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Travis Thomas and Reese Waters Help Team 980 Break New Ground

“People need to have an open mind about a potential pool of applicants and look at it in terms of skill set, because the skill set that applies to this profession, might also be apparent in another profession.”

Brandon Contes

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Earlier this month, Entercom’s The Team 980 in Washington D.C. announced a revamped weekday lineup, airing Travis Thomas from 9am – noon and Reese Waters from noon – 3pm. In a somewhat groundbreaking move, The Team 980’s weekday schedule now features two solo Black hosts back-to-back, with neither being a retired professional athlete.

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The pipeline to full-time sports radio jobs in major markets has traditionally provided roadblocks for Black hosts. Sports radio has acknowledged the problem in recent years, but most stations still fail to offer a diverse lineup reflecting the cultural representation of its community.

Challenging the odds, both hosts arrived at 980 through very different paths. Thomas experienced the more traditional sports media grind, working various jobs behind-the-scenes and behind-the-mic on TV and radio. For Waters, the grunt work began as a comedian. His stand-up led him to provide sports commentary on television and his extensive TV work earned a full-time radio opportunity.

But for both hosts, the opportunity with The Team 980 is a culmination of their own tireless work, and a program director in Chris Kinard who broadened his talent search.

Brandon Contes: When did both of you take an interest in broadcasting?

Reese Waters: Honestly, I didn’t really consider it a potential career until I was in it. I was working as a comedian and I had a lot of sports in my stand-up material, but the first opportunity I had in broadcasting came because the people at Versus found my comedy. They were looking to cast a comedian on The Daily Line and I didn’t even have representation yet, but they found my stand-up on YouTube and my sportscasting career kind of started by happenstance.

Travis Thomas: I played sports my whole life growing up in a small rural town in Maryland and like many kids, I had dreams of going pro one day. I wanted to go to the NBA and I used to tell my mom, ‘I’m going to get drafted and I’m going to buy you a Jaguar.’ That didn’t happen [Laughs], and I would say early teenage years, it became obvious that it wasn’t going to happen. But I knew I wanted to work in sports, I was never shy, I was never nervous to be in front of a class, I thought I could be a broadcaster, I went to school for it and the rest is history.

BC: Travis, since you knew you wanted to make this a career at a younger age, was there anyone you watched and listened to that became an inspiration, or someone you aspired to be?

TT: Just one. When I tell you I grew up in a rural town, I lived in the sticks, literally. So right around the time I realized I wasn’t going pro, my parents finally got cable and I discovered a channel called ESPN. Stuart Scott – not only looked like me, but he talked like me. He was hip-hop. He was cool. It was an eye-opening, life-changing, career-directional event that still inspires me today.

Stuart Scott, ESPN's Voice of Exuberance, Dies at 49 - The New York Times

BC: Was Stuart instrumental in shaping your career path? Because we talk a lot about the lack of diversity in sports media, it was significantly less diverse 20-30 years ago, was it important for you to have someone that looked like you that you could look up to?

TT: It was more than that. I definitely would have gone down this career path regardless, but for me personally, Stuart made it OK for me to be myself. Without Stuart, I would have tried to talk like every other broadcaster. I would’ve been cookie-cutter and we have enough of that in this business. I have no idea if I’m liked, loved or hated in this business, but the only thing I can hang my hat on is there’s only one me and Stuart allowed for me to be unapologetic about being myself.

BC: Do you strive to be that person for other young Black Americans who might not be thinking about sports media as a career path, but then they look at The Team 980, they see you and Reese, and it becomes a more realistic option.

TT: I hope so. But I feel like I’m failing young Black, minority, and young women broadcasters because I’m not doing as much as I can be. I can do more. Yes, I represent us, I’m not going to do anything to embarrass us, but they need to know who I am or stumble upon me to find me. I want to go to them and show that you can have a career in this. I will do a better job of reaching out and finding them. I don’t want them to have to find me, that’s my fault.

BC: The sports radio industry talks a lot about its diversity problem, and like you just mentioned, this goes for minorities and for women as well. It would be great if this wasn’t a story. I think progress will be when it is no longer noteworthy that a city adds a Black sports radio host or that a female broadcaster is covering a male sport. But two Black hosts, in weekday lineups on a major market station and neither of them are a former athlete, do both of you recognize that as a big deal?

TT: I do, and you have to give props to CK (Chris Kinard) for having the vision and guts to make it happen. The early returns have been fantastic. I can’t tell you how many people have called me just to say what it means to them to have us in this position. People of color and minorities are used to dealing with discrimination, we’ve done it our whole lives and for me to be in this position, a position I’ve earned, for me it’s just validation for all the hard work and all the racist BS I’ve dealt with in my 39 years on earth.

Travis Thomas | RADIO.COM

RW: The non-athlete part resonates with me because a lot of the ways in which places fill their diversity quota is by finding former athletes. For us to be able to ascend to this without being former athletes, it feels legitimate. Because this hasn’t been the prerequisite for many of the people sitting in this chair that looks like us.

BC: Executives used to blame the lack of diversity more on a lack of diverse applicants rather than a hiring issue on their part. I think that’s changed, there’s more accountability, but how important is it for executives to look beyond a pool of applicants for job candidates?

RW: It’s exceptionally important and I think there are a lot of people who can and will thrive in positions that they may not be seeking. People need to have an open mind about a potential pool of applicants and look at it in terms of skill set, because the skill set that applies to this profession, might also be apparent in another profession.

I happen to think stand-up is one of the most underappreciated disciplines we have in America. The idea that I was expected to come into a TV studio initially and have something funny to ad, four or five times in an hour – are you kidding me? That’s easy! I was used to filling a full hour by myself. And now going to radio from TV, it brings me back to comedy. To be able to speak confidently, be funny and engaging for that amount of time, is more like stand-up.

TT: I think smart executives like CK are already doing it and have been doing it for a long time. The issue is bigger than that. Smart executives are doing it, but those don’t grow on trees. I want to continue to ride this broadcasting wave, but my long-term goal is to be an executive. To me, that’s where real change will happen. We need more minority executives, we need more people of color making those decisions, we need more women making those decisions and being part of executive teams. That’s my ultimate goal and that’s when you’ll see change because the majority of executive teams are misrepresented in my opinion.

BC: Have you mentioned that interest to Chris Kinard?

TT: I’ve been very careful to talk to my bosses in radio and TV about that right now. I’ve probably mentioned it in passing, but I don’t make a big deal about it because I don’t want them to think I’m not focused on the task at hand. And I want to be clear, I’m having a blast as a broadcaster, so if I start talking to my bosses about wanting the corner office to run the world, they might think I’m not focused.

BC: What’s interesting is there are a lot of radio executives that didn’t have the ability to be entertaining enough or have the personality to be successful on-air, but they understood the business, they went behind the scenes and worked their way up to become an executive. It’s interesting to see someone who has the personality and creativity to be on-air, but has aspirations to be an executive to better the industry. It would serve executives well to seek your ideas to help the industry grow.

TT: I really appreciate that. My aspirations were always to be a broadcaster and become an all-time great. I never thought of management. It was last summer, 2020 changed my life just like it did for a lot of people. The pandemic, civil unrest, racial injustice. I was laid off due to COVID-19 budget cuts. It was a low point for me just like many Americans.

I was looking at my resume and saw all the behind-the-scenes experience, I saw all my on-air experience, the only thing I never did is something I was born to do. And that’s be a leader. I’ve never led in this business and that’s what really gave me the first inclination that I want to do this. Then you go deeper and see there’s not a lot of representation in leadership roles, it feels like the perfect fit, but it’s just not my time yet. I have more to do on the broadcasting side and I’m going to kick ass doing it, but eventually – I want a seat at the table and I believe I can bring a lot to it.

BC: Reese, what about your other aspiration, are you the type of comedian who has a lot of natural wit and instantly commands a room or are you someone who is more meticulously writing and editing, practicing and perfecting?

RW: I would love to say I’m one of the naturals, but then you see guys like Chappelle where it literally just oozes out of his body. I don’t walk in and command a room the way a lot of other people do in that class, but there are a lot of great comedians in the other class. I’m a little bit more planned and meticulous in how I go about it.

Ventura Harbor Comedy Club :: Father's Day Special Show w/ Reese Waters

BC: What about building a radio show? Is your show more planned and organized, or is it off the cuff?

RW: I’ve been trying to figure out exactly how much I have to plan. I’m still learning and going through that process because I don’t want to be so scripted for a three-hour show, I want some freedom, but I also want to make sure I have material to work with. Right now we’re in the process of figuring out how it works and that’s probably what occupies most of my time right now, figuring out that formula.

BC: Do you feel extra pressure to add comedy and be funny on your radio show because of your background?

RW: Yea, I would say there is. I also feel extra responsibility to service the sports fans. If I didn’t have this background, I might indulge a tangent longer, but I probably give myself a shorter leash because I don’t want to be perceived as lacking in sports content. I want to get to the point where these are things I’m not thinking about and we’re just doing what is the best radio. But right now, it’s all on my mind during a show.

BC: Do you have a preference, television or radio?

RW: TV is a completely different animal. I can take 15 minutes to talk about something on the radio, but on TV, I get 45 seconds and if I misspeak, that counts in those 45 seconds. You have to hit TV aggressively, and that’s been a challenge for me. Being able to know that really funny minute you did on TV, I can turn that into five or 10 minutes on radio. It’s a completely different animal and I’m just getting used to the freedom radio offers, but I think radio is going to be something that I’m able to have a lot of fun with once I figure out the speed of the content.

BC: You were on Letterman, which has got to be an amazing opportunity for any comedian. How were your nerves for that experience?

RW: The Tonight Show with Johnny is the greatest credit a comedian could have, but I still think Letterman is second. It feels like a badge of honor and I was bummed when the show went away, but now it’s something that nobody else can get.

Ray Romano was the guest that night, so I had not one but two comedians watching me. It was a divine moment, I don’t remember it at all, I blacked out, I’ve watched it, but I don’t remember it. I’m very picky with my work, but I watch that performance and I wouldn’t change anything about it.

BC: What about the aspect of being in DC, the heartbeat of our country’s political scene which is such a divisive issue right now, do either of you have a policy on mixing sports with politics or social issues?

RW: Sports and social issues have been mixing for a very long time. I will try to be as honest and truthful as I can with any injustices I see, whether on the field, off the field or tangential on the field. The reality is, most times, there are very few things that go on off the field that don’t affect what goes on the field in some way and I’ll continue to try and be a light for those situations. It’s been a long time that I’ve had to be a fan while ignoring a lot of injustices I see. It’s been a long time, it’s been long enough quite frankly. But I want to hit a note that’s also inviting for people who don’t agree, to feel like they have an opportunity to weigh in and have their thoughts be heard because if I’m preaching to the choir every day, then I’m not changing anything. The ability to have open dialogue and exchange, that’s the highest aim you can have for any enterprise and hopefully we can be that.

TT: My policy is be honest, open, and allow every voice to be heard. When Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee a few years ago, I was doing weekends on The Fan at 106.7. I opened the phone lines with a generic statement, I acknowledged it was happening and said ‘I’m taking all calls on it, just keep it clean.’ I don’t know if I even gave my stance on it.

I welcomed both sides of the aisle and to be honest, a lot of the conservative views would thank me because they didn’t feel they had a platform to discuss it. People would hang up on them, but I didn’t. I don’t want sports to be divisive, sports should bring us together. As long as we’re being respectful and honest, when social issues or politics crosses into sports, let’s just have an open conversation and learn from one another.

BC: You mentioned doing weekends at The Fan, do you view them as competition now? I know Entercom did this in Miami as well, but it’s kind of strange for one company to own two sports stations in the same market.

TT: I’m a unique hire in that I view both as family because I was doing TV work full-time, radio was freelance until recently, so I was basically a mercenary. I would take work with The Fan and I would take work with The Team 980. Whoever called me, I would say yes. This merger is beautiful for me because now it’s one family and I don’t have to view it as competition, I can like both.

BC: How do you help keep this industry from getting old, stale. Younger generations demand content that moves fast. Can sports radio keep up?

TT: I graduated from college in 2005. I remember professors telling me radio was a dying medium! ‘Put all your eggs in the TV basket, because radio won’t be around.’ That was 2005! And here we are, 2021 and I just got a radio gig!

[Laughs]

There’s a lot of content right now and it’s premature to say what’s going to die and what’s going to be the bigger medium, the bottom line is we don’t know. We’re all trying to figure this out. One thing’s for certain, you can get robots to do a lot of jobs in this country, but being opinionated and passionate about sports is not one of them. The demise of radio is a bunch of hogwash. If you’re entertaining and knowledgeable, you’re going to survive anything. That’s a fact.

Automated Radio: Grim Listening For Audiences | FYIMusicNews

RW: Digital content and podcasts are obviously doing well, but the advantage radio has is being able to act with immediacy to things. That’s our advantage. And we have the best of both worlds by giving live commentary and reactions, but also have the ability to get into the digital space by offering our shows as podcasts as well. 

BSM Writers

John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup

“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”

Brady Farkas

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Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.

The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.

Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.

(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)

BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?

JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.

BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?

JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.

So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.

BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?

JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.

So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.

Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.

BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?

JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.

And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.

We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?

JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.

The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive.  If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.

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BSM Writers

Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk

“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”

Tyler McComas

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It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood. 

“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.

If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy. 

Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.

“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”

What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air. 

“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.

“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.

“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.

“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”

Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again. 

“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.

“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”

As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?

“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.

“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”

Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content. 

For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show. 

“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.

“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.

“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”

It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle. 

“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”

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BSM Writers

Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’

“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”

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It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.

Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.

The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.

There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?

More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.

“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”

Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.

“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf  family and our entire organization.  I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”

I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.

For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.

“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”

Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.

“I would say this. I am my own worst critic.  I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I  am to be in the position where  I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said.  “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”

In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making  a commitment to work on their  skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said. 

“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his  glove,  his ability to play multiple positions?  His  character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”

Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one  meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.” 

The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.

Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.

Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.

I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.

A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.

“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels.  My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case,  my foundation is  built on respect,  kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”  

Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of  the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”

The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.

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