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Ryan Hurley Is Trying To Build New York’s Greatest Radio Station

“With all that has occurred and changed, it’s been pretty impressive to see what we were able to pull off and keep together for our audience, staff and programs.”

Derek Futterman

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Crafting a unique, on-air sound is something Ryan Hurley has aspired to do since starting his career at 98.7 ESPN New York. A Hofstra University graduate, Hurley was interested in radio from the time he was young, and now is an integral part of the industry that helped shape his interests.

“I grew up a control-room rat,” said Hurley. “I loved the content and creative side of radio; it’s still the most intimate form of broadcasting there is. The relationship you create with the audience keeps me motivated.”

Hurley was initially offered an entry-level marketing and promotion position at 1050 ESPN-AM out of college in 2004, something that, while it was radio-related, he had no interest in. The niche areas of sports radio programming and production were where Hurley’s interests truly lied, and after declining the initial job offer, he was afforded a second opportunity.

Tech and Digital Media: [New post] Progress Keeps Ryan Hurley Driven To Do  More
Courtesy: Johnny Cigar Sports

“After I hung up the phone, I was immediately kind of kicking myself because everyone tells you to say yes to everything no matter what the position is,” said Hurley. “I got another call a couple of days later, and they took my résumé at programming. I spoke with someone there, and got an entry level production/board operations position.”

Upon starting at 1050 ESPN New York, Hurley produced various talk shows and worked directly with on-air personalities and commentators. Eventually his responsibilities grew as he became the lead producer of The Michael Kay Show. Since his first days at the station in 2004, sports talk radio has drastically changed, something that Hurley had to embrace in order to be successful.

“The platforms have changed especially the way it’s consumed from terrestrially to streaming and digital platforms,” said Hurley. “[Smart devices] are used by many people, especially over this last year-and-a-half, and over the pandemic, we saw that usage increase a ton.”

These changes in consumption habits and platform distribution have had a consequential impact on the ratings system, a primary measurement to determine the profitability and popularity of radio stations. As a program director, Hurley has had to alter the way he qualitatively analyzes the numbers, since they are not currently reflective on all of the methods by which people immerse themselves in sports radio.

“[The] measurement [of ratings] has certainly been questioned over the last years about accuracy in how many people have meters and how much of the audience is represented,” said Hurley. “[Additionally], there is not a way to measure… [consumption] through their phones and devices… so there’s an adjustment made to how that is measured. Ratings still play a big part in our business and how we plan in terms of strategizing with the shows and our sales teams. It’s the same for everyone for now, whether or not people believe it is necessarily measuring [them] properly.”

Hurley acknowledges that sports talk radio has become based more on entertainment than it has on reporting and analyzing the latest scores, stats and news. Targeting the content to the listening audience keeps people engaged and ostensibly-indebted to the shows, institutionalizing it as an essential part of listeners’ days.

“We are here to entertain people and provide content that will keep them coming back,” affirmed Hurley. “When trying to get an audience and develop programming, you want those shows to be like hanging out with your friends every day; you don’t want to miss out on what everyone is saying.”

As a program director, one of Hurley’s jobs is to scout and cultivate air talent, a task that is done both externally and internally. In an age where the demand for quality content is higher than ever before and where people have a plethora of choices as to what to listen to, finding on-air talent that is impressionable and entertaining remains a challenge.

Michael Kay GOES OFF On Caller for Saying Him and Peter Should Show More  Respect to Mike Francesa - YouTube
Courtesy: YES Network

“I have a great deal of people who reach out to me and… send me examples of their work,” said Hurley. “We have also had people on our staff internally come up through the production side, or [do] some part-time hosting that have ended up being on our staff and doing full-time work. Entertaining people is the number one thing I look for, as well as different, unique takes and angles, and the potential to have some inside knowledge and information on things that other people can’t bring to the table.”

Some of these changes occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic, but many were catalyzed by the sudden shift in lifestyle and need for adaptation which occurred after it was declared a national emergency, causing sports, entertainment and much of the industrial world to completely shut down.

“People needed an escape or some sort of outlet from all of the reality of what was going on in the world,” reminisced Hurley. “We had to get creative in the way we programmed in what content we created and what we discussed. On the other end of that, the way we operate also changed drastically; we had to figure out a way to get everyone on-the-air basically from their homes.”

98.7 ESPN New York placed its focus on working together as a team during the pandemic in order to withstand a seminal moment in modern history altogether. It’s something that Hurley is especially appreciative of his staff for being able to do.

“It was all hands on deck during the last year and a half between engineering, production, figuring out ways to make everything work,” said Hurley. “With all that has occurred and changed, it’s been pretty impressive to see what we were able to pull off and keep together for our audience, staff and programs.”

As a result of the widespread financial hardship endured by radio stations through the COVID-19 pandemic, the presence of content driven by sports betting platforms, such as FanDuel, Bet365 and DraftKings became distinctly more prevalent through advertising.

“It’s a huge opportunity to work with different sports-betting companies and clients, as well as for on-air content,” said Hurley. “All around, it’s a big part of what’s going on in the landscape of our industry in not just radio, but television as well.”

During the extended period without sports in the early stages of the pandemic, Hurley and ESPN New York had to work to maintain relationships with professional sports teams they broadcast. Once they resumed play, they had to adapt to new guidelines mandating broadcasts.

“Relationships are key… and working with not only the P.R. staff, but as a team at the station,” said Hurley. “You have to coordinate with programming, team interviews with coaches and players, setting up potential shows, getting liners from players in the pre-season, etc.”

ESPN Radio New York is unique among its competitors, as it has both FM and AM frequencies to which it can broadcast its programming. Those assets allow them to air multiple games at a time. The station currently has relationships with the New York Jets, the New York Knicks, the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers.

“Certain broadcasts will take priority over others,” explained Hurley, “and the good thing is that we have 1050 ESPN that we can use as a place for people to listen if there’s a conflict. It’s crucial to have relationships with teams and people behind the scenes; it’s not just the games that air, it’s a lot of the ancillary stuff as well.”

Another unique aspect of ESPN Radio New York is that it is a part of the ESPN parent brand, something Hurley says helps the radio station attract talent and guests. Moreover, the conglomeration of distribution platforms helps the station facilely produce other sports-related content and air national games, including enticing contests throughout the M.L.B. postseason and N.B.A. playoffs.

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“We have good working relationships with the television producers at the networks, and are in communication a good amount,” said Hurley. “There’s been great collaboration between the television and audio side. The ability to have… [the] resources to use and work with… [is] one great thing about our company.”

Through times of extreme challenge and unforeseen hardship, ESPN Radio has endured, and Hurley remains motivated to elevate the station to the next level, even in an age of changing audio consumption.

“I want us to be the greatest station there is,” said Hurley. “To see where we have come from as 1050-AM, to where we are now at 98.7-FM, and the way we’ve grown product, talent, programming and relationships — it’s amazing. Seeing that progress is what keeps me driven.”

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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