This is what we’ve needed as much as oxygen and water, a sports tremor to thrill and unite us, a rush of joy that reminds America of its functioning pulse and heartbeat. Haven’t we had our fill of the pandemic, politics and pap? Just keep rewinding Jalen Suggs’ soul-stirring moment in time — dribble, dribble, dribble, stop, soar, pop, lean, bank off the glass, stand atop the sideline table as Bill Raftery shrieks, “Major onions!” — and let it whisk you into a Monday night that must be reserved for your pleasure wherever you are.
Watching Gonzaga plunder through college basketball, without a challenge, was no fun. Watching UCLA engage in ass-backwards role reversal — an 11-time national champion nearly executing an epic upset over what is still, at its core, a modest Jesuit program from Spokane, Wash. — was the universal ripple not felt in sports during our year in COVID captivity. Tom Brady, LeBron James, the Dodgers, Dustin Johnson, Naomi Osaka — all produced inspirational but predictable triumphs amid unprecedented challenges that should favor the proven and privileged. Those victories didn’t move us as one.
When Suggs finished a dazzling personal showcase with his buzzer-beater from 40 feet, the meaning extended far beyond another Gonzaga victory and a place beside Baylor in a richly compelling title game. It gave 2021 an all-time story to replay for decades, arguably the sport’s greatest finish ever, a viral visual to rip through the mutating variants and gift us something glorious to discuss beyond racial hatred and continuing exposure risks. Yes, it kept alive the Zags’ bid for the first perfect season in 45 years. Yes, it validated Suggs’ hype as a top-three NBA draft pick and all the recent stories about his close friendship with UConn’s Paige Bueckers, perhaps the best women’s player of her generation. Yes, it showed Gonzaga could survive an overtime minefield against the street-brawling Bruins, as created by Mick Cronin, a feisty S.O.B. by way of Cincinnati and a coach even Bill Walton can love.
But, tell me, when was the last time any of us sat by a technological device, linear or streaming, and went “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” And funny how the outburst didn’t have to involve an allegiance to a team or a wager placed before the game. This was sports at its iconic purest, in an era when leagues and broadcast networks want to stench it up with gambling overload, at a time when the NCAA continues to argue in the country’s highest court that players such as Suggs — who perpetuate the tournament’s memory-factory charm and keep putting $1 billion a year into the bank accounts of the NCAA and college programs — aren’t paid a penny.
Think Suggs cared about any of that dissonance? Watch the video. He was so convinced the shot was going in, he began to wander toward the sideline table, by some karmatic pull, before the ball bounced off the backboard and through the cylinder. This was his childhood dream taking shape, the one that had him leaping on a platform and celebrating such a shot just as Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade had done. Lucas Oil Stadium still was populated by more cardboard cutouts than human beings, but Suggs knew tens of millions were watching. He was introducing himself to a sports world that only knew him vaguely, as the combo guard from Minnesota who rejected a chance to play quarterback at Ohio State to devote his one and only collegiate season to Gonzaga, the upstart-turned-blueblood.
“I’ve always wanted to run up on the table like Kobe and D-Wade and go like that, and that’s the first thing I did,” Suggs said. “Man, that is something that you practice on your mini-hoop as a kid or in the gym just messing around. And to be able to do that, it’s crazy.
“I mean, it was nuts. And I still can’t speak. I have so many things going on in my head. I just can’t believe that happened. I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until I wake up tomorrow.”
He woke up. The shot really did happen, which surprised no one in the triumphant bob-and-weave of teammates celebrating with Suggs. “I knew it was going in. He’s got that magical aura,” said his coach, Mark Few. “Jalen makes those in practice all the time, last-second shots. I felt pretty good. I was staring right at it. And I said, `It’s in.’ And it was.”
If you’re wondering why Few has ascended to the top of his craft, as Roy Williams retires and Mike Krzyzewski contemplates the same path, observe how he handled a second-half sequence when Suggs was in foul trouble and not playing well. Few removed him from the game, then instantly put him back in. It was a strategic jolt to a 19-year-old’s system, a reminder that his best was needed for the Zags to avoid another big-game setback. His immediate response was almost as breathtaking as the buzzer-beater. As UCLA was threatening to pull away, Suggs saw 6-7 Cody Riley with an open path for an easy dunk. In an intrusion that screamed next-level, Suggs rotated and blocked the shot, then gathered the ball and threw a long bounce pass through various bodies to Drew Timme, who turned a would-be deficit into a two-point lead. “I couldn’t just give him a free bucket,” Suggs said. “Either I was going to find him at the line or make a play on the ball. It was tough to get it. I got it.”
“An amazing, amazing play,” Few said. “The beauty of Jalen is that he does make plays like that, where he comes down and blocks bigs because he’s so athletic and he’s so tough and he’s not afraid. He’s not afraid to try.”
Fun as it is in the aftermath to debate the shot’s place in college lore, the exercise is premature until Gonzaga seals the document forever and completes only the eighth perfect season. Christian Laettner’s miracle was followed by a Duke title in 1992. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins won the championship with his three-pointer five years ago. Michael Jordan’s jumper in 1982, though not a buzzer-beater, won a title for North Carolina. Lorenzo Charles’ putback that propelled Jimmy Valvano to seek a hug — it won the title for North Carolina State a year later. Suggs’ prayer won’t remain in the pantheon if Baylor wins, a possibility if the Zags don’t play a crisper overall game and struggle to defend Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague, the guard triumverate that has awakened offensively with exquisite timing. The defense already is elite, with the Bears forcing turnovers on 25 percent of opponents’ possessions this season. They are rested and deep. Gonzaga is neither.
“We didn’t come all this way not to win it all,” Butler said. “We came here to win it all through the culture of joy.”
Culture of joy? It’s the mantra of coach Scott Drew, who arrived 18 years ago in Waco amid the ashes of the ultimate scandal — Patrick Dennehy was murdered by teammate Carlton Dotson, while coach Dave Bliss tried to cover up the homicide with lies. For those tired of money-bloated bluebloods, the Jesuits vs. the Baptists is a different twist. But as basketball cognoscenti know, the magnitude is much larger. Gonzaga and Baylor have ruled as the dominant programs of the college game and likely would have met for a title last year, pandemic permitting. They were supposed to play Dec. 5, but COVID won that matchup, too. Not since 2005 have the top two overall seeds met for the national championship.
“God blessed us,” Drew said. “The strength of our team is that we play with joy. Everyone tries to find the open man, play together and feel good for your fellow teammate.”
Will Gonzaga be strengthened by a rare test and finish the mission? Or have the Zags been exposed by Cronin, Johnny Juzang and UCLA’s culture of grit? It was easy sequestering in the Indianapolis bubble when the victories were in double digits. Now? Disappointed so often in the biggest moments, Gonzaga has used its Hail Mary quota. Even Suggs knows that.
“When dreams start to become realities and you’re able to experience those things, it’s special. And those are things you’ve got to cherish,” he said. You’re never going to get another moment like this. You’ll never be able to relive this.”
Regardless of how this delectable tale ends, America thanks him. Because of Jalen Suggs, we can scream in a living room again. That is history in itself.
Media Noise – Episode 44
This week’s episode is all about the NFL. Demetri explains why the league embracing kids is long overdue, Andy Masur stops by to breakdown the first Manningcast, and Ryan Maguire explains why some sports radio stations are missing a golden opportunity to shine on Sundays.
Interviews Thrive On Podcasts In A Way They Can’t On Radio
“Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.”
Live radio vs. podcasts seems to be a heavyweight fight that isn’t ending anytime soon. Podcasts are growing so much that companies that do radio are also now offering podcasts. This column is hardly about that fight.
Instead, this is about how a podcast interview is a better way to get the best out of the guest than anything live on a radio station. This is not about downloads or clicks or sponsors. Solely about the content that is being produced.
A podcast makes the guest more comfortable and is more intimate than a live radio show. Especially in sports.
Since 2015, I have hosted and produced 656 podcasts (yes it was fun to count them) and hosted many radio shows. My current shows are called Sports with Friends, Hall of Justice, and Techstream. That last one I host with tech expert Shelly Palmer.
On radio, there is a myriad of things the host has to do besides focus on the guest.
First, there are the IDs. Program directors have always told me ID the guest every chance I get. “We are talking with Eli Manning on WFAN,” is heard 7 times during an eight-minute segment.
On a podcast, the name of the guest is on the player or app that is playing the podcast. “Episode 1. Eli Manning, New York Giants” scrolls across smartphones, car radios, or other devices constantly. Never interrupt the guest with an ID.
Then, there’s the fact that it is recorded and not live. I have a standard preamble that I say to any guest before any record light turns on.
“I will push,” I explain. “I will see where the conversation takes us, but I do tend to push. However, I’m on your side. This isn’t some expose’. If something comes up that you don’t like your answer, tell me. I’ll take it out. If there’s something that I say that is bad or wrong, tell me, I’ll take it out. This is a conversation, not an interview.”
In 656 podcasts, only one player, Bryce Harper (then of the Washington Nationals) asked me to take something out of a podcast.
We were doing Episode 54 of Sports with Friends when the subject of Dusty Baker came up. He had just been hired to manage the Nationals. I mentioned in passing that Dusty had given the eulogy at my best friend Darryl Hamilton’s funeral.
Bryce was so intrigued that he recalled the comments I had made and asked if we could pause. We then spoke for a good 10 minutes about the kind of person Dusty was. Why Darryl held him in such regard. It was a really inciteful chat. Never was on the podcast.
Still, guests do relax when told that the editing option exists. They let their guard down. The host of a podcast can ask deeper questions.
“Who was the first person you called when you found out you were traded?”
“Have you seen a life for you after football?”
“How much do you hate a certain player?”
All questions, that if asked live, could seriously backfire. So not only does the guest have a guard up, but the interviewer also has to play it relatively safe, when they are not IDing the guest for the umpteenth time.
Time constraints also don’t exist in a podcast where they are beholden on live radio. The guest is just about to tell you they did cocaine during the World Series, and you are up against the clock.
I have hosted shows over the years where the guest was phenomenal, but I screwed up the PPM clock. That was the takeaway. The clock is important on a live medium that needs to get that quarter-hour.
I try to keep my podcasts short. You wouldn’t see it from looking at the lengths of my episodes. Still, I feel that if someone wants to talk and dive into a topic and it goes a little long, I will never cut the guy off.
Ken Griffey Jr. spoke for 45 minutes with a cigar and his feet up on the phone by his pool. He was telling jokes and stories. I wouldn’t have stopped that if a train was coming. When I hosted Mariner content at KJR in Seattle, our interviews usually last 5 minutes.
Jon Morosi broke down the future of clubhouse access and how he traveled during Covid. Then he told an amazing story of his wife working in the medical field and how that impacted all of his family. Shannon Drayer of 710 KIRO got so in-depth in her arduous journey from being a coffee barista to the Mariners on-field reporter. It was split into two episodes.
Former porn star Lisa Ann talked about her decision to quit the business. Even Jason Barrett himself was Episode 173 of Sports with Friends.
(When in the past has Jason Barrett been in the same paragraph as a porn star? Note to Demetri: please leave it in.)
The radio industry is seen to be cutting costs wherever it can. Mid-market stations are not doing night shows anymore, instead offering nationally syndicated programming.
Weekends are another avenue that perplexes me. Talent that is not deemed good enough to be on during the week is often given weekend shifts. Also, some Monday-Friday hosts add a weekend shift to their duties. Here’s a theory: play podcasts. Format them to hit your PPM time marks.
They don’t have to be my podcasts, but in the crowded podcast space, surely there are sports talk podcasts that are intimate, deep, and fun. Since we live in a data-driven age, let’s see how a radio station fares playing high-quality podcasts or portions of them, vs. weekend hosts.
Program directors often worry about the outdated nature of a podcast. That sells the podcaster short. As someone who has been in the podcast space since 2003, I know how to make them timeless, and companies make shows often enough, that rarely would they be outdated.
Quality shines through the speakers. The spoken-word audio format is continually evolving. Opportunities that a podcast creates open doors to audio that is simply superior to live radio.
The podcast industry is continually evolving. Radio needs to evolve as well. Then, it can be a fair fight.
National Voices Can Work For Local Clients
“Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder.”
Selling personalities is one of the hottest trends in media today. Sure, most of the buzz is around social media influencers, but radio has long had a relationship with its audience based on personal connections between host and listener. And nobody has a better relationship with their audience than a sports radio host.
I am sure you are leveraging your local hosts by now. Live spots, testimonials, remotes, and promotions are all great tricks of the trade, as well as sponsored social media posts. But does your station carry syndicated shows? I am sure you do either from 7 pm-12 am Monday-Friday or on weekends.
In 2018, The Ticket in Boise, Idaho brought CBS Sports Radio host Damon Amendolara and his co-host, Shaun Morash, to town for a Boise State football game. Damon had just switched to mornings from evenings, and his show aired in Boise from 4 am-8 am Monday – Friday. His ratings were decent, but nothing that stood out considering the daypart. It was thought to be risky to sell him into sandwich shops, pizza places, appearances at local legend hangouts, and so forth.
Boise State head football coach and QB Bryan Harsin and Brett Rypien did a live shot on the show from the on-campus bookstore. At dark thirty. It all worked. DA and Morash were hits! Everywhere they went, lines and crowds awaited them and they hit spots in a two-county area. The few days of appearances worked so well that DA is back in Boise three years later, this time for a week. Now, DA is doing his show from resort hotels 2.5 hours away, taking riverboat adventure fishing trips in Hell’s Canyon, craft beer tours for his sidekick Andrew Bogusch and hosting college football viewing parties at brewpubs. Every station that carries syndicated shows probably has a DA success story waiting to happen.
Start by listening to the shows, know the benchmarks and quirks of the national personalities or call the affiliate rep and ask. Does the talent discuss their love of beer, BBQ, pizza, whatever? If they do, then go ahead and sell them to a local client. The national talent can do the spot and endorse your client. If it’s a product, send one to them. Figure out how to get them a pizza. If it’s a service, do a zoom call with the client and let them start a relationship. Include some social media elements with video. The video can be used in social media and can sit on the client’s website. Yours too!
If you want to bring the talent to town, do it for a big game, local event, or 4th of July parade, and the sponsors will follow. Run a promo during the talent’s daypart asking local sponsors to text in to reserve their promotional spot. Have the talent cut liners asking the same thing. Take the NFL Sunday morning host and sell a promo to a sports bar where the host zooms in to a table or room full of listeners, and they watch a portion of a game together. Or sell the same idea to a national chain and do an on-air contest for a listener to have a home watch party with the zoomed-in host complete with food and beverages from your sponsors sent to both locations. How about sending your #1 BBQ joint that handles mail orders and sends some food for the talent? They can videotape themselves reheating the BBQ and make some great Facebook and Instagram videos.
Distance, like absence, can make the heart grow fonder. Try selling a nationally syndicated host inside your market. I promise you’ll like it.
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