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Chicago Media Enjoys The Last Dance As Much As You Do

“Covering the Bulls in the ’90s provided a full buffet of stories for sportswriters. Drama, conflict, triumph…never a dull moment.”

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I can’t get enough. I need more and I need it now. Forget that, WE need more and WE need it now.

ESPN’s The Last Dance has been a savior during this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m craving sports and action, and the 10-part documentary directed by Jason Hehir is delivering big time. It’s been a ratings winner for the network (last week’s episodes averaged 5.9 million viewers in the time slot) and its certainly been filling a void, left by the suspension of live sports. 


For me, growing up in Chicago and actually covering parts (back up reporter for a Chicago radio station) of the last 3 Bulls Championships, it’s been a fun trip down memory lane. I’m into it. I was on my couch last Sunday yelling things at the TV, when the director took us back to the Bulls/Pistons Eastern Conference Finals in 1991. I can’t tell you exactly what I was screaming, but suffice it to say, it felt like I was watching this event live for the second time.

The behind the scenes access is unprecedented. Michael Jordan dealing with Dennis Rodman’s request for an in-season vacation was priceless in the moment and after the fact. All the subplots to that entire era of Bulls basketball are covered. It’s a sports fan’s dream to be taken behind that curtain to experience what those that were there experienced first-hand. 

Fortunately for me, I’ve remained friends with many of those TV, radio and newspaper reporters and thought, I wondered what they think of all of this. Is it accurate? Is it fun to look back? Just what was the circus like? 

To answer the latter, I posed that question to 3 guys that were there for every bounce of the ball and every media scrum. David Schuster, a Chicago sports veteran, was working for ESPN at the time of what Phil Jackson dubbed “the Last Dance.”


“It was crazy for sure but I loved every minute of it.  How could you not? We were on the front lines of some of the best sports history ever”, says Schuster. “Being a basketball junkie only made it that much better. I said it then and have said it ever since that Michael Jordan is the greatest athlete I’ll ever hope to be around and I saw him from the best seat in the house almost every game.” 

Fred Mitchell is a fixture in Chicago media as well, working for the Chicago Tribune for decades. He sums it all up pretty simply. “Covering the Bulls in the ’90s provided a full buffet of stories for sportswriters. Drama, conflict, triumph…never a dull moment.”

Chris Boden is another veteran of the Chicago sports scene, having worked in radio and television at the time. He was there, representing CBS Radio and TV. He marveled at the sheer size of the media gatherings each and every night in 1997-98.

“Covering the team was nuts. You see a wide shot of Michael’s postgame scrums at home.  That’s what it was like for EVERY home game, several years leading up to that particular season,” says Boden. “I believe it’d take him 30-45 minutes after every game to get treatment, shower, & fully, impeccably dressed. His locker was just outside the door to the shower/training area, so with the mass of humanity crowded into that space, positioning was key.  You had to be ready to attach the mic to a pole if you weren’t within arm’s reach.  Practices weren’t quite that busy, but you’d occasionally have to jockey for position.”

I remember at times literally hanging out in the empty locker to one side of Jordan to have one hand on my microphone and one on the clothes rod in the empty stall. Occasionally, I’d get that look from him. I’m sure I looked a bit foolish, but I had to get the audio. I wish I knew what he was actually thinking. 

Sometimes documentaries don’t exactly live up to the advanced hype. Once in a while the outcome of the video is arranged in a way that the point is missed. This is not the case with The Last Dance.

“I think the documentary has been fantastic and has become must watch television. I envision numerous Emmy’s on the horizon”, says Schuster. “As one who was on the front lines of the entire Bulls dynasty it is so much fun to re-live it again but also nice to see some footage of things that we were not privy to at the time.” 

Boden agrees, “I’ve been really impressed. They’ve circled back to some of the details in the bigger storylines I’d completely forgotten about.” Boden continued, “though I and other sports media may be familiar with the ‘back stories’ they flash back & flash forward to, at times I’m looking for them to get on with the main story since we’ve heard it before.”

Boden thinks this documentary will serve a young crowd well. “I have to remind myself that there’s an entire generation that never saw Michael during his playing career, and the highlights prove to those 20-and-unders that he’d be just as great in today’s game.”

Chris Boden (sports reporter) - Wikipedia

All three members of my media panel agree, that the director is portraying things correctly. 

“To my best recollection, the documentary is accurately portraying facts and sentiments of that time period,” says Mitchell.

Boden is on board too, “I think it’s an accurate portrayal.  I don’t remember this all-access, behind-the-scenes, season-long filming going on for this eventual purpose,” he said. “The fact that the footage is proof and they got EVERYONE to talk confirms it’s an accurate portrayal.”

It got me wondering when Boden mentioned how the ESPN crew got everyone to talk, if this was the “norm” for everyday on the Bulls beat.  Mitchell may have summed it up best: “Michael Jordan was perhaps the most accessible superstar athlete I encountered during my 41-year career at the Chicago Tribune.”

Schuster echoed the sentiment, “I thought he was a super star both on and off the court. He would be available to the media after every game for a ridiculous amount of time. Wave after wave of reporters would ask the same questions and he would answer them all. Pippen was also pretty good but didn’t go through as much as Jordan.” 

Dennis Rodman presented his own challenges to the media covering the team. “Interviewing Dennis Rodman usually meant walking briskly alongside him with a horde of other reporters as he headed out of the United Center en route to a night on the town,” recalled Mitchell.

Tribune sportswriter Fred Mitchell ending 'terrific run'

Schuster remembers that walk down the hallway, “The reporters would have to walk backwards and try and keep up with his pace. I felt like Michael Jackson doing the moon walk”.

Boden felt bad for the cameramen trying to get to Rodman for the newscasts. “It required cameramen to walk backwards if you wanted to see his face, and while some were better at it than others, there would be an occasional tumble.”

Sometimes in sports, you get too close to the situation to actually appreciate what you are experiencing. It is a job after all. With the magnitude of what the Bulls did in the 90’s I wondered if my media panel is enjoying the look back through the lens of the ESPN documentary. 

“At times, so many games, athletes and events become a blur in the moment. Given the benefit of time and perspective,” waxed Mitchell.  “This documentary neatly packages those memories in an organized video scrapbook.” 

Schuster is enjoying the look back. “It’s great fun and I constantly am looking to see if I can find myself in one of the reporter’s scrums or sitting at court side but mostly it’s just fun to re-live the greatest sports dynasty I’ll ever witness personally.”

Boden appreciates the comfortable seat in which he’s watching the documentary from, after being in the epicenter of the live drama. “It’s almost like an ‘I Survived The Last Dance Circus.’  There was never a shortage of storylines but being & staying on top of it all, covering all the bases as best as you could (especially when it came to Rodman), was a grind,” he says. “But at the same time, you realized you were covering Jordan, the bid for a second three-peat, and that’s what you want to do when you sign up for this career.  And amidst whatever frustration you might feel from time to time, you know there are thousands of others in the business who’d love to be in your shoes.”

It was a special time to be covering a special team for these media veterans. By all accounts the folks behind The Last Dance are getting the job done, telling the stories within the stories to shed some new light on the team.

The Last Dance' Episodes 3 and 4: The Jazz show up, Rodman goes ...

I keep asking, is it Sunday yet? I can’t wait for Episodes 5 and 6. 

BSM Writers

Disney Has One Logical Choice For The Future – Jimmy Pitaro

“If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.”

Demetri Ravanos




Bob Iger’s latest tenure atop the Walt Disney Company fascinates me. The company begged him to come back to clean up the mess made by his handpicked successor, but it was made clear from the get-go that he has a very limited window to get this right and then go home. That is why, less than six months after Iger returned to Burbank, we are already hearing about who will be the next CEO of Disney.

There is reportedly a shortlist of candidates for the job and it is sports-heavy. Two of the four spots are occupied by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro. I see the value both men could bring to the job, but I think there is a clear frontrunner and obvious choice.

Jimmy Pitaro is already inside the Disney walls. He has already learned to operate within the Disney hierarchy. He has had to answer investors’ tough questions about budget and direction. If Bob Iger wants his next successor to come from the sports world, that is his guy. Hell, forget sports. Pitaro may be the best person available no matter how far and wide the search goes.

Adam Silver’s tenure as NBA Commissioner is the target of all sorts of criticism, mostly from people that don’t watch the NBA anyway. For all of the pissing and moaning about load management and player empowerment, people are still watching and the league is still as profitable as ever. By the metrics that matter to the people that matter (team owners), he is doing an excellent job. 

On a recent episode of Meadowlark Media’s Sports Business, John Skipper made it clear that he loves Silver and thinks he would make an excellent CEO for the Walt Disney Company, but that is a totally different world from the one Silver is currently thriving in.

“My advice would be to stay at the NBA,” the Meadowlark Media boss said. “It’s not a public company. You don’t have to face shareholders. You do have to face 30 NBA owners, but you don’t have activist shareholders. And I think Adam is a committed NBA commissioner. He’s been for a long time.”

The public posturing of Ron DeSantis will always get attention, but it doesn’t always have to be taken seriously. The moment he threatened to dissolve the special district in Central Florida that Walt Disney World operates out of, legal scholars were quick to point out that the proposal would create a major burden on the state and its citizens that no politician wants to be responsible for.

DeSantis wanted his culture war. Disney wanted the problem to go away. The two sides quietly found a compromise that made it look like the governor didn’t lose while Disney got to go on basically with business as usual. That is the kind of corporate policy war whoever takes over for Bob Iger will have to be ready to wage. 

Disney needs a salvager in that chair, someone who knows how to diagnose the problems of business relationships and find fixes that hurt each side just enough that both can say the other really took it on the chin. Pitaro is that guy. 

Look at ESPN’s relationship with the NFL when he arrived versus where it is now. The company needs someone that makes stars and creators feel like this company is one that it can trust and one that they want to be in business with. Look at what Pitaro has done to bring the Manning Brothers, Pat McAfee, Joe Buck and Troy Aikman under the Disney umbrella while simultaneously finding ways to keep stars like Stephen A. Smith and Bomani Jones happy with non-exclusive deals that allow them to grow their profile with new opportunities outside of the company walls.

Most importantly, no segment of the Walt Disney Company and arguably, no network on basic cable, has had to answer as many questions about the future of distribution as often as ESPN. Jimmy Pitaro has been asked about a future where entertainment is driven solely by the needs of the audience so many times that he has undoubtedly thought about the ups and downs of the streaming landscape more than just about anyone else on Earth.

Bob Iger will be atop Disney through the end of the year and into 2024. This isn’t a decision that is being made tomorrow. Even when it is made, Iger doesn’t just get to write a name down on a piece of paper, slam down an “APPROVED” stamp and go home. 

Everyone on that reported shortlist will be vetted by Iger, his confidants, members of the Disney board, and shareholders. Some may wince at the fact they have no idea how Jimmy Pitaro envisions running theme parks and a cruise line, but the reality is that no one checks all the boxes for any job as big as this one until they have been in it for a while.

When you know the perfect fit for a job doesn’t exist, you go looking for the person that is the best fit. I think Bob Iger and Disney have already found him in Bristol, CT.

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BSM Writers

Michael Kay Couldn’t Leave 98.7 ESPN New York Just Yet

“I wouldn’t want to leave it the way it is right now.”

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When a New York Post report back in January suggested that Michael Kay was “seriously contemplating retiring from his 98.7 ESPN New York show”, maybe he was in a dark room in his home thinking about his future.

In his mind, his days of hosting sports talk shows were pretty much over.

“When that story came out, I thought I was definitely not going to come back,” said Kay during a phone interview with Barrett Sports Media. “I almost appreciated it a little bit when Aaron Rodgers said when he went on the dark retreat that he was 90% retired. Well, I’d say I was even more than that. I was probably 95% certain that I was going to walk away in September when my contract was up.”

But between then and now, Kay had a chance of heart and he announced this past Thursday on his show that he had signed a new contract with 98.7 ESPN New York and that his show would continue for “a good long while”.

The decision to stay was not an easy one and, as it turned out, it was his family that played a big role in staying at 98.7 ESPN New York. 

“It was really difficult,” said Kay who is also the television play-play-play voice of the New York Yankees on YES Network. 

“The most difficult part of it is that my kids are 8 and 10 so you want to see important things in their life. Even during the winter when I’m off from the Yankees, I’m out of connection from 3:00 to 7:00, so I had to reconcile with that. I talked with my wife and I actually talked with my kids about it, too, and they like me doing it so I decided to keep doing it.”

After initially feeling like it was time to step away after hosting The Michael Kay Show for 21 years, Kay began to reconsider but he also knew that he had to decide with his current contract expiring this September. The sales staff at the radio station needed to know because they had to inform potential advertisers who was going to host the show. Kay also owed it to his co-hosts Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg to let them know what his plans were.

Everyone at 98.7 ESPN New York needed a decision.

“The radio station has to make contingency plans,” said Kay. “What’s going to happen if I, in fact, do leave? All of those people are impacted.”

Speaking of La Greca and Rosenberg, Kay’s sidekicks played a huge part in his decision to continue doing the show. There’s a tremendous amount of chemistry on the program and Kay wasn’t about to walk away from his radio family. 

“Don and I have been together 21 years,” said Kay. “That’s a longer relationship than my wife and I have. We’re really special friends. Peter is for about 8 years and I feel the same way about him.”

Kay also acknowledged the people behind the scenes like Program Director Ryan Hurley, as well as executives from both ESPN and Good Karma Brands.

“They certainly tried to appeal to me to stay and after a while, it got to me,” said Kay. “I said you know what I’m not done yet so I decided to re-up. The pull to stay was stronger than the pull to just kick back and relax.”

These are certainly interesting times to talk about sports in New York.

Baseball season is about to get underway and both the Yankees and Mets are expected to be playoff contenders.

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers could be on his way to the Jets while the Giants are coming off of a trip to the playoffs last season.

The Knicks and Nets are heading toward the NBA Playoffs while the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders could all be going to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But all of the local teams’ success wasn’t a factor in Kay deciding to continue talking sports.

“To be honest, it didn’t play any role because sometimes when teams are bad it makes for better talk radio,” said Kay. “The fact that they’re good and they could be playing in postseason, all of them, is intriguing but that didn’t play a role.” 

And now that Kay has signed his new contract, he can continue his quest to regain the top spot in the afternoon drive war with WFAN. The show has been losing the ratings battle with Carton & Roberts and it would have been difficult to retire with his show in second place.

It’s not the reason why Kay decided to sign a new deal, but he does now have some more time to become number one again.

“Obviously, I wouldn’t want to leave it the way it is right now,” said Kay. “We had beaten everybody that they put in front of us. We beat Mike (Francesa), and we beat Joe and Evan. People conveniently forget that we also beat Carton & Roberts. Carlin, Maggie, and Bart…we beat them all. Our ratings, for some reason, have not been comparable to what they were before the pandemic hit.”

The ratings aside, Kay is happy with the content he, La Greca, and Rosenberg provide their listeners daily. While they have some catching up to do in the battle with WFAN, Kay is pleased with the product and that his show is good clean sports talk.

In Kay’s mind, business is business but he has his way of doing a show.

“Ratings tell you one thing and that’s how we keep score, but if you listen to what comes out of the speakers, in my opinion, our show is the best sports show in all the country. We not only talk about sports but we treat people with respect. We don’t have to go low-brow. Ratings didn’t have anything to do with (his decision) but it does give you a little more runway now to make up some ground. We have already proven that we can beat them.” 

Michael Kay has been a part of 98.7 ESPN New York going back to the launch of the radio station in September of 2001. Just like Aaron Rodgers, he was pretty close to calling it a career…but Kay didn’t want his radio career to fade to black just yet. 

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Xperi & Joe D’Angelo Are Ready For Radio’s Future

“I want this audience to see how they can leverage the technology that is nine times out of ten already going to be at their radio station.”

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In October 2022, Xperi Senior Vice President of Global Radio and Digital Audio Joe D’Angelo hosted the single most impressive radio presentation I’ve ever seen at the NAB Show in New York.

I wrote about my takeaways from the presentation after returning from New York, which essentially boiled down to: Xperi is looking out for the future of radio like no one else is. I don’t think that’s hyperbole. The company is making sure FM radio is in the best place to succeed as the audio space continues to evolve and see more and more emphasis placed on on-demand digital offerings.

D’Angelo will continue the conversation in a panel at the 2023 BSM Summit titled “How Radio Can Compete and Win in the Connected Car” on Tuesday, which will focus on the company’s DTS AutoStage platform. The offering from Xperi will revolutionize broadcast radio as automobiles become more and more technologically advanced.

“So many other platforms are much more crowded — mobile phones, smart TVs, smart speakers — there’s very low barriers of entry to building a brand, and getting content on those platforms,” D’Angelo said. “But broadcast radio has the unique advantage in the car and it’s incumbent on the publishers — the producers of content — to look for every opportunity to sustain and exploit that branding and that relationship with the car driver.

“We also allow and deliver internet-only radio — so streaming services for broadcasters — as well as catch-up content. So if you wanna make yesterday’s morning show available today, we create all the linkages there, as well as podcasts. If you’re creating podcasts, we create those linkages that aid in the discovery of that content and serve it up on your behalf on the dash of the car.”

DTS AutoStage will allow drivers to continue listening to radio stations even after leaving the broadcast range of a station, utilizing the station’s stream to continue a seamless audio delivery. Additionally, it will provide real-time analytics weekly to stations about the time spent listening, and a “heat map” of where your listeners live, work, and travel.

D’Angelo noted that the sports radio space is ripe with opportunity to promote and utilize the technology Xperi has worked on, adding that music has been co-opted by brands like Apple and Amazon to sell you more products, while sports radio is simply looking to share opinions and content with passionate audiences.

“The real opportunities now are accruing to the talk formats and sports is such a ripe opportunity with a passionate audience, and I’ll tell you from personal experience, finding sports programming on a platform like TuneIn is nearly impossible,” D’Angelo continued. “If you’ve ever used it and tried to search for a live event, you’re going to get a catalog of a hundred different things that might related to the team but have nothing to do with the live event.

“I’m coming here because we’re at a unique opportunity where I want to explain to this audience how what they do can benefit from the technology we’ve deployed…clearly, sports programming — live sports, sports talk, sports betting, local sports — is a really unique category for local radio and I want this audience to see how they can leverage the technology that is nine times out of ten already going to be at their radio station.”

At the BSM Summit, D’Angelo will showcase the real-time analytics available to stations who opt to share data with the platform, and will give attendees a look at a sample of what information is supplied to stations and companies by using data gathered by listeners of Washington D.C.’s 106.7 The Fan. BSM Summit attendees will get a first look at the information, before it’s released worldwide at Radiodays Europe on March 28th.

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