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Pete Sheppard Gave Up The Meat To Be A Florida Man

“I love the pace here and I’ve totally embraced it,” said Sheppard. “I’m not even going to say it’s slower, it’s just much more diverse. People have different passions for a lot of different teams down here and I love it.”

Tyler McComas

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There may not be a more humbling start in sports radio than landing your first job at the smallest station in the smallest state in the country. At one point in the late 80’s, that exact station was WKFD, a 500 watt by day, 150 watt by night signal in the small town of Wickford, Rhode Island. Needless to say, with that type of signal strength, the hosts were probably better off broadcasting with two cups and a piece of string. 

But as small as the no-longer existing WKFD was, in 1988 it served as the first job for a future influential host. Albeit only for one year, one man in particular went from working at the smallest station in the smallest state in the country to becoming one of the biggest sports radio personalities in Boston at WEEI. That same man then went to southwest Florida and helped create one of the most successful sports talk shows in the area. 

That man’s name is Pete Sheppard. And sports radio has given him one helluva ride. 

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It’s been over six years since Sheppard took to the mic and quit on the air at WEEI, but he doesn’t regret it one bit. In no way did the decision reflect his views on the entire station or his co-workers. In fact, he loved the people he worked with. The action was simply about one man in charge whom he never saw eye-to-eye with. Most, if not everyone he worked with, said it was the gutsiest thing they’ve ever seen. Only a couple of people called him an idiot. He must have had a point, because even after he quit on the air, WEEI hired ‘Pete the Meat’ back a short time later. 

Though the pinnacle of Sheppard’s radio days happened in Boston, specifically his role on The Big Show at WEEI from 1999 to 2010 that received incredible ratings, sometimes you just need a change of scenery. In the early months of 2017, Sheppard and his wife packed up and left the harsh winters of the northeast in the rearview mirror. 

“I was through with the 8 and a half months of snow,” said Sheppard. “I couldn’t take it. Once my wife found out that she could work from home in Florida for her job, we left.”

The initial plan was to still do shows for WEEI while living in southwest Florida. Seeing as how good the technology has gotten for radio equipment, this wouldn’t have been an issue for either party. But as Sheppard settled into his new home, he couldn’t help but look up what sports radio stations were in the area. He then found one that caught his eye. 

“I saw 99.3 ESPN and I thought, alright, let me see what’s going on here,” Sheppard said. “So I actually texted Chris Beasley the program director about late March when I knew I was going to come down here. I was like, hey, let’s set up a meeting. He didn’t get back to me for a while. But I later found out it’s because he was at The Masters.”

Upon moving to Florida in early April of 2017, it took Sheppard less than a week to meet Beasley in person. After a 45-minute discussion, Sheppard was soon on the air with 99.3 ESPN in a limited, Friday only role. But that wouldn’t last long. In late-May of the same year, Beasley called Sheppard and wanted to meet for lunch. His reasoning behind the meeting was simple: He wanted to offer Sheppard a co-host role for the afternoon drive show. Just like that, WEEI was no longer an option. Sheppard had a new role with a new station in a new market. His Boston radio days were finished. 

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Once Sheppard left Boston sports radio behind, he left behind his nickname, too. In Southwest Florida, he’s simply known as Pete Sheppard, not Pete the Meat like he was known for so many years at WEEI. The nickname came from former radio partner and 5-time NFL Pro Bowler Fred Smerlas, which immediately stuck. But these days, the only people that refer to Sheppard by his old name, are guests who join the show that have a long history with the former Boston sports radio host. But that’s just fine with him. Though his new radio home at 99.3 is different than bringing in 14 to 16 shares at a Marconi Award nominated station, that doesn’t mean he likes it any less than his old home. 

“I love the pace here and I’ve totally embraced it,” said Sheppard. “I’m not even going to say it’s slower, it’s just much more diverse. People have different passions for a lot of different teams down here and I love it. People call from the northeast about the Patriots and the Giants, but we also have a Big 10 contingency. Then there’s the Miami contingency. We have Michigan and Ohio State people going at it, Pittsburgh people as well as the Florida people, it’s just tremendous.

“It’s a lot less nasty, let’s put it that way. I really appreciate that. In the entire time I’ve been here I think I’ve only heard two calls that have gotten nasty. And of course, my idea of nasty and Chris (Beasley) and Craig’s (Shemon) idea of nasty are two different things (laughs).”

Trading in the snow for the sand doesn’t seem to be a decision that Sheppard has thought twice about. His life is going well, the show is going well, and heck, he can even play golf all year long. But is it possible he never thinks about Boston? Think about it, the guy did radio in the city for nearly 20 years. After that much time, there naturally starts to be a connection to the sports team in town. So even though he’s totally content and happy, does that mean he still can help but pay attention to what’s going on across the airwaves in Beantown? 

“Oh I tune in to hear Tom Brady every week in the morning,” Sheppard said. “When I was in Boston, I was part of an afternoon show that had Bill Belechick on every Monday at 4 o’clock. When he’s on now, I’m doing my show. But if I see anything that’s remotely interesting I’ll listen to it after the show. Me and several old co-workers follow each other on Twitter. We keep track of each other.”

Sports radio case studies are always fascinating. Especially when it comes to how different certain markets are from one other. Just because you succeed in Nashville, doesn’t mean you’d necessarily succeed in Seattle. Each market has its own vibe and personality that makes it unique. That’s exactly what Sheppard had to immediately deal with when moving to Florida. Sure, he had a long track record of success in one of the biggest markets in the country, but this was a totally different vibe with a co-host he was unfamiliar with. But as difficult as some situations can be, talent almost always wins out. The situation was new, but Sheppard will tell anyone how blessed he was to be paired with Craig Shemon. 

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“When we started, Craig and I were totally different in a lot of ways,” said Sheppard. “He worked nationally in Los Angeles for over a decade and then Houston doing a lot of national radio. What Chris loved about me is that I love college football. We don’t get to talk a lot about it in the northeast, it’s all about Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics. Moving here wasn’t really even a challenge because I love adversity. 

“I’m a huge University of Miami Hurricanes football fan. I rooted for Miami before they were cool. It took a couple of months to get our chemistry going but compared to where we were 2 and a half years ago, it’s like night and day with the ratings and some of the features that we have. I love working with him and Chris is a great third-man, along with being the program director. The people down here are fantastic and the weather is second to none.”

Fort Myers, where 99.3 ESPN is located, sits just over 150 miles to Miami. 126 miles to the north, sits Tampa. The location makes for an interesting situation when the decision comes to where the majority of your content should be spent. 

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“We carry the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Florida Gators on our station,” said Sheppard. “We have plenty of fans for the Buccaneers, for the Dolphins, Gators, Miami Hurricanes, Florida State, you just never know from one day to the next. Like yesterday, we got a bunch of calls about Bruce Arians from disappointed Buccaneers fans. But then with the Dolphins it’s like, are we thinking about tanking for Tua?  Are we going to go after Jalen Hurts? I would say it’s more of a college football area than a pro football area. I think Craig, Chris and myself will all agree on that.”

Only God knows what the future holds for Sheppard in sports radio. But after a career that’s spanned over 30 years, he has a lot to be thankful for. He’s proud he was able to create his own breaks so early on in his career. That’s an admirable feat that set himself up for success. But he can’t take the all the credit for how things turned out. There’s been too many people involved that helped. 

“I’ve just been around a lot of smart and really good people,” said Sheppard. “The talent that I’ve been around all these years, Glenn Ordway especially on The Big Show for all those years. The professional athletes I’ve got to work with and know. I’ve gotten the chance to be around some great ones that are entertaining and really know their stuff. 

“And then the producers, I cannot stress enough how underrated the producers that we had are. I don’t think people realize, especially sports talk radio, if you don’t have good producers, you don’t have a good show. I’ve been extremely fortunate, most of my career, especially Boston and southwest Florida, of the producers that we had. Just off the charts. I’ve been so blessed working with Craig and I think we have something special.”

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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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?

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BSM Writers

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.”

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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. 

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BSM Writers

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.”

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

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