Josh Innes has been off the radio for nine months. This follows a career featuring stints in Afternoon Drive at WIP in Philadelphia and Morning Drive at Sports Talk 790 in Houston. He’s very active on Twitter and has his own podcast “The Josh Innes Show.” I caught up with him earlier this week to talk about what he’s learned from those experiences and what’s next for him. You can check out his podcast and latest information at: https://joshinnesshow.com/
Matt Fishman: You tweeted around Thanksgiving about how thankful you were this year to no longer be in a toxic work environment and you have added perspective. Can you elaborate on this?
Josh Innes: I was working at iHeart in Houston and I had been from October 2016 until March of this year. There were moments that were good, but ultimately it wasn’t an ideal situation for me. It wasn’t what I thought it was gonna be. There were a lot of times I wondered why that particular station hired me because I didn’t know if they really wanted me to do what I do. There were always a lot of problems it that way. It wasn’t by a lack of effort of trying to see things their way. We just had a philosophical difference.
I like to create waves and bring attention to the medium. I think that’s good for everything. Whereas I think where it was kinda a lay low, don’t bother anybody, don’t upset the broadcast partners. Let me put it this way I would go to work sometimes and my boss would sit my down in his office and tell me, “By the way no one at the radio station likes you.”
It was just a really bad situation mentally. I wasn’t having very much fun. I worked my ass off and spent a lot of my own money trying to make the show successful. It was just a really catty kind of place. I think management, at times, tried to pit people against each other. They enjoyed that in a weird way. It was really just not a good situation.
While it’s unfortunate that I don’t have a job at the moment, I feel fortunate that now that I’ve had time to step back for the past 8-9 months, I can say it’s probably for the best because that wasn’t a good situation for me. It probably wasn’t a good situation for me mentally. There were just so many things about that situation that were toxic so now that I look back on it, I’m glad that time in my life is over.
MF: How does this new perspective change you going into the next conversation you have with a radio station?
JI: I can say this. There are things I’ve learned everywhere I’ve been and you take things you’ve learned at all these stops and you hope that it improves you as a person. While it was a toxic situation there, that station was really sales heavy and you learned how to focus on things that made the station more money.
Same as when I left WIP, sometimes they felt that I was so driven by ratings that I kind of ignored the sales part of it. When I came here (Houston) I focused on making things happen. I was down in sales everyday working on ideas to make the station more money.
How to handle certain intra-office situations. There was a guy there who worked for the Rockets–he was one of their broadcasters. One time I was wearing a t-shirt for another team and he took a picture of me in the shirt and said this is for the Rockets knowing that this would upset the Rockets and I would get a call from my boss about it. I just went out and tried to destroy that guy because I felt that he was completely out of line. By trying to destroy that guy it probably pissed off some of his sales buddies to me and they didn’t sell me as much. Did I need to do that, I didn’t. You learn from that and move forward.
When you are out of it for nine months and your phone doesn’t ring it changes your perspective as well. You get humbled when your phone doesn’t ring and you look back at things that you could’ve handled situations better.
MF: Do you feel like your phone hasn’t been ringing as much because you get let go by WIP and then in Houston and people think “this guy must be toxic” and the phone doesn’t ring?
JI: Recently the phone has started to ring more, but to answer your question, I do think if people don’t know you and if all they know is what they read about you from certain situations they can think that. It’s incumbent upon me to change that. I just have to have the opportunity to do it. Anytime I talk to anyone in management I tell them that my situation is different because you mature a little bit and being out nine months that the opportunities aren’t always going to be there. There were times hey maybe I’ll never have that big job again and I will be known as the guy who blew it. I was the guy who had these big gigs and I pissed it all away.
There is a certain element of being humbled that plays to my benefit because they’ll be getting a different guy in the sense that I think I know how to handle situations better than I used to. Going back to our initial point that when I got fired here or fired there my phone rings, you just assume what you are doing is 100% right because people are always looking to hire you. When it doesn’t happen that way anymore you kinda think, “maybe there’s something that I need to change, something I need to do differently.”
MF: I saw that you did a couple of shows last week at the ESPN station in Memphis. How did that go? How did it feel?
JI: I loved it. Memphis is one of my favorite places. My dad had worked there in the late 80s. It’s funny, I had just randomly texted the PD at that station, Brad Carson, and I told him how fortunate he is for that being such a great market. It’s a small enough town but not too small where it’s syndicated all day. I have always wanted to be on the air in Memphis at least for a day because my dad was on the radio there. When I was growing up I went to Memphis a lot, I like the Grizzlies and I felt like I kinda knew the town. It was cool. It’s weird not being in the city as I did the shows from Houston. It was fun! I had a really good time doing it. Brad is a really great guy and made it a great experience.
MF: Do you think that’s something you’ll be doing more of, especially with the holiday season right around the corner?
JI: I would hope so. I am available to do whatever. I know a lot of people on your site are program directors. I can be available anytime you need me and I can find the studio to do it from. It’s kinda neat. You never know what market you would do a fill in at. If people will have me on their stations. I think that’s good because I know that people have questions about me.
One thing I get from PDs is “I never question your talent we just question how things will work at this place and this situation.” My guess is that if you’d ask Brad Carson he would tell you that it was a very easy thing. Just to give him a compliment–he’s fantastic to work with. It was a great experience. I hope it leads to other opportunities.
MF: Speaking of other opportunities, the Fanatic in Philadelphia just fired their PD Eric Johnson. What does it mean potentially for you and what does it mean for Philadelphia sports radio?
JI: I don’t know. I can tell you that Eric is a very nice guy. I feel like they could find themselves in a position to get closer to WIP. My guess would be they want to get into a position where they could just be closer. I would certainly answer the phone if The Fanatic called. I certainly think I could add to what they do there. Now people will say “You had that big radio fight with the afternoon guy.” That’s a radio fight. When you’re a competitor you’re in a radio fight. If you’re on the same team you have a common goal to beat the competition–WIP. If the Fanatic were to call me I would say “What do you want me to do? Let’s make something happen and go beat WIP!”
People assume because you talk about this guy, this guy, this guy that you could never work with them. When I was in Houston we went after the (other stations) shows. They didn’t take it as a joke. It really upset them. After I got fired I reached out to them. I was trying to make radio interesting. We’re in Houston there are three sports stations that combine for a four-share.
If the Fanatic were to call me and ask me if I could reconcile with Mike Missanelli. Here’s what I would say. Mike has obviously accomplished a lot in that market. He basically launched that station. He’s the Angelo (Cataldi) of 97.5. If you look at it, the one constant there has been Mike. I can respect that. As a radio guy I can respect that. I beat him for awhile, he came back and beat me for awhile. We had a really good battle there. But if the Fanatic would pick up the phone and ask if I would have an issue working with Mike Missanelli. Hell no!! The guy has been there for a decade. The guy has done great things ratings-wise. He’s basically their bell cow financially and ratings-wise. I just want to go somewhere and be part of a team and kick some ass. I don’t know what they’re going to do at the Fanatic. I haven’t talked to them but I’d be all about it and I’d go in there and say, “Hey Mike give me a hug and let’s go figure this thing out.”
If Joe Bell from the Fanatic were to pick up the phone and call me and say, “Josh Innes come to Philadelphia we want to make something happen, but we need to make it work in the building.” I’d say “Get Missanelli on the phone or get me in person with him and I’ll tell him I admire the stuff he’s done it was just a stupid radio war and let’s go out there and beat the shit out of WIP.”
MF: When you were on the air in Houston was there a lot of pressure to be easy on the teams?
JI: I’m going to give credit to (Sportsradio) 610. I never felt that people at 610 went easy on the Texans, and they were the Texans’ station. Where I worked at 790 was more like romper room. There were times when I’d be critical of the Houston Rockets and I’d get a text from the Market Manager, not the PD, and this is one text I got in the middle of a show that pops into my mind saying “You’ve said enough. Let the callers handle it.” You paid me all this money to send me this text and let the callers “handle it?”
Here’s what I’d get all the time: my management would tell me all the time that the teams don’t like me. I get it would be nice if they did. Part of sports radio and appealing to a mass audience is saying what fans are thinking. You have to be able to be critical.
Here’s what our rule was: say whatever you want about the Texans but don’t do the same with the Rockets. One time I said the Rockets GM could get fired if they didn’t turn things around. Got a call from the boss who said “How do you know he’s going to get fired?” I said, “I don’t but it’s my opinion if they don’t turn it around after how they finished last year they’re probably in trouble.” The boss said, “Well we don’t want people on the air saying people could get fired because that’s a personal attack.”
By the way, it’s not wise to tell the talent that the teams hate them. How am I going to react to that? Am I going to get on the air and say these guys are great people. I never had this problem at 610/Houston or at WIP/Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, the PD Andy Bloom did such a good job of shielding me from anything the teams were complaining to him about. In Philly it’s expected that you get on the radio and dump on them after you lose to the two-win Dolphins. You can’t say enough bad shit about them when that happens. In Houston that’s not exactly the case.
MF: Given this experience, does this mean you would be more likely to go somewhere that allows you to be critical of the teams?
JI: I get that there are rules in certain cities and with certain teams. I’m not hell bent on being in this market or that market. I just want to be on the air, make a living and have fun doing it. Would I like to be in Chicago or back in Philly again or in Dallas? Sure I would. But if the station happens to be in Memphis, Kansas City or St. Louis and they dig what I do and want to pay me to do it, I’m interested.
MF:How do you like doing your podcast?
JI: I’m weird that I have to change things every month. The sponsors don’t seem to mind and it’s a little looser. Sometimes I’ll do it at night. Sometimes after consuming many beers on a Sunday. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll continue to do it when I get a job. You can do a lot of things in a podcast that if you did it on the radio they might tell you to pump the breaks.
MF: What do you think of the current state of sports radio and its future?
JI: It might not be what it was 7-8 years ago where you lost a lot of classic rock stations that became sports talk on FM. To me, sports talk radio is the best format for someone who wants to talk and entertain. It’s the closest to guy-talk you’re gonna get. It’s the closest to what Howard Stern, Opie and Anthony and Mancow were doing 20 years ago. Depending on the market and the daypart of course.
20 years ago everyone was looking for the next Jim Rome. Now everyone is trying to find the next Colin Cowherd. What I don’t like is when I can listen to a guy and he’s about to go into one of these “Cowherdian” comparisons and I can almost tell you before he says it what the comparison will be. The other issue is a lot of young guys not finding their own voice. The art of creating your own thing is taking a little bit from everyone, learning the market and making sure everyone doesn’t sound the same.
I think you need to have more visionary programmers out there. You’ve got Armen Williams in Houston, Gavin (Spittle) who is one of the best and Mike Thomas, who’s going to Chicago, who is brilliant and Andy Bloom-Brilliant. You’ve got a really good group of guys who came from rock or hot-talk who know entertainment. Those are the type of guys who will keep it going.
Plus you need to put me on the radio. Or it will die.
Matt Fishman is a former columnist for BSM. The current PD of ESPN Cleveland has a lengthy resume in sports radio programming. His career stops include SiriusXM, 670 The Score in Chicago, and 610 Sports in Kansas City. You can follow him on Twitter @FatMishman20 or you can email him at FishmanSolutions@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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.