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Has The Pandemic Derailed Young Sports Media Careers?

“If you are currently employed and looking to retain employment, I would encourage people to learn how to do everything.”

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We have heard from the greats and the veterans of the sports broadcasting industry about the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic, but what about those who have just begun their career in sports broadcasting? How have they been impacted and more importantly what have they learned from this experience? I had the pleasure of speaking with a few of the talented individuals by scanning the Barrett Sports Media Membership Directory. They have all demonstrated their tenacity and resourcefulness in utilizing the tool and reaching more people in the industry.

The competitive sports media industry has set the bar even higher when it comes to the expectations and requirements of prospective talent. Employers have demonstrated an affinity for the ‘Taysom Hill’ style pick in the process of screening prospective job candidates; a dynamic, impactful, adaptive teammate. 

Brady Farkas, Host of the Bleav in Patriots podcast on the Bleav Podcast Network has also decided to meet challenge head on by diversifying his résumé and hosting the University of Vermont’s The Catamount Chronicles; a podcast dedicated to featuring UVM’s best moments in sports history. 

Jake Asman, Host of The Jake Asman Show on SportsMap Radio and ESPN 97.5 Houston has certainly exemplified the Taysom Hill energy when faced with the challenges associated with 2020. 

Jordon Schultz, Bleav Podcast Network Host & KXL News Anchor in Portland embodies all of the Taysom Hill-marks in his continued commitment to contributing quality content across multiple formats and diversifying his skillset. 

I had the opportunity to speak with Brady, Jake and Jordon about their experiences with the sports media world, their careers and takeaways regarding broadcasting during COVID-19; it truly was as inspiring as it was illuminating.

The self-discipline, raw talent and unbridled motivation, while maintaining their focus on continuing to build relationships and develop their skills, truly set the trio apart from the competition. Brady Farkas, Jake Asman and Jordon Schultz are phenomenal reminders of just how bright the future of the sports media world will be.

What have you learned about the sports radio business during the pandemic?

Brady Farkas: I’ve learned how to have more fun as an on-air personality. I wouldn’t say that I was boring beforehand, but I was more regimented and more formulaic in how I hosted a show. And while the clock and the formula will always be important to me, this opened my eyes to more creative features, segments and interviews and I’m grateful for how that has diversified my hosting ability.

As a programmer, I learned more about how important it is to superserve clients and to really make sure you’re taking care of advertisers so that they feel a connection to your brand and have a reason to stay on. I learned more creative ways to tie in your play-by-play rights/national programming into your local line-up when it comes to liners, stabs, etc. It connects the local and national in a really cool way for the listener.

Jake Asman: Well, I think the easy answer is that it’s certainly a lot easier to come up with topics your listeners will care about when there are plenty of games being played and major events happening. However, the challenge of trying to be unique and entertaining every day without a lot of sports to talk about was something that I enjoyed, and I feel that the circumstances made me a much better talk show host. 

Jordon Schultz: I’ve learned that the sports radio business is resilient and has staying power in a landscape saturated with different options for entertainment. Despite unsure times for everyone out there, among the job losses there have been new jobs being listed every week. 

Also, it’s encouraging to hear so many hosts adapt to talking about other things on the air. So I guess you can say the biz is resilient in that way too. In a world full of change, sports radio is doing a good job of trying to adapt. 

How has your belief in the future of the sports radio industry been affected over the past few months? 

Brady Farkas: I still believe very strongly about the future of the industry because of the connection we have with our listeners. When you’re on the air for two, three or four hours a day, you develop a relationship with your listeners to where it feels like a family. And while it sounds corny, that family element allowed stations to go on during the pandemic, and it will ultimately carry us out of it.

Jake Asman: I’m a very optimistic person by nature, so I really believe that even though so many colleagues and stations are struggling around the country right now, that things will turn around. It is going to take time but I think if you have a defeatist attitude about the current situation, it is not going to help anyone find solutions to move forward. Although the pandemic feels like it’s been going on for decades, it still is going to hopefully only represent such a small portion of our lives, and we will get out of this and get back to normal.

It certainly helps that it looks like the NFL is going to be able to at least start their season. Football is king and to have the NFL back will provide a huge boost to every station’s revenue and I know my listeners can’t wait for the season. 

Jordon Schultz: Despite the ratings drop for games on TV (take the NBA as an example), I think sports radio and sports audio have become more important than ever before. While not everyone can watch every game because of blackouts or viewing prices, everyone can listen to the radio station talking about their team, or their favorite show or podcast for free. 

In unsure times, people turn to others that they know and trust. As an industry, we need to make sure that we continue to fill that role. If we’re always doing our best at that, the future of the sports radio industry is bright. 

What have you done differently to adapt/ adjust and keep your skills sharp in order to position yourself for future growth and opportunities?

Brady Farkas: It’s been really rewarding over the last several months to hone skills when it comes to digital marketing of yourself and your station brand. From audiograms, to live streaming of your show, to generating highlight clips of your shows, it’s all important in terms of keeping your audience engaged all day long. 

Furthermore, I personally have continued to grow my network and guest book/rolodex through podcasting opportunities and learned more about how to use YouTube as a tool for radio and podcasting. It has great features that I wasn’t really aware of previously, like scheduling videos as “premieres” that appear LIVE to your audience, but are actually already taped.

Jake Asman: I was on furlough for six weeks when the pandemic first began. I vowed to use that time to improve in any way that I could as a talk show host. I sought out feedback from industry professionals and people that I respect in the field, I taught myself how to edit clips of my show into unique graphics to post on social media to try and grow my following and give my listeners another way to consume my show. I learned how to stream the radio show on various social media platforms so when the opportunity to come back to Gow Media happened, I was ready. 

I also treated every day as if I was still going to be on the air doing a show to stay mentally sharp. I tried to challenge myself with different angles to take on topics and would think about different ideas for unique benchmark segments or various guests I’d like to get on my show. 

Now that I am back on the air doing a daily show, I never want to be outworked by anyone. Because of COVID-19, the news cycle as it relates to sports is always changing every day, so I am making sure that I am plugged in and up to date on everything that is happening. I want to make sure that people know when they listen to me that I’m going to give you a show that is well thought out, entertaining, and interesting, even in a pandemic. 

Jordon Schultz: I’m in sort of a unique situation in that I’ve been working in news for the past few years instead of my chosen format, sports. So even before the pandemic, I’ve been trying to make sure I have a wide set of skills that can make me an attractive candidate to a wide range of program directors.

But during the shut down, I’ve tried to make sure my Portland Trailblazers Podcast is top notch. It’s a weekly opportunity to grow, and I try to take full advantage of it. Other than that, I’ve tried my best to reach out to some of my contacts in the business just to say hi and ask how they’re doing. It’s a small way of keeping yourself on their mind during these crazy times!

What advice do you have for others trying to remain employed or find employment during this tough stretch of 2020?

Brady Farkas: If you are currently employed and looking to retain employment, I would encourage people to learn how to do everything. Make yourself indispensable and make sure you can run a board, produce a show, book guests, plan a show, execute a show, run the social media, work with the interns, understand all the different web/digital functions that help your brand grow. 

Furthermore, if you are looking for work, teach yourself more about the digital space. As the sports radio world looks for younger listeners, getting to them in the digital space they occupy is critical.

Jake Asman: If you are trying to remain employed or find employment, you have to make sure that you have a multitude of skills to increase your value. I’m way more than just a talk show host on SportsMap Radio. I produce my show every day in regards to booking all my own guests, editing the audio and daily clips from the show for social media, and much more.

You have to be able to do a lot more than just turn on a mic and talk. This was true before the pandemic and this is even more true now. I’m lucky because in addition to owning SportsMap Radio, Gow Media also owns ESPN 97.5 locally and the website SportsMap.com. I make sure that I am always available to fill in host locally on 97.5 whenever I’m needed, and I also contribute written articles for SportsMap.com multiple times a week. 

I want to be involved in as many roles as possible to prove my value to the company that I work for. I also think it’s great to get to know everybody in the building behind the scenes too. I love talking to our sales team and seeing if there is anything I am able to help them with. Without them, I wouldn’t be lucky enough to have a job right now. Radio is truly a team effort and during a pandemic, it’s all hands on deck.

Jordon Schultz:  Make yourself available in any way possible. Apply or offer to work in other formats or departments around the building/industry to help fill the gaps we all have in personnel right now. Use the downtime to start a podcast or YouTube channel if you don’t already have one. 

How to supercharge your virtual networking at Disrupt 2020 ...

Also, there’s been a lot of virtual networking happening since the pandemic started. Take advantage of any gatherings or virtual calls that you hear about. You might meet some new people and build some relationships that lead to an opportunity. And keep your chin up! I haven’t been able to get a full time sports radio job for almost 8 years leading up to the pandemic. 

It’s rough out there, but if you continue to grow and show your value it’ll pay off, even during an unprecedented pandemic

BSM Writers

The Craig Carton/FanDuel Deal Is Undeniably A Good Thing

“Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better.”

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Craig Carton is destined to forever be a polarizing figure in the world of sports media. Long before he was arrested, he had plenty of detractors that considered him less of a talk show host and more of a shock jock. Add to it a conviction for his role in a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors in order to pay back gambling debts, and it is clear that the guy’s approval rating will never hit 100.

Charities of disgraced shock jock Craig Carton say he let them down; lawyer  calls it a 'gross misunderstanding' - New York Daily News
Courtesy: New York Daily News

There are understandable reasons not to like a guy and then there are grudges. Grudges don’t have to be personal. They don’t have to spring from some sort of affront. They can easily be born out of feeling like someone has figured out a way to live a life above the rules and free of consequence for their awful actions.

Grudges can (and often do) blind us to reality. I think that is a big part of what is happening when people point to Craig Carton’s new deal with FanDuel and say that there is something wrong with it.

If you missed the announcement last week, Carton is joining FanDuel as the company’s first “responsible gaming ambassador.” He will create content about gambling responsibly and also work with FanDuel engineers to create AI to spot problem gambling patterns. The deal gives Craig Carton a seat at the table with one of the biggest mobile sportsbooks in shaping their responsible gaming policy. Isn’t that a good thing?

I probably cannot convince you to view the guy in any particular light. When it comes to former inmates being rehabilitated and getting a second chance, we tend to be very dug in with our opinions, whatever may influence them.

Undeniably, Carton did a bad thing. Swindling people out of huge chunks of money is always bad. In America, it somehow seems worse. As costs of living increase and wages remain flat, every dollar is accounted for and allotted to something for most of us. The guy should be ashamed of himself. And here’s the thing: he clearly is.

Since returning to WFAN, Carton has been very upfront about who he is, what he has done and how he is trying to do better. Hell, what other station in America dedicates any time at all, even just a half hour on the weekend, to issues of addiction and recognizing problem habits? This deal with FanDuel seems perfectly in line with his previous attempts to atone.

Hello, My Name Is Craig
Courtesy: Audacy

You don’t have to like Craig Carton, but you do need to acknowledge that everything he has done in terms of highlighting his problem with gambling and offering help to those that he sees a little bit of his own struggles in has been sincere. There is no reason to believe it isn’t.

Under the terms of the deal, not only will Carton advise and create content for FanDuel, but the company will also make sure Hello, My Name is Craig finds a bigger platform. You can be cynical and say that this is just part of a bigger deal between FanDuel and WFAN parent company Audacy, but FanDuel’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mike Raffensperger explained that it is good for the gaming industry to promote betting responsibly.

“I think what we recognize we needed is to add some humanity as to how we get this message across,” he said when explaining why Carton was the perfect face for this campaign.

We see it every time we post a story about sports betting. Someone will comment that it is an evil practice and that the advertising has made sports radio disgusting. The reality is that it is no different from alcohol. For most people, it is harmless. Plenty though, cannot handle it. Still, you tell me the first time you hear an ad break on sports radio or see a commercial break during a game without a beer commercial.

If you really believe sports gambling is evil and want people to stay away from mobile or physical sportsbooks, who do you think the ideal person to be delivering that message is?

You can go with the puritan approach of tisk-tisking strangers and telling them they are flawed people that are going to Hell or you can have a guy that has literally lost it all because of his addiction out front telling you “I know I cannot place a bet and here is why. If that sounds familiar, maybe it is time for you to seek help.” It seems pretty obvious to me that the latter approach is exactly what Raffensperger is talking about – using humanity to reach the people they need to.

Craig Carton committed a crime. A court of law said he had to pay for that both with restitution to his victims and with jail time. He served his time. Deals like this one with FanDuel make it possible for him to stay on schedule with the restitution payments. Even if you think he is unforgivable, that should make you happy, right?

It is admittedly strange to see a mobile sportsbook hire a “responsible gaming ambassador.” I would argue though that it is only strange because it isn’t something we have seen before. Be skeptical if you are the “I’ll believe it when I see it” type, but I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to congratulate and celebrate both Craig Carton and FanDuel.

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BSM Writers

Sports Radio America: The Starting Point When There Is No College Radio

“If we want to replace talent with talent, we have to develop talent at the lowest levels much more than asking for requirements at the highest levels. Every industry needs their farm-system.”

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It is a laboratory. A place to make mistakes. A spot to make friends. The hub of many communications schools. College radio stations are the pipeline by which young, aspiring broadcasters, engineers and producers carve their path to the pros. Broadcasters from around the United States credit college radio for helping them get to where they are today, and view it as a conduit for the next generation of talent.

“I can’t speak highly enough about my college experience doing radio,” said Evan Wilner, senior radio producer at ESPN and former member of WRHU-FM at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. “I realized in college that I am much better at fixing things rather than talking while other people tried doing something about it. Every place I’ve been, I feel like I’ve been ahead of the game because of the experience I got in college.”

Evan Wilner (@WilnerRadio) | Twitter

Wilner’s story is far from unique among professionals in broadcasting today, and proves valuable in ascertaining the role college radio plays in preparing broadcasters in their journey. Travis Demers, the radio play-by-play voice of the N.B.A.’s Portland Trail Blazers, shares a similar sentiment regarding the opportunities college radio afforded him, and how it helped him work in the industry he had a nascent passion for.

“In sixth grade, I was listening to WFAN, and when I realized I wasn’t going to be a professional baseball player, I started [radio] right away as a college freshman.”

Demers attended LIU Post in Brookville, N.Y. beginning in 1999, and eventually served as the sports director of WCWP-FM. In his time at the station, Demers was given numerous opportunities to broadcast football, basketball and lacrosse games on campus, eventually leading to an internship, and corresponding full-time job, at ABC Radio in New York City.

“Everything I could do specifically with sports is what I was trying to do right from the start,” reminisced Demers, “and I was fortunate enough to do that.”

Dan Zangrilli, who serves as a play-by-play announcer at West Virginia University and host of the M.L.B.’s Pittsburgh Pirates’ pre- and post-game shows on 93.7 The Fan, got his start in college radio at Clarion University in Clarion, P.A. The 4,000-watt WCUC 91.1 FM was Zangrilli’s place to get practice broadcasting live basketball games, and hosting a morning talk show.

Dan Zangrilli (@DanZangrilli) | Twitter

“I had free reign; it was basically like my easel,” elucidated Zangrilli. “I started out as a freshman and became the sports director, and ascended to the general manager position by my junior year. That’s just such invaluable experience to be immersed in every aspect of the radio industry, and I wouldn’t trade that place for anything.”

 In a media landscape full of changes accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lifespan of college radio as a subset of the industry is at greater risk of being classified as ephemeral than ever before, a harrowing realization that one former operations manager for a mortgage company had in Memphis, Tenn. had just over a decade ago.

Ayokunle Spencer, a graduate of the University of Memphis and former paralegal, was working for the Rawlings Company in Louisville, Ky., when he happened to overhear a conversation that forever changed his life. One of his co-workers was apprehensive about how his daughter, set to graduate from the University of Louisville, would leave as the school’s radio station would be shut down due to a lack of funding. At the onset of the 2008 economic recession, college radio stations were slashed from budgets around the country, stymying the development of prospective talent and rendering vagabonds heavily involved, and invested, students. Forsaken from the ability to develop the skill set and collect the air checks needed to land a job in the industry, Spencer decided it was time to make a concerted effort to resuscitate an ostensibly-dying concentration of the evolving medium.

“When the need presented itself… we [tried to] put something together [to give] people opportunities to sharpen the skills, and develop the next broadcast talent,” said Spencer. “We posted on the message boards at the colleges and, in about a year’s time, there was an influx of different students we were getting a chance to work with.”

Sports Radio America was founded by Ayokunle Spencer in 2008 as a digital broadcasting network intended to give college students attending universities without a campus radio station the chance to polish their on-air skills and perfect their craft. A member of the jazz-format WUMR while attending the University of Memphis, Spencer had previous experience in pitching up-and-coming hip-hop and R&B artists to local radio stations, including the likes of All-Star and Yo Gotti, through his promotional company and record label, Dynasty Digital Entertainment. Progressive in his thinking, Spencer was one of the first to stream radio broadcasts on the Internet, assisting Bishop G.E. Patterson in the dissemination of a small, A.M. religious station to the masses.

“Radio was always a passion for me as a kid,” said Spencer, “but I always took steps towards that passion before the University of Memphis. I felt, at that time, I was more at the forefront of what was going to come next. I wrote a paper that the Internet would be the place for media in thirty years, and twenty-five years later, I think I was dead on with that one.”

Conceived by means of necessity, Sports Radio America is a haven for young talent, broadcasting live games and talk radio shows on the Internet. The outlet, though, became more of a potpourri of commentators and journalists alike in order to help them evolve to the dynamic world of mediated communication.

“What it started out to be isn’t necessarily what it is now, although I want to get back to those roots of working with highly-talented students and getting them prepared for the next stage of their careers,” said Spencer. “Other journalists that were leaving FOX or ESPN, or older guys that had gotten kicked out of their radio stations because they didn’t know anything about digital, they ended up here. It kind of became a collage of different broadcasters and media personalities from around the U.S.”

As Sports Radio America celebrates its 10-year anniversary, Spencer remains focused on positioning the media venture ahead of the pack, cogently aware of industry changes and best practices to help its broadcasters land jobs and the company prosper after unforeseen circumstances over the previous year-and-a-half.

PsalmStream

“We just came through COVID, and in terms of advertising, all that stuff was crushed,” explained Spencer. “We are kind of almost in a rebuild mode now. We give people the opportunity to create something new, build up your audience and see if something works.”

Once Sports Radio America’s popularity began to grow around the country, the broadcasting outlet, to avoid being overwhelmed with participants, began interviewing and selecting talent to join them. Throughout his professional career, Spencer has had an innate ability to evaluate talent across all industries, something he calls “a God-given gift.” In his current role, which he compares to a professional football scout, one of Spencer’s jobs is to find the best people to join Sports Radio America, and help them get to where they want to go.

“The way my brain processes information, I can just tell certain people in certain things are creative enough to meet industry standards and excel,” said Spencer. “In sports radio, I evaluate voice, how interesting they are in being able to hold a conversation, the topics they pick out, etc. It’s really the only gift I think I actually have.”

Spencer has been successful in helping aspiring collegiate-level industry talent get the experience they need, with his organization serving as the pipeline many colleges have come to eliminate from their campuses. His method of evaluating talent aligns with principles employed by current hiring managers and industry professionals, such as Nick Cattles, host of The Nick Cattles Show on ESPN Radio 94.1 in Virginia Beach. Cattles highly values relatability and uniqueness in his evaluations of talent, along with if they are able to keep a listener actively engaged in their program.

“I think hosts around the country are better off when they allow themselves to be an open book,” said Cattles. “I always listen, probably more intently, to somebody who is willing to give the ‘secrets’ so to speak as opposed to somebody who is more guarded. The cool thing about radio is that there are so many talented people, and there is no one way to do it right. You try to find people who can do it their own way with the passion and the work-ethic that you can invest and believe in.”

Hardly esoteric in understanding, radio, and media altogether, is changing, and seismically in that matter. With today’s reliance on digital platforms for distribution, programs are, evidently, being adapted to fit the proclivities of the listening audience, including a shortening total attention span.

In a recent study by Microsoft, the average human being has an attention span of eight seconds, down a whopping four seconds over the last twenty years. This figure, which is shorter than that of a goldfish, is a direct byproduct of the principle of instant gratification, and the evolution of technology to enable its propagation. The inability to sustain focus has become an endemic in today’s society, and mediums of communication have had to adjust to fit this dynamic psychological paradigm.

Illegally introduced goldfish discovered in multiple Rock Springs–area  ponds - Casper, WY Oil City News
Courtesy: Shutterstock

Furthermore, consumers of mass media are more apt than ever before to selectively filter information; that is, specifically choosing what to concentrate on. As a result, media, in all of its forms, is less concentrated in scope, being narrowed to appeal to the target audience. The conflation of methodologies, simultaneously existing within a preponderance of content and a widening definition as to just who is considered to be a journalist, challenges the fundamental precept of what media is entirely. So how is radio adapting in this new landscape? By expanding its means of dissemination.

“It’s much more multi-faceted, social media-oriented and digital as opposed to [it being] siloed, [as it was] when I got into it,” said Brad Carson, operations and brand manager of 92.9 FM ESPN and Audacy Memphis Sports. “It used to be that you were a radio guy. Now in 2021, you are getting people that are entertainers. The latest joke is, ‘Hey, here’s our latest talent with one million TikTok followers.’ I think you can get people on a radio station or on our Audacy platforms from all walks of life. It’s a much more inexact science than [ever before].”

Spencer, whose progressive thoughts on the media landscape are openly conveyed in conversation, believes the introduction of streaming to be a considerable advancement that can play across multiple platforms. Unsurprisingly, he was ahead of the game at Sports Radio America, basing the online platform on this technology.

“The market for audio is always going to be there. The question is what medium we are going to use to deliver it,” said Spencer. “Everything will probably be streaming by 2030. I think that there will still be the public channels on the airwaves, but the majority of media will be consumed [via] streaming because [it is] a more accurate [platform] to measure who is listening. Whatever the next area of audio is, we will probably start it here first.”

Based on my conversations with these industry professionals, it is safe to say that Ayokunle Spencer, Brad Carson, Travis Demers, Evan Wilner, Dan Zangrilli and Nick Cattles attribute their college radio experience as one of the reasons they possess the skills to succed in their current jobs. Being able to have the flexibility to make mistakes, try new things and establish long-lasting professional relationships are invaluable to ambitious young broadcasters, and all evolving broadcasters for that matter. Belonging to a college media outlet is undoubtedly something many students savor, with many largely basing their choice of college on the quality of the media outlets if they are so fortunate. However, not all ambitious young broadcasters are equally privy to the same resources.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters are able to provide sufficient previous experience when trying to secure an internship or a job.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters are privy to changing industry trends, nor do they have the resources to render them an understanding as to how to achieve their goals.

Not all ambitious young broadcasters have a place to be mentored, and mentors willing to leverage valuable industry connections that could lead them to an internship or a job.

Experience needed: how to get a job with no previous experience -

For Ayokunle Spencer and his team at Sports Radio America, lessening the discrepancies between those with the ability to easily make connections and expend resources, and those looking to establish or collect them, has always been at the forefront of their mission — and they intend to keep shrinking the gap.

“I am surprised there aren’t more places like this where people can develop their skills before they reach the big-time,” expressed Spencer. “If we want to replace talent with talent, we have to develop talent at the lowest levels much more than asking for requirements at the highest levels. Every industry needs their farm-system.”

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BSM Writers

Covid Is A Convenient Excuse For Lowering Our Standards

“I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show.”

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I was probably four hours deep into my all-day football binge on Saturday when I started to think about the overall quality of what I was seeing. This isn’t a column about whether college football is secretly better than the NFL. This is about our industry.

While you may not notice a difference in the presentation on CBS’s top line SEC broadcast or on FOX’s Big Noon Saturday game, it is clear how few resources are being allocated to some of the games further down the networks’ priority list. ESPN doesn’t even send live broadcasters to its Thursday night college football game for instance.

Ohio State football broadcasts go remote amid COVID-19 restrictions
Courtesy: WBNS Radio

Covid-19 was the beginning of this. It forced every business in the broadcast industry to re-evaluate budgets and figure out how to do games when travel and the traditional set up of broadcast booths simply were not on the table.

This isn’t a problem limited to game coverage either. Plenty of hosts still are not back in their radio studio. Plenty of guests on ESPN’s and FS1’s mid day debate shows are still appearing via Skype and Zoom connections. It is as if we have started counting on our audience not expecting quality any more.

I want to be perfectly clear. I get that this pandemic isn’t over. I get that in many cases, networks and stations are trying to avoid overcrowding studios and in some cases, make accommodations for top-level talent that refuse to get vaccinated. “It’s survival mode,” is the answer from corporate.

Do we still need to be in survival mode though? We are 18 months into this pandemic. The majority of Americans are vaccinated. The ones who aren’t are actively making a choice not to do what they need to in order to put on the best possible show they can.

I am sick of hearing lag and noticeably different levels of soundproofing between two hosts on the same show. I am sick of seeing hosts on crystal clear HD cameras in a high tech studio talk to someone on a dirty webcam that can’t be bothered to even put in headphones so they don’t sound like they are shouting down a hallway.

A good example is the late Highly Questionable. I really liked that show when it was done in studio. I liked a lot of the ESPN talent that popped up on the show even after Dan Le Batard left. I couldn’t watch any more of the show than the two minute clips that would show up on Twitter. I didn’t want to see Bomani Jones behind a giant podcast mic. The low res camera that turned Mina Kimes’s house plant into a green blob gave me a headache. The complete disregard for quality made a decent show hard to watch.

Highly Questionable 4/12/21 - Changing History? - YouTube
Courtesy: ESPN

There was a time when the accommodations we made for Covid-19 were totally necessary. Bosses and broadcasters did whatever they had to to get a show or a game on the air. At this point, I am starting to wonder how much of the concessions are necessary and how much are the result of executives that “good enough” is the new standard.

It is totally reasonable to argue that in an age where microphones and editing software are cheap, slick production doesn’t carry the weight it once did. That is true for the podcasters and TikTokers that are creating content in spare bedrooms and home offices. If you’re ESPN or FOX or SirusXM, that slick production is what sells the idea that your content is better than what people can make at home on their own.

It’s soundproof studios, 4K cameras and futuristic graphics packages that make the standard setters in the industry special. Maybe your average Joe Six-Pack can’t put it into words. He just knows that a lot of home-produced content sounds and looks like play time compared to what he sees or hears on a network.

Sure, the anchors are the signature of SportsCenter’s heyday, but it was the stage managers, producers, and other behind-the-scenes staff doing their jobs that really made the show thrive. Those people cost money. The details they took care of may be something 90% of viewers will never notice. They will just know that they are watching a really good show. Those difference makers cannot do their jobs to the best of their abilities if everyone is being piped in from a different FaceTime feed.

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic we did whatever we had to. As broadcasters, we made compromises. As an audience, we accepted compromises. We were desperate for familiar entertainment and if Zoom is what it took to get it, that was just fine. There was no cure, no vaccine, things were scary and we were all anxious not knowing how long it would all last.

Anxiety and Depression From COVID-19 – San Diego – Sharp Health News
Courtesy: Nuthawut Somsuk

More than 18 months later, things may not be back to normal, but we are considerably less desperate. There are signs of normalcy in the world. Make the commitment to bring back the standard that won you so many fans in the first place.

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