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Broadcasting Amidst Tragedy

“You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

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Chris Lee

A player collapses on the field during your broadcast, what now? While you absolutely feel for the individual, you have to describe the activity and hope for the best. Nothing can prepare you for this eventuality. As we’ve talked about in previous columns, you can’t play doctor and speculate on the injury; you just have to describe what you see. While thankfully these incidents are few and far between, you just can’t possibly know if something like this could happen in one of your broadcasts. 

It all comes down to how you handle it. In this case, at the European Championship, Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed on the field. He needed CPR in order to be resuscitated. Ericksen was given chest compressions as his teammates stood around him to create a type of “privacy wall”. Eriksen was carried off the field to a loud ovation from the audience. This is when you start dealing in fact-based commentary only. What you see being done is what you talk about. Reaction shots from the crowd, teammates and officials can tell the story better than you. This is the time when your director, producer and camera operators are critical to the storytelling. 

Courtesy: Getty Images

The game was broadcast throughout the world. ESPN had the broadcast in the United States and as you can imagine, they took some heat for the way the medical incident was handled. Many complained that the telecast lingered too long on the scene before cutting away. ESPN said it didn’t have its cameras at the match and was using a “world feed” supplied by the Union of European Football Associations.

“Once it was clear the world feed was going to take a more aggressive approach to covering the situation, we should have moved quicker to a static wide shot of the stadium or returned to the studio,” ESPN said in a statement.

You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If there was no focus on the injury, ESPN would have taken heat for that as well. In these cases, you just have to do the best you can under the circumstances. 

The Eriksen situation, got me thinking about a situation I found myself in, while doing pregame for the Chicago Cubs in 2002. In fact, we’re approaching the anniversary of this sad day. It was June 22, 2002 at Wrigley Field when the game was being delayed and nobody knew why. It was the day that Cardinals’ pitcher Darryl Kile passed away in his hotel room in Chicago. He didn’t report to the ballpark for batting practice, when he normally would. The team had hotel staff check Kile’s room and that’s when they found him in his bed. He passed away in his sleep. Just an awful day at Wrigley and a terrible day to be broadcasting. 

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Chicago. I remember it was a strange start time (2:05pm Central) due to Fox televising the game. My pregame show started at 1:30 that afternoon. Before our show began, we were informed of Kile’s death. However, we were not allowed to broadcast the information, since his family had not been notified yet. I remember thinking, ok, so how are we going to let people know that this game isn’t happening, without giving up this tragic information. On one hand we have a responsibility to let fans know what’s going on, but then there’s the more important aspect, someone has died and the family didn’t know. Even in a competitive world, the latter trumps the former. We started the show as normal and had some discussions on how to move forward during commercial breaks. 

As I recall, we decided to mention that there was going to be a delay, without going into specifics. Keeping it vague at least let the audience that the game wouldn’t start on time. But, at the same time it opened up a whole different set of issues. You have to remember that in June 2002, we were only nine months removed from the horrific terrorist attack on our country on 9/11/2001. I was sure that people’s first thoughts would be that there was some kind of security risk to fans in the ballpark. In fact, later I learned that a rumor had been swirling around that an attack was imminent. Of course, that was just an unsubstantiated rumor. 

After discussion with my sports director Dave Eanet and booth mates, Pat Hughes and Ron Santo, we decided to alleviate that thought. We had to. Knowing that in those days a lot of fans brought their radios to the ballpark, we felt the need to alleviate any concerns about security. Coming back from a break we decided to say, “we have been informed that there will be a delay before first pitch this afternoon. We have been assured by Cubs officials that the reason is not a security situation, we’ll have more info as it becomes available.” 

I remember feeling very empty about that statement, seeing as I knew the real reason for the delay and that the game was not going to happen at all. We had the responsibility to keep going and continue to provide a pregame show as if nothing was happening. Santo and I started to fill, talking about general baseball things, standings, league leaders and the Cubs upcoming schedule. After extending the pregame show a bit, it was time to hand things off to Hughes for the start of what was supposed to be the broadcast of the game. 

It was at that time, I decided to take our wireless microphone and head down to the field. It was very strange being on the field at that time of the day. I saw no activity in either dugout. People in the stands were asking me what was going on. I had to lie and say, “I have no idea, that’s why I’m down here.” It was just a few moments later that Cubs’ catcher Joe Girardi came out of the dugout, surrounded by teammates, members of the Cardinals and the umpiring crew, to make an announcement to the crowd. It was 2:37pm and his message was carried live on our airwaves and on Fox. 

“Excuse me. I thank you for your patience,” he started, with his voice cracking with emotion. “We regret to inform you because of a tragedy in the Cardinal family that the commissioner has cancelled the game today. Thank you.”

Fans were still confused after waiting for as long as they had. Some could be heard yelling “What happened?”

“Please be respectful,” Girardi responded. “You will find out eventually what has happened, and…I ask that you say a prayer for the St. Louis Cardinal family.” The fans politely applauded Girardi as a sign of thanks. Girardi would later say it was the hardest thing he ever had to do in the game. He said it was more difficult than taking his uniform off for the last time as a player. 

There are a few things I’ll never forget after Girardi’s address. Seeing Tony La Russa and Cubs manager Don Baylor shake hands and embrace, each was shaking his head in disbelief. Baylor knew Kile, having managed him in Colorado during the 1998 season. Listening to the fans clammer in that din we’ve all heard before during a baseball game. Watching them file out of the park was something to behold as well. Cubs’ fans embracing and patting Cardinals’ fans on the back. For a moment the rivalry was not important. The final thing I saw on that field before making my way back up to the pressbox, were several St. Louis players, including Jim Edmonds walking across the field. They were going to address the media in the only interview room at Wrigley Field, on the third base side of the field. The looks on their faces, I’ll never forget. 

MLB.com Photo Gallery
Courtesy: Stephen J. Carrera/AP

While some outlets decided to run with the news before the family was notified, there was no way we were going to reveal the news prematurely. I’m extremely proud of the way my station handled a very difficult and sensitive situation. It was one of the toughest, if not THE toughest pregame broadcast I’ve ever done. I’m grateful to my teammates in the booth that afternoon for understanding the gravity of the moment. 

There is no guidebook for how to broadcast under these circumstances. You have to rely on common sense and decency to get it done when it comes to tragedy. As much as athletes have a bit of celebrity to them, at the end of the day, they’re human beings with families, kids. When horrific injuries, or even death occur, remember that fact and treat the moment with the respect and dignity it deserves. 

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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