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Chris King’s Side of the Radio Keeps Hockey Fans Listening

“My philosophy is that it has to be fun on our side of the radio for it to be fun on the other side of the radio”

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Photo Credit: Richard T. Slattery

Chris King has been on the radio for New York Islanders broadcasts since 1998. In that time, King has brought thrilling moments for fans of the orange and blue to life. However, it wasn’t until 2020 that the man they call “Kinger” had to transition to calling home games in an arena without a crowd, and road games in a small studio in Hempstead, NY. While the Islanders radio voice is finally back on the road for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, albeit independently (due to NHL COVID-19 protocols), he hopes that next season will be a restoration of normalcy in terms of fans being in arenas and broadcasters traveling with the team.

“Just from an emotional and energy standpoint as a broadcaster, I do hockey and baseball, and the crowd is a big part of [the game],” said King. “The difficulty of calling the game off of a monitor [is that] you are limited to what the [television] director shows you, as opposed to being at the event. In hockey, things happen away from the puck all the time, and I need to look there to see what plays are being set up, especially late in close games.”

With the Islanders making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, and securing another playoff trip this year, King’s preparatory process centers around learning about the opponent. He says it’s something that can be especially difficult during a regular season filled with traveling.

“During the regular season, it’s a little more difficult than the playoffs,” described King. “Let’s say the Islanders are playing the Rangers on Tuesday. All the way leading up to that, I’m trying to learn about the Rangers for 48 hours leading up to the game. As soon as that game ends, I have to learn the next visiting team.”

King said preparing for the playoffs is less strenuous than doing so in the regular season, comparing it to baseball, a sport he has called for the Atlantic League’s Long Island Ducks over the last 20 seasons, where teams play series against one another.

“[In the playoffs], you ramp-up [and learn the opponent], then you get 3-4 broadcasts out of it,” said King. “I had a tremendous ramp-up to get up to speed on the Penguins, but once [the series] begins, it’s that same opponent [for the whole series]. In that aspect, it’s much easier than the regular season where you’re constantly changing opponents and, during a normal regular season, location as well.”

Another part of King’s job that he credits as being an integral part of the broadcast is his collection of sound from the coaching staff and the players to intersperse throughout the broadcast. Using a device for audio playback, King provides the listener with insight from the team on their matchup, and what they need to do to win the game.

“A large portion [of my job] is recording and editing audio,” King explained. “On our broadcasts, I drop in a ton of sound because I think it adds to the broadcast. Instead of hearing just myself and my broadcast partner Greg Picker, you’re also hearing 5-6 players, head coach Barry Trotz, etc..”

88.7 WRHU-FM Radio Hofstra University has been the flagship station of the New York Islanders since 2010. The station produces and distributes the radio broadcast to several other prominent commercial stations which comprise the New York Islanders Radio Network, including 98.7 WEPN-FM and 1050 WEPN-AM and 103.9 WRCN-FM. While WRHU-FM is in fact a non-commercial, student-run college radio station, it operates as a professional outlet worthy of airing NHL games, winning numerous prestigious awards from the National Association of Broadcasters and the Academy of Radio Arts and Sciences of America. King says the large quantity of aspiring media professionals working on the broadcast throughout the season has helped augment its quality, aligning more with the law of increasing returns than its polar opposite; that is, with the key cogs in the system remaining constant.

“At WRHU, we have a producer, an engineer, someone cutting highlights and someone doing updates,” said King. “On any given night, I’d say our team [consists of] between 6-10 people. I’ve done so many broadcasts where it’s one person operating the board back at the radio station, and you can’t get that much more help. The fact that we’ve been on [WRHU] for 11 years now is one of the reasons we have one of the best broadcasts in the NHL.”

The National Hockey League recently agreed to broadcast deals with both ESPN and TNT that gives both networks rights to air league games through the 2028-29 season. Both deals are centered around distribution of hockey onto various multimedia platforms, and aspire to further grow the game of hockey around the world, something King is enthusiastic about.

“I think [the deal] will be great for the league because ESPN is the number one brand name in the world as far as sports are concerned,” said King. “For all the students doing broadcasts on WRHU, being broadcast on ESPN Radio lets them know that their work is worthy of being carried on a monstrous sports radio station with the name behind it.”

As sports broadcasts evolve with changing consumption trends, King sees the impact sports betting has had over the airwaves. The voice of the Islanders doesn’t enjoy its implementation into the broadcast, but he recognizes the foothold it has rapidly taken before, during and after the game.

“I tape every game and watch it back the next day… and MSG Networks is taking a pretty good portion of their pregame show talking about sports betting,” said King. “It’s not my favorite thing, but the bottom line is money, and if the money is coming from those companies, they’ll [talk about it].”

King, a seasoned broadcaster in his own right, says that radio, however it is disseminated, is a unique platform for sports broadcasting because of its absence of video, requiring the announcers to provide that feed to the mind of the listener.

“The broadcast can be whatever I want it to be because I’m the one in charge — and I hardly ever get recognized because they don’t see my face,” explained King. “The broadcast is what I want it to be every single night. On television, it is good to be a part of a team, [but] because you are a small pawn of a larger operation… the broadcaster is being told what to do from the director and producer [based on their vision].”

With commanding the broadcast comes criticism, and for King, most of it is derived from listening back to how he did his job each game, another part of his preparation that keeps him ready and helps him improve his on-air skills every time the Islanders are on the ice. For himself, he says, though, the act of judging his performance is difficult to quantify or qualify; he just “kind of knows.”

“My philosophy is that it has to be fun on our side of the radio for it to be fun on the other side of the radio,” said King. “I judge it more on if we brought the excitement and the energy, and if we conveyed what was going on in the building. The people who are not there need to be able to follow the game based on my words. The other side of the game is letting them know how crazy the building is.”

As the New York Islanders look to advance far into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, King is excited to be back in the arena with the roar of the crowd behind his signature goal calls. As for his takeaways from calling the game from a remote site away from the team, his answer, much like the Islanders fans’ signature chant, came in the form of “Yes. Yes. Yes.”

“Was it difficult at first? Yes. Did it get better? Yes. Do I hope to never do it again? Yes.”

BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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