Positivity rules the roost when you talk about Bulls radio play-by-play man Chuck Swirsky. He manages to keep himself energized and real in a business that sometimes forces people into just the opposite frame of mind. “The Swirsk” as he was nicknamed in 1981 has been at it for a little over 40 years and has loved every minute of it. Making his mark in Chicago, Swirsky then moved to Detroit, followed by a trip to Toronto and then, eventually back to where it all started.
Swirsky has done radio, TV and even some PA announcing along the way. He’s been the voice of the Raptors, Michigan basketball, DePaul basketball and now the Bulls. He’s even filled in on White Sox television broadcasts. Swirsky has come a long way since making his debut on Chicago airwaves back in 1979, when he hosted a nightly sports show on WCFL (AM 1000), which wasn’t all that common place at the time. He was able to build a rapport with the rabid Chicago fan base.
During this interesting NBA season, Swirsky has been busy, though not traveling as has been the case with many sports this pandemic. Swirsky was kind enough to spend a few minutes with me this week. We touched on a number of different subjects.
Andy Masur: What has this been like doing basketball games during a pandemic?
Chuck Swirsky: Broadcasting a basketball game during a pandemic is like no other experience I have ever encountered. The raw emotion of the crowd is missed. The vibe isn’t there. I give our game operations staff major praise for creating and organically infusing energy at the United Center, but the fans truly make the sport. Other than viewing Zoom conversations, I have no one-on-one contact with front office, coaching staff members or players. We rely so much on relationships to drive the narrative and by nature I’m a people person; without acquiring nuggets of information the broadcast suffers.
Having said all this, I will never ever complain about the challenges I encounter. It’s an honor and privilege broadcasting NBA basketball. I have never taken one game for granted. In fact, I’ve grown, and in selected areas, I have become a better communicator.
AM: Prep evolves over time as well, is it easier to prep with technology that we have today or is it tougher with more info available?
CS: There are outstanding services that prepare intel/info sheets for broadcasters to use on game nights. I don’t subscribe to any of them. I’ve never paid one cent for info. I am totally old school. I do hours upon hours of prep work. I watch the Bulls opponent’s previous three games. Prior to COVID, I spend hours of time with players, coaches, front office staff to create a base of information, and trust.
The Internet is wonderful. NBA League Pass is incredible. No question, I’m a better communicator to our audience because of increased technology. Yes, there is an overload of information but I’ll gladly take that instead of the other option. But I will remind broadcasters that you still have to stay focused and locked in. Never allow someone else to do your work.
AM: After being in the business as long as you have, how have you been able to maintain the energy night in and night out?
CS: I still maintain the same enthusiasm and energy I had 40 years ago. That’s the truth. I love my job and love people. I’m not jaded. I try and maintain a balanced diet, although if you ask my wife, Ann, she will quickly tell you I love desserts and gummy bears. I plead guilty on both counts, but I do get workouts in. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls ball until the day they tell me to take my Spalding and go home.
AM: If you think about it, your career has come full circle. You started in Chicago and you’re back after a few stops in between. You had one of the first sports talk shows in town on the former WCFL (now ESPN 1000), what was that like during the late 70’s?
CS: In August of 1979, I hosted the city’s first nightly sports talk show. It aired 7-11 PM. WCFL Radio was purchased by the Mutual Broadcasting System and we called ourselves “Mutual CFL.” We were the lowest rated 50-thousand watts station in American broadcast history. We had blank pages for logs. Zero commercial inventory. Any PSA content our traffic department received we immediately played on the air that night. But being 25 at the time, I was energized and thrilled to be in Chicago.
In fact, I actually took a pay cut to accept the job at Mutual CFL. I had been hosting a sports talk show on WBNS in Columbus. Because we were the only nightly sports talk show on the air in Chicago a number of players, coaches and front office executives listened and shared information with me; some for release on the air, some just private intel. Either way, I was able to establish a trust factor with those in the know and I was extremely fortunate.
AM: Do you consider yourself a pioneer in that genre?
CS: Do I consider myself a pioneer in that genre? Andy, I’ll say this, I consider myself very, very fortunate that Mutual CFL gave me the chance to walk in the door, sit in a chair Monday to Friday and talk sports. At first, I was way over my head. I was intimidated and overwhelmed, but my boss, the late Orrin McDaniels, kept encouraging me and it paid off. I received a huge boost from the most influential radio-television critic in the country, Gary Deeb of the Tribune and Sun Times, who wrote a number of positive articles about me (and trust me, everyone in the industry read Gary Deeb). His endorsement of my work helped solidify my standing in Chicago.
My take on sports talk radio is this: I bring knowledge, the ability to listen, passion and communication with the ability of offering strong opinions without crossing the line of a personal code of morals and ethics.
AM: Off the air, your Twitter account (@ctsbulls) is filled with uplifting messages daily. Are these things that just come to you or were they things your mentors told you? Where do they come from?
CS: This is something I initiated a few years ago. There is too much negativity in the world. Social media is full of land mines, full of hatred, jealousy and envy where people can hide their names behind a cloak of secrecy all while destroying someone’s character. I decided enough is enough. I am a positive person.
Life is not a straight line. We have ups and downs. Joys and hardships. I’ve been rejected many times in the radio-tv business. It’s not a good feeling and it hurts. I am sensitive, at times too sensitive. But we must keep persevering. I want to be an encourager, a listener, a support system to those who need direction and guidance.
I am not a clinical professional therapist. I’m just a flawed man trying to be better today than yesterday. I was blessed to grow up in a loving home. My parents were the best. My father was a decorated United States Naval officer who passed away suddenly when I was in the sixth grade. I learned so much from him even as a kid. His work ethic was off the charts and he was a perfectionist and demanded the same from me. My Mom was a school teacher and was the most selfless human being I have ever encountered. Both of my parents died young and I dedicated myself to honoring their memory through being kind, considerate, compassionate, empathetic, sincere and well mannered.
I had great mentors ranging from Vince Bagli (WBAL-TV Baltimore), Ernie Harwell (Tigers broadcaster), Joe Tait (Cleveland Cavaliers/Indians), and Pete Gross (Seattle Seahawks). I want to encourage, inspire, and lift others up, not only in our industry, but life in general.
AM: Last one for you, I have to know, where did your Bulls victory dance come from and how did it start?
CS: The Bulls victory dance came out of the blue. Following a Bulls win I was dancing and our engineer Rich Wyatt taped it and posted the video…the next thing I knew, thousands were watching it, and it went viral. Life is short and I want to have fun. I love the Bulls and love my job, so I decided to do a brief victory dance after every Bulls win which we post after the game. I need to learn more dance moves. If you don’t believe me just ask my wife!
Luckily for Swirsky he’s had the opportunity to “dance” a lot this season with the Bulls winning some games. His moves are also available on his Twitter account for you to check out. Swirsky is a great follow.
Swirsky is an accomplished broadcaster, having been inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 2016. In May 2018 he was elected to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and to the WGN Radio Walk of Fame.
Keeping Premier League Games Shouldn’t Be A Hard Call For NBC
“Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans.”
NBC Sports is facing some tough, costly decisions that will define its sports brand for the rest of this decade. A chance to connect with viewers in a changing climate and grow Peacock’s audience as well. However, making the right choice is paramount to not losing to apps like Paramount+ (pun intended).
NBC is currently in the business of negotiating to continue airing the Premier League as their current deal ends after this 2021-2022 season. NASCAR is contracted to NBC (and FOX) through the 2024 season.
NBC’s tentpole sports are the NFL and the Olympics.
Negotiations for the EPL are expected to go down to the wire. Rather than re-up with NBC, the league is meeting with other networks to drive up the price. NBC has to then make a decision if the rights go north of $2 billion.
Should NBC spend that much on a sport that is not played in the United States? It’s not my money, but that sport continues to grow in the US.
If NBC re-ups with the Premier League, will that leave any coins in the cupboard to re-up with NASCAR? Comcast CEO Brian Roberts hinted that there might be some penny pinching as the prices continue to soar. This may have been one of the reasons that NBC did not fight to keep the National Hockey League, whose rights will be with Disney and WarnerMedia through ESPN and TNT, respectively.
“These are really hard calls,” Roberts said. “You don’t always want to prevail, and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I think the sustainability of sports is a critical part of what our company does well.”
Roberts was speaking virtually at the recent Goldman Sachs 30th Annual Communacopia Conference. He told the audience that between NBC and European network Sky, that Comcast has allocated approximately $20 billion towards these sports properties.
Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh spoke virtually at the Bank of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference and echoed that the company is in a good position to make some strong choices in the sports realm.
“The bar is really high for us to pursue outright acquisitions of any material size,” Cavanagh added. “We got a great hand to play with what we have.”
While the European investments involve a partnership with American rival Viacom, the US market seems to have apparent limits.
Last Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol Motor Speedway was seen by around 2.19 million people. It was the most-watched motorsports event of the weekend. That same week eight different Premier League matches saw over 1 million viewers. More than half of those matches were on subscription-based Peacock.
Beyond its massive global fanbase, the Premier League offers NBC/Peacock a unique modern 21st-century sport for the short attention span of fans. A game of typical soccer fan is used to a sport that is less than two hours long. The investment in a team is one or two games a week.
My connection to the Premier League began before the pandemic. When I cut the cord in late 2017, I purchase Apple TV. Setting it up, it asks you to name your favorite teams. After clicking on the Syracuse Orange and the New Jersey Devils, I recalled that my wife has family based in London, England. They are season ticket holders for Arsenal, and that family redefined the word “die-hard” fans.
I’ve long been a believer that sports allegiances are best when handed down by family. I love hearing stories of people loving the New York Giants because their parents liked them, and they pass it down to their children.
I’ve successfully given my allegiance to the Devils to my young daughters.
By telling Apple TV that I liked Arsenal, I get alerts from three different apps when the “Gunners” are playing. The $4.99 is totally worth it to see Arsenal.
Whenever I told this story, I was amazed to see how many other American sports fans had a Premier League team. Students of mine at Seton Hall University rooted for Tottenham Hotspurs, while an old colleague cheers on Chelsea.
This is not meant to say that NBC should sign the EPL on my account. The key for any US-based soccer fan is that between Bundesliga, Serie A, and other leagues, there will be no shortage of soccer available on both linear television and streaming services.
Besides, Dani Rojas did say that “Football is life.” NBC, originator of the Ted Lasso character, should make keeping its Premier League US connection a priority.
Media Noise – Episode 45
Today, Demetri is joined by Tyler McComas and Russ Heltman. Tyler pops on to talk about the big start to the college football season on TV. Russ talks about Barstool’s upfront presentation and how the business community may not see any problems in working with the brand. Plus, Demetri is optimistic about FOX Sports Radio’s new morning show.
6 Ad Categories Hotter Than Gambling For Sports Radio
“Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life.”
For years sports radio stations pushed sports gambling advertisers to early Saturday and Sunday morning. The 1-800 ads, shouting, and false claims were seedy, and some stations wouldn’t even accept the business at 5 am on Sunday.
Now, with all but ten states ready to go all in on sports gambling, sports radio stations can’t get enough of that green. Demetri Ravanos wrote about the money cannon that sports gambling has become for stations. Well, what if you are in one of those ten states where it isn’t likely to ever be legal like California or Texas? Where is your pot of gold?
Or, let’s face it, the more gambling ads you run, the more risk you take on that the ads will not all work as you cannibalize the audience and chase other listeners away who ARE NOT online gambling service users and never will be. So, what about you? Where is your pot of gold?
Well, let’s go Digging for Gold.
The RAB produces the MRI-Simmons Gold Digger PROSPECTING REPORT for several radio formats. In it, they index sports radio listeners’ habits against an average of 18+ Adult. The Gold Digger report looks at areas where the index is higher than the norm – meaning the sports radio audience is more likely to use the product or service than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. The report, generated in 2020, indicates that sports radio listeners are 106% more likely to have used an online gambling site in the last thirty days. That’s impressive because the report only lists 32 activities or purchases a sports radio listener indexes higher than an average adult. I looked at those 32 higher indexes, and I think we can start looking for some gold.
Using sports radio as a back page service for gambling will have a limited shelf life. The gambling companies who commit significant money to get results will continue advertising and chase the others away. So, the future of sports radio needs to include other cash cows.
If it is evident to online sports gambling services that sports radio stations are a must-buy, who else should feel that way? I looked at the Top 32 and eliminated the media companies. ESPN, MLB/NHL/NFL networks, and others aren’t spending cash on sports radio stations they don’t own in general. But Joseph A Bank clothing, Fidelity, and Hotwire should! Here’s your PICK-6 list I pulled together that’s hotter than sports gambling:
- Sportscard collectors, Dapper Labs, Open Sea- read about Sports NFT $.
- Online brokerage firms-Fidelity, Charles Schwab, Robinhood, Webull, TD Ameritrade
- Golf courses, resorts, equipment, etc.- we play golf at home and vacation
- Hotwire.com, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Airbnb, Carnival Corporation, and Priceline.com- we’ve used Hotwire in the last year.
- FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, Venmo, PayPal, Zelle-we wired or overnighted $
- Jos. A. Bank, shein.com, macys.com, nordstroms.com- we went to Jos. A. Bank in last three months
The sports card/NFT market is 32% hotter than the sports betting market for sports radio listeners. Everything on the PICK-6 is at least 100% more likely to purchase than an average 18+ Adult who doesn’t listen to sports radio. All listed are at or above indexing strength compared to sports betting. The individual companies I added are industry leaders. Bet on it! Email me for details.
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