It’s almost amusing now, the way sports is smothering us with sensory overload. America’s archivists are occupied by more pressing matters, but as they record the gnarly story of 2020, they’ll marvel at how this collective blur — football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, golf, soccer, cornhole — has done what this country still hasn’t done: Figure it all out and make something palatable from the abnormal.
We saw Tom Brady lose to Drew Brees AND Cam Newton on the same Sunday, as Bill Belichick grinned and hawked Subway sandwiches. We saw Aaron Rodgers flip the script and Cleveland flip the bird at Baker Mayfield, while Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson carried on. We saw LeBron James reach another conference final and the Clippers again clutch their throats. We saw Joe Burrow’s heartbreaking debut and the opening of a futuristic but barren $6-billion palace in Los Angeles, down the street from homeless encampments amid unbreathable air choked with wildfire ash.
We saw Alec Mills pitch a no-hitter weeks after Lucas Giolito did the same, which must be a sign of what could happen only during a pandemic: a Cubs-White Sox World Series. We saw Dodgers fans gather on Vin Scully Avenue and greet the Astros’ buses with trash cans, Joe Kelly pouty faces and other references to the electronic sign-stealing scandal. We saw two grown men ejected from the NBA Bubble, one the trash-talking brother of Rajon Rondo and the other for inviting a female COVID-19 tester to his hotel room. We saw Naomi Osaka take over women’s tennis while wearing names of Black shooting victims on her face masks.
And we saw almost no fans in the endless slabs of empty seats, hearing nothing but echoes and canned noise that only reminded us of the force-fed greed and frivolousness of it all.
They want us to think this is sports utopia, a heavenly convergence of seasons and events unprecedented on Planet Earth. In truth, it’s part of our ongoing dystopia. And there was no more glaring example Sunday than how the leagues and certain TV networks, with a collective conscience of zero, tried to pretend that two persistent viruses don’t exist.
Racial injustice? The NFL already is facing protest-related upheaval, a division between teams that don’t buy into the league’s sudden embrace of social reform and others that dutifully line up on the sideline and stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ A pattern is developing — some teams boycott the national anthem by remaining in the locker room; some teams are split between players who kneel, stand or sit on the sideline; some teams stand united with no one kneeling; and some teams link arms and stand together, not just for the national anthem but the traditional Black anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing.’’ It’s a potential powder keg when the Patriots, coached by military man Belichick, have no players kneeling while the Dolphins, led by Black head coach Brian Flores, are in the locker room. Or when the Packers stay in the locker room while the Vikings are split — some standing, some kneeling — as nine members of George Floyd’s family watch from a stadium concourse in Minneapolis. Or when the Texans remain in the locker room while Patrick Mahomes, Face of the League, stands with the Chiefs as only one teammate kneels.
This divergence happened throughout the league and won’t be ending soon. I am not an advocate of keeping score on how people protest, but I know a sitting President who does just that, sadly making this a story. And I know an unemployed quarterback already disgusted by it all, with Colin Kaepernick tweeting Sunday that “the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black Life.’’
So why wouldn’t we notice every display? The Jaguars remained in their locker room while Colts head coach Frank Reich was the lone man kneeling on his sideline, as all his players stood. Mayfield, who had vowed to kneel, decided to stand, while Myles Garrett joined two other Browns players in kneeling. The Bills and Jets both stayed in their locker rooms in Buffalo, while the Falcons and Seahawks took a collective knee for the opening kick in Atlanta. The Cardinals stayed inside while the 49ers mostly stood. In Baltimore, Jackson kneeled while coach John Harbaugh stood. Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater kneeled. All of which were powerful scenes that feed directly into America’s noxious pre-election climate, creating the disunity desired by President Trump and no doubt causing heightened tensions in a league in which 70 percent of the players are Black. I’d like to think each player would respect the decisions of others, but once Trump gleefully weighs in about the small percentage of kneelers — and early TV ratings declines — yes, there will be Players Association backlash and hard feelings that lead to … God, who knows what?
“We don’t need another publicity parade, so we’ll just stay inside until it’s time to play the game,’’ Dolphins players said.
“Our intent is to bring attention to the issue of systemic racism and the injustice therein. We wanted to demonstrate a symbolic gesture of how we believe meaningful change happens,’’ the Colts said of Reich’s solo display. “(Kneeling) is not a posture of defiance but rather one of humility — taken by the White community — to acknowledge the injustice and inequality that is present and to find courage and resolve to make the changes needed.’’
“I have been showed that a gesture such as kneeling will only create more division or discussion about the gesture,’’ tweeted Mayfield, “rather than be a solution toward our country’s problems at hand.’’
The differing approaches were as complicated as racism itself. Not that you’d have known if depending on the Week 1 TV coverage. For a historic matchup of all-time quarterbacks, on what Fox Sports called “America’s Game of the Week,’’ the network didn’t bother showing the live anthem scenes in New Orleans. Wasn’t it important to see if Brees — who drew a firestorm of offseason criticism when he condemned sideline kneeling as a form of “disrespecting the flag’’ — chose to stand or kneel? And what would Brady do as a Trump associate? The only way of knowing was via news reports: Buccaneers and Saints players all stood during the anthem, and Malcolm Jenkins the only New Orleans player not on the field.
Where was Fox? The network showed the Vikings during the national anthem — and responded with broadcast-booth silence, saying nothing about the Vikings or Packers. Given the presence of Floyd’s family, wasn’t the scene worth commentary from Chris Myers and the crew at U.S. Bank Stadium? Or is this a hint that Fox — and, by extension, the NFL — will cowardly stick to football after NBC’s Cris Collinsworth at least addressed the racial tension before kickoff Thursday night? CBS was responsible in showing the Dolphins’ no-show and how the Bengals and Chargers linked arms for the anthem, with requisite booth and sideline commentary. And NBC got it right Sunday night, showing about a dozen Rams kneeling as quarterback Jared Goff stood, and, with owner Jerry Jones placing a hand over his heart, Dallas players standing at attention except for nose tackle Dontari Poe, who kept his vow to kneel. But naturally, the NFL Network loaded up the day with game highlights and little protest footage.
I bring this up not because Americans should be inundated by activism, but because players demanded that the league and TV partners cover the Black Lives Matter movement consistently — and not quickly turn away when audience segments are offended, as seen late in the Kaepernick movement. If players don’t trust the motives of commissioner Roger Goodell, the first evidence is how the networks handle the story. So far, the coverage is erratic.
And the coronavirus? What coronavirus? College football and Major League Baseball resumed shameless money grabs, despite a relentless flurry of positive tests that ignore health risks and already have turned seasons into mayhem. In a disturbing contradiction, Big Ten presidents were meeting to discuss a return to football as Michigan State, a member institution, was asking the entire student body to self-quarantine for 14 days. All while Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was making a mockery of Covid, saying he wouldn’t be forthright about positive tests heading into a game. “Just like we would with an injury, we made the decision not to broadcast that,’’ Riley actually said. “You don’t want to give your team a competitive disadvantage.’’ So let’s just conceal an infectious disease in the name of winning a football game! Boomer Sooner!
After a thrashing of Missouri State, Riley said the game nearly was postponed because, yep, his team was hit with a torrent of Covid cases, sidelining the starting running back and All-America kicker and leaving his offensive line in disarray. “It hung in the balance for a little bit, but we were able to do it,” Riley said after the 48-0 win. “Thankfully, we were able to.’’
Thankfully? Anyone concerned about the players, their families, their grandparents? How positive tests will contribute to more virus spreads on campuses, the current scourge of American academia? Across the sport, teams have Covid issues: Clemson was without three starters in beating Wake Forest … five Auburn starters have the virus … several games were postponed … and the ACC said it will scrap the season if at least eight of its 15 teams aren’t available to play, which likely would cause the SEC and Big 12 to fall into lockstep and shut down the College Football Playoff. Why are they even playing football when campuses are the nation’s hottest virus spots? “This is not a time when you can state with any sort of veracity that you’re going to play all your games,’’ Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby admitted. “We could find ourselves in the same situation that the Big Ten and the Pac-12 are in later in the season. I’m not prepared to have any bravado about it whatsoever.”
Baseball never should have attempted a season. The Covid interruptions have made the games unwatchable, stripping an already dawdling sport of all continuity and interest. MLB Is in a shameful race to claim $1 billion in TV revenue if a postseason somehow is completed. But now players are balking at commissioner Rob Manfred’s proposal to utilize Bubbles in the playoffs, in Texas and southern California, wondering why qualifying teams would have to quarantine for a week and force players to separate from their families. The answer is as obvious as a swab up the nose: The NBA and NHL have succeeded in keeping Covid out of restrictive environments; baseball has failed miserably so far outside a Bubble. Yet the pushback is considerable, especially from teams that have been Covid-free. “You’re asking us to choose between our families and the playoffs?” Justin Turner, the Dodgers’ union rep, told The Athletic. “That’s a stupid question, especially when we’ve played however many successful games this season. Obviously, there were two blips early on (Marlins and Cardinals), but it was out of poor choices by individuals. Other than that, it has been a pretty successful season. Why change all the protocols now?’’
Is he really asking that question? Unlike a regular season in which a team’s games could be paused for days or weeks after an outbreak, one positive test makes a mess of a postseason that can’t afford hiccups.
Still, from Saturday morning through Sunday night, America managed to feel awake again, if not close to completely alive. This is the September buffet we’d heard about but never thought would happen, the full-blown resumption of sports that I railed against all summer. There’s still nothing remotely prudent about it, and if athletes who dare to play amid Covid are fighting significant medical effects years from now, please remember how I damned the leagues and networks that prioritized wealth over health. Billions of dollars breed corruption, and as we absorb Riley’s comments, tell me: Do you trust any people in power to be transparent when they can hide behind privacy laws or just openly lie? `As the NBA and NHL approach final rounds and MLB stumbles toward October, beware of such fakery.
It’s impossible to ignore the swirling convergence of crazy activity. The games are on TV around the clock, which gives the industry a chance to remind us “why we love sports,’’ as ESPN says. The surreal events of 2020 also mean people might not care about sports as much as they once did. They can watch, as a diversion, but can you really pull on a replica jersey when you’re trying to stay employed, pay a mortgage, educate your kids online and avoid the virus? I’ll be anxious to monitor the ratings. More sports are live in a single timeframe than ever before, yet even with a lack of original programming choices, who’s to say people will flock back to sports? The Jaguars, the only NFL team to allow fans Sunday, made 16,800 tickets available.
Only 14,100 showed up.
The games and individual performances still need to move and inspire us. Front and center were Brady and James, as they’ve been since the start of the millennium, creating new chapters in epic careers. James and the Lakers become the favorites to win the NBA title, resting as the hallway-rival Clippers crack as usual under pressure. Giannis is gone. Kawhi might be next. After all this time in confinement, think LeBron isn’t smelling the weirdest championship of his or any other lifetime?
“I understand the Laker faithful and what they felt or were going through over the last decade of not being in the postseason, or not competing for championships,” James said. “I took that responsibility as well. I’m happy I’m able to do a little bit and be a part of it.’’ Notice his humility when he’s in control.
Brady will be happy to survive his 44th year on Earth in one piece. He threw two interceptions, fumbled once and was sacked three times in a 34-23 loss to the Saints, and already, we hear Camp Belichick declaring victory — Brady was the product of the New England system and needed Belichick more than vice versa. It’s too early for all that, but so far, Newton — mobility! — owns one more victory in 2020 than the toast of Tompa Bay.
One of Brady’s picks went for a touchdown. The Bucs could have kept James Winston to do that. And if Brady thought Belichick was gruff at times, his new coach, Bruce Arians, blamed him for both interceptions.
“Poor execution. I made some bad, terrible turnovers,’’ Brady said. “I’ve obviously got to do a lot better job. There’s no excuses. We’ve got to clean that up for next week.’’
And we’ll see him, at home against Carolina, on Fox.
The same can’t be said for the anthem, which, at the moment, is much more important to the national condition than Tom Brady’s arm strength.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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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