When COVID-19 caused the world to shut down in March of 2020, there was no playbook as to what the next year would look like.
Add a cancer diagnosis to that, and life just got a whole lot scarier.
As the entire country blindly navigated how to work from home, socialize over Zoom, and rely on each other for support, Marc “Silvy” Silverman, co-host of the Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN Chicago, was sitting in a doctor’s office awaiting news that would change his life.
On April 3, 2020, Silvy was told the three words no one ever wants to hear: You have cancer. Thirteen days later, he received word that the exact type of cancer he would be batting was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Having been with ESPN Chicago for more than 20 years, it was ironic that the first person he told at the station was the person he knew the least. New market manager Mike Thomas had only been at the station for six months when Silvy came to him with the news.
“Mike knew right away, and it was an interesting way to sort of, you know handle some things with a new boss,” said Silvy.
“From the very start he was like ‘I’m going to beat this. I’m going to figure out what I need to do, how I need to do it, and, you know, this thing is not going to get me,’” said Thomas. “He just had an amazing attitude from the very start of it.”
While much of the nation had already shut down and people began to work from home, Silvy was one of the few ESPN Chicago employees who continued to work out of the State Street headquarters. However, upon his diagnosis came a newly compromised immune system which forced him to set up a makeshift studio inside his basement. It would become his new workspace.
For most of us, spending 2020 confined to our homes was a difficult adjustment to say the least. For Silvy, being forced to stay home throughout the pandemic might have saved his life.
“The silver lining was that the entire country was working from home and if it wasn’t during a pandemic, I would have pushed myself and my body to go up and back downtown,” said Silvy, who lives approximately 30 miles from downtown Chicago. “I probably would have commuted. I probably would have been in the office. I probably would have taxed my body more, just from not being in my own home.
“But because of the pandemic, because it was normal for even radio hosts to work from home, that helped me in the big picture to get through this and keep my body probably from getting too rundown.”
Despite multiple rounds of chemotherapy and an immunotherapy clinical trial, Silvy never showed signs of being rundown. The only days he didn’t work throughout the whole process were the days surrounding his treatment.
“The dude showed up for work every single freaking day,” said Silvy’s co-host and former Chicago Bear Tom Waddle. “I have had my ass whipped by a lot of big people in the NFL and I consider myself a fairly tough individual. I don’t think I could have handled it the way he handled it both mentally and physically.”
Working from home provided Silvy a sense of normalcy and allowed him to focus his energy on something other than the fact that he had cancer. What also made his circumstances seem more normal was his decision to share his diagnosis on air.
“His openness and his willingness to let everybody in has always been one of his characteristics,” said Waddle. “He doesn’t keep this private life over here and his public persona over there. They’re one and the same with regard to how he approaches his job and I think that in a lot of ways that made this fight a little bit easier for him because there was no change.”
While Silvy has always been very candid with his audience regarding his personal life, his decision to share his cancer diagnosis stemmed from much more.
“I know it was really important for him to kind of give back because guys like Eddie Olczyk, and we’ve had others in the office, who have had experiences or family members that have gone through difficult situations,” said Waddle.
In 2017, Eddie Olczyk, who calls Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago, announced to viewers that he was diagnosed with colon cancer. According to Silvy, he remembers paying close attention as Olczyk shared updates throughout his cancer journey.
“I don’t know whether there was a sixth sense like I paid extra attention to it, and I always marveled to myself, ‘this dude is so candid, this dude is so strong,’” said Silvy. “And I couldn’t believe how much he was sharing, and I always remember that, and it always stood out to me.”
His decision to be candid with his audience also came from the longstanding support the station has shown for the V Foundation. Each year during Jimmy V Week, Waddle and Silvy spend time on-air talking about the V Foundation and raising money for cancer research. During this time, they opened up phone lines for people to call into the show and tell their story of how they’ve been affected by the disease.
“A lot of people have always said to us, ‘those are some of the most amazing shows because they’re raw, they’re emotional, and it’s real-life,’” said Silvy. “And I couldn’t sit there going through what I was going through after asking people on my show to share their experiences on how they’ve dealt with cancer.”
Throughout his entire treatment process, Silvy was honest with fans and listeners about where his health was at. In return, he received an overwhelming flood of support. It was a response he never could have anticipated and certainly wasn’t one he was looking for, yet he was blown away by the amount of encouragement and inspiration it brought him.
“The one line I always remember from someone who was a survivor who said to me ‘You don’t know this until you go through this, but you have a village behind you,’” said Silvy. “And you’ve always heard that term ‘it takes a village,’ but you don’t realize that until you’ve gone through it, because then you’re like holy s—t, this is a village behind me.”
That village came in many different forms.
Local apparel company, Obvious Shirts, came to Silvy with the idea of creating and selling shirts to raise money for him. While he loved the idea, Silvy told them he didn’t want the money going to him but instead wanted to donate it all to the V Foundation.
“I was on not only the chemo but immunotherapy as well because of advancements in medicine, and because of all the money raised for different cancer charities, I was a beneficiary of this sort of stuff,” said Silvy. “I want to make sure that other people are even greater beneficiaries down the road.”
There were two different shirt designs with “Silvy Strong” plastered across the front of each. The most popular featured a drawing by Silvy’s son Mason who was five at the time.
“He gained a lot of support and inspiration from so many people that were willing to reach out,” said Waddle. “And I think sharing his experience, you know, he drew from all those people that were wearing the Silvy Strong shirts or people that would just send a text.”
Fans began using the hashtag #SilvyStrong on Twitter and ESPN Chicago started a social media campaign to help promote the sale of the shirts. Followers who traveled during the summer were asked to take a picture in their Silvy Strong shirts and post it on social media.
“We got [pictures] from all over the place,” said Thomas. “People were at the Grand Canyon, on an island and everywhere else wearing their Silvy Strong shirts. It was pretty amazing.”
To date, the sale of “Silvy Strong” shirts has raised approximately $43,000 for the V Foundation.
According to Silvy, he has always been a huge advocate for mental health, and going through this process made him even more aware of how important that aspect was to recovery. He sought guidance from a few different places. One being from Imerman Angels, a company that randomly matches you with a mentor who went through your exact same type of cancer. He also went to the Cancer Wellness Center in Northbrook.
But much of what made it possible to keep a positive attitude throughout the scariest time of his life was the support of the community.
“You know people sort of fueled me; I’ve never been more grateful,” said Silvy. “That was the word that I used the most. The appreciation for people, some of the stuff that you read, it lifts your spirits and you understand that your show means something to somebody and that they’re rooting for you and helping you get through your day.
“It’s just an incredible feeling and without the support that I had from my teammates, or the fans or my bosses in management, I never could have gone through this.”
On September 25, Silvy was given the news he had long waited for. He was officially in full remission.
His return to the studio was halted by COVID-19 restrictions, yet his April 12, 2021, State Street homecoming was worth the wait.
The small number of colleagues who were back in the office lined the halls as Silvy entered on a fake red carpet surrounded by balloons and decorations.
“It was a celebration,” said Thomas. “We were happy and it was hard to hold back the tears and all of the things that you would expect, still a little bit different just because of COVID, but that was an awesome day to have him back here.”
“It was really an important moment for him to be able to come back to work,” said Waddle. “I know he felt the support of the entire Good Karma Brand. I know he felt the strength coming from everybody, and I think it kind of was a milestone for him and it was an achievement.”
Silvy’s return brought a new perspective to everyone at ESPN Chicago.
“It becomes a reminder for all of us to enjoy ourselves,” said Waddle. “It’s great to be all worked up about what the Cubs or Sox are doing and shouldn’t take you away from being emotional about that, but at the end of the day when the work is over, it’s been a nice reminder that there are more important things in life than who’s going to hit leadoff for the White Sox.”
For Silvy, it signified a fresh start and the release of a huge mental burden he had been carrying.
“I felt like I was a freshman starting high school, or a freshman so happy to be on a college campus for the first time,” said Silvy. “It was like that back-to-school day where you have the butterflies.”
Most importantly, it was an opportunity to return to normal. To return to radio the way it should be, being able to look Waddle in the eye while complaininging about the Cubs and Sox. And to return to the place where he first connected with all the listeners who gave him the strength to get through the most difficult year of his life.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.