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Matt Jones Talks Politics Because His Listeners Talk Politics

“People who are good at radio relate to people in their lives. People who are bad at it don’t.”

Brian Noe

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I’m a firm believer that anybody can learn something from everybody. It has never made sense to me why so many people close themselves off to others based on affiliation or differing beliefs.

Matt Jones is the creator of Kentucky Sports Radio. He hosts an entertaining show for 40 affiliates across the state. It wouldn’t make sense for listeners to steer clear of Matt based on his liberal views. It also wouldn’t add up for anyone in the sports radio industry to dismiss Matt’s philosophies simply because they vote red.

Matt’s approach to radio enables him to connect with people. One of his core philosophies is the belief that his job is to mirror the discussions that the audience is having. Matt also stresses the importance of relating to people and being authentic. If a host is authentic, relatable, and talks about the stuff the audience is already talking about, it’s impossible not to connect with listeners. 

I walked away from our conversation thinking, man, this dude gets it. His approach just makes sense. Whether it’s sports, politics, Kroger Plus cards, or mostly anything else under the sun, Matt has a talent for finding what will interest a wide range of people. In the immediate aftermath of Election Day when tensions are high, if you dismiss Matt’s wisdom because he leans left, you’re only hurting yourself. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: You’re a very liberal guy in a very conservative state. In what ways does that help and hurt your show?

Matt Jones: I’m not sure being a progressive in a conservative state helps the show at all necessarily. My reasoning for talking about things other than sports — and just so you know I don’t set out to talk about politics on the show and I only do it occasionally — but my view is as a radio host your job is to mirror the discussions that your audience is having. So in Kentucky my view has always been what are people in Kentucky, specifically Kentucky fans, what are they talking about? Over the last four years, if you try to act like people are not talking about politics, you’re just fooling yourself.

I think most people talk politics in a disrespectful way that people don’t like. They say this is what I think and if you don’t think it, you’re an idiot. That’s what most political discussion is. But that’s not what I do. What I try to say is look here’s what’s going on. This is kind of interesting. This is how I think about it, but if you think about it differently, that’s okay. That’s the way we do it.

I don’t sit and try to convince people that Trump is this or that. I tell people what I think about him, but it’s very light-hearted. A lot of conversation in sports about politics is kind of preachy, like you should believe this. I don’t do that. I don’t think an audience wants that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it in a respectful way of what you believe and why. I think my audience for the most part appreciates that.

BN: Do you get feedback of hey I disagree with you, Matt, but I appreciate what you’re saying?

MJ: Oh, all the time. Probably 75 percent of my audience, maybe a little less, but about 75 percent are Trump fans. If they didn’t think I was doing it in a respectful way I would have lost them. I’m not sitting there saying “Okay, Trump’s immigration policy is wrong for this reason or that reason”. But what I might say is, “Trump has just done this, here’s how it might affect you”. That to me is a conversation worth having. I think people can do that in a way that’s entertaining and respectful.

There’s no doubt in my mind that doing this has caused me to lose some listeners. But it has also gained listeners. One of the reasons my show is so popular and sort of dominates our area in a way very few sports shows do is because we have people listening who don’t really care about sports. There are a lot of people that listen to my show that would never listen to another sports show because they know we’re going to talk about things beyond who’s going to win a game.

BN: It’s a broad question, but what are some of the topics that might get commonly discussed on sports radio that you don’t find to be very interesting?

MJ: Everything. [Laughs] I find most sports radio mind-numbingly boring. We all watch these games. How much can you really say about them? There’s only so much you can say. Especially a local show where you only cover one team. How much is there to say?

Six months out of the year they’re not even playing. I have very little interest in reviewing play by play of a game. Everybody watched it. They already know what happened. If there’s a compelling moment — I’ll give you an example — Kentucky got a commitment from a recruit. I talked about it. I talked about what kind of player they got. I spent two or three minutes on it. But what else is there to say? There’s no debate. My audience has never seen this kid play. What can I say? There’s really not much more to say.

What’s much more interesting is Lane Kiffin got fined $25,000 for tweeting about a bad call that the SEC then admitted was a bad call. Should you get fined for saying something that’s true? That’s a good conversation. That’s how I do everything with the show. Is it an interesting conversation?

Lane Kiffin on paying his fine $25,000 fine in nothing but pennies. MUST  WATCH. - YouTube

I think people think I talk about politics all the time. I don’t. I talk about politics at most once a week. But what I don’t do is say well you can’t talk about politics because I just think that’s stupid. My view is the best radio hosts in America — for me the three most talented radio people of all time are Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and in sports I like Tony Kornheiser. What all three of those have in common, they are talking about their lives as a part of the subject that they’re talking about. That’s how you have success is doing it like that.

BN: Which presidential candidate winning would benefit your show more?

MJ: I guess on some level Trump is more entertaining and does more stupid things so it’s easier to have stuff to talk about, but it’s not about for me who wins or loses. It’s about what is happening that affects my listeners’ lives because compelling radio, in my opinion, whether it’s sports or anything else is just about relating to people and their lives. People who are good at radio relate to people in their lives. People who are bad at it don’t. I don’t care who’s in charge or what’s going on. Every person in America every day has something that interests them and that is affecting their life. My job is to figure out how to have that conversation on the radio.

BN: Is it a fair assessment to say your show is what it is whether it’s before the election or after it?

MJ: Yeah, my show is what it is every day. Our ratings during COVID when there were no sports did not go down because our show is not so much about sports, it’s just about life. Again you go back to my premise, what is the average Kentucky fan caring about right now? Well in March during the NCAA Tournament the average Kentucky fan is caring solely about basketball. But in May when no sports are going on around here, they’re caring about other stuff.

You want to know the biggest thing I had on my show this year? We had a bet between me and my producer that he couldn’t walk 50 miles in 16 hours. I offered him $5,000 if he could walk 50 miles in 16 hours. It became a month long of talk on the show. He ended up doing it and literally all across Lexington people stood on the sides of the roads and cheered him on. That was the most listened to show we had all summer and it had nothing to do with anything. But every person in the state could listen and go well I think you can do it, or I don’t.

BN: Did you say 15 or 50?

MJ: Fifty. JFK when he was president apparently had this thing called the JFK challenge. He put five different things and wanted every American to try to do one of them. The physical component was walk 50 miles in 16 hours. When I said that my producer was like well I can do that. I was like no you can’t.

BN: [Laughs] How did it turn out?

MJ: He got it. He finished it. He finished in about 14 and a half hours. The last two hours we timed it so it was during my show, so that we walked next to him as he finished.

BN: Aww, man. That’s a great bit. What happened with the Republican Party getting you pulled off the air last year when you were thinking about running for Senate?

MJ: Yeah, that was a bunch of bullshit. I was considering whether to run. As part of that I had created this committee so that I could raise a little bit of money to poll and stuff like that. The Republican Party of Kentucky filed something with the Federal Election Commission basically saying it wasn’t fair that I was on the radio while I was thinking about running.

It was complete nonsense. They were wrong and ultimately if the Federal Election Commission ever actually exists again that will be proven. But my radio station understandably didn’t want to worry about it. So I just went off the air until I decided officially not to run.

BN: How long were you off the air?

MJ: About a month. It was ridiculous. Mitch McConnell is on television every single day whenever he wants raising millions upon millions of dollars but it was unfair of me to have a sports radio show. That’s just so stupid. But McConnell is the master of cheating the system for his own gains.

McConnell to keep grip on GOP even if Republicans lose Senate - POLITICO


BN: Why did you ultimately not run for Senate?

MJ: I ended up not doing it for a variety of reasons. Mostly just that it wasn’t the right time in my life and I thought it was going to be difficult to win because in the primary and the general election there was a candidate that had a ton of money. Amy McGrath in the primary and Mitch McConnell in the general. It was going to be tough to leave this thing I created. I created this whole enterprise kind of out of nothing and it was going to be hard just to walk away.

BN: What are some of the specific things in your own life that you incorporate into the show?

MJ: I just talked about experiences I have. I went to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t have one of those little Kroger Plus cards. I asked the woman behind me if I could borrow hers and she said no. It really annoyed me. We literally turned that in to a half hour of radio. It was me telling the story and being like why did she do that? That became one of our most popular bits. Little stuff like that.

Not everybody cares about politics. Not everybody cares about sports. But everybody has to go to the grocery store. Everybody eats food. That’s the way you connect to people on other levels.

BN: How big of a role does your supporting cast have on the show?

MJ: Huge. The three other people on the show — Ryan Lemond, Drew Franklin, and Shannon Grigsby — we’ve made it to where everybody knows who they are. We have our fill-in producer Billy Rutledge and people know who he is. I think the key to radio is authenticity. The reason why I genuinely believe KSR is more popular in Kentucky than virtually any sports radio show in America is popular where they are is because our whole purpose is to connect to the personality and community of the state.

To me the shows that work are about a sort of lifestyle or thought process rather than about a sport or even politics. The reason why most shows can’t do politics or shouldn’t is they believe their job is to preach the politics to the listener. I don’t think the listener wants that. I believe the job is to make the subject — politics or whatever — interesting. That’s a different thing than preaching.

BN: It’s interesting, Matt; talking to you I’m just thinking about some of the hot-take artists that try to stand out that way. Would you be of the opinion that you can stand out more just simply by connecting with people instead?

MJ: A hundred percent. This is not the way people do radio, but to me anybody can have a strong opinion on who should be the MVP. Who cares? But if you can get people to care about your lives and to care about what’s going on in your existence, that’s what talent is to me. I can’t listen to people argue is LeBron the GOAT. There’s not going to be one thing they say that is any more unique than anything I’ve ever heard.

Tony Kornheiser used to talk every day on his show about the Washington Nationals. I couldn’t care less about the Washington Nationals. But I did care about Tony caring about the Washington Nationals. When he would talk about watching the game and being frustrated, if the Nationals lost in a torturous way, the next day I wanted to hear what he said just because I cared about him. I think that’s what good radio is. When you think to yourself “I know this is going to affect this person and I can’t wait to hear what they say about it”.

Famous broadcaster Tony Kornheiser inducted into the Washington DC... News  Photo - Getty Images

BN: If you find something interesting regardless of what category it’s in, you want to talk about it. Could you thrive in a place that was strictly about sports and didn’t let you do that?

MJ: I don’t know. It’s a great question. Could I do a straight Mike and Mike morning show? I don’t know, man. I think I’d have to do a show where whoever was my boss trusted me to sort of — I’ll follow the parameters of whatever they want, but I’ve got to have the ability to sort of do it my way.

Would some boss let me do it nationally daily? I don’t know. But I do know this, the radio show hosts that are transcendentally good — Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Tony Kornheiser, Le Batard — they all do that. Those shows are all based on their personalities. I don’t know why radio executives don’t want that. Isn’t that what the goal is? To create shows that are sort of machines? To do that you have to base it around the personalities of the people that do it. The two best sports TV shows of all time in my opinion are the TNT NBA show and Pardon The Interruption. Why? Because they just let those people be themselves. I don’t know why that’s not what every show tries to be. You just have to let people be themselves.

BN: This might be a stupid question, but I’m interested in what your answer is. There are a lot of women that have to jump over hurdles because a lot of idiots say, “Ehh, you’re a woman. What do you really know?” Do you think you might face similar hurdles being from the South with a lot of people saying, “What’s this backwoods hick going to tell me about sports?”

MJ: Oh, of course. When people hear a Southern accent they think you’re stupid. I get that. The only times you hear Southern accents on the radio nationally is if they do a show that’s like look we’re Southern, sort of like Marty & McGee. That’s their thing; look we’re Southern guys. That’s fine. I like their show a lot. Those are good dudes.

There are a lot of people that know more about sports than me. A lot. Most people. But just be honest with the audience and be like look I don’t know. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it.

I’m in Kentucky. Hunting is huge here. I don’t know any of it. I’ve never shot a gun. I don’t know. But my audience likes the fact that he may know about law and politics but he doesn’t know anything about hunting. I let them make fun of me for how little I know about it. Just be honest with them and I think people appreciate that.

BN: When you look to your future in broadcasting, what do you think would make you happiest?

MJ: I’d love to have a national show someday just to see if it would work. I think it would. But it has to be the right one. I’ve had opportunities to do some national stuff that I just didn’t think would work.

I’d love to have a chance to see if what I have done locally can transcend to a regional or national level. I’m not sure that it’ll ever happen to be honest. We’re very successful here so I can’t leave unless it’s the perfect opportunity. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, but I would love to do that at some point.

Beyond that I wrote a book that was a best seller. I really enjoyed that. I’d like to do some more writing. I think the best thing in life is to try as many things as possible. Some things you find you’re good at. Some things you don’t. To me try everything and enjoy it whether you succeed or you don’t.

BSM Writers

The NFL Hopes You’re Lazy Enough to Pay Them $5

“This app reportedly doesn’t even have any original content of it’s own. NFL Films produces content for ESPN+, HBO Max, Peacock, Tubi, Epix, Paramount Plus, and Prime Video. It has also reportedly had discussions about producing content for Netflix. Unless they plan to bring all of those shows in-house, what kind of shows could NFL Films produce for NFL Plus that you couldn’t already find on all of those other apps?”

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NFL Streaming

Corporate goodwill is a hard thing to ask for. It’s not something that is a requirement for any entity to engage in. But it can go a long way in establishing a deeper bond for the future. According to Sports Business Journal, NFL owners are contemplating launching a streaming service for the league.

The app would feature podcasts, content created by teams and radio content. It’s unknown where the podcast content will come from but one can assume it’ll include the various podcasts the NFL produces with iHeartRadio. Team content that is expected to be featured could come from videos and audio that is already posted on team websites and social media platforms such as YouTube.

Various organizations across the league have expanded their YouTube efforts over the last couple of years as the Google-owned site has slowly set itself apart as a leading source for viewership. My hometown team, the Baltimore Ravens, for example promotes a talk show with cornerback Marlon Humphrey where he interviews players and other key figures from the team about their lives and careers and how they got to where they are today.

The most important part of this app will be NFL games itself. On Sunday afternoons, whatever games are airing in the specific location you’re in while using the app, those are the games you have access to watch. If you’re in Baltimore and a Ravens game is airing on CBS while the Commanders are on Fox, those are the games the app will offer. If you’re in Boston and a Patriots game is on CBS while a Giants game is on Fox – you won’t have access to the Ravens game airing on CBS in Baltimore or the Commanders game on Fox in Baltimore even if that’s where you normally live. These games used to be a part of a deal with Yahoo Sports and Verizon – who distributed them on their apps for free.

JohnWallStreet of Sportico notes, “longer term, the existence of a league-owned streaming platform should help ensure broadcast rights continue to climb.” But at the end of the day, how does this help the fan? The increase of broadcast rights is going to end up costing viewers in the long run through their cable bill.

ESPN costs almost $10 per cable customer. The app, as of now, isn’t offering anything special and is an aggregation of podcasts, games and videos that fans can already get for free. If you want to listen to an NFL podcast – you can go to Spotify, Apple Podcasts and various other podcast hosting platforms. If you want to watch content from your favorite teams, you can go to their website or their social media platforms. And if you want to watch games, you can authenticate your cable subscriptions and watch them for free through your cable company’s app or CBS’ app or the Fox Sports app.

It’s nothing more than a money grab. Games are already expensive to go to as it is. Gas prices have reached astronomical highs. Watching content has become extremely costly and it’s debatable whether buying streaming services is cheaper or more expensive than the cable bundle. And now the NFL wants to add more stress and more expenses to their viewers who just desire an escape from the hardships of life through their love of a beautiful game? It seems wrong and a bit cruel to me.

The beauty of paying for content apps is that you’re going to gain access to something that is original and unique from everything else in the ecosystem. When House of Cards first premiered on Netflix, it was marketed as a political thriller of the likes we had never seen and it lived up to its expectations for the most part. The critically-acclaimed series led viewers to explore other shows on the app that were similarly a more explicit and unique journey from what had been seen on television before.

This app reportedly doesn’t even have any original content of it’s own. NFL Films produces content for ESPN+, HBO Max, Peacock, Tubi, Epix, Paramount Plus, and Prime Video. It has also reportedly had discussions about producing content for Netflix. Unless they plan to bring all of those shows in-house, what kind of shows could NFL Films produce for NFL Plus that you couldn’t already find on all of those other apps? Even YouTube has partnered with NFL Films to produce behind the scenes footage of games that is available for FREE.

If you’re going to force viewers to pay $5 to watch games on their phone, the least you could do is give fans access to speak with players and analysts before and after the games. Take NFL Network over the top so that we can wake up with Good Morning Football. Offer a way for fans to chat while games are being watched on the app. The ability to watch an All-22 feed of live games. A raw audio options of games. The ability to screencast. Even a live look at the highly paid booths who are calling the games.

Five bucks may seem small in the grand scheme of things but it is a rip-off especially when the content is available for free with a few extra searches. Goodwill and establishing a person to person online relationship with fans could go a long way for the NFL. It’s not going to work using these tactics though. And after facing such a long pandemic, offering it up for free just seems like the right thing to do.

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BSM Writers

Marc Hochman is The Lebron James of Miami Sports Radio

The Hochman and Crowder Show with Solana isn’t like anything you’ll hear in most major markets. But they wear that distinction with a badge of honor. They’re not interested in breaking down why the offensive line can’t get a push on short-yardage situations, they want to make you laugh, regardless if it’s sports content or not. They’re perfectly Miami sports radio. 

Tyler McComas

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Marc Hochman

There’s 30 minutes to go until Marc Hochman’s summer vacation and he’s suddenly overcome with emotion. Instead of staring at the clock, he’s staring at an article from The Miami New Times, which has just named him Best Talk Radio Personality in its “Best of 2022” awards issue. It’s an incredible honor in a city that has several worthy candidates, including the man sitting right next to him, Channing Crowder. 

But it’s not just the honor that’s catching Hochman’s eye, it’s also the paragraph where the newspaper compares him to Lebron James. No, seriously. Compliments are nothing new for the Miami radio veteran, but being compared to one of the best basketball players of all-time is new territory. Part of the paragraph reads like this:

“His current domination of the afternoon drive simulcast on both WQAM and 790 The Ticket (WAXY) is akin to Lebron playing for the Lakers and Clippers simultaneously. Could he do it? Probably. Does Hochman do this daily? Yes. Advantage, Hochman.”

Talk about incredibly high praise for a sports radio host. Especially one in Miami where there’s still a lot of hard feelings towards Lebron. But the praise is accurate, because the Hochman and Crowder Show with Solana airs on two different Audacy stations every day. It’s an interesting dynamic, especially for a market the size of Miami/Fort Lauderdale. 

“We have a joke that if you don’t like what you’re hearing on 560, feel free to tune in on 790,” laughed Hochman. “But it’s fun and I think in some strange way it’s increased our audience. As crazy as it is to say in 2022, there are people who listen to a particular radio station and don’t ever change it. I do think being on both stations has expanded our audience. We have fun with it. The show is on for four hours on 560 WQAM and three hours on 790 The Ticket.”

It’s cool to see Hochman get this type of honor during his 10th year of being an afternoon host on 560 WQAM. Especially since he’s originally from Chicago, but has carved out an incredible career in a city he’s called home since the late 80s. It’s funny to think Hochman had no interest in sports radio in 2004 when his college friend Dan Le Batard offered him a job as an executive producer at a startup station in Miami. Now, 18 years later, he’s being voted as the best to do it in the city. 

“Everybody likes to be recognized for what they do,” said Hochman. “We get recognized all the time by the listeners, but when someone out of your orbits writes their opinion of what you’re doing, and it’s that glowing of an opinion, it’s great. I’ve been compared to Lebron before, but it’s always been my hairline. It was nice to be compared to him for another reason. That was super cool.”

The best part about all of this is how Hochman will use this as a funny bit on the show, because, above anything else, he’s instantly identified as someone who’s incredibly gifted at making people laugh on the air. There’s no doubt it will become a theme on the show, both with him and his co-hosts, Crowder and Solana. 

“The award came out about 30 minutes before I was leaving for my summer vacation, so I had about 30 minutes on the air to respond to it,” Hochman said. “So I’m sure it will become a bit on the show, I certainly will refer to myself as the Lebron James of sports talk radio in Miami. Although, there’s still some hard feelings here towards him.

That was the one part that jumped out, obviously, to me, Crowder and to Solana. I don’t think I’m Lebron James but Crowder said on the air that sometimes you have to acknowledge when you’re playing with greatness, and he said “I used to play defense with Jason Taylor and Junior Seau, now I’m doing radio and I will acknowledge greatness.”

With or without this honor, it’s pretty evident Hochman is the happiest he’s ever been in sports radio. He’s surrounded with two talented co-hosts, but the sentiment is that Hochman does an incredible job of putting both Solano and Crowder in situations to be the best versions of themselves on the air. However, Hochman sees it differently. 

“I think that’s more on the people around you,” he said. “If you have great teammates, they’re great. Crowder and Solana, those dudes, if you want to make a basketball comparison, we have ourselves a Big Three.

Solana is the best at what he does, Crowder is the absolute best radio partner I’ve had in my career. He’s so aware of what it takes to entertain but also has broadcast sensibilities at the same time. I actually think he’s the one that makes us sound better than what we really are. He has a really incredible knack for entertaining but also informing.”

The Hochman and Crowder Show with Solana isn’t like anything you’ll hear in most major markets. But they wear that distinction with a badge of honor. They’re not interested in breaking down why the offensive line can’t get a push on short-yardage situations, they want to make you laugh, regardless if it’s sports content or not. They’re perfectly Miami sports radio. 

“I would say Miami is the strangest sports radio market in the country,” said Hochman. “I grew up in Chicago so I’m intimately familiar with Chicago sports talk. Miami sports talk, which is Le Batard, who redefined what works. In Miami, that’s what it needed. It’s more guy talk than sports talk. We certainly can’t break down a third inning in a Marlins game and why a runner should have been running when he wasn’t, the way that New York, Philadelphia or Boston radio could.”

“That doesn’t work here. When Crowder and I go on the air everyday, we’ve always said, our goal is we want to laugh the majority of our four hours on the air. If we’re laughing, we assume the audience is laughing, as well. That’s our personality. We both like to laugh and have fun. I like to do it, no matter what is going on. That translates to the radio. Luckily, Miami is a sports radio market that embraces that, because I don’t think we could do a show any other way.”

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BSM Writers

Please Stop With the No Announcer Broadcast Shtick

“Perhaps the biggest issue I have is there’s nobody there to set the scene, or to build drama in key moments. Those big sequences in a game need a play-by-play announcer to let you know just how important this situation is to the game.”

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Tiger, Royals, Peacock

Enough already. Stop trying to make a splash. Stop trying to be so gimmicky. Just give this idea that’s been done before a rest. Permanently. Peacock recently broadcast a Sunday game between the Tigers and Royals with no announcers in the booth. There were reporters conducting interviews and showing fans different views of the ballpark, but there was no commentary. No play-by-play. No analyst. Been there. Done that. Now stop. 

This sounds like a publicity stunt. As if to say, ‘our baseball broadcasts on Peacock are struggling, so let’s get people talking about us, right?’ I guess to an extent it worked, because people were talking about it and I’m writing about it. 

Instead of traditional play-by-play and color analysis, the broadcast featured something “completely different,” as Sam Flood, NBC Sports executive producer puts it. There were reporters that took fans around Detroit’s Comerica Park, showing the game from different angles and vantage points.

“The whole idea of this is treating a game completely different. We’re going to take you out to the ballpark,” said Flood. “We just want to be the ultimate fan’s experience and spend it like anyone else. It’s an American holiday celebration weekend. We’re going to lean in and treat baseball like fans do.”

Ahmed Fareed, MLB Sunday Leadoff host and in-game reporter was part of the game. He was joined by Bally Sports Detroit analyst Craig Monroe and NBC Sports’ Britney Eurton.

“One of our goals for the Peacock game has been to celebrate the game and the players and everything that makes the sport special. So, for this game that kind of gives us an opportunity to celebrate everything that makes baseball special off the field,” Fareed said.

Reaction to the stunt was mixed on social media. 

Those that did not enjoy the broadcast seemed to be turned off by the fact they couldn’t do what they normally do when watching a game. 

Other viewers weren’t fans of the reporters and who they were interviewing, instead of focusing on the baseball game. 

Some just didn’t seem overly impressed by the production, even if they didn’t realize the whole game would be without announcers. 

There were those that enjoyed the broadcast and liked the way the game ‘breathed’ with only the natural sounds of the game shining through. 

Others that were fans of the ‘experiment’ pointed out that the lack of constant talking was soothing. 

There were also viewers that felt like they were being taken behind the scenes, which was enjoyable for some. 

This is not the first time a network has tried the shtick, for lack of a better word. 

TNT attempted “players only” broadcasts a few years ago, experimenting with NBA alumni on the game broadcasts instead of a traditional play-by-play and analyst set up. The idea was to let those who once played, talk about those that are currently playing. It didn’t work. 

Late in the 1980 NFL season, NBC was looking for something to bring in some fans for a Dolphins/Jets game in Miami, so they went the ‘no announcer’ route. The plan was to have the PA announcer give a little more information after each play to help viewers on the telecast. The rest was just fan reaction at the old Orange Bowl. It was successful in bringing in curious viewers, but not something NBC deemed sustainable. 

It was the brain child of Don Ohlmeyer. He was the first producer of Monday Night Football, produced and directed three Olympics broadcasts, won 16 Emmy awards and is a member of the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. Yet, that broadcaster-less game continues to follow him.

“All the stuff I’ve done in my career,” Ohlmeyer told ESPN in 2010, “and that’s what I’m going to be remembered for. It serves me right.”

One lesser motivation for Ohlmeyer in presenting a game without announcers was reportedly to send a message that he thought announcers talked too much during telecasts, sometimes speaking less to inform than to fill space with the obvious. He felt that intruded on compelling action.

The late Dick Enberg was the top football announcer back then, and while nervous that the game would be a success, he did learn a few things. He spoke to ESPN in a 2010 interview that the experiment helped him in the long run. 

“It improved me. Consciously, to this day, there are moments in every sport that I do when I kind of throw up my hands as if to say to myself and to my partner, ‘Let’s not talk. This moment is special, we don’t need to talk. Let’s let it play.’” That is a good lesson even today. Allow the game to breathe. 

Look, you already know where I stand on this, but let me make a case. I’m not exactly sure how no announcers on a broadcast really serves an audience. To me it’s quite the opposite. Many people have the telecast on, but aren’t paying attention to every pitch and count on the announcers to let them know what’s going on.

If you start watching in the bottom of the fourth inning and it’s a 3-2 ballgame, how did the game get to this point? There’s nobody there to recap it for you. Graphics only can say so much. 

Along those lines, there’s no explanation of confusing or controversial plays. How can such plays or instances be clarified? 

Part of what I enjoy about doing play-by-play and hearing when I’m watching a telecast are the interesting back stories. The trials and tribulations of the 30-year-old rookie finally getting a shot at the big-league level. I want to hear about a pitcher developing a cutter in the offseason to help his cause. It feels kind of empty when an opportunity to share good information is wasted because nobody is in the booth. 

Perhaps the biggest issue I have is there’s nobody there to set the scene, or to build drama in key moments. Those big sequences in a game need a play-by-play announcer to let you know just how important this situation is to the game. The telecast needs the words to support the picture and stress the enormity of what is happening at that time. It falls flat without it. 

In some ways, I’d like to encourage more networks to try this, because they will help to prove my point even more. These ‘gimmicky’ telecasts, just reinforce what some of us see as normal and necessary. We need the play-by-play and analysis to make the broadcast complete. 

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Barrett Media Writers

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