There is a reason we don’t associate the city of Houston, Texas with freezing temperatures and winter storm conditions. It typically doesn’t come close to resembling Antarctica in H-Town.
Well, things changed in a dramatic way last week as the city was ravaged by a storm that left millions of people without power or water for days. The focus shifted from the future of quarterback Deshaun Watson to simply finding ways to stay warm and eat.
SportsRadio 610 program director Armen Williams describes the week in specific detail. He tells some remarkable stories about how his staff worked through the storm. They basically double as the SWAT team of sports radio. I think Sean Pendergast might be on the 2022 US Olympic Cross Country Team and my money is on John Lopez continuing to broadcast through the Apocalypse.
Armen also talks about how the community rallied together — even during a pandemic — to help each other out. SportsRadio 610 provided some much-needed support for Kids’ Meals Houston. It isn’t a surprise that Entercom Houston was able to assist considering its Community Impact Report states they helped raise over $18 million dollars for the area in 2020. The tales of one wild week are below. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Did your station lose power or go off the air at all?
Armen Williams: No, our engineering team at Entercom Houston is incredible. They always rise to the occasion during crisis and this one was no different. All of our stations were on the air the entire time during the storm. We have a backup generator and we never lost power at the radio station.
BN: Was that rare in the area?
AW: You know, I don’t know. I was so focused on my own station. I heard of other stations going off the air for a couple of days, but I haven’t confirmed it. We were just so focused on trying to stay on and take care of our own staff that I’m not really sure honestly what the radio landscape across the board looked like during those few days.
BN: For anybody that doesn’t live in that area, how would you describe what the weather crisis was like for Houston?
AW: They’re calling it the worst winter storm this area has seen since ’89, maybe ‘82. It’s the coldest, iciest winter storm we’ve had in over 30 years. The city and this area just aren’t made for that. Our houses aren’t built for that. We’re just not equipped to withstand that. As a program director, my number one goal during these times is to make sure that we’re on the air and putting together a good product. But in a rare time like this — there was a moment maybe Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning — I flipped the script. I thought to myself for one of the first times in my career, the on-air content today is not my top priority. I’ve got to make sure that all of my employees are staying warm, have a roof over their head, have food to eat, and if they don’t, how do I get somebody to them?
Probably by Tuesday afternoon, we had the majority of our employees without power, most of them without water. Only one person on our SportsRadio 610 staff had electricity throughout. Everyone including myself lost it at some point whether it was for one day or four days. We got to a point where it was just more important to make sure that everyone was in a spot that was safe and sustainable for the week.
One of our guys has three young kids — six and under — and they didn’t have power or water for four days. Our focus is turning to people like that. I’ve got to tell you that the listener behavior reflected that too. Monday was Presidents’ Day and on a national holiday you always have minimal listening. Tuesday, according to streaming numbers, was comparable if not lower than Monday and it kept going down until late in the week. That tells you too that the entire city wasn’t worried about whether or not their local sports station had a signal. The entire city was all in survival mode trying to take care of their families just like we were.
You’re taking your family and you’re all sleeping in your bed together just to help each other stay warm. You’re all going downstairs to the fireplace and everyone is just sitting around the fireplace for hours and hours, for days and days, until the power comes back on. You’re trying to find whatever non-perishable goods you might have in your pantry because at that time we couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t even pull out of our driveways, most of us, because they were iced all the way down.
BN: Who were some of the people from your station that were in a bad spot due to the weather?
AW: I am just so proud of the effort that the guys put into wanting to keep the radio station on for the community of Houston for those that were able to listen. Sean Pendergast in the mornings walked over two miles each way in weather below 20 degrees. He busted out his old ski jacket. He was walking in starting around four in the morning. The power is out, so it’s pitch-dark outside. The sidewalks are iced over so he’s literally walking in the middle of the road to get in. Landry Locker in middays did the same thing; walking in and out both ways for two or three days.
John Lopez on In The Loop — our midday show — this guy is incredible. He set up a generator at his house. During his show instead of powering his house, he used it to power his comrex so that he could stay on the air from his home. Literally during the show the upstairs pipe in his bathroom exploded. You could hear it in the background and the water busted through the ceiling and was flowing into his living room. He put his comrex on mute, told his wife where to go turn off the main water valve, unmuted himself and stayed on the air until the show was over. He didn’t go fix the pipe until after the show.
AW: If you want to talk about a professional radio savant, I don’t know how he did that. That was absolutely incredible to witness. I’m texting him going, ‘Dude get off the air.’ And he kept telling me, ‘No, I’m doing the rest of the show.’ I’ve just never seen the type of professionalism from these guys that they showed last week. Ron “The Show” Hughley, he didn’t have power for four days. He has three kids under the age of six. He’s been in the state of Texas for about a year now and they had the same story that many people had where they showed up at the hotel they had booked — the only one they could find — and their power went out as soon as they got there.
One of our producers, Tyler, didn’t have power for three or four days. One of our producers, Figgy, lived at the radio station during the week. He brought his wife up and his dog and lived at the radio station just so that he could keep us on the air. He worked through the majority of those days just to keep us on the air, producing multiple shows every single day during the week. There were definitely some unsung heroes, man, that did some pretty powerful things and have some great stories to tell.
When you asked the best way to put it in perspective for you, our country station put a poll up on Twitter and asked which was worse for you, Hurricane Harvey or this winter storm? Sixty-five percent of the people said this winter storm was worse than Hurricane Harvey. That puts it in perspective just how devastating it was during that time to not have power and water for the majority of Houston.
BN: Wow, man. That’s wild. Are things pretty much back to normal now?
AW: Yeah. Friday was the first day that we had the full staff back. The majority of people who didn’t have water were starting to be able to take showers again on Friday. Then today you’re seeing listenership not quite be back to 100 percent, but for the first time in over a week, it’s almost there and it’s dramatically on the up. There’s no more ice on the ground. I would say nearly, if not 100 percent, of Houston has power. Most everyone has water back. There are some people just depending on availability of plumbers and where you’re located that are still working on getting their water back. But as far as our staff, it appears that we’re 100 percent back in working order.
BN: In terms of how the station sounded during that time, what direction did you give the staff as far as what to talk about?
AW: We built a clear mission statement as to who we are and what we want to be every single segment and every single minute and every single second. These guys in moments like this when it’s very fluid, they can still lean back on their mission statement and they know the direction of the content that we should project. But we did have conversations before each show during the week where I just reminded them, listen, your power and your water is out. It was a struggle for you just to find the microphone today, and you should tell that story because the majority of your audience is feeling the same way. Don’t ignore it, lean into it. Lean into the community. Let them know that we’re here for them. Let them know that if we can be an escape just for a little bit today, we want to do that. If there’s any way that we can help, shoot us a text to let us know what’s going on in your area, in your community. We definitely designated a large part of the content to that last week because everyone was going through it and it’s so rare where a phenomenon like this happened, but one of them definitely happened last week.
BN: To go from real life stuff to, “Hey, so JJ Watt and Deshaun Watson.” Was it awkward at all to turn the conversation back to sports during that time?
AW: No, because they’re so good at what they do, right? These guys, they are members of the community and so they have such a great feel of how much sports talk, how much Texans, Rockets, Astros talk Houston could handle, want to handle, or listen to during a time where everyone’s struggling. They did a really fantastic job of transitioning back and forth. It didn’t feel off because it’s just who we are.
We’ve had our ratings successes over the last two years because we have defined ourselves to the listener of what they can expect every time they come in regardless of the situation. They stuck true to that and for that reason I don’t think the listener found it odd at all. Ideally they found it welcoming, warming, and it was an escape in those moments. Again, the guys balanced it really well with talking about their own situations. Also giving some public service announcements of the local facilities that had opened themselves up if people were struggling to find a warm place to stay. They did a great job of balancing those things out.
BN: Do you guys have any charity efforts going on?
AW: Yeah, our market manager is Sarah Frazier. She’s one of the most tied in leaders to the community that I’ve ever seen. She already had her finger on the pulse and even by Thursday night when Houston was still mostly without electricity, she had targeted a nonprofit called Kids’ Meals Houston. They lost their entire food pantry with the electricity being out. They feed thousands of kids — six years old and under — every single day of the week. Without having any of their food, losing all of it last week, they’re in desperate need because kids in our Houston community were instantly going hungry.
Starting Friday morning we got together and all of our radio stations were running promos and digital advertisements letting everyone know how they can help make sure that we don’t have young kids in our community go hungry during this time.
BN: Did you, or have you ever, worked with local teams to get a charity event going?
AW: I have before. In this case it was really hard to communicate with people, Noe. When the power went out, cell phone coverage also went out and towers were down the majority of the time. I think there was a feeling of how can we as a team, with our eight to nine stations in the building, impact Houston in the quickest way possible, because it’s all about immediacy. These kids don’t have anything to eat right now. In this case it made the most sense to use our resources in house, not waste any time trying to get ahold of people to coordinate, and we just did our thing.
To your point, so did the local teams as well. They did their own advocacies as well. A lot of them actually mimicked and did things similar to Kids’ Meals and helped out Kids’ Meals as well. I think it’s also pretty neat when everybody does their own movements and then we can impact Houston in a wider and greater way as well.
BN: Coming from Albany and Denver, what’s the closest thing you can compare the storm to in terms of some wild scenario that was on your hands?
AW: I personally have never experienced anything like this. Everyone here compared it to Hurricane Harvey, but they said that this is even more different than a hurricane because more people were out of power and water longer than you normally are during a hurricane. Everyone here just talked about how they knew how to handle hurricanes, but they didn’t know how to handle this. I guess there’s been some winter storms in Albany and Denver that’s impacted the commute. I’ve spent the night at some radio stations when that happened, but the vast amount of houses that lost power and water in the city, I’ve never seen or experienced anything like that anywhere I’ve been. Pretty bizarre.
BN: Maybe the winter storm is a little like COVID where overall the situation sucks, but there’s some good that comes from it. What are some of the good things that came from the storm for your station?
AW: It’s another reminder even during the pandemic of our lifetime that we can come together as a community and we can help others. There are countless stories across Houston, across the state, across the country, of people helping complete strangers. You saw that in my neighborhood. I had neighbors knocking on doors of people they didn’t know and making sure that there weren’t any elderly, kids, or pets that needed warmth or comfort or food for that night.
It just brings us together as a society and maybe even more so during a time where we’ve had a year where we’ve been forced to separate. To see people mask up and operate without fear and go help other people; we feel it in the city of Houston. Today we are mentioning three to four times an hour asking for people to help us with Kids’ Meals Houston and the response has been incredible. We’ve had listeners put together hundreds of sack lunches for these kids at their house.
One of my hosts went to the grocery store and ran into listeners on the same aisle buying food for these kids. They bonded, they hugged, they took a picture together. It’s this moment that brought us all together. You’re right; we have to be better for it, or we’re going to drive ourselves insane. We’ve gotten closer. Also for the dozen people who spent several nights together at the radio station, they’re going to have stories to tell for the rest of their lives and memories of how they kept our radio stations on the air for all of Houston during that time. They should be prideful of that. The stories of individuals who did the same things during Hurricane Harvey, those stories still live today, and the stories that we have from last week will do the same thing.
Julian Edelman Has Been FOX’s NFL Breakout Star
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments.
He was a key member of the NFL’s last true dynasty, a children’s book author, a regular talking head on NFL Network’s America’s Game anthology, an actor in the film 80 for Brady, and a multimedia favorite. And oh yeah, he is third all-time in the NFL for postseason receptions and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII. He is Julian Edelman.
These days he answers to a new calling – a rising star on FOX’s excellent NFL commentator roster. Edelman, who retired in 2020 after 12 seasons as a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, has logged impressive recent stints on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
Edelman has been an unexpected jewel in FOX’s football crown, providing behind-the-scenes, players-only insight in a casual and humorous style. On a recent edition of The Herd, Edelman’s talent was on full display.
In a discussion about Patriots’ signal caller Mac Jones, Cowherd implied that it would have been easier for the Alabama QB if he had gone to a less intense environment with an offensive-minded head coach.
Edelman countered by referencing Josh Dobbs, who played great in his first start for the Vikings after being with the team for just a couple of days. Edelman stated, “If you’re a guy, you’re a guy,” meaning that good players adapt to any situation. He added, “This is the National Football League. If you don’t win, the quarterback and the head coach get the blame. This is a production business.”
One of the refreshing aspects of Edelman’s TV game is his candor. He was deeply rooted in the Patriot Way and benefitted from all it offered him, but he pulls no punches in talking about his former team.
He does not buy into the excuse that Mac Jones has had three different offensive coordinators in his three NFL seasons. Edelman stated that ex-Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ and current OC Bill O’Brien’s offensive schemes are essentially identical.
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments. He uses his strong connections to Tom Brady and other members of the NFL’s glitterati to his advantage, but he is not violating these friendships with kiss-and-tell BS.
In his young broadcasting career, Edelman has also embraced a rare quality among media personalities, namely, the courage to admit when he is wrong. He recently stated that he thought Texans’ quarterback CJ Stroud was going to be just another failed Ohio State quarterback joining the likes of Cardale Jones, Terrell Pryor, Troy Smith, and the late Dwayne Haskins.
Julian Edelman acknowledged his error and lauded Stroud for his performance and the Houston offensive staff for keeping it simple and allowing Stroud to flourish. He then made an accurate comparison between Stroud and Dak Prescott who had a similarly amazing rookie season in 2016. He also revealed that he and Tom Brady would sit and watch Prescott play during that season and marveled at his performance.
Such neat revelations have become commonplace for Edelman who also told Cowherd that Bill Belichick had different rules for different players. This goes against the accepted theory that Belichick coached all his players the same.
When asked about good and bad locker rooms, Edelman revealed that the 2009 Patriots had some “a-holes” on the team, “guys who had a lot of money and acted like they had a lot of money.”
He also regaled Cowherd with a funny story about former teammate and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi. During his rookie season, Edelman made repeated contact with Bruschi during a team drill. After the play, Bruschi got in Edelman’s face and said, “If you ever touch me again, I’ll cut your arm off, Rook!”
In a subsequent discussion, Edelman was asked about how NFL players view Thursday night games. He said that the goal for players is to just get through the game and try to get the win. He called having a Thursday night game a “baby bye week” because of the extra prep time gained for the next week. Baby bye week – new lingo from a new age analyst.
Speaking of language, Julian Edelman may have created another new football term. He called the NFL games after Thanksgiving “cream season,” when the cream rises to the top and when football season truly starts. Edelman told Cowherd that this is when coaches raise the intensity in the building.
A week later, Edelman was a panelist on FOX’s NFL Kickoff. It was clear that the show’s producers and host Charissa Thompson were tuned into Edelman’s Herd appearance as they made his cream season line a theme of discussion.
Edelman picked the Ravens and Niners as his current cream teams and entertained Thompson and his fellow panelists with a few dairy-related puns. He was funny, saying that both these teams could end up becoming butter teams – even better than cream.
Edelman is unafraid to ruffle feathers, even if those feathers reside in Foxboro, MA. In discussing last week’s Patriots-Giants game, he boldly tweeted and stated on NFL Kickoff that the Patriots would be better off losing that game in order to get a better 2024 draft position.
If Julian Edelman has any flaws, it is that at times his analysis RPMs run into the red. In his discussion of last week’s crucial Jaguars-Texans game, he was visibly pumped up and spoke far too quickly even stumbling on some commentary. He recovered well and simply needs to slow down, trust his knowledge, and calculate his pace.
Edelman has made such an immediate impact that NFL Kickoff has even given him his own segment. It is called “The Nest” and his based on his children’s book Flying High, the story of Jules, a football-playing squirrel who is small in stature but big on heart and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?
Julian Edelman was joined in the nest by panelists Charles Woodson and Peter Schrager and provided a pretty cool analysis of current NFL wide receivers. He based his opinions on four attributes: sociability, aggressiveness, activity level, and boldness. Along the way, Edelman provide some unique commentary on the likes of Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, A.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs.
There is a rhythm to Edelman’s conversation. He is comfortable with his career, comfortable with himself, and comfortable on air. As a player, Julian Edelman was an unexpected star, a guy who parlayed personality, hard work, and hustle into a fantastic career. He is doing the same in media dishing out knowledge his way – brash, all-out, and with total abandon.
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
Mike Breen is Ready For Whatever The NBA Season Brings
“I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
Every time a new basketball season is on the precipice, there is a certain kind of enigma that permeates the landscape. Although he has been on basketball broadcasts for nearly three decades, Mike Breen still feels added nerves before donning the headset to call the NBA Finals. Last season, ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice called the 100th NBA Finals game of his broadcast career. In doing so, Breen became just the third basketball announcer on radio or television to attain such a feat.
When he first joined the broadcasts on ABC in 2006, Breen was stepping into the play-by-play role previously held by Al Michaels, working alongside color commentator Hubie Brown. He never could have imagined that the conclusion of the 2023-24 season would mark his 19th time calling the best-of-seven championship series and attributes his success to the people around him.
“There’s not a stage anywhere in the world big enough to hold that many people because that’s how many people have really been there for me and supported me and guided me and at times chastised me because you need people to always tell you the truth,” Breen said. “I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
For the last 18 NBA Finals broadcasts, Breen has worked alongside color commentator Jeff Van Gundy, a former head coach of the New York Knicks. Mark Jackson served as a color commentator as well for 15 of these series, taking a three-year detour to work as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. The broadcast trio was widely regarded as one of the best in basketball and frequently lauded for the strong chemistry they possessed on the air. Over the offseason though, Van Gundy and Jackson were laid off by ESPN as a part of cost-cutting measures by The Walt Disney Company. The decision disappointed Breen because of the bond he and his colleagues fostered and shared.
“We spent so much time together and we felt we had something special, and we were hoping that it was going to last longer, but nothing in this business lasts forever and that’s part of the business, and you have to figure that out and you move on,” Breen said. “Now the way I look at it is I’m just so grateful and honored that I had all that time sitting next to those two for so many big games over the years, but it’s hard when it ends.”
Breen is currently working with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers on ESPN’s lead NBA broadcast team. Broadcasting the NBA Finals, let alone sporting events as a whole, was never in his mind though; that is, until he was told by family friend and former New York Tech radio staffer Tony Minecola to consider going into the industry as a sportscaster.
Recognizing that he would not succeed as a professional athlete because of a lack of skill or as a doctor because of a lack of passion, Breen chose to major in broadcast journalism at Fordham University, immediately joining the campus radio station. Over his four years matriculating at the institution, he prioritized versatility and contributed to sports, news, talk and music programming.
“When you leave college and you have tape résumés and experience of being on the air on a live 50,000-watt station, it really gives you a great perspective of what it’s like to be in the business,” Breen said. “It’s kind of a great way to figure out, ‘Okay, is this something you like? Is this something you have a chance to be good at?’”
Ed Ingles, the former sports director of WCBS 880, helped instantiate that mindset for Breen when he interned with him during his days in college. Aside from his delivery, Breen took notice of how he interacted with his colleagues and other people in the industry, always demonstrating professionalism and kindness. Ingles advised Breen to get out of his comfort zone, which proved to be invaluable when Breen started his first job out of school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. at WEOK-AM/WPDH-FM.
In his first year with the outlet, he would frequently attend school board meetings and county legislative sessions in order to collect 45 seconds of sound for the morning anchor to use on their program. Whereas at a sporting event, the game is oftentimes the primary story, Breen had to review the agenda and listen to the meeting to have an understanding of what is essential to the story.
“If you can cover a school board meeting that you know nothing about and do a good job on it, then you can certainly cover an NBA basketball game and figure out the storylines and the narratives and all those types of things,” Breen said. “It really made me a better sportscaster. I wasn’t just a sportscaster; I was a broadcaster.”
Breen eventually began calling Dutchess County High School basketball games and serving as an analyst on Marist College basketball broadcasts, all while working as the morning news anchor for the radio outlet. In balancing various different roles at once, Breen found himself on the air for six days a week for an entire year. The strenuous workload allowed him to enhance his skillset and ingenuity and have the confidence that he could make a career in the profession.
Through a connection he had with a classmate at Fordham University, Breen landed a part-time producing job on Jack Spector’s sports talk program, SportsNight, on WNBC. The commitment was initially for one day per week, but as Breen’s workload at the outlet increased, he was able to leave Poughkeepsie and focus on working in New York City. There was a dearth of sports talk programming at the time; that is until the summer of 1987 when WFAN launched on 1050 AM and introduced a new format to the medium.
“We were all sitting around the radio at WNBC thinking, ‘Okay, here comes our competition on the air,’” Breen remembered. “We were laughing, saying, ‘Oh, this is never going to make it. There’s no way this is going to make it,’ and it turns out that it was just the start of something that would completely change the radio industry.”
Ironically enough, WFAN moved to WNBC’s 660 AM frequency when General Electric sold several of its stations to Emmis Communications as part of a multi-station deal. Even though the station had transitioned to a new format, Don Imus kept his morning show on the airwaves, which Breen had been a part of starting a year earlier. His segments were filled with sound effects and jokes, giving him exposure within the marketplace and allowing him to penetrate beyond his comfort zone of traditional sports broadcasting and reporting.
“It wasn’t just your normal sports update,” Breen said. “It was something where you had to use your personality; you had to use your sense of humor [and] you had to use your writing skills, and it showed a little versatility and that was important.”
MSG Networks hired Breen in 1992 as the New York Knicks radio play-by-play announcer, and he assimilated into the role while keeping his spot on Imus in the Morning. In addition to adjusting to the pace of the NBA, he also refined his approach to calling games on the radio as opposed to television. Throughout this process, Breen thought about Marist play-by-play announcer Dean Darling and how he had called the games when they worked together.
“There are very few people – and there certainly are exceptions – but there are very few people who are instantly really good on the air,” Breen said. “It takes a while to hone your skills to figure out how you want to broadcast things if you have a certain style, and that’s the No. 1 thing is to get repetitions.”
When Marv Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1997, Breen was suddenly promoted to fill the role as the television play-by-play announcer for the team. Having listened to Albert call games for many years growing up, Breen knew the importance of appealing to the local audience in the New York metropolitan area. Many of the local play-by-play announcers in the locale grew up around the city, and he affirms that the knowledge and passion is discernible to consumers. Breen met New York Yankees television play-by-play announcer and ESPN New York radio host Michael Kay, who was a fellow student at Fordham University at the time, and discussed sports and broadcasting with him.
“He would tell me, ‘Oh, I’d love to be the Yankees announcer,’ and I’d say, ‘I’d love to be the Knicks announcer,’ and we would laugh at each other [like] two fools,” Breen said. “But I think because we were both New Yorkers and we both understood the New York fan because we were and still are New York fans, I think perhaps it gave us an edge because we knew what it’s like to live in New York and root for the teams in New York, and I think, or at least I hope, the fans can feel that.”
Albert returned to the Knicks telecast in 2000, prompting Breen to move back to radio broadcasts and work with John Andariese. At the same time, he began doing work for NBC Sports, including calling NBA games with Bill Walton and announcing ski jumping at the Olympic Games. When Albert was removed from the television broadcasts for being too critical of the team, Breen returned to the position and has held the role ever since.
“I tend to be old-school in that my job is to accurately describe what’s going on and also set up my partners and give them space and the lead-ins to make them excel,” Breen said. “The personality stuff, I think that comes – I hate to use the cliché – but it comes organically in terms of you’re doing the game. If something calls for you to react that involves more personality than actually broadcasting, then you do it and you have to find that balance.”
Every time Breen takes the air, he hopes that the consumers are able to see that he is prepared, enamored with the sport and enjoys working alongside his colleagues. From his days on the Knicks’ radio broadcasts, Breen has been paired with Walt “Clyde” Frazier for 25 seasons and understands how venerated the two-time NBA champion is within the city.
As the only member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a broadcaster, Frazier strikes a chord with basketball fans and brings his credibility and proficiency to the airwaves every season. In addition, he always arrives in his signature flamboyant outfits and intersperses astute rhymes to the cadence on the hardwood.
“He’s managed to stay true to who he is, yet develop this unique on-air style that very few people have had, but the bottom line is yeah, there’s style, but there’s so much substance to what he says,” Breen explained,” and I think Knick fans love him because he tells it like it is, but at the same time, you can feel his love for the franchise.”
Since joining the NBA on ESPN broadcast team in 2003, Breen has balanced his local responsibilities with calling games at the national level. Throughout the season, he logs a considerable number of traveling miles and always puts his family first when he is not working. In fact, the reason he stopped calling other sports was not only to recharge over the summer, but also to spend time with his children.
By being absorbed in the NBA during the year, the preparation for the different types of broadcasts often overlaps. One thing he cannot prepare for, however, is the occurrence of a buzzer-beater or game-saving block.
“For me, I’ve always felt at a big moment, less is more for a broadcaster because your voice is not made [for] those high-intensity calls to go for 20 seconds,” Breen said. “Your voice can crack; who knows what else could happen, but when you make a good, strong concise call at a big moment and then let the crowd take over, I think that’s always been, for me, the best way to go.”
Although he derived his signature three-point call of “Bang!” while sitting in the stands at Fordham Rams games as a student, he did not think it worked on the air. But by the time he was calling a weekly high school basketball game for SportsChannel America, he noticed that the maelstrom of amplified sound within the gyms drowned out his voice during consequential moments. As a result, he resorted back to the monosyllabic exclamation and has stuck with it ever since.
“I’ve just been very careful about not overusing it,” Breen said. “I try to save it for big moments because if I was yelling, ‘Bang!,’ on every three-pointer, it would lose its luster, I believe.”
Breen will call NBA games from a new venue next week in Las Vegas, Nevada – T-Mobile Arena – when the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament reaches its conclusion and a champion is crowned. The Association introduced the single-elimination endeavor this year in an effort to further incentivize regular-season play and establish a new tradition.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that these In-Season Tournament games bring out a little extra in the players [and] in the fans, and we’re not even at the knockout round yet and this is only the first year,” Breen said. “….To have this kind of excitement in November and then early December, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Despite the NBA still being in its first half of the season, Breen feels encouraged by the broadcasts he has participated in thus far with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. After all, he had worked with Burke on the first NBA game she ever broadcast and could tell how talented she was. Moreover, he has been friends with Rivers for over 30 years and speculated that he would be a broadcaster when he was finished playing and coaching.
The network’s lead broadcasting team will embark on a new challenge ahead of their first NBA Playoffs working together next Saturday, Dec. 9 when they broadcast the championship game of the NBA In-Season Tournament on ABC at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST.
“It takes a while to get the on-air chemistry, and the three-person booth is not easy for the analyst because they have to figure out a way to still get all their points across with less time, and same thing for me and that’s part of it,” Breen said. “Everybody has to just find their niche, and so far they’ve been great. They’re not only great friends; they’re really talented broadcasters, and I’m really excited about the potential.”
Breen recently signed a four-year contract extension with ESPN that will keep him on the airwaves past the expiration of the network’s current media rights deal with the National Basketball Association. The rationale behind staying with the network had to do with the people at the company, avouching that it is a great place to work and how he is thrilled he will be allowed to stay longer.
“Clearly I’m hoping that they work out a deal and I’m fairly confident they will,” Breen said. “ESPN loves the NBA; the relationship between the league and ESPN has always been wonderful. So I’m rooting hard for them to say ‘Yes’ and sign on the dotted line.”
In 2021, Breen was honored as the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Electronic Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his excellence as a broadcaster, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a basketball announcer. Even with various accolades to his name though, Breen’s mission each year is to get better with every broadcast. Complacency and apathy are out of bounds as he lives out a lifelong dream and strives for an outstanding performance no matter the situation.
“You have days where you’re not feeling well; you’ve had a tough travel day; you’ve got issues going on in your life, but then you sit down at half court and they throw the ball up the opening tip,” Breen illustrated. “There’s an adrenaline there that has never gone away.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
How Radio Sellers Can Beat the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Question
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned — that we don’t answer essential questions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about technical features and company achievements with radio advertising prospects without considering the essential question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) from the client’s perspective.
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned.
However, the heartbeat of successful sales isn’t just about these features, it’s about translating them into tangible benefits that directly address the needs and challenges of our potential clients. Here are some common pitfalls in our sales approaches and strategies to get prospects to listen to “WIFM”.
Focusing Solely on Product Features
We all sometimes get caught up in detailing our radio stations’ technical specs and features without translating those features into tangible benefits for the prospect. We love to point out that our all-sports station is on AM and simulcast on digital FM.
We need to connect them directly to the prospect’s needs or problems, which might result in a disconnect.
Instead, we could say that we reach two audiences for the price of one. 45-65-year-olds are on AM, and 25-44-year-olds are on FM. More bang for your buck!
Talking About Company Achievements
While our station won the “Best radio station in XYZ town” award from the local media, which might be impressive, prospects are often more concerned about how these accolades directly benefit them.
We need to bridge the gap between our survey win and how our listeners are proud of listening to the station and will trust the recommendations we give our listeners when it comes to buying from our prospect.
Not tailoring the pitch to suit the prospect’s specific needs or pain points is a huge miss. When we use generic, one-size-fits-all approaches, we miss the opportunity to highlight how their product or service addresses the prospect’s unique challenges or goals.
Don’t tell a car dealer he needs to sell more new cars when he wants more used sales and service business.
Failure to Listen Actively
Sometimes, we focus too much on delivering our deck without actively listening to the prospect’s concerns or desires.
Pay attention to the prospect’s feedback or cues, and maybe even ask them if anything has changed before you start the presentation.
Forget About “Across the Street”
Constantly highlighting how your station is superior to competitors without explaining how it benefits the prospect is counterproductive.
For example, if your station does a limited number of endorsements, tell the prospect they will stand out amongst the other advertisers better cause they are part of a select few live endorsements.
Prospects want to know why your idea is right for them, not just that it’s better than your competition.
What’s the ROI?
A sales pitch that doesn’t explicitly outline the return on investment (ROI) or demonstrate the value the prospect stands to gain falls short.
Running spots can outrun ‘turtle-like’ positive word of mouth or Google reviews, like the Roadrunner. Tell them that.
Too Much TSL or CPM talk
Using industry jargon without explaining its relevance to the prospect’s situation can create confusion or disinterest. Don’t pitch TSL. Tell them they can run fewer spots that have more impact. Your efficient CPM demonstrates that radio can compete with any ad medium and won’t waste money.
Communicate in a language that resonates with the prospect, making the benefits clear and understandable.
No Hit and Run
Our engagement doesn’t end with the initial pitch. Don’t forget to follow up and give them ongoing support and assistance to address any concerns or questions post-sale. By showing them you are in it for them, they will feel valued.
In the sports radio ad sales game, it’s not just about announcing your stats and shoutouts; it’s about hitting a home run with benefits that score with our clients. If our pitch doesn’t answer “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM), we might end up with the L.
So, dive into our clients’ playbook, check their needs, and deliver a play that makes them cheer for you and your station. Tackle the “WIFM” challenge head-on, and don’t worry about targeting so much.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.