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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy Of A Broadcaster: Michael Kay

“Kay isn’t afraid to call it like he sees it, even if that means blasting the Yankees, an individual player or the opposing team.”

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Dreams do come true, just ask Yankees TV announcer Michael Kay. He grew up ten minutes from Yankee Stadium. He was a huge Yankees fan, so much so, that in Little League he’d wear number 1 for his favorite player, Bobby Murcer. Once he realized that a career as the Yankees’ first baseman wasn’t going to materialize, the dream turned to becoming a broadcaster for the team. To get there, Kay did all the school reports he could about the Yankees, so he could know all about them. Now many years later it’s his job to know all he can about the team. 

Sportsmedia column: Michael Kay braces for new world of MLB broadcasting
Courtesy: YES Network

Kay attended Fordham University and worked for the radio station WFUV, thinking it was the best place for him to pursue the dream. He was there with another guy that dreamed of a play-by-play career, Mike Breen, the voice of the NBA on ABC/ESPN. 

In 1992, the lifelong ambition became a reality as he joined John Sterling in the Yankees radio booth. He would spend a decade on radio, then transition to television with the advent of the YES Network. He became the main play-by-play guy for the network in 2002. So now, Kay is in his 30th year with the team as a broadcaster.  

ROAD TO YANKEES BOOTH

Kay started his professional career with the New York Post in 1982 as a general assignment writer. He had sports assignments from college basketball and the NBA, covering the New Jersey Nets. Kay worked himself up at the paper and received the Yankees’ beat writing assignment in 1987. 

In 1989, Kay left the Post for the Daily News, still covering the Yankees as his primary beat. Kay also served as the Madison Square Garden Network Yankee reporter starting in 1989. 

Kay left the Daily News to host a sports talk show on WABC in 1992, briefly returning to write “Kay’s Korner” for the Daily News in 1993, before taking the microphone job for radio broadcasts of New York Yankee games beside John Sterling. 

BUSY GUY

Kay manages to find time to do many things, aside from calling Yankees games. He hosts The Michael Kay Show weekdays from 2-6:30pm on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM and simulcast on the YES Network. The show started in 2002, the same year he started as the voice of the Yankees on TV. 

The show is now co-hosted by Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg. Kay and La Greca have been paired on ESPN New York since 2002, with the duo working to build a successful sports radio show in a tough market over the course of two decades. Rosenberg, the show’s third voice, joined in 2015.

In March TMKS moved up an hour to give Kay more time with the New York audience. But that means an extra hour away from preparing for that night’s Yankees game. Kay will look through his Yankees notes and other things to get ready for the game, during long commercial blocks on his radio show. If there is a game to call, Kay will leave the radio show anywhere from 5:45 to 6pm, with co-hosts La Greca and Rosenberg left to close out the show. 

He’s also the host of CenterStage on the YES Network. He interviews some of the biggest names in sports, entertainment and politics for the last two decades. Kay has even collected some of his favorite moments from on and off camera into a book “CenterStage: My Most Fascinating Interviews – From A-Rod to Jay-Z.”

CenterStage | Book by Michael Kay | Official Publisher Page | Simon &  Schuster

I’m not entirely sure how Kay manages this schedule. I know that the first time I was asked to host an hour-long pregame show before a game broadcast, the feeling in my stomach was not good. How could I do this show and get ready for a game that night? It meant getting to the ballpark earlier, using time between segments wisely and then getting some good exercise. I’d have to maneuver through the crowd from the home studio down the left field line, to the broadcast booth behind home plate. Stressful. 

My point is, for Kay to be able to call a Yankees game, after having been on the air already for 3-4 hours is something to marvel at. I’m sure he would tell you that a lot of the prep work comes from some of the topics on his show. He’s likely already up on the latest information regarding the Yankees and he’s pretty versed by then about what is happening elsewhere in the world of sports. Still, I admire his ability to be as busy as he is and still be sharp on his play-by-play. 

WHAT MAKES HIM SO GOOD

There is a conversational style by Kay that sets him apart from others. He doesn’t have that “typical” broadcasting voice, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He seems to speak to Yankees fans as a Yankees fan. Make sense? I mean he’s rooting for the team and he’s not pleased when they aren’t doing well. You can tune into a Yankees telecast and before you even see the score, you can tell by his tone, who’s winning and who’s not. Kay is a true hometown broadcaster and people in New York crave that. He’s happy when the viewer is obviously happy, and not when they aren’t. 

Having a highly rated sports talk show helps with that delivery. Hosts are supposed to have that conversational, passionate and easy to listen to style. You talk with your audience as opposed to talking “at” them. Sports talk hosts want to build that relationship with an audience, making them feel like the host is one of them so to speak. This holds true with a baseball announcer trying to develop that same relationship. Kay truly is one of them and while his style may not work for others, it definitely works for him. 

Kay is a throwback of sorts as well. There aren’t too many true “homers” left in booths across the country. Yes, broadcasters of local teams, scream and yell more when their team is doing well, but if their local 9 isn’t playing well, choosing the right words can be challenging. Not too many announcers have free reign to criticize their own club. Gone are the days of Harry Caray and Marty Brennaman who would frequently call out their own team and its players for a variety of things. Both had built up so much equity with the teams and fan base they were free to do and say what they wanted.  

Kay isn’t afraid to call it like he sees it, even if that means blasting the Yankees, an individual player or the opposing team. He sees it as being honest with the viewer/listener. As he told the Sports Media with Richard Deitsch” podcast, Kay doesn’t think there is anybody more critical of the team they broadcast than he is and he credits the Yankees for allowing him to do that.

“The reason I can do it is that the Yankees never say a word because they realize the value of honesty. If you are going to tell people the food stinks, then they are going to believe you when they tell you the food is great. There are so many people around the country that are blowing smoke constantly and I guess that’s what the fanbase wants. I don’t think that would play in New York. I think honesty plays in New York.” 

CRITICIZING AND BEING CRITICIZED 

In his 30-year career, Kay has done his share of criticizing. In April he went off on the Yankees for using an “opener”, Nick Nelson, in a critical game against the Rays. 

“You’re the best-looking guy at the party. Don’t try to be the smartest. Why couldn’t they start Michael King? Why were they getting cute by starting Nick Nelson, who gave up two runs and they never looked back? Why? Why were you doing that? In your organization, you don’t have another starter? It’s almost the same thing as what you did in the Division Series. You started Deivi Garcia and brought in J.A. Happ. Don’t try to outsmart the Rays!”

So, when you criticize you open yourself up for it to come back to you. He’s had back-and-forth run-ins with players on his own team, like Clint Frazier. Most recently as a result of commentary on his talk show, he’s gone toe-to-toe with Mets’ pitcher Marcus Stroman.

The funny thing is Kay claims he has thin skin. Again, speaking on the “Sports Media with Richard Deitsch” podcast he admitted to such. His inclination is to fight back, but sometimes it’s not the best way to go about it. 

Courtesy: ESPN Images

“People that criticize people do not like to be criticized. My skin is so thin, it is translucent. If I mess up a call and you say wow, Michael messed up a call. Bring it, I deserve it. When you say stuff just the way I do stuff or something that rubs you the wrong way, it bothers me. I don’t understand the meanness of it.” Kay told the podcast.

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS/CALLS

Working for an organization like the Yankees lends itself to a broadcaster having some memorable calls. This is true in the case of Kay, who got to watch Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera, Tino Martinez, Mark Teixeira, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada, Aaron Judge and even Alex Rodriguez play many baseball games. One of Kay’s most memorable came in 2011. 

Derek Jeter’s 3000th hit came on a home run, July 9, 2011:

“The 3-2, that one’s drilled to deep left field, going back Joyce, looking up, See ya! 3000! History with an exclamation point! Oh, what a way to join the 3000-hit club! Derek Jeter has done it, in grand style!” 

If you’ve ever wondered, where his home run call, “see ya!” came from, well in 2018 he joined the Dan Patrick Show and explained the origin:

“I got this job 27 years ago, and at the time I was dating a young lady who, when she would get out of the car at the end of a date, she would say ‘see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya!’ And I said, ‘you know, I’m going to hijack that as my home-run call. So, I’ve been doing it since the very beginning of when I got the job in 1992.”

File:Michael Kay.jpg - Wikipedia

CONCLUSION

Kay is a multimedia superstar in New York and just keeps on going. His uniqueness is in his ability to juggle a top-rated talk show and call games for one of the iconic franchises in sports history is amazing to me. To actually be able to do BOTH jobs at such a high level sets him apart. Kay has carved out his own style and it works for both him and Yankees fans alike. 

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of an Insider: Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports and The Athletic

“Even though I was on television, I always thought [that] what should distinguish me is my work.”

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For over 30 years, Ken Rosenthal has had the attention of Major League Baseball fans, front offices and even the commissioner. He’s been breaking stories and covering some of the most important stories in baseball since his start in 1987. Rosenthal is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Growing up in New York, his early goals were pretty simple. “I never wanted to be more than a beat guy on a major sport at a major paper. My dad, figuring I would never make enough money, would tell me early in my career, ‘Maybe one day you’ll be on TV.’ He told Pressbox Online back in 2017.

“I would laugh at him and say, ‘No chance.’” How wrong that would turn out to be.

Baseball fans should also be extremely happy that Rosenthal did not follow some early advice.

One day during the winter break in his senior year of college, he went to the Newsday offices to meet up with sports editor Dick Sandler. Rosenthal needed guidance on how to pursue a journalism career. The advice he got was a bit of a wakeup call.

“He did advise me to go to law school,” Rosenthal recalled to Barrett Sports Media last year. “It did light a fire under me, and my dad was an attorney. I remember he was pretty pissed off when I told him that. I just don’t think you should tell a young person something like that.”

The fire was lit and the rest is history.

ROAD TO FOX/THE ATHLETIC

Rosenthal graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1984 and embarked on his career, starting at the York Daily Record in 1984. He quickly moved on to the Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, New Jersey for two years. Then Rosenthal landed a full-time job with The Baltimore Sun, where he was named Maryland Sportswriter of the Year five times by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association during his tenure from 1987 to 2000. 

At the same time Rosenthal was also contributing to Sports Illustrated from 1990 to 2000, providing weekly notes during baseball season. He then spent five years at The Sporting News until 2005. That association led him to Fox. The Sporting News had a partnership with FOX Sports and TSN writers would appear on various Fox RSN’s to talk about the local baseball team.  

Since he was the senior baseball writer, he would hold a ‘press junket’ of sorts, sitting in a studio for hours appearing on different city’s shows talking baseball.

Rosenthal started to expand his career. His television ‘hits’ were accompanied by feature stories, breaking news and a weekly column. Television made sense, especially since others in his position were starting to make a name for themselves in the medium. People like Tim Kurkjian, who was always reporting on stories via ESPN.

With the encouragement of his wife, Rosenthal started looking at television more seriously and actually got some offers, from both ESPN and Fox. He chose the higher profile position at FOX Sports. He was told that he would be reporting during the Game of the Week with Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. It would represent a big break and a change in lifestyle, being away from home and focusing his attention completely on the national perspective of the sport.

Later Rosenthal would add duties at MLB Network, before a controversy caused him to lose that job. As I wrote a couple of years ago, Commissioner Rob Manfred did not like a column written by Rosenthal in June of 2020. It in a nutshell it was critical of Manfred’s handling of the start of the pandemic plagued season.  Rosenthal wrote “As if the perception that Manfred is beholden to owners and out of touch with players was not bad enough, he was trending on Twitter (now X) on Monday after performing a massive flip-flop.” That among other things led to the network not bringing Rosenthal back.

Most recently, as of 2017, he became the senior writer for The Athletic and broke one of the biggest stories of the last decade for the publication.

Rosenthal now appears regularly on a very popular podcast Foul Territory which streams live on YouTube 5 days a week. Former MLB Players A.J. Pierzynski, Erik Kratz, Todd Frazier and Adam Jones are the featured performers. Recently he signed on to co-host Fair Territory with Alanna Rizzo on the Foul Territory Network twice a week. That show is live on YouTube.

SCOOPS/ WHY IS HE A “GO TO” INSIDER?

Rosenthal has been behind countless scoops and ‘reported first’ over the course of his career, but one recent scoop stands out. In 2019, Rosenthal and his colleague Evan Drellich at The Athletic broke the story of the Astros sign stealing controversy. The Astros cheated in 2017 by stealing opponents’ signs with the aid of cameras and of course, banging of garbage cans to indicate what type of pitch was coming. It was a story that was well researched and featured former Astros players telling the story to Ken and Evan. The sources for this story were hard to argue with, because these players had first-hand knowledge of how it started, how it played out and what resulted from it. One of the sources, pitcher Mike Fiers, admitted to the setup and then told Rosenthal that he warned his subsequent teams of the deal with the Astros.  It was a well-crafted scoop that was ‘bullet proof’ thanks to Rosenthal and Drellich’s excellent reporting.

That’s the reason to me why Rosenthal is considered one of, if not the most trusted insiders around. He oozes credibility and has a style that’s pretty direct and not too flashy. That certainly helps his reputation as being fair and respectful when it comes to his sources and the stories he breaks.

He is well respected in the industry and isn’t all about just breaking stories. While there is some satisfaction in doing so, I’m sure, the fact is, once you break the story, everyone else jumps in to confirm with their own source. So, the party becomes very crowded and quickly. Rosenthal is a storyteller at heart and you can tell the pride in which he writes a column or feature. Even though many recognize him only from his television appearances, he is a writer doing television, not a television reporter that also writes.

Through it all he is staying true to his roots and continuously knocking things out of the park. Digging deep into a subject, much deeper than any sports fan could imagine. In the end, Rosenthal educates fans with his knowledge and the knowledge of the players he interviews. Longform writing is not easy, trust me, but Rosenthal handles it with ease.

Rosenthal is also very good on television, delivering pregame storylines and also in-game reporting for MLB on Fox games and into the postseason. He’s smooth and polished and as always, his reports are filled with terrific information.

BOWTIES

Rosenthal has become known on television for wearing a bowtie for every broadcast. It is not something he decided to wear, he was actually ordered to wear one. After joining MLB on Fox Game of the Week, his boss, David Hill, insisted he wear the bowtie to distinguish Rosenthal from other reporters.

“Even though I was on television, I always thought [that] what should distinguish me is my work,” Rosenthal told BSM. “A look – I didn’t want any part of that. But he was the boss, and he was a very strong boss and a powerful boss.”

Rosenthal wanted to ditch the practice after the Giants won the World Series that season (2010), but a phone call from a former NFL player changed the tune. Dhani Jones, a former linebacker, founded The Bow Tie Cause to represent different non-profit charities. Jones asked Rosenthal if he’d be willing to support the cause by continuing to wear the tie.

“I never imagined that it would become, I guess, kind of part of my identity, but it is,” Rosenthal said. “When I don’t wear it now – and even if I’m at the ballpark on a Friday preparing for a Saturday broadcast in my regular clothes – some fan or somebody will say, ‘Hey, where’s the bowtie?’ and so it is definitely part of it.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of an Insider: Jeff Passan

The life of an insider takes no breaks, probably causes internal consternation and means you’re on your phone constantly, all in the name of being first to report on a story.

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Report: Jeff Passan is a tremendous ‘insider’ when it comes to baseball. Ok, this is actually a fact, but you get the picture. Usually that first word “report” is followed by Jeff Passan says according to his sources, and there’s usually some big news after that. Correct news, more often than not. The life of an insider takes no breaks, probably causes internal consternation and means you’re on your phone constantly, all in the name of being first to report on a story.

Passan grew up near Cleveland, Ohio and that’s where Passan’s love for baseball began. In his bio at ESPN, he says, “Getting to watch the 1990s Indians, with Albert Belle and Kenny Lofton and Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez and Omar Vizquel and Carlos Baerga and Eddie Murray, made a baseball fan of me forever.” Passan said he always had a passion for writing and sports and now has a career in both.

“The ability to marry the two seemed too convenient to work a real job.” Passan said on ESPN.

“Somehow, for upward of 20 years now, I’ve managed to make it happen. And for all the late nights, the days away from the family, the clacking away on the keyboard: Yeah, it really is the best job in the world.”

ROAD TO ESPN

Passan attended Syracuse and wrote for The Daily Orange while at school. He began covering baseball in 2004 while at The Kansas City Star before he moved on to Yahoo! a couple of years later. Passan worked at the internet site for 13 years.

Passan announced that he was joining ESPN’s Baseball team in January 2019. While working at ESPN, he makes guest appearances on SportsCenterGet UpThe Rich Eisen ShowBaseball Tonight, The Pat McAfee Show and other ESPN studio shows.

He is also a frequent guest on such ESPN podcasts as ESPN Daily and Baseball Tonight with Buster Olney. He has also contributed as an on-field reporter, including for Monday Night Baseball and Wednesday Night Baseball.

DESIRE, PASSION AND PITFALLS

“Insider” work knows no offseason. News is constantly breaking in baseball. Whether it be during the season, at the trade deadline or after the season, he’s on the scene. This kind of work can be extremely demanding and requires a passion and dedication to be among the best.

In 2022 Passan spoke to the New York Post and was asked where his passion came from. He credited his wife for sparking his career growth. As he recalled, he told his wife he wasn’t looking forward to attending baseball’s Winter Meetings in 2012. After his wife asked him what was wrong, he basically told her that this was the time (Winter Meetings) where he felt terrible at his job. The conversation continued.

“Why’s that?” she asked.

Passan said, “Because I don’t really break news.”

“Why is that?” she said.

“I didn’t have a great answer. I think the thing I said was, “It’s really hard.”

Her response was, “Well, then stop being a p***y and go do it.”

Blunt.

“That sort of emasculation hits hard!” Passan admitted to The Post. “I listened to her. I focused on it. I prioritized it. I’m really glad I did, not just because it helped me land at ESPN, but I truly believe that being in the daily news grind the way you are required to be if you are in this job, opens up so many stories you wouldn’t have gotten by just not talking to the people it forces you to talk with.”

There are drawbacks to being the best at your particular livelihood. The job requires being tethered to his phone. He expanded upon the notion when he joined Andrew Marchand and John Ourand on their sports media podcast back in 2022.

“I’m a slave to it. That’s the reality,” Passan said. “I look at my screen time numbers every week, and seriously I will ask myself, ‘What are you doing? Is this worth it? What are you doing with your life?’”

“My kids are gonna be out of the house in three and seven years and I’m not present too often,” Passan continued. “I will hear them ask a question and I can’t tell you the number of times where I’ve answered, ‘hold on a second, let me finish this text.’ That may be the most oft said thing in my house. Is that how I want my kids remembering me?”

His kids are probably very proud of the excellent work their dad does in the industry. I can see though, how tough this has to be on a father. Being away from the house and always having to work.

USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

Passan was one of the first in the field to start using platforms other than Twitter, now named X.  A Tweet in 2022 explained:

“I have no idea if Twitter is going to be around today, tomorrow, next week, next year. I love everyone here and want them to know that there’s a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency plan.”

Social media is an important part of an “Insider’s” job. It’s a great way to share information to a large audience at lightning speed. Many accused Passan of grandstanding, and “virtue signaling” for “boycotting” a platform now owned by Elon Musk. Now with other platforms available, like Threads and Blue Sky many of those ‘breaking news’ are doing so on multiple social sites.

It’s also dangerous sometimes.

Passan attempted to note in a post on X that Ron Washington was getting another shot as an MLB manager after nearly a decade. But, Passan accidentally wrote that Washington was getting another “s**t” instead of “shot”. No matter that he quickly edited the original post, because screenshots were taken of the post and now live in the dark corners of the internet.

WHY IS HE A ‘GO TO’ INSIDER?

It’s evident that Passan does a ton of work and is very careful about ‘breaking’ things before he has the confirmation he needs. There are those out there that just for the sake of being first, will throw something up against the wall to see if it sticks. That doesn’t seem to be Passan’s style. The guys he competes with may beat him from time to time, but that’s part of the gig. It’s comforting to know that if Passan is on social media with a ‘scoop,’ you can go with it.

In an interview with The Big Lead in 2020, he was asked about the feeling of getting the ‘scoop.’

“It is simultaneously exhilarating and nauseating. It’s a privilege to know that people are coming to me for information.” Passan said.  “I am extremely judicious about it because the one thing I can’t ever do is get something wrong. That is where the nerves and exhilaration come into play. I may know something, but do I know it? I may believe with 99.9 percent certainty that I know something is going to happen but that’s not enough. I need that extra .001 percent and that’s where the extra phone call always makes the difference.”

He admitted to losing scoops because he wasn’t completely certain about a piece to the story. That is the kind of thing that separates the greats from the internet detectives that think they have it right.

Getting the story isn’t just a matter of talking to sources the day of, say the trade deadline in baseball. Passan does the work and cultivates relationships weeks and months before that event even takes place. You can tell that Passan is plugged in and has a style that is easy to respect.

Fans hang on his words. Many feel that if the post isn’t from Passan, they don’t believe it. Creating that trust with the fans and fellow media members is vital. Passan has that trust and continues to earn it every day.

DID YOU KNOW?

Passan has a great sense of humor. A Cubs’ fan named Lisa, took to X on February 22, 2024 announcing:

I heard that they (Cubs) signed (Cody) Bellinger just now from a good friend who’s in AZ right now, but can’t find anything online about it. Have you heard anything?

Several days later, Passan reported on the Cubs signing of Bellinger. He had the details of the contract and all the pertinent information. Then in a post that followed, he simply stated:

Lisa was right

Very cool to acknowledge her and the statement of “Lisa was right” took on a life of its own in Chicago.

Prior to ESPN, Passan was the author of New York Times bestseller The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports, and co-authored Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Kugler

“I wouldn’t trade the journey for anyone else’s path, but I wasn’t exactly a child prodigy!”

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Kevin Kugler, Anatomy of a Broadcaster

Everywhere a sports fan turns these days, you’re bound to see or hear Kevin Kugler on the call. The versatile broadcaster is knee deep into the college basketball season, which will culminate with him calling the National Championship Game on Westwood One. He’s come a long way from his days as a co-host on 1620 “The Zone” in Nebraska.

Kugler holds a number of high-profile jobs these days, not just with Westwood One. Kugler calls basketball and football on the Big Ten Network and is a regular voice of the NFL on Fox. It’s a demanding schedule at times, but Kugler manages to handle it just fine.

“This time of year, isn’t really as crazy as the crossover season when I’ve got both football and basketball on my schedule.” Kugler told me.  “There’s a lot of hoops games to call, but when I’m not juggling football and basketball, it’s certainly a little more manageable.”

Kugler has certainly made a name for himself and become one of the best in the business.

Road to Today

Kugler’s career began at 1620, “The Zone” in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I was there for nearly 12 years.  We started the afternoon drive show “Unsportsmanlike Conduct” in September of 2000 and I left the station in July of 2012.” Kugler says.

From that job, he got to do some play-by-play at the College Baseball World Series, which is based in Omaha. It led to him being “discovered” if you will, on the national stage.

“So, the Westwood One opportunity came from the CWS.  Our station, 1620 The Zone, acquired the rights to produce the preliminary games.” Kugler explained. “As part of the deal, Westwood One agreed to use a 1620 The Zone person on the sidelines.  Thanks to my terrific boss, Neil Nelkin, that person was me.”  

That particular assignment helped beyond Kugler’s wildest expectations.

“As it turned out, Howard Deneroff (now the EVP, Executive Producer at WWO) was the producer of those games.” he told me. “So, I met him (Deneroff) through that.  Every year, he asked me to send him my tape.  I was doing Division II football and basketball for the University of Nebraska-Omaha at the time.  Sent him tapes each year after the CWS.” Kugler remembered. 

“Then, prior to the CWS in 2006, he asked to hear stuff again.  Then asked for more stuff.  By this point, I’m digging into some of the clunkiest cassette tapes that I had, but that didn’t seem to faze him.  He called in the summer of 2006, after the CWS, and offered me the chance to do college football and basketball for the network starting that fall.  It was one of the best phone calls I’ve ever received!”

That is an understatement.

National Work, Big Ten, Westwood One, Fox

The Westwood One gig started to open doors for Kugler. But, one that previously opened to allow his success, closed.

“I only do the Championship series (of the CWS) these days for Westwood One.  My good friend John Bishop handles the preliminary games and does a tremendous job.” Kugler told me. “I had the opportunity a few years back to expand my role with Fox and do some MLB and spring football coverage, so I had to give those games up.” 

Kugler is happy to still be a part of the festivities, because that tournament means a lot to him. “The CWS is Omaha’s calling card!” Kugler proudly proclaimed.  “And as someone who still calls Omaha home, it’s always an amazing thrill to walk into the booth at the CWS.  I hope I get the chance to remain involved in that in some way for years to come.”

He now has three national jobs. At WWO, he’s been the voice of the Final Four and Championship Game since 2008. For a time Kugler was the voice of Sunday Night Football on the radio, but had to give that up for a bigger role too. More on that in a second.

In 2011, Kugler added the Big Ten Network to his portfolio, calling college football and basketball, among other sports. Since BTN was owned by Fox, Kugler also called some national games in both sports as well.

Kugler is also a play-by-play announcer for FOX Sports’ NFL broadcasts. He assumed that role in 2020. In addition to the NFL, he calls select college basketball and MLB telecasts.

What Makes Him Good?

Full disclosure, Kugler is one of my favorite people in the industry. I worked with him for a brief time at BTN doing baseball and softball broadcasts.

That being said, in all objectivity, he’s one of the best around right now for a number of reasons.

First off, he’s developed into one of the more versatile broadcasters in the industry. In a given week, he could be calling the NFL, College Football and College Basketball. That’s not as easy as it might sound. I mean how do you prep for a week like that?

“I’ve always been kind of a prep junkie.  I enjoy telling stories, and getting lost down those ridiculous little rabbit holes where you start following a thread and a half hour later, you realize you finally found what you were looking for.” Kugler says.  “To balance that with limited time takes a certain amount of discipline…I can’t chase those as much as I’d like sometimes, but I make sure I work ahead as much as I can, and I’m always grateful for a repeat team here and there!”

Yeah, I’ll bet.

But the amount of prep he does comes shining through in his broadcasts. There’s an ease about him that is a very comfortable listen. By that I don’t mean generic or vanilla. Kugler easily raises his energy to match the action and dials it down when needed as well. He creates anticipation in his voice in the way he builds up to the moment. I find this especially true when he’s calling basketball on the radio. The ability to use his voice to generate that hope for a listener is only something the best of the best can do. 

The more he’s able to call games on the biggest stage, the more Kugler is able to earn that “you know it’s a big game when you hear him” badge. Young broadcasters tend to get too hyped for a championship type game, but Kugler has mastered his pacing, bringing the moment to his viewers and listeners in a manner that is just right.

There is a humbleness about Kugler as well. When I asked him, “what was the ‘ride’ like early in your career to get to this point?” 

“My journey is probably no different than how it starts for so many of us in the business.  I went to a small market, called high school sports, made a ton of mistakes, and tried to find my voice.  I’ve been fortunate to have some terrific advice and opportunities along the way to where I am today.” Kugler said.  “I’ve struggled to make it as a freelance broadcaster.  I wrestled with the idea that it wasn’t going to happen for me, and what in the world would I do for a living if it didn’t?  (I have no real discernable skills beyond talking).”

As for his successes? “I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a path to doing play-by-play now at the highest level, whether it be the NFL for FOX Sports and Westwood One, college basketball for Fox, BTN and Westwood, the Final Four, etc.  I wouldn’t trade the journey for anyone else’s path, but I wasn’t exactly a child prodigy!” He said. “Ian Eagle told me one time that the more people that can take credit for your career, the better your career has gone.  I feel like a lot of people have played a role in this and I hope that they are happy that they were able to push me forward each step along the road.”

Did You Know?

Kugler hosted the Masters golf tournament for Westwood One in 2009 and 2010. He filed radio reports for the network from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.

Kugler has been accused, as have most broadcasters that do national games, of hating YOUR team. He’s steering into the skid, so to speak, by putting that in his “X” bio. It’s legendary enough that there has been a parody account created, @KuglerH8sUrTeam.

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