning show, a mid day show, and an afternoon show. They took the Bengals rights for a while. Then just the way things went down with regulation in the 90s, that station ended up folding.
Then across town Radio One launched a station in 2012.
D: This was the CBS Sports Radio affiliate right? If I remember, weren’t they all national shows?
M: No. They had a local morning show and a local afternoon show. The problem against us is we have the rights to everything. We have the Reds, Bengals, UC (University of Cincinnati), and Xavier. The problem in a market like this is that it’s hard when you can’t get rights to anything.
It’s a weird market. I am on ESPN 1530. WLW is literally two doors down, and a lot of what we do is programmed not to compete with them, but to offset or supplement them. If you want to do sports talk radio, there’s really only one place to go.
D: Does the average sports fan in Cincinnati value the play-by-play more than hosts and shows?
M: Yeah. Maybe. It’s a baseball-centric town and the sport you most connect to radio is baseball. And we’ve always had iconic broadcasters doing baseball in this town, so that branding has always meant so much.
It’s funny, whenever I hear people talk about apathy for the Reds, they can still recite what Marty Brennaman said the night before. It may be a little less so for the NFL because that is such a TV sport. Plus, when you have the rights you have access to Marty and to the Bengals guys and you have a larger degree of access to the teams themselves, which helps the programming.
The Reds are so unique because, he’s retiring this year, but Marty doing a Reds game is almost like another talk show. He is so opinionated. It’s always been interested to me how he kinda sets the tone for what so many people say and think. Not many people have done this the way he does and have a voice that is so authoritative. It’s what makes the broadcast so unique.
D: How much do Reds fans care about that story? The team isn’t competitive this year. Is who will replace Marty Brennaman a subject on your show?
M: I don’t think people care who replaces Marty. I think whoever replaces Marty, people will just complain about him.
Cincinnati is a very parochial town. Sports talk radio, as you know, is very local, but maybe here even more so. It really has to transcend if it happens outside the 275 loop or we’re probably not going to talk about it.
We’ve had a lot of coaching changes here over the last couple of years. Maybe it’s like this everywhere, but the Reds need a new manager and everyone just mentions their favorite former Red. The Bengals need a new head coach and everyone just mentions their favorite former Bengal. There are a lot of folks that consider themselves die hard Reds fans that probably can’t name five other local baseball broadcasters, because they just aren’t paying attention.
They’re using a guy from their Double-A team on broadcasts this year named Tommy Thrall.
D: This is the kid from Pensacola, right?
M: Yeah. I think they are doing the smart thing. They’ve had him work some games with Marty. He is doing their postgame show. I think they’re working him in and saying “here’s our guy” so that when the torch is passed to him the listeners will accept it, but when it was announced, no one knew who he was.
Those are obviously big shoes to fill. If you ask most Reds fans who should take Marty’s place they would say “I don’t know. Thom Brennaman?” or “Why not have Jeff Brantley do the games?”. I don’t think most listeners could really give you a bunch of qualified candidates.
D: So it’s the Dietrich story then that is the obsession night in and night out?
M: Oh yeah. It’s been interesting, because this team has been entertaining and they have had so many of these kinds of personalities. Cincinnati is the world’s biggest small town, but when these big personalities show up, people just embrace them. It makes us feel like “We’re New York! We’re cosmopolitan! We’re cool!”.
I think Derek Dietrich has done that. I think Yasiel Puig has done that. Nobody did that better than Chad Johnson. They just made people not only feel good about Cincinnati but like Cincinnati is cool.
I also think that has framed how people view the team. As we’re talking they’re 27-32. They haven’t been above .500 since opening day. The franchise itself hasn’t advanced in the postseason since 1995, but right now no one wants to hear that because of Derek Dietrich and Yasiel Puig. This team has a certain personality that has hooked people.
Now, you haven’t necessarily seen that translated into ticket sales. That is such an uphill battle for this team that it will take more than a Derek Dietrich to sell some tickets, but they’ve really changed the conversation around here. It’s been fun to talk about something besides “Why can’t they win?” or “Who are they going to trade?”.
D: Maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems like the Reds have had that situation a lot since like 2010. Maybe the team is not good, but there is one exciting player that you don’t want to miss the highlights from whether it is Joey Votto or Johnny Cueto or now Derek Dietrich.
M: Well Votto is always that guy. He’s been the best player for like a decade. You talked about 2010. No one saw that team coming. They won 90+ games. I cannot remember anything that galvanized Reds vans like that year when he initially didn’t make the All-Star team.
People were pissed. They took that personally. We had the league leader in OPS and he didn’t make the All-Star team? If he was playing for the Yankees or the Cubs or the Mets you can’t tell me he isn’t a shoo in!
The one thing we aren’t used to here is someone making $236 million. Money always changes relationships. We’ve gotten a lot of milage out of that topic. I think it greatly changed the relationship between Joey and this city. Plus, the sport has changed over the last 20 years. It’s more analytically driven and he has been at the epicenter of that.
In 2013 he was in the top 10 I counted in like 19 different offensive categories. I could still do three hours everyday on “Joey Votto is overrated because he doesn’t have enough RBI.” I could say “Yeah, but he leads in on-base percentage, plus they have two other guys with 100 RBI and its largely because of Joey Votto.” No one wanted to have that conversation.
He put together seven straight MVP calibre seasons, with the exception of 2014 when he was hurt, and yet he was the most polarizing guy. I can’t name a whole of other cities where the guy that was clearly the best player was the most polarizing guy. There was just this time where you could not have a conversation about Joey Votto without people mentioning what he was making. That’s interesting to me.
It’s maybe predictable. There’s just been no one like him, and he’s not going away. He’ll be here for the next four years, and he’s still making a lot of money and from a pure baseball standpoint, the numbers aren’t what they have been in the past.
D: What about when you switch over to college sports? What is fandom like in Cincinnati, because Ohio State is this big national brand, but I get the impression that Cincinnati is more of a college basketball town, and when it comes to college basketball, you have two much better teams right there in the city.
M: It’s funny. I try to approach my show knowing I’m a fan. I’m a UC basketball fan. I’m a UC football fan. I grew up a fan of those teams.
The first thing I try to do is say “Okay, if I’m going to talk about the Bearcats, I need to be able to do it in a way that I am not going to lose the Xavier fan, the Ohio State fan, the Kentucky fan, the Dayton fan, the Louisville fan, the Indiana fan, and that’s hard to do. It’s particularly hard when there is a coaching change or any major topic that is specific to one school. I’m really cognizant of that.
I get pushback all the time. “Boy, your show is a three hour UC lovefest,” but I really go out of my way. If we are going to have someone on talking about UC basketball during the season, I am going to make sure we have someone on later talking about Xavier basketball, because I am really sensitive to the perception that you are unfair to one school because you love the other.
Whenever you’re doing college sports in this market, you have to frame things in a way that at least keeps fans of other programs there. You also have to go out of your way to make sure you’re talking about every program objectively and fairly. I don’t pride myself on much, but I have a good relationship with Xavier University. We have their coaches on and we do plenty of topics. We talk about them fairly.
I go back to Cincinnati being very parochial. If I talk about Kentucky basketball, who by the way, we carry their games, I will inevitably get a call. “Why is a Cincinnati station talking about Kentucky basketball? They’re 90 miles away.” Well, it matters to a lot of people in my audience, and I’m always going to serve my audience.
Most times you are going to try to make those topics broad enough to appeal to everybody, but sometimes they are big stories for just one school. A few years ago Ohio State played for the national title in the first College Football Playoff. It used to be they played a BCS game. The run up to it was Christmas and you might not be on the air so then it would just kind of happen. Well, this time you had a College Football Playoff game and then the title game. It lapsed into the new year. Then you had Cardale Jones and the whole quarterback situation. It was a unique situation and it mattered to a large chunk of my audience.
I would still hear from UC people. “Why are we spending so much time on Ohio State?” and it’s like “Look, if UC is playing for a national title, we’ll be there. Ohio State is playing for a national title. That’s not my fault. It matters to a lot of my audience. We’re going to talk about it.”
I think, if nothing else, over time you try to establish enough equity and trust with the audience that they get it. If Mo is talking Kentucky basketball it is because something major is happening, and if they stick around, we will get back to the Bengals or the Reds or UC.
D: You’ve got a pretty young kid, right?
M: I have a 2-year-old.
D: Do you ever wonder about the psychological effects of having a dad in sports talk radio?
M: (Laughing) I wonder about the psychological effects of having me for a dad.
D: (Laughing) My kids are older. They are 9 & 7, but I do sometimes wonder what effect it has, and granted I am not on the air everyday right now, but when I was I would wonder what sort of effect it has on them to turn on the radio and hear someone calling their dad an idiot.
M: Well, her mom does that, so she’s used to it. I’ve never really thought about it from that point of view.
D: Well, you’re welcome for keeping you up tonight.
M: (Laughing) Well, to me I would also worry about the psychological impact of her dad not having a job, so I am glad I don’t have to do that. One thing I do think about, you know this, any host has to be relatable. A large chunk of my audience has kids, so naturally I introduce that into the conversation without her getting shit for it.
I don’t want her feeling like she has no privacy. My life can be an open book, but she didn’t ask for that. I definitely have thought about that, but as for the psychological impact, I could be driving a truck and I would still worry about my psychological impact on her.
D: Speaking of your relatability, I would imagine a huge chunk of the audience grew up in Cincinnati just like you and are now raising their kids there.
M: Oh sure.
D: Is it a “I was born here and so I will die here” kind of place, or do you have a lot of transplants coming in from other cities?
M: It’s mostly insular. I will hear from people that moved here from St. Louis or Pittsburgh. I always enjoy hearing from people that left here but still make time to listen to the show or catch the podcast. It makes me feel good when people tell me the show is a connection to home.
We got a call a couple of weeks ago from a guy who was a Cardinals fan and he grew up in Illinois and then he moved here. He said “Hey, I like your show” and then went on and made whatever point.
I think that’s need. Maybe you aren’t talking about something that matters to them, but I always think it is cool when people embrace whatever their new town is all about.
Let’s face it. It’s 2019. It’s easy for that guy to keep listening to whatever he was listening to before he came here, but he chooses to listen to us. That tells me that what we are doing is at least interesting enough to keep somebody or get someone who maybe isn’t interested in the subject matter. That’s flattering.
Even within the town it’s an insular town. It is segmented between the East Side and the West Side. Then there is Northern Kentucky. It’s the world’s biggest small town. Whenever people what school you went to, they aren’t talking about college. They want to know what high school you went to.
D: When someone that didn’t grow up in Cincinnati or at least doesn’t have a strong connection to the teams tells you they still love the show, do you consider that a personal compliment or is that a tribute to topic selection?
M: Oh, maybe a little bit of both. I certainly don’t think it is because they like me. I mean, why would you?
Look, when you move somewhere eventually you will be interested in what is happening there. You’ll be interested in civic matters or local politics. Chances are your new friends and co-workers will be into the local teams.
We moved away for a while when I was a kid. My dad was still a Reds and Bengals fan even though we were living in New Jersey, but he would still listen to New York sports radio and he has opinions about the Jets and Giants. He cared even though he didn’t root for those teams.
I do think on some level you have to connect with them. You have to be entertaining enough to get someone to sit through hours and hours of Reds and Bengals when maybe they are into other teams. It does make me feel good to hear from those folks.
D: So just how insular is the Cincinnati fandom? Were people there into LeBron coming back to Cleveland because it was still an Ohio story or did you treat it like “that’s a Cleveland story and my listeners don’t care”?
M: I think that was big enough that we could do it.
D: What about the Blue Jackets’ run in the playoffs this year?
M: That one is interesting. You can obviously find pockets of Blue Jackets fans. They have been a perennial playoff team and they won a series this year, so I think you had folks who didn’t have a hockey team that were like “There’s a team a 100 miles from here? Fine, let’s root for them.”
I think a lot of sports fans over the last…however long they’ve been around, have gone up to a game, and it’s a great experience. Because of that, they may not be hardcore hockey fans, but they’ll say “Well, I went to a Jackets game and had a good time, so they’re my team”. Then when they are playing important playoff games maybe those folks are a little more likely to watch.
You know though, what happens here is we are four hours from Pittsburgh and about four hours from Detroit. When the Blue Jackets came to town it took them forever to be good. Meanwhile the Red Wings and Penguins are winning Stanley Cups. The people that were into hockey before 2000 they already had a team. Chances are that team was either Detroit or Pittsburgh, and for the most part those teams gave their fans in Cincinnati little reason to jump ship.
I had John Tortorella on. That was really good. During the playoffs we had their play-by-play guy on, not before every game but there’s certainly enough of a market that it made sense to do some guest driven segments.
D: What kind of support staff do you have for your show? Between doing a show, writing for The Athletic, and doing your occasional TV work I would imagine you need all the help you can get in show prep in order to have a personal life.
M: I need help just getting out of bed.
I’ve actually been really lucky. In our building, I’ve always had the best producer. I think the reason is I did that job. I really understand how important what a producer does is to making a show great. Every producer I’ve had I’ve sat down with and said “Look, these are my expectations and my expectations are high, because I did that job.”
Maybe I wasn’t the world’s greatest, but I understood how a fully invested and engaged, creative producer can help a show. I ask them to do a lot, but I never ask them to do anything I wasn’t asked to do.
From 2009 through the end of last year I only had two different people. That is great consistency. The guy I had has moved on to Cleveland and now I am working someone new in. That can take some time, but I really value that job.
I wish more people in our business valued that job. As an industry, I wish we did a better job of cultivating producers and giving them an idea of what is expected and how rewarding the job can be and what a jumping off point that job can be. I rely on that position.
Sometimes it becomes a little bit of a crutch. When we do go through a change, there is a moment of “holy crap!” and you realize all the things that the guy that just left did for you. Now you have to get the new person conditioned to do all of that. That’s when I start to have a little bit of inner dialogue with myself about “am I being a little too reliant on the producer?”.
It’s a job I put a lot of value in. Every producer I’ve ever had, I always tell them to come with ideas. What is weird now is we’re kind of having the first generation of guys come into this job that didn’t grow up listening to the radio.
When I was a producer at WLW, I was 20 and I had grown up listening to that radio station. I was put on the morning show I grew up listening to, so I knew what it was supposed to sound like. I grew up listening to talk radio, and I got it. Now, nothing against these kids now, they just haven’t grown up listening to a radio station.
D: I was a producer before I started hosting as well. I always debate with PDs about what makes a good producer. My argument is you can build a rolodex. There is no substitute for drive and creativity. I think that can be found in the guys that want to eventually be hosts, and I wonder if these kids that grew up not listening to the radio can give the medium the kick in the ass it needs sometimes to compete with the plethora of other entertainment options that are available in your car or on your phone.
M: Oh, there’s validity to that. I have this conversation with every producer I have ever had, again that is not a lot of them, but it’s “Chances are you are listening to stuff I’m not listening to and consuming stuff I’m not. So bring ideas from that. Use those options and see what ideas you get that fit what we are trying to do.”
I think there’s value there, but you do need basic radio fundamentals. Radio is real time. Podcasts aren’t. So you do need to get people that understand this is happening right now and this is what you have to do.
I am with you in the sense that it helps an industry that is trying to evolve and adapt to have people who’s backgrounds aren’t entirely radio. At the same time, it helps to have people that get how it’s supposed to work. That way you can take what has worked and modernize it based on these other things outside our sphere.
Another thing I agree with you is, my last producer wanted to be a host. The person I was with before him didn’t want to host. She wanted to be a sideline reporter and is doing that for FC Cincinnati now. I think there is a difference between “I want to be on the air” and “I want your job,” because I have seen that one. I have seen the producer sitting on the other side of the glass and stewing, thinking “God! I am better than this guy!”. I want someone with aspirations higher than guest booking, but that version of it? That’s not productive.
D: What is the deal with you people and chili on spaghetti?
M: (Laughing) It’s the best!
M: I will admit that it is an acquired taste. I was walking downtown. I used to live there about four years ago. The Washington Nationals were in town. I’m going to meet a buddy to go to a game and I decided to stop in at Skyline Chili.
I sit down at the counter next to this couple from Maryland. They’re there to see the Nationals. The guy tells me the concierge at their hotel told them they had to check out Skyline. So I say I can help walk them through the menu and tell them what to order. They take one taste and look at me like I have three heads.
It is really, really an acquired taste, but there aren’t a lot of people in Cincinnati that don’t love it. I prefer a coney. That’s a small hot dog with the chili on it as opposed to the 3 way, which is what you’re talking about, but man, just talking about it has made me hungry.
I’m a big Cincinnati chili guy. I understand how that is viewed by outsiders, because it is very specific to this part of the country.
D: To see it on any sort of travel show, the chili does not look unlike the meat sauce my mom used to make with spaghetti, but for whatever reason the mental image of a kidney bean on top of spaghetti grosses me out.
M: Cincinnati chili is almost like a soup. People from other parts of the country think of chili and they picture something really chunky. They think of huge meaty chili. That’s not us.
The beef in Cincinnati chili is cut down really fine. It is almost like a sauce. It really is. It’s good. At least, I think it is.
D: I say this as someone that grew up on the Gulf Coast, sucking the brains out of crawfish heads, you guys eat some gross stuff up there.
M: (Laughing) Fair enough.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.