Unless you work in the sports broadcast industry or consistently listen to radio credits, you might not be aware of the name Howard Deneroff.
As the Executive Producer of Westwood One Sports, Deneroff has been on hand for three decades worth of the world’s greatest sporting events, playing a vital role in how they sound to the listening audience. Not only has he hired some of the most recognizable voices in sports, but he’s in the booth himself, contributing to Super Bowls, the Olympics, Final Fours and other prestigious events.
Howard’s rarely in the spotlight, but he’s been near it for the last 30 years and that’s how he wants it to stay. He might not enjoy talking about himself, but Howard Deneroff loves discussing his job. Filled with great stories and insight from the inner workings of a sports broadcast, Deneroff exudes the passion that all diehard sports fans and audiences share.
Brandon Contes: Westwood One for 30 years, you’re the Executive Producer – give a quick scope of work because you’re well known within the industry, but when I tell my wife I’m interviewing Howard Deneroff today, she says who’s that?
Howard Deneroff: [Laughs] She doesn’t listen to the credits enough. It’s technically nine years with CBS Radio Sports (different from today’s CBS Sports Radio) and 21 years with Westwood One, but it’s the same entity. My role is in charge of the play-by-play division of Westwood One, all of our broadcasts for the NFL, NCAA, NHL. We also broadcast the Masters, the Triple Crown of Horse Racing, the Olympics – it’s a full schedule. I’m in charge of the overall sound, talent and production. I’m also part of the negotiation team for broadcast rights of all our events.
It’s my job to make sure all of our broadcasts sound up to network standards. We want people to hear a broadcast and know this is Westwood One. If you hear something wrong, it’s my fault, if you hear something right, everyone else gets the credit [Laughs], which is the way it should be, but hopefully you never hear anything wrong.
BC: Are you surprised about radio’s longevity as someone who’s been in the business for over 30 years? It’s outlasted CDs and iPods, it’s going to outlast newspapers, maybe even cable.
HD: We use the term audio more than radio now, because you can hear us online, on your phone and a lot of devices. We’re radio primarily, but people consume audio in a lot of ways, which is part of why the demise of radio has not occurred, despite many people predicting it. I entered into this business because I love sports and broadcasting and the combination of the two was my way to get into sporting events for free [Laughs]. There are plenty of people that still can’t watch games, for whatever reason, whether they’re at work, in the car or visually impaired.
There’s still an audience out there and we’re going to produce the best broadcast possible for them, even though we recognize the younger generation isn’t as glued to the radio as I was at their age.
BC: Did you ever have an interest in doing local radio?
HD: When I first started, my goal was to do live sports. I would have taken a job with any team or local broadcast, it just so happened that I got this network job out of college. Literally – graduated Sunday, drove Monday, started Tuesday. Not at the level I’m at now, but it was as a production assistant with CBS Radio Sports. They had broadcast rights to Major League Baseball and the NFL. At the time they just started the Spanish language division to broadcast the World Series and Super Bowl in Spanish. Spanish was my best subject in school and my grandmother lived in Cuba before coming to the United States, so I learned the language growing up. I don’t speak it fluently, but I’m conversant enough to produce a broadcast in Spanish.
BC: During those early years, were you trying to get on-air or did you quickly realize you liked being behind the scenes?
HD: I did some on-air work in college at Syracuse, but to be fair, I was in college at the same time as Mike Tirico, Ian Eagle and a bunch of talented broadcasters. Probably 12 to 15 people doing on-air work and I was 15th out of the 15. We had a great group of broadcasters and I recognized that I was the worst guy there. We didn’t know Mike Tirico and Ian Eagle were going to be two of the greatest broadcasters of all time. While I was the 15th best there, I may have been the 16th best in the country, [Laughs] we’ll never know.
Nobody wanted to lug equipment and produce. No one really knew what producing was. But I started to think I might not make it as an announcer, so I went behind the scenes more and from the first time I did a game as a producer – a women’s basketball game, I never wanted to go back on-air. I did on-air work throughout college, but it was never a priority anymore. Production was perfect for me. I’m organized, I know how it should sound and I can help people get there.
People like Ian didn’t need a ton of help, but I enjoyed the planning of, ‘let’s do this for four minutes, then take a break and we’ll place this interview here’. I could still help by knowing it was the first time something happened in a game since 1982 or who holds this statistical record, but producing just felt right for me from the start. I like making decisions, but I never needed to be the front-man. I never need credit, I just want a good broadcast and that’s my reward.
BC: How many announcers, analysts, reporters, on-air personalities do you hire in a given year?
HD: It’s about 12 broadcast teams for men’s and women’s NCAA basketball, six for the NFL, college football is two or three, and between everything we do with the NHL and all other sports, it’s about 50. Then in an Olympic year it’s another dozen. I get a lot of requests and audio demos sent to me that are good, but I can’t hire everybody. I love the NCAA tournament because I get to hire a lot of people, but I still might only be hiring 12 people in the entire country! I hate having to tell people no, that’s the bad part of the job. I love being able to hire people, to tell them yes and find new talent. Out of 365 days of the year, there is probably no more than 15 days in the year that I don’t get tape or an email sent to me inquiring about a position or asking me to listen.
BC: Do you enjoy critiquing audio?
HD: I love it, I wish I had more time for it. I remember when I was graduating college, there were no smartphones, email or links, so you would send out cassette or videotapes and it was very hard to get a response. When I was sending tapes, I didn’t like not getting responses, so I always try to respond, even if it’s just saying I might not get to this for six months or apologize because I don’t have an opening right now. But it’s important to me to at least send a note.
BC: How much of a tape do you like to listen to?
HD: People say you know quickly if someone is good and sometimes you will within a few minutes, but I listen to a full game or at least a half of a game. Somebody could be good for three or four minutes and then just go off the rails. If I’m considering hiring someone, I definitely listen to the full game, but even if a student sends me a tape, I’ll listen for at least a half. Too many things happen in a game where I like to listen to more than just a few minutes.
BC: Is it fun to find younger broadcasters and watch them grow? Just like a general manager of a team drafting and developing their own talent or even as a listener, I remember hearing Kevin Burkhardt on the FAN and then seeing him on SNY. Now he’s a top broadcaster in the country and I get excited when I see him because it was fun to hear and watch that progression.
HD: Yeah and there’s no question you never want to swing and miss. Have I done that? Yes, nobody’s perfect, but you recognize it quickly. You want to hit a homerun, you want broadcasters that will never have the listener thinking ‘how did this guy get on-air?’ I’d like to think our track record is pretty good and we’ve had very minimal complaints from affiliates regarding talent. Talent is still only one part of it. I’m a producer at heart and producers are very important, engineers are hugely important. Without the right equipment, it doesn’t matter who’s on-air. You can have Mike Tirico and the best analyst, but if the mic isn’t on, it won’t matter. A good broadcast encompasses everything. Having good talent helps to navigate through tough times. Look at the end of this year’s Kentucky Derby when they’re waiting to see the decision on the winner. There’s no road map for that delay, there’s no plan for a blackout in the Super Bowl.
BC: You were in the booth for that Super Bowl, Ravens and 49ers?
HD: Oh yeah.
BC: Did you think you hit the wrong button?
HD: [Laughs] The front row of the booth is Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, a spotter, a statistician and me. The second row is our pregame and halftime show hosts, Jim Gray, Larry Fitzgerald and our producer for that and the third row is engineering and equipment.
I go to grab a cue card for Kevin, so I turn away from the field and my headphones go out which happens occasionally if I turn too far and the headphones get pulled out of the socket. That’s what I assumed happened. I turn back to plug them in and look at my box that has all my buttons to talk with everyone, it’s like a mini intercom system and it’s dark. “Oh Crap.”
Kevin starts hitting me and banging his headphones to signal he has nothing, I look down and see he’s dark and now it’s “oh s***”
Keep in mind this is all within three seconds! I turn around to yell for an engineer to see what’s going on and I see complete darkness and we have racks of equipment that should be lit up! Now the expletives get worse. Within those first few seconds, I’m thinking it’s us. Once I look out and see the whole stadium is out we realize, okay this is everyone.
My first year at CBS Radio was 1989, my first World Series was in the Bay Area, which of course had an earthquake during our pregame show. I was a rookie and let everyone tell me what to do, but I never thought 20, 25 years later I would go back to that experience. You’re not a sports broadcaster anymore, you’re now a news reporter, because at this point we don’t know if it’s the stadium, the whole city of New Orleans, terrorists or what. Thank God the stadium had one bank of lights on so everyone inside wasn’t in a panic.
We have an emergency phone that we actually call the “oh s*** phone.” I call the studio and they tell me we’re in a commercial break which is what we’re supposed to do. After the break, I hand the phone to Kevin Harlan so he can explain to our listeners what’s going on. Kevin then hands the phone to Boomer and they go back and forth on-air.
BC: So you’re now doing a broadcast during the Super Bowl through a landline telephone?
HD: Right, which is exactly what they did in 1989 (during the earthquake). First, they try to explain what happened, what they heard, what it looks like. One of our engineers worked at our radio affiliate in New Orleans, WWL. He called them to find out if the outage is the entire city. Once we find out its isolated to the stadium, we report that. We keep trying to find out information and report, because even the PA system was out and the 70,000 people in the stadium have a radio at their seat, so they’re learning what happened by listening to us. But those unusual things are the beauty of live broadcasting. That was probably a bigger adrenaline rush than anything I’ve ever done.
We probably received more positive feedback about those 36 minutes than all of the Super Bowls I’ve worked combined.
BC: There’s certainly a different rush with anything that’s live.
HD: I love it and that’s when I’ll know it’s time to stop doing this, unless they tell me first because you don’t control your own fate. But when that red light goes on, I still get an adrenaline rush and until I no longer get that rush, why would I want to stop doing this job?
BC: Were there other things from earlier in your career that you didn’t foresee being helpful, but later on you were able to look back on. Similarly to how the earthquake broadcast helped you know how to handle a Super Bowl power outage?
HD: When I first started at CBS, I used to walk upstairs to the television studios and watch how they would do the NFL Today because halftimes for games start at different times and they only have one studio show. How does one show do all of the different games when each halftime overlaps? I was fascinated to watch because it’s a jigsaw puzzle, but I never thought it would be relevant for me.
In 2003, we take over the NCAA Tournament and we have individual basketball games that start and break at different times and they all overlap. So 14 years later, I knew how to jump back and forth and arrange it. It’s the crux of how we do the tournament because we’re doing every game, and while fans of a specific team can hear the game in its entirety online, we have a RedZone style broadcast for terrestrial radio. You always need to watch and learn around you because you never know when something will come in handy.
BC: Who’s in charge of the RedZone style broadcast that you hear on WFAN and terrestrially around the country? Who decides what game to play and when to switch to a different game?
HD: That’s me and (WFAN afternoon host Mike) Francesa kills me every year on-air [Laughs].
I’m watching every game simultaneously and making those judgements and there’s a lot that goes into it. There could be a three point game where a 12 seed is beating the 5 seed and it’s at the 4 minute, 28 second mark. Fans might see the score and want me to switch to that broadcast, but I’m not going to that game when they have an automatic TV timeout at 4 minutes. You’ll hear 20 seconds of action and then a break. Why not stay with action (of the first game) and wait until after they have a timeout? If you’re just looking at the score, you want us to go to that game because it’s a 12 beating a 5 with less than 5 minutes to go. Trust me, I’m getting there, but there are a lot of factors with timeouts, commercials and live reads. You want to join cleanly. My goal is to give fans the most action possible, with the least amount of interruption.
There are times you pick wrong. We can have two close games and need to choose which one is going to have the better ending. There’s no question I’ve made mistakes in switching off a game. It’s an impossible task, but we joke every year – and guess what time we’ll start getting criticized for not switching to a different game.
BC: Where are you doing that from?
HD: Our New York studios, which is the CBS Broadcast Center. It’s in the same building, so we can have our eyes on everything TV does, which is great.
BC: How often are you at games and in the broadcast booth?
HD: I’m on the road 200 to 250 days a year, depending on if we have the Olympics or something like that. It’s less than I used to be, but it varies depending on what rights we have. I used to do more events, but we have very qualified people to do the job without me in the booth. I still love being there. There’s nothing like going to the ballpark, stadium or arena for a big game. I’ll never take that for granted.
BC: When you are in the booth, are you ever critiquing the announcers? Or is it mostly making sure everything sounds smooth and you’re hitting commercial breaks on time?
HD: Let’s be honest, the most important thing on any broadcast is that the commercials play properly, whether I want to admit it or not. Without commercials, none of us have jobs and I get that, but there’s more to it. What are you going to talk about, for how long and in what order during a broadcast.
BC: So you’re also developing topics for pregame and in-game conversations?
HD: Yes, and when you hire top talent we usually know what they’re going to talk about, but there are times you’ll have a great sound bite or highlight to incorporate that’s relevant to the game. Once the puck is dropped or kickoff happens, most of the time it’s left up to the announcer because we have the luxury of hiring the best of the best. There are times I’ll prompt the announcer or analyst. It could be as basic as saying in their ear ‘hey coach, would you go for it on 4th down or not?’
It could also be like Super Bowl XL – Marv Albert’s doing the game with Boomer Esiason and it was the second or third play from scrimmage in the second half. The Steelers have the ball and Willie Parker breaks through for what ends up being a touchdown run. It was clear from about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage he’s going to score, so I tell Boomer in his ear to ‘layout’ – don’t say a word, don’t jump on Marv. I rarely say that to an announcer, so if I do, they know it’s for a good reason.
I then yell out to my statistician ‘how long will this run be?’ He tells me 75 yards, and I ask if he’s sure, 100% sure? He said ‘yeah, why?’ Because the record is 74 yards, Marcus Allen. So right after Marv says touchdown Willie Parker, I’m in his ear saying ‘longest run in Super Bowl history.’
Marv then regurgitates, “The longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.” (Howard said this doing a decent Marv Albert impression)
I tell the studio to cue up the Marcus Allen highlight from Super Bowl XVIII, which we have ready to go just in case and I want that coming out of the commercial break. Next, I tell Jim Gray, Marcus Allen is in the MVP suite because he was honored at the game as a previous Super Bowl MVP, go ask him about his record being broken.
Sometimes you need the stars to align, but there’s also the preparation of having that Super Bowl XVIII highlight ready to go. You want the broadcast to be entertaining. If you don’t have it, is anybody listening saying, ‘why don’t they have that highlight?’ No, but I think people like hearing those old highlights that pertain to and enhance the broadcast.
BC: Have you ever gotten a tape that someone sends and you don’t think they’re ready yet and then years later you hear them with another company and now they are ready for network?
HD: I can give you a specific example. We like to have different calls from NCAA Conference Tournaments for potential Cinderella teams. We already have a lot of the larger schools because some of those tournaments are on our network, but we don’t do all of the smaller conference tournaments. In 2008, we wanted a play-by-play highlight from the University of Evansville and with smaller schools, they don’t have a producer or anything, we have to contact the announcer directly. We get a copy of a game winning call from their play-by-play voice, Brandon Gaudin.
It was a nice call, nothing earth-shattering. After the tournament he sends a thank you note and asks if I would listen to and critique some of his tape. I gave him a list of probably 10 notes, comments such as you didn’t give me the shot clock here, I’d like to know the free-throw percentage or this was too much information with the starting lineups, simple concrete items like that.
A couple years later Brandon gets the Butler job. He reaches out again and asks for another critique. Then Butler gets to the Final Four and now he introduces himself in person and asks, ‘Can you listen again? I think I’ve really improved.’ I give him a few more pointers and he asks if I’m closer to working for Westwood? I said ‘you’re getting closer, but still need a couple more things.’
Then he gets the Georgia Tech job. After a year, he asks me to listen again and now he’s really close, he needed one more year. He worked on a couple of things that year and then I hired him. It was a progression of around six years. I liked his persistence, he never just said, ‘I’m good I should work for you.’ He just wanted to get better. I’m happy to listen, I like listening. I find it funny that people trust me on it, but I think I hear things differently than people. I can’t call games the way others can, but I know how it should sound.
BC: You mentioned things like not giving the shot clock or free throw percentage, but when you listen to a broadcaster from a small school, how much do you factor in that they might not have a producer, statistician or someone in the booth helping them give the right statistic at the right time?
HD: In 2003, I was in Omaha for the College World Series and Kevin Kugler, who worked there locally at the time, asked me to listen to a tape. I forget the exact game in the tape, but it was a football game between two teams you never heard of, Division II or III. The quality of the tape was HORRIBLE. It was distorted, it was windy, it was terrible and my first question was ‘who’s your engineer?’ He said, ‘I’m the engineer’ – so I told him, ‘well I’m never hiring you for that.’ [Laughs]
But in the tape, he says, ‘That’s a 17-yard gain. He now has 4 catches for 78 yards. They’re 3 for 7 on third down.’ He gave instant numbers like that throughout the entire game, so I asked ‘who’s your stat guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t have a stat guy,’ so I asked ‘well who’s your spotter?’ Again, ‘spotter? I don’t have a spotter.’ I was so impressed that he could handle all of that. We hired him for the network within a year after that and he’s been a great addition ever since.
The answer is yes, I recognize the resources are different. I tell people NFL games are easy compared to Division II games, because you have a statistician, spotter, all the press notes you want, all the information and video you want. If you can do a high school football game well, you can do an NFL game. That doesn’t mean I’m giving someone from high school an NFL gig, but I don’t want anyone to ever be discouraged in saying ‘I know I’m only doing high school or Division III games,’ because it’s not that far of a leap.
BC: I compare sports talk radio in the way it’s changed to Major League Baseball because it used to be, put the mic on and take calls; baseball used to be throw the ball, hit the ball. Baseball has gotten so specialized with analytics and everything in radio is now analyzed and debated – should we take calls, should we use guests or radio bits, how much audio and music beds should there be. Both have modernized. Similarly, how have play-by-play broadcasts changed?
HD: Great question. I don’t know that it’s changed as much, but if you listen back to old broadcasts; World Series, NBA, Super Bowls – the game ends, they give the final score and throw it right to a break. The Super Bowl ends and they would just go right to a commercial! What I would say changed the most is the pre and post-game shows being longer. We get everybody we can to talk about the game. If you’re a fan, you want to hear from the players to know what happened, what did it feel like? And you want that from the losing side too, which never would have been done in the old days.
Part of the reason for longer pre and post-game shows is bigger rights fees. In order to pay for those, you need a certain number of commercials. But when I first started, we would go on-air for the Super Bowl at six o’clock for a 6:18 kickoff – we had an 18 minute pregame show. Then we expanded it to start at 5:45 – a half hour pregame show!
Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego – the story is John Elway’s last chance at winning. We talked to him at the hotel and he gave us 14 minutes. To this day, I think it was the best interview we’ve ever done, but I couldn’t air more than six minutes of it! We had to air the parts talking about how can they beat the Packers and the road to the Super Bowl. I will tell you, the half of the interview that did not air was better than the half that did, but we needed to prioritize specific quotes. I was so frustrated by that, so I went to our bosses and told them they need to give us more time. They have to be able to sell the Super Bowl and let us do a longer show. So for Super Bowl XXXIII, we added a one-hour optional pregame show called Super Sunday to see if affiliates would take it and it was awesome, but we still didn’t have enough time! Super Bowl XL, we added another hour and then XLV, we added another hour, XLVIII we added another. Now we have six hours of pregame, but as little as 21 years ago, we had less than 20 minutes, which is crazy.
The fans are also smarter because of the access to information they have. They know the game better, so you can be more technical on the broadcast. When we do a broadcast, we’re blacked out in the cities of the game, so if we’re doing a Jacksonville-Tennessee game Thursday night in December and you’re listening in Seattle, you’re a diehard fan. You’re not a casual fan. We can be more in depth and technical. We can say “Cover 2” or the “A-gap.” It’s still important to teach, but the audience is smarter than they used to be with the information they have.
There are also many more former players and coaches on the broadcast than there used to be. They give a different perspective and take the audience into the huddle. Also, audio technology has changed – you can hear the puck hit the post, a thunderous dunk or the swoosh of the net at the buzzer, and we incorporate that into our broadcast. It’s all part of today’s audio experience.
BC: You mentioned that Seattle fan listening to the Titans and Jaguars game in December, they might be a diehard fan, but they also might have money on the game. What’s the thought on bringing sports wagering into a broadcast?
HD: For the first 29 years that I’ve done this, gambling was completely off limits for every sport. It was never a discussion. Now the NHL has a team in Vegas and the NFL is going to Vegas. The NFL just sent us revised guidelines for advertising because for years, we weren’t able to take advertising dollars from casinos and now all of a sudden we’re allowed to. I don’t think we’re at the point where on the broadcast we’re going to talk about the line or the over/under. At some point, it looks like there will be in-stadium betting and once the NFL opens it up, we’ll open it up. There’s an audience that cares about it, but they’re not tuning into us to hear the spread. They tune in to hear what’s happening. They want to know the score, but they don’t need us to tell them the betting line is 4.5. At some point? Maybe, but not yet. We might eventually decide we could sell a show specifically to gambling, but in terms of within the play-by-play, I don’t think we’re there yet.
BC: Do you do mock broadcasts when trying to pair an announcer and analyst?
HD: Very rarely. It’s difficult budget wise, but generally because we’re the network and we can be more selective, everyone who I will consider hiring already has a tape. It’s very rare that we hire someone who hasn’t already done the job somewhere. Occasionally, television will do a mock broadcast and let me see it, but to see how two people will work together, I’ll put them on a less important game to start. I won’t put a pair on the NCAA Tournament together if they haven’t worked in the regular season together. We’ll take a Tuesday night regular season game in February to see how a pair will mesh, but I have the advantage of choosing from the cream of the crop.
BC: Can you tell after one game? Do you need to hear a full season to see how broadcasters will develop together?
HD: If I don’t think they mesh together after one game, it’s unlikely they’ll have a second game together. Chemistry can develop, but if it’s bad, I don’t think it’s going to get fixed and there’s no need to try when I know they’re each good enough to work with someone else. There’s really not a lot of that because we have the luxury of hiring from some of the best in the country. They don’t need a lot of coaching. Some guidance, but the critiques I give to the people I’m hiring is different from the critiques I give the people I’m not hiring.
BC: How important is it to have a play-by-play announcer with personality? Ian Eagle, Kevin Harlan – they’re funny, they have personality, is that something generally you look for?
HD: Personality is more important on TV than radio. Description is more important for radio than personality. Relay the information, describe what’s happening, get excited about what’s happening. Passion is more important than personality. Personality can help and can make you better, but we don’t need a comedian. The analyst needs to have personality more so than the play-by-play voice because the play-by-play announcer is there to describe what’s happening, while the analyst needs to relay the information with an entertaining delivery. A play-by-play announcer can have all the personality in the world, but if I don’t know where the ball is, it’s irrelevant for radio.
It needs to sound fun because at the end of the day, it’s sports. If we’re not having fun, the listener knows. We’re at a football game, basketball, hockey game. We take this seriously and dead air is terrible. A commercial doesn’t play, that’s terrible [Laughs]. But big picture, sports is a release and putting it into perspective, the worst day at our job is better than the best day for a lot of people at their job. It’s an awesome job. I like talking about the job, I don’t like talking about me [Laughs]. I think I have a very good ear, but it’s not a skill like a heart surgeon, so I get uncomfortable talking about myself because someone else can do this job well.
BC: But you do influence what millions of people hear on the radio in a given year, so there is an interest in how you go about the job.
HD: I never thought about it that way. That’s interesting, but I consider myself part of that target audience. I’m a diehard sports fan, so when I’m working on a broadcast, I just try to think about what is it that I would like to know.
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
Julian Edelman Has Been FOX’s NFL Breakout Star
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments.
He was a key member of the NFL’s last true dynasty, a children’s book author, a regular talking head on NFL Network’s America’s Game anthology, an actor in the film 80 for Brady, and a multimedia favorite. And oh yeah, he is third all-time in the NFL for postseason receptions and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII. He is Julian Edelman.
These days he answers to a new calling – a rising star on FOX’s excellent NFL commentator roster. Edelman, who retired in 2020 after 12 seasons as a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, has logged impressive recent stints on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
Edelman has been an unexpected jewel in FOX’s football crown, providing behind-the-scenes, players-only insight in a casual and humorous style. On a recent edition of The Herd, Edelman’s talent was on full display.
In a discussion about Patriots’ signal caller Mac Jones, Cowherd implied that it would have been easier for the Alabama QB if he had gone to a less intense environment with an offensive-minded head coach.
Edelman countered by referencing Josh Dobbs, who played great in his first start for the Vikings after being with the team for just a couple of days. Edelman stated, “If you’re a guy, you’re a guy,” meaning that good players adapt to any situation. He added, “This is the National Football League. If you don’t win, the quarterback and the head coach get the blame. This is a production business.”
One of the refreshing aspects of Edelman’s TV game is his candor. He was deeply rooted in the Patriot Way and benefitted from all it offered him, but he pulls no punches in talking about his former team.
He does not buy into the excuse that Mac Jones has had three different offensive coordinators in his three NFL seasons. Edelman stated that ex-Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ and current OC Bill O’Brien’s offensive schemes are essentially identical.
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments. He uses his strong connections to Tom Brady and other members of the NFL’s glitterati to his advantage, but he is not violating these friendships with kiss-and-tell BS.
In his young broadcasting career, Edelman has also embraced a rare quality among media personalities, namely, the courage to admit when he is wrong. He recently stated that he thought Texans’ quarterback CJ Stroud was going to be just another failed Ohio State quarterback joining the likes of Cardale Jones, Terrell Pryor, Troy Smith, and the late Dwayne Haskins.
Julian Edelman acknowledged his error and lauded Stroud for his performance and the Houston offensive staff for keeping it simple and allowing Stroud to flourish. He then made an accurate comparison between Stroud and Dak Prescott who had a similarly amazing rookie season in 2016. He also revealed that he and Tom Brady would sit and watch Prescott play during that season and marveled at his performance.
Such neat revelations have become commonplace for Edelman who also told Cowherd that Bill Belichick had different rules for different players. This goes against the accepted theory that Belichick coached all his players the same.
When asked about good and bad locker rooms, Edelman revealed that the 2009 Patriots had some “a-holes” on the team, “guys who had a lot of money and acted like they had a lot of money.”
He also regaled Cowherd with a funny story about former teammate and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi. During his rookie season, Edelman made repeated contact with Bruschi during a team drill. After the play, Bruschi got in Edelman’s face and said, “If you ever touch me again, I’ll cut your arm off, Rook!”
In a subsequent discussion, Edelman was asked about how NFL players view Thursday night games. He said that the goal for players is to just get through the game and try to get the win. He called having a Thursday night game a “baby bye week” because of the extra prep time gained for the next week. Baby bye week – new lingo from a new age analyst.
Speaking of language, Julian Edelman may have created another new football term. He called the NFL games after Thanksgiving “cream season,” when the cream rises to the top and when football season truly starts. Edelman told Cowherd that this is when coaches raise the intensity in the building.
A week later, Edelman was a panelist on FOX’s NFL Kickoff. It was clear that the show’s producers and host Charissa Thompson were tuned into Edelman’s Herd appearance as they made his cream season line a theme of discussion.
Edelman picked the Ravens and Niners as his current cream teams and entertained Thompson and his fellow panelists with a few dairy-related puns. He was funny, saying that both these teams could end up becoming butter teams – even better than cream.
Edelman is unafraid to ruffle feathers, even if those feathers reside in Foxboro, MA. In discussing last week’s Patriots-Giants game, he boldly tweeted and stated on NFL Kickoff that the Patriots would be better off losing that game in order to get a better 2024 draft position.
If Julian Edelman has any flaws, it is that at times his analysis RPMs run into the red. In his discussion of last week’s crucial Jaguars-Texans game, he was visibly pumped up and spoke far too quickly even stumbling on some commentary. He recovered well and simply needs to slow down, trust his knowledge, and calculate his pace.
Edelman has made such an immediate impact that NFL Kickoff has even given him his own segment. It is called “The Nest” and his based on his children’s book Flying High, the story of Jules, a football-playing squirrel who is small in stature but big on heart and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?
Julian Edelman was joined in the nest by panelists Charles Woodson and Peter Schrager and provided a pretty cool analysis of current NFL wide receivers. He based his opinions on four attributes: sociability, aggressiveness, activity level, and boldness. Along the way, Edelman provide some unique commentary on the likes of Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, A.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs.
There is a rhythm to Edelman’s conversation. He is comfortable with his career, comfortable with himself, and comfortable on air. As a player, Julian Edelman was an unexpected star, a guy who parlayed personality, hard work, and hustle into a fantastic career. He is doing the same in media dishing out knowledge his way – brash, all-out, and with total abandon.
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
Mike Breen is Ready For Whatever The NBA Season Brings
“I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
Every time a new basketball season is on the precipice, there is a certain kind of enigma that permeates the landscape. Although he has been on basketball broadcasts for nearly three decades, Mike Breen still feels added nerves before donning the headset to call the NBA Finals. Last season, ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice called the 100th NBA Finals game of his broadcast career. In doing so, Breen became just the third basketball announcer on radio or television to attain such a feat.
When he first joined the broadcasts on ABC in 2006, Breen was stepping into the play-by-play role previously held by Al Michaels, working alongside color commentator Hubie Brown. He never could have imagined that the conclusion of the 2023-24 season would mark his 19th time calling the best-of-seven championship series and attributes his success to the people around him.
“There’s not a stage anywhere in the world big enough to hold that many people because that’s how many people have really been there for me and supported me and guided me and at times chastised me because you need people to always tell you the truth,” Breen said. “I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
For the last 18 NBA Finals broadcasts, Breen has worked alongside color commentator Jeff Van Gundy, a former head coach of the New York Knicks. Mark Jackson served as a color commentator as well for 15 of these series, taking a three-year detour to work as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. The broadcast trio was widely regarded as one of the best in basketball and frequently lauded for the strong chemistry they possessed on the air. Over the offseason though, Van Gundy and Jackson were laid off by ESPN as a part of cost-cutting measures by The Walt Disney Company. The decision disappointed Breen because of the bond he and his colleagues fostered and shared.
“We spent so much time together and we felt we had something special, and we were hoping that it was going to last longer, but nothing in this business lasts forever and that’s part of the business, and you have to figure that out and you move on,” Breen said. “Now the way I look at it is I’m just so grateful and honored that I had all that time sitting next to those two for so many big games over the years, but it’s hard when it ends.”
Breen is currently working with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers on ESPN’s lead NBA broadcast team. Broadcasting the NBA Finals, let alone sporting events as a whole, was never in his mind though; that is, until he was told by family friend and former New York Tech radio staffer Tony Minecola to consider going into the industry as a sportscaster.
Recognizing that he would not succeed as a professional athlete because of a lack of skill or as a doctor because of a lack of passion, Breen chose to major in broadcast journalism at Fordham University, immediately joining the campus radio station. Over his four years matriculating at the institution, he prioritized versatility and contributed to sports, news, talk and music programming.
“When you leave college and you have tape résumés and experience of being on the air on a live 50,000-watt station, it really gives you a great perspective of what it’s like to be in the business,” Breen said. “It’s kind of a great way to figure out, ‘Okay, is this something you like? Is this something you have a chance to be good at?’”
Ed Ingles, the former sports director of WCBS 880, helped instantiate that mindset for Breen when he interned with him during his days in college. Aside from his delivery, Breen took notice of how he interacted with his colleagues and other people in the industry, always demonstrating professionalism and kindness. Ingles advised Breen to get out of his comfort zone, which proved to be invaluable when Breen started his first job out of school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. at WEOK-AM/WPDH-FM.
In his first year with the outlet, he would frequently attend school board meetings and county legislative sessions in order to collect 45 seconds of sound for the morning anchor to use on their program. Whereas at a sporting event, the game is oftentimes the primary story, Breen had to review the agenda and listen to the meeting to have an understanding of what is essential to the story.
“If you can cover a school board meeting that you know nothing about and do a good job on it, then you can certainly cover an NBA basketball game and figure out the storylines and the narratives and all those types of things,” Breen said. “It really made me a better sportscaster. I wasn’t just a sportscaster; I was a broadcaster.”
Breen eventually began calling Dutchess County High School basketball games and serving as an analyst on Marist College basketball broadcasts, all while working as the morning news anchor for the radio outlet. In balancing various different roles at once, Breen found himself on the air for six days a week for an entire year. The strenuous workload allowed him to enhance his skillset and ingenuity and have the confidence that he could make a career in the profession.
Through a connection he had with a classmate at Fordham University, Breen landed a part-time producing job on Jack Spector’s sports talk program, SportsNight, on WNBC. The commitment was initially for one day per week, but as Breen’s workload at the outlet increased, he was able to leave Poughkeepsie and focus on working in New York City. There was a dearth of sports talk programming at the time; that is until the summer of 1987 when WFAN launched on 1050 AM and introduced a new format to the medium.
“We were all sitting around the radio at WNBC thinking, ‘Okay, here comes our competition on the air,’” Breen remembered. “We were laughing, saying, ‘Oh, this is never going to make it. There’s no way this is going to make it,’ and it turns out that it was just the start of something that would completely change the radio industry.”
Ironically enough, WFAN moved to WNBC’s 660 AM frequency when General Electric sold several of its stations to Emmis Communications as part of a multi-station deal. Even though the station had transitioned to a new format, Don Imus kept his morning show on the airwaves, which Breen had been a part of starting a year earlier. His segments were filled with sound effects and jokes, giving him exposure within the marketplace and allowing him to penetrate beyond his comfort zone of traditional sports broadcasting and reporting.
“It wasn’t just your normal sports update,” Breen said. “It was something where you had to use your personality; you had to use your sense of humor [and] you had to use your writing skills, and it showed a little versatility and that was important.”
MSG Networks hired Breen in 1992 as the New York Knicks radio play-by-play announcer, and he assimilated into the role while keeping his spot on Imus in the Morning. In addition to adjusting to the pace of the NBA, he also refined his approach to calling games on the radio as opposed to television. Throughout this process, Breen thought about Marist play-by-play announcer Dean Darling and how he had called the games when they worked together.
“There are very few people – and there certainly are exceptions – but there are very few people who are instantly really good on the air,” Breen said. “It takes a while to hone your skills to figure out how you want to broadcast things if you have a certain style, and that’s the No. 1 thing is to get repetitions.”
When Marv Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1997, Breen was suddenly promoted to fill the role as the television play-by-play announcer for the team. Having listened to Albert call games for many years growing up, Breen knew the importance of appealing to the local audience in the New York metropolitan area. Many of the local play-by-play announcers in the locale grew up around the city, and he affirms that the knowledge and passion is discernible to consumers. Breen met New York Yankees television play-by-play announcer and ESPN New York radio host Michael Kay, who was a fellow student at Fordham University at the time, and discussed sports and broadcasting with him.
“He would tell me, ‘Oh, I’d love to be the Yankees announcer,’ and I’d say, ‘I’d love to be the Knicks announcer,’ and we would laugh at each other [like] two fools,” Breen said. “But I think because we were both New Yorkers and we both understood the New York fan because we were and still are New York fans, I think perhaps it gave us an edge because we knew what it’s like to live in New York and root for the teams in New York, and I think, or at least I hope, the fans can feel that.”
Albert returned to the Knicks telecast in 2000, prompting Breen to move back to radio broadcasts and work with John Andariese. At the same time, he began doing work for NBC Sports, including calling NBA games with Bill Walton and announcing ski jumping at the Olympic Games. When Albert was removed from the television broadcasts for being too critical of the team, Breen returned to the position and has held the role ever since.
“I tend to be old-school in that my job is to accurately describe what’s going on and also set up my partners and give them space and the lead-ins to make them excel,” Breen said. “The personality stuff, I think that comes – I hate to use the cliché – but it comes organically in terms of you’re doing the game. If something calls for you to react that involves more personality than actually broadcasting, then you do it and you have to find that balance.”
Every time Breen takes the air, he hopes that the consumers are able to see that he is prepared, enamored with the sport and enjoys working alongside his colleagues. From his days on the Knicks’ radio broadcasts, Breen has been paired with Walt “Clyde” Frazier for 25 seasons and understands how venerated the two-time NBA champion is within the city.
As the only member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a broadcaster, Frazier strikes a chord with basketball fans and brings his credibility and proficiency to the airwaves every season. In addition, he always arrives in his signature flamboyant outfits and intersperses astute rhymes to the cadence on the hardwood.
“He’s managed to stay true to who he is, yet develop this unique on-air style that very few people have had, but the bottom line is yeah, there’s style, but there’s so much substance to what he says,” Breen explained,” and I think Knick fans love him because he tells it like it is, but at the same time, you can feel his love for the franchise.”
Since joining the NBA on ESPN broadcast team in 2003, Breen has balanced his local responsibilities with calling games at the national level. Throughout the season, he logs a considerable number of traveling miles and always puts his family first when he is not working. In fact, the reason he stopped calling other sports was not only to recharge over the summer, but also to spend time with his children.
By being absorbed in the NBA during the year, the preparation for the different types of broadcasts often overlaps. One thing he cannot prepare for, however, is the occurrence of a buzzer-beater or game-saving block.
“For me, I’ve always felt at a big moment, less is more for a broadcaster because your voice is not made [for] those high-intensity calls to go for 20 seconds,” Breen said. “Your voice can crack; who knows what else could happen, but when you make a good, strong concise call at a big moment and then let the crowd take over, I think that’s always been, for me, the best way to go.”
Although he derived his signature three-point call of “Bang!” while sitting in the stands at Fordham Rams games as a student, he did not think it worked on the air. But by the time he was calling a weekly high school basketball game for SportsChannel America, he noticed that the maelstrom of amplified sound within the gyms drowned out his voice during consequential moments. As a result, he resorted back to the monosyllabic exclamation and has stuck with it ever since.
“I’ve just been very careful about not overusing it,” Breen said. “I try to save it for big moments because if I was yelling, ‘Bang!,’ on every three-pointer, it would lose its luster, I believe.”
Breen will call NBA games from a new venue next week in Las Vegas, Nevada – T-Mobile Arena – when the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament reaches its conclusion and a champion is crowned. The Association introduced the single-elimination endeavor this year in an effort to further incentivize regular-season play and establish a new tradition.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that these In-Season Tournament games bring out a little extra in the players [and] in the fans, and we’re not even at the knockout round yet and this is only the first year,” Breen said. “….To have this kind of excitement in November and then early December, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Despite the NBA still being in its first half of the season, Breen feels encouraged by the broadcasts he has participated in thus far with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. After all, he had worked with Burke on the first NBA game she ever broadcast and could tell how talented she was. Moreover, he has been friends with Rivers for over 30 years and speculated that he would be a broadcaster when he was finished playing and coaching.
The network’s lead broadcasting team will embark on a new challenge ahead of their first NBA Playoffs working together next Saturday, Dec. 9 when they broadcast the championship game of the NBA In-Season Tournament on ABC at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST.
“It takes a while to get the on-air chemistry, and the three-person booth is not easy for the analyst because they have to figure out a way to still get all their points across with less time, and same thing for me and that’s part of it,” Breen said. “Everybody has to just find their niche, and so far they’ve been great. They’re not only great friends; they’re really talented broadcasters, and I’m really excited about the potential.”
Breen recently signed a four-year contract extension with ESPN that will keep him on the airwaves past the expiration of the network’s current media rights deal with the National Basketball Association. The rationale behind staying with the network had to do with the people at the company, avouching that it is a great place to work and how he is thrilled he will be allowed to stay longer.
“Clearly I’m hoping that they work out a deal and I’m fairly confident they will,” Breen said. “ESPN loves the NBA; the relationship between the league and ESPN has always been wonderful. So I’m rooting hard for them to say ‘Yes’ and sign on the dotted line.”
In 2021, Breen was honored as the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Electronic Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his excellence as a broadcaster, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a basketball announcer. Even with various accolades to his name though, Breen’s mission each year is to get better with every broadcast. Complacency and apathy are out of bounds as he lives out a lifelong dream and strives for an outstanding performance no matter the situation.
“You have days where you’re not feeling well; you’ve had a tough travel day; you’ve got issues going on in your life, but then you sit down at half court and they throw the ball up the opening tip,” Breen illustrated. “There’s an adrenaline there that has never gone away.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
How Radio Sellers Can Beat the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Question
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned — that we don’t answer essential questions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about technical features and company achievements with radio advertising prospects without considering the essential question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) from the client’s perspective.
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned.
However, the heartbeat of successful sales isn’t just about these features, it’s about translating them into tangible benefits that directly address the needs and challenges of our potential clients. Here are some common pitfalls in our sales approaches and strategies to get prospects to listen to “WIFM”.
Focusing Solely on Product Features
We all sometimes get caught up in detailing our radio stations’ technical specs and features without translating those features into tangible benefits for the prospect. We love to point out that our all-sports station is on AM and simulcast on digital FM.
We need to connect them directly to the prospect’s needs or problems, which might result in a disconnect.
Instead, we could say that we reach two audiences for the price of one. 45-65-year-olds are on AM, and 25-44-year-olds are on FM. More bang for your buck!
Talking About Company Achievements
While our station won the “Best radio station in XYZ town” award from the local media, which might be impressive, prospects are often more concerned about how these accolades directly benefit them.
We need to bridge the gap between our survey win and how our listeners are proud of listening to the station and will trust the recommendations we give our listeners when it comes to buying from our prospect.
Not tailoring the pitch to suit the prospect’s specific needs or pain points is a huge miss. When we use generic, one-size-fits-all approaches, we miss the opportunity to highlight how their product or service addresses the prospect’s unique challenges or goals.
Don’t tell a car dealer he needs to sell more new cars when he wants more used sales and service business.
Failure to Listen Actively
Sometimes, we focus too much on delivering our deck without actively listening to the prospect’s concerns or desires.
Pay attention to the prospect’s feedback or cues, and maybe even ask them if anything has changed before you start the presentation.
Forget About “Across the Street”
Constantly highlighting how your station is superior to competitors without explaining how it benefits the prospect is counterproductive.
For example, if your station does a limited number of endorsements, tell the prospect they will stand out amongst the other advertisers better cause they are part of a select few live endorsements.
Prospects want to know why your idea is right for them, not just that it’s better than your competition.
What’s the ROI?
A sales pitch that doesn’t explicitly outline the return on investment (ROI) or demonstrate the value the prospect stands to gain falls short.
Running spots can outrun ‘turtle-like’ positive word of mouth or Google reviews, like the Roadrunner. Tell them that.
Too Much TSL or CPM talk
Using industry jargon without explaining its relevance to the prospect’s situation can create confusion or disinterest. Don’t pitch TSL. Tell them they can run fewer spots that have more impact. Your efficient CPM demonstrates that radio can compete with any ad medium and won’t waste money.
Communicate in a language that resonates with the prospect, making the benefits clear and understandable.
No Hit and Run
Our engagement doesn’t end with the initial pitch. Don’t forget to follow up and give them ongoing support and assistance to address any concerns or questions post-sale. By showing them you are in it for them, they will feel valued.
In the sports radio ad sales game, it’s not just about announcing your stats and shoutouts; it’s about hitting a home run with benefits that score with our clients. If our pitch doesn’t answer “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM), we might end up with the L.
So, dive into our clients’ playbook, check their needs, and deliver a play that makes them cheer for you and your station. Tackle the “WIFM” challenge head-on, and don’t worry about targeting so much.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.