For nearly a century, the game of baseball has been heard on the radio. In fact, later this year, the the two will celebrate 100 years together. The first game ever broadcast was August 5, 1921 on KDKA in Pittsburgh and the partnership took off from there. Now comes word, a century later, that the Toronto Blue Jays are eliminating their radio broadcast altogether. For the first time in team history, fans will have to listen to a simulcast of their tv broadcast.
The team released a statement to explain their decision:
“In an effort to minimize travel and closely adhere to team, league, and government protocols related to the pandemic, Sportsnet will be streamlining production for the 2021 season by simulcasting TV broadcasts on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and across the Sportsnet Radio Network. Blue Jays fans can now enjoy the legendary voices of Buck Martinez, Dan Shulman, and Pat Tabler on both TV and radio. Ben Wagner remains part of the Blue Jays on Sportsnet broadcast team, joining Jamie Campbell, Joe Siddall, Hazel Mae, and Arash Madani in covering all the bases throughout the season.”
Seems like a stretch, considering most teams won’t travel their broadcasters for the first part of the season anyway. In the end, it looks on the surface to be a cost-cutting move and the victim in the case is radio, its broadcasters and its listeners.
I am admittedly completely biased when it comes to the subject of baseball on the radio, having done it myself for the better part of the last two decades. My first thought was, wow, I really hope this is not a trend that catches on. It can’t, right? Too many of us grew up listening to games on the radio and this would be a gaping hole, that would be hard to fill.
Some of my colleagues from other teams and veterans of broadcasting took to Twitter to express their displeasure in the decision making from the Blue Jays. These are just a few of the reactions to the news about the Jays.
Howie Rose, the longtime voice of the New York Mets, hit one of the biggest issues right on the head. How can you expect fans to listen to a television broadcast on the radio? There’s no painting of a picture, because, well, obviously you can see the picture on TV. Rose describes baseball on the radio as an art and he’s right on the mark. Descriptions, from the color of the uniforms the teams are wearing, to the shade of brown on the infield dirt, make the radio broadcast what it is.
Keith Olbermann, broadcasting veteran, paints a dire picture of what might be to come. It’s hard to argue the point now that a team has actually eliminated its radio broadcast. One team tried it a year ago and was met with disapproval from the fan base almost immediately, forcing them to reverse course. More on that in a moment.
Tim Brando, longtime broadcaster, also tells it like it is. This move puts a ton of pressure on the tv broadcasters, Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez. How are they supposed to serve two audiences at the same time? They won’t be able to please either completely. They will undoubtedly get complaints from the tv audience saying they’re too descriptive. The radio listeners will complain about them not being descriptive enough. What do they say during a replay? When a graphic is on the screen and so forth? Nobody wins here.
Retired Blue Jays radio broadcaster Jerry Howarth was interviewed by the Toronto Sun a few days after the decision to eliminate the radio broadcast was announced. Howarth is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in the world. Even he, in his own way, expressed his disappointment about what the team was doing.
“I think without question, baseball is the best sport for radio,” Howarth said. “I say that because of two things: The number of games — twice as many as hockey and basketball — and the pace of the game.”
He would go on to say, “the TV broadcasts are great, but to simulcast them is completely different from radio with its descriptions, its story-telling and the love of the fans, getting them involved.”
Howarth did share that he believes if anyone can make this work, it’s Shulman who he says “is smart and flexible enough to make these adjustments, whatever they might be, to satisfy as many people as possible.”
That’s all fine and well, but there is another component to what’s going on here: a connection with a fan base that identifies with its radio broadcasters.
My earliest memories in the game are listening to Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau call Cubs games on WGN Radio. Sitting in the car with my dad, listening to games as we drove to do errands or head to my grandparent’s house. This element is hard to replace, actually it’s impossible to replace.
To that end, Howarth feels like this decision does damage to the legacy he and his former partner, the late, Tom Cheek established.
“People will probably, if anything, remember back to Tom and Jerry when they were growing up and recall what great moments they had enjoying the radio broadcasts and wondering why can’t we still have that,” Howarth told the Toronto Sun.
Earlier I mentioned the Blue Jays were the first to actually eliminate a radio broadcast, the Oakland A’s flirted with a different version of this story. Ahead of last season, the A’s announced that their radio broadcast would only be available digitally in their home market, due to the team having troubles finding a local station to air the games.
It’s different than the Blue Jays’ story, because that was still going to be a radio broadcast featuring the team’s radio broadcasters. It just wouldn’t be heard over the air. Even that didn’t go over well, as the A’s eventually reversed the decision just six games into the season, finding a station to air the games. This decision by the Blue Jays is more likely to create an even stronger backlash.
I get it, times are changing, technology is evolving seemingly daily. People have choices in how they listen to games. Streaming services, including MLB.com have allowed them to listen to their hometown team wherever that fan calls home. But again, this didn’t affect radio, because the call they’d hear was the actual radio broadcast featuring their local announcers.
The Blue Jays made a big splash in the offseason, signing George Springer, Marcus Semien and Kirby Yates. While spending big money on players, the fans get shortchanged by the move to eliminate the radio broadcasts.
Mike Greenberg Asked a Fine Question, But He Can Do Better
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.