It’s funny how paths cross in the sports radio industry. Many moons ago I was at ESPN 1000 in Chicago to chat with former program director Adam Delevitt. As I walked around the downstairs area of that gigantic downtown building, former Chicago Bears wide receiver and ESPN 1000 radio host Tom Waddle walked by. He nodded his head at me and said hi. That interaction didn’t tell me everything about Waddle, but it told me a lot. It told me he didn’t have an ego. It told me he was actually — wait for it — nice.
Waddle spent 20+ years as a football player and has been in the sports broadcasting business for 25+ years. He’s learned many tricks of the trade and has fine-tuned his own style of mixing in fun and family life with sports. Waddle is highly respected not just because he’s great at his profession, but also because he shows other people the proper respect. Look, Yelp isn’t the only place someone can leave a bad review. That’s especially true in sports radio where colleagues can turn into enemies if you mistreat them.
There are several interesting topics that Waddle discusses below. He touches on Waddle & Silvy co-host Marc Silverman’s decision to announce his battle with cancer and the response of their listeners. Waddle also talks about the impact concussions have possibly had on his broadcasting career and how the personal criticism he received as a player has helped shape his approach behind the microphone now. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: What’s it like doing sports radio right now with a pandemic going on?
Tom Waddle: I don’t mean to sound callous or take it for granted but quite frankly — there are no sports, there are no games, but we have not been devoid of conversation. The NFL obviously went about their business. They went through the draft and had their offseason and free agency, which provided us conversation. Every day there’s a new story about different leagues trying to get ramped up and what their plan is to try to get back to some sense of normalcy. While we haven’t had the opportunity on a day-in, day-out basis to recap NBA games or Major League Baseball games, we still have had a full complement of things to talk about.
So far — now the longer this lingers, the more difficult it may become. Maybe our listeners would argue with us about finding new, entertaining things to talk about, but we don’t sit around in our daily meetings and go oh, what are we going to do now? We’ve always had something to talk about. It hasn’t been ideal, but at the same time it hasn’t been the massive struggle that maybe some thought it would be.
BN: In what ways have you felt that the show has been different?
TW: I think that it’s been more of a personality-driven show. Silvy and I have been doing this together now for better than 13 years. We’ve been more than willing to welcome people into our personal lives. That’s always been the dynamic that’s existed with our show but now even more. We’re both working from home so there are times when you’ll hear my dog bark, or he’s got young kids, so one of his kids will come flying down the steps and have a breakdown that’ll get on the air. We’ve learned to deal with the humanity of it all. I think that there’s probably a larger element of your own personality and your own personal life in the show now than maybe there used to be.
BN: It doesn’t get much more personal than Silvy announcing that he has cancer. What are your thoughts on him making that announcement and the situation overall?
TW: Yeah, myself and Adam Abdalla, who’s our executive producer, and Jeff Meller, who’s also one of our producers and is our sound guy, we’ve been working together for so long that we all know where each other is coming from. We just took the approach that we were going to let Silvy lead the way with how he wanted to handle this. This is obviously his individual battle, but we’ve kind of looked at it as teammates of his to battle this together.
I’m not surprised at all what he wanted to do was to handle it head-on and to be very open about it. I think as long as I’ve known him and worked with him, he’s always been very much interested in developing a relationship with the different listeners. He’s always asked listeners to share their own private situations with us on the air whenever they’re comfortable, so I think he took the approach that it would be unnatural and it would be hypocritical if he didn’t do the same. I thought he handled it with tremendous grace and tremendous strength.
I think also he’s got such a great relationship with all of our listeners in the greater Chicagoland community, I think he’ll derive some strength from knowing that he’s going through this battle in somewhat of a public arena. I thought he handled it great. I thought our listeners responded well. I think again the fact that he handled it the way he did will provide him some comfort and some strength.
BN: After 13 years on the air together, in what area do you think you and Silvy have grown the most?
TW: I think just our willingness to share our own personal lives. We’ve been at different stages in our lives despite being fairly similar in age. I think he’s 47 or 48. I’m 53, so I’m a little bit older, but I was married at 24 and had a kid at 25. I’ve got basically four adult daughters. I have a 27-year-old, a 24-year-old, a 22-year-old, and the 16-year-old is not an adult but I could argue she’s the most mature of all of us. I’ve always been in that father family environment for a very long time.
When we first started he was still single and obviously didn’t have any kids. He had a different approach and ran a little more red hot about certain things and was a little more red-assed about stuff. But I think as he got married to Allie and had kids I think it’s provided a different perspective for him. While you’re never going to take his edge away from him, we’ve kind of been able to round off and sand down some of the rough edges so to speak. I don’t feel I’m speaking out of turn. I think that he would agree to that as well.
We’ve always had kind of a brotherly relationship. A lot of times I’ve been the older brother because I was in a different stage of life. I’m proud to have been able to provide some advice at least at times with regard to being a husband or being a father. I think the growth has just been in our ability to try to share our life experiences on a day-in, day-out basis. I think the growth has gone from strictly an all sports type of presentation to more lifestyle and family life. I think we spend a lot more time trying to have a laugh and keep people entertained.
BN: Would it be boring to you if it was just sports, sports, sports without personality or life included?
TW: It would for me. I come with a different experience, not a better experience, not a worse experience; it’s just a different experience. Having played all my life, I have such a huge passion for sports, but I’ve also found when I retired there’s more to life than sports. It’s given me this career in radio and television over the last 25 years. It’s given me an opportunity to branch out and do different things and speak about different things. I think you’re reluctant to do it when you’re first involved in the industry, but over the course of time you become more comfortable with letting people in and letting them know who you are other than just being somebody they used to watch on Saturdays or Sundays.
I don’t want it to be all sports because I have a lot of life experiences that I like to share and like to talk about. This kind of stage gives me the closest thing to competing and performing as I think I possibly could find coming out of the sports world. Live television and a four-hour radio show is the closest thing that I’ll ever get to trying to recapture that adrenaline rush that comes on Sundays. I don’t want to focus just on football, basketball, and baseball. I think that at times you can drone on about that stuff and lose your audience. I’ve enjoyed branching out and being able to talk about different things.
BN: In the past you’ve joked around a little bit about the concussions you suffered during your career. Is there any impact from your playing days on what you do professionally now?
TW: I try not to make light of it because there are guys that have had to deal with stuff that is probably more significant than what I’ve had to deal with. I was a teammate of Dave Duerson. I played against other guys around the league that aren’t with us any longer. I maybe at times try to use humor as a way to deflect from what is the serious realization that it is such a real thing. I do have moments.
I’m fortunate that it hasn’t overwhelmed me, but I’d be lying if I told you that there aren’t moments occasionally over the course of a month where I’ll have a couple of days that I know exactly what I want to say but I struggle to be able to verbalize it. There are other times where verbally I’m okay but my mind is a little bit cloudy. I don’t know if it’s old age, if it’s what I used to do for a living, or it’s a combination of both. I’m aware of it and I take it seriously, but look I signed up for it, so I’m not going to pretend that it wasn’t part of the job description.
BN: Is there a topic over the last 13 years in Chicago that has felt like Groundhog Day where you say, oh man, another day of talking about this?
TW: The Bears quarterback situation falls into that category. It’s not just Mitch Trubisky related. You could talk about the Bears struggles with the quarterback position for decades. Now I don’t have a problem with it because I’m a football-centric person. I have a huge passion for the game and for this team, but I can see how that would become tedious for some.
I think that the Cubs/Sox rivalry at times gets to be a bit manufactured especially when one team is good and the other team is not. It’s funny, I infrequently find myself going to work and saying, ahh shit, I got to talk about this again. You know?
We’re fortunate because we have so many teams and there are so many different issues to talk about. I don’t think we get into that mundane type of mode at all because there are things on a day-in and day-out basis. The Bears quarterback situation is obviously one of those conversations. The Bulls struggles to be relevant over the last several years has been one that it does feel like Groundhog Day. At times you feel like they’ve been running in place. I would say those were probably the two that make you feel the most worn out.
BN: As far as The Last Dance goes, how much have you guys talked about it on your show?
TW: It’s been a huge focus for us. Obviously without games going on, it takes up a large portion of our show at least on Mondays. We’ve developed a nice relationship with Jason Hehir who’s the director. He comes on with us on Mondays to recap the previous episodes and previews the next couple of episodes. We’ve had a great relationship with him and a great response.
Silvy covered that second three-peat so he’s got a lot of insight and thoughts on it. For the fans my age it’s a great walk down memory lane and for the younger fans that didn’t really witness it, it’s a nice opportunity for them to see something that they weren’t aware of or were too young to really appreciate. Then come Monday and Tuesday it gives them an opportunity to participate as well. It certainly has come at the right time.
BN: What was your favorite part of The Last Dance?
TW: My memory isn’t great so for me the first thing I just wanted to be reminded of how great a player Michael was. To see him back in the early ‘90s and then the mid-to-late ‘90s, there are some things athletically that guys struggle to do now in 2020.
We always talk about on our show how sports evolve. In the world of football people get bigger, faster, and stronger. There weren’t any guys like Brandon Marshall playing wide receiver in my day. There weren’t 6’4”, 230-pound guys running 4.4’s. The game evolves. The athletic part of it becomes more impressive as time rolls on. Michael was doing that stuff back in the ‘90s. It was nice to just remind yourself that he was so far ahead of his time athletically and he was able to do some things then that guys can’t do now.
BN: As far as your future is concerned is there anything you would like to do within your current role, or beyond ESPN 1000 before you retire?
TW: I’ve been really fortunate. I’ve had some great opportunities. I’ve done national television in Los Angeles with some great people at the NFL Network and worked with some of the greatest guys and best players in the world in Deion Sanders, Kurt Warner, Steve Mariucci, and Michael Irvin. I had the same great opportunity at ESPN to work for six years on the television side and obviously on the radio side, ESPN has given me a great opportunity both nationally and locally.
What I want to do is continue to do what I’m doing now with the people that I’m doing it with for as long as we have this passion and desire to do it. I’m not running out of ideas and I’m not running out of incentive. I’m not getting tired of participating in this job. I love the people that I’ve worked with. I love the old group with Jim Pastor and Adam Delevitt. Craig Karmazin took over when they purchased the station and we’re with Mike Thomas now who has such a great track record in this industry.
We’ve been surrounded by winning people. I haven’t hit the wall. I did in football but there’s only so far you can take 6’1” and 185 pounds. Fortunately in the world of sports broadcasting and more importantly in the radio industry — size, speed, and age really isn’t a factor. I’m still very much enthused with what I do and love the people I work with. I want to continue to keep doing this as long as we possibly can.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.