If you overheard a serious conversation while in the toy department, it would probably sound ridiculous. If you only heard serious conversations in the toy department of life — meaning sports — that would also be absurd. Steve Covino and Rich Davis are two radio veterans that believe sports discussions are supposed to be fun. It’s hard to argue with them. If it doesn’t make sense to be somber next to LEGO sets or action figures, why would it be a good idea to be joyless when discussing Aaron Rodgers or the AFC East?
Fun works. It’s a big reason why Inside the NBA keeps stacking Emmys. It’s partially why Peyton and Eli Manning received stellar reviews for their Monday Night Football telecast. It’s also why Covino & Rich continues to grow. You don’t end up on major platforms like SiriusXM, SNY, ESPN, and FOX Sports Radio just because you have good hair, although that doesn’t hurt. You end up in those places because you have a formula that works.
Prioritizing fun has served Covino & Rich well. The duo has been hosting shows together for nearly 17 years. They now have a brand new show that airs Sunday evenings on FOX Sports Radio. The East Coasters — Covino is from Union, New Jersey and Rich is from Long Island — discuss how their friendship is rare in the industry. They also touch on cussing, Covino’s DJ skills, celebrity interviews, and Chubb touches. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: How far back do you guys go?
Rich Davis: We started doing our radio show together at SiriusXM at the very end of ’04. We debuted around Super Bowl ’05. That was the Super Bowl where Donovan McNabb ran out of steam versus the Patriots. That was sort of the beginning of Covino & Rich.
Steve Covino: We were friends before that. That’s how it sort of started. We both worked in terrestrial radio but at competing radio stations. I worked at K-Rock New York and Rich was the nighttime hottie at Z100. Then we became friends through mutual friends. We would hang out and go to the bars and talk sports.
Actually, that was the first thing we bonded over. ‘You like baseball? So do I.’ That sort of thing. He was a Mets guy. I was a Yankees guy. The yin to my yang in a lot of ways. We both ended up at SiriusXM. He was doing the pop radio stuff and I was doing the rock radio stuff. Then we just said yo, let’s do this talk show. We started doing this talk show together and here we are.
Rich: Hold on, backpedal for a second, Brian, because I have to tell you, when I first met Covino he was DJing part-time at a bar in Hoboken called O’Donoghue’s.
Covino: That was my side hustle.
Rich: I remember we’d go there and hang and drink on Thursday nights. I’m like who’s this DJ guy? He wouldn’t mix songs; in between the songs he would just play sound effects of like ‘El Covino.’ I’m like he’s playing radio drops at a bar? [Laughs]
Covino: I like to say I was ahead of the game, Brian; a shameless self-promoter from the start.
Rich: We had mutual friends and I remember Covino was going through a breakup; one of his girlfriends dumped him for an athlete actually.
Noe: Was it McNabb?
Covino: [Laughs] No, actually I was going through a really crappy streak. Rich was there at the perfect time to help me through it. I lost an ex-girlfriend to a New Jersey Net who shall not be named. And then my next girlfriend I lost to a New York Ranger who will not be named. And I was just some dude starting out in radio. I was so down in the dumps and that’s when I met Rich and he changed my life.
Noe: What led to you guys doing a show together?
Rich: We got together to do radio at SiriusXM because Sirius had a partnership with Maxim. They were like hey, we’re looking for shows to talk about sports, women, relationships, lifestyle, movies, TV. You know, just guy talk.
Covino: That was in our wheelhouse.
Rich: Covino and I said yo, this is what we do when we’re hanging out. We both know radio so we pitched it and that was almost 17 years ago now. They would send us out to Home Run Derbys, Super Bowls, All-Star Games. We were the guys that could cover sports but also the lifestyle side of it. Like hey guys, go to the EA Madden party and talk to a lot of these guys on the red carpet about their sneakers, their relationships, about the non-on-the-field stuff.
I remember this clearly; we were at a Super Bowl and Tim Tebow was the hot shit at the moment. This is when everyone on Earth was talking about Tim Tebow. We got an interview with him. A guy named Brad Como at SNY in New York watched us interview Tebow. We just had a really fun interview with him. We got back to New York and Brad Como and Curt Gowdy Jr. at SNY were like yo, we like what you guys do. Let’s talk.
Covino: Sports should be fun. You guys make it fun. You’re covering something different. You’re not making it boring and X’s and O’s and stats. We’re getting to see a different side of these guys; can you do that here at SNY? We’re like hell yeah, we’d love to.
Noe: You guys obviously had chemistry for years before you were on the air. Where did you grow the most once you started doing a show together even though you had that off-the-air chemistry?
Covino: I think SNY was a big step for us, to be honest, because that took us from radio to television. And it was live in Times Square. We got the SNY opportunity in 2013. We were on there for two-plus years. I think the pressure, the excitement, going live from New York City in our home city, talking all things New York sports; I think that was a big growing moment for us. Dealing with teleprompters and just having to react live and deal with that every day was big for our growth.
Rich: Covino loves to point out a great thought, which is we were young guys at the time so we never even thought failing was an option. It’s probably a great way to go into things. Now as an adult you overanalyze shit all the time, but back then we didn’t even think that this could go wrong.
Covino: We really didn’t.
Rich: We very quickly realized when they put together shows, we seemed to get along on and off the air like brothers. We’d fight and people were like are you guys mad at each other? No, it’s just what we do. We very quickly realized that we had chemistry while other people’s chemistry wasn’t developing.
Covino: It happened organically though because we were really friends. Other shows most of the time are just two random people that are put together. The chemistry is never going to be real. If someone is fighting, it’s kind of hard to move on from that the next day. We were in it from the start. This is what we do, this is how we fight, and this is how we get along at the same time. That’s sort of how it started.
Rich: And we always had the same goals. A lot of times people will link up and be made co-hosts in the sports world and the news world, and egos come into play. It’s like who gets the lead chair? Who opens the breaks? Whose name is first? These are things that we were like let’s just fuckin’ win. We weren’t like is it Covino & Rich or Rich & Covino? Who cares? All right fine, Covino & Rich. Who’s going to open the breaks? All right Rich, you come out of commercials. Fine, who cares? We kept that throughout our whole career so far and still to this day. Neither one of us will ever let those types of things get in the way. We have the same goals.
Noe: TV is quick; you’re moving, moving. Radio is kind of like living in the South; it’s just a slower pace. Do you ever feel like man, this radio segment is taking forever compared to doing TV?
Rich: No, but I feel that way when I hear other people’s radio shows. [Laughs] Sometimes I’ll hear other people and I’m like, damn they have zero excitement level. Covino and I, sometimes people say man, their energy is too high; I don’t feel like you can have enough energy. I really don’t. I feel like anytime I listen to radio, podcasts, or anything, the minute I hear some monotone shit, I’m checked out.
Covino: You’ve got three hours, or two hours with commercials to bring it. If you’re not bringing it, why am I listening? That’s how I feel.
Rich: Yeah, I feel like whether it’s a comedian’s podcast or a top-40 morning show, if they’re not having fun and laughing and busting chops, to me, that bores me.
Covino: And people that take sports too seriously; that bores me too. Sports are fun. Let’s have fun. Let’s have fun and share some laughs. It doesn’t have to be boring. It doesn’t have to be serious and that’s sort of our goal, the goofier the better sometimes. Just try to keep it lighthearted and remind ourselves, this is fun. It’s supposed to be fun.
Noe: How did the opportunity with FOX Sports Radio come about for you guys?
Rich: Our buddy, who became our super agent, Shaun Wyman, who works at Maxx Sports now was a listener of our radio show. Over a decade ago, we met Shaun at a Super Bowl party and he’s like “Covino and Rich, I listen to you guys. I work at ESPN. Here’s my card.”
Covino: He handed me a business card and I was like you know what, I got to keep ahold of this one. This one looks important.
Rich: He’s like I work in the talent department. I used to be a producer. We became friends with Shaun. His whole thing was like, I’m going to get you guys on ESPN. I was like well that’s awfully ambitious, but I’m with it.
Covino: As he climbed the ranks, he got into more meetings, kept pushing us, and eventually that got us onto ESPN Radio.
Rich: And all the people there, Shaun sold us to Rob Savinelli at the time, Amanda Gifford, all the folks at ESPN.
Covino: They bought into it.
Rich: Traug [Keller] when he was there. There were people there that really felt what Shaun was pushing and really had our back. They said let’s do this. Shaun Wyman got us into ESPN, then because of budget and COVID and all that, our contract wasn’t renewed. We were waiting for our next opportunity and Scott Shapiro at FOX was well aware of what we did. I was not aware of how much he knew about us.
Covino: He gets it, which is awesome.
Rich: He gets our style of humor. He gets what we do. Our first phone call with Scott was super satisfying when you’re talking to someone that knows what you do where you don’t really have to sell as much. We said listen man, we’re going to deliver for you because more than anything, Covino and I want to win. We want to show you that you’re making a good decision.
Covino: People play harder with a chip on their shoulder and although we have a great time, we’re not doing it for the fun; we’re doing it to win. We have a chip on our shoulders.
Rich: And I like this opportunity because I like to think that this is step one in my mind.
Noe: You guys keep it organic and the conversation is going to go where it goes, but after a full day of ball on Sunday, does it feel weird at all to digress and talk about Jolly Ranchers or something random?
Rich: You know what, sometimes I feel like you need to break it up a little bit. I can sometimes get sports burnout, but on a Sunday night I’m still so in that zone that there really just isn’t enough football on Sunday. People want to keep talking about it. We will dive into those dumb things. If we had more time Sunday, Covino saw an empty Red Vines in the garbage can. We were going to have a Red Vines, Twizzlers argument. But we didn’t get to it because Aaron Rodgers provided too much.
Covino: Anytime we can be relatable and tie it into a real-life scenario and try to give personal examples, we’re going to jump at that opportunity. That’s where we shine the brightest.
Rich: Like how Sam Darnold’s full on shit. When Sam Darnold says he doesn’t care that he beat the Jets; that’s like showing up somewhere with your hot new girlfriend looking all slick in front of your ex. Oh, I don’t care; of course you care. Even Robby Anderson, you don’t think after the game they were like, that was f***ing awesome. You don’t think they loved that? The two former Jets connected for a 57-yard touchdown. Come on.
Covino: That’s like us saying we don’t want to beat ESPN and show them we told you so. Anytime we can make it relatable, that’s what we’re going to do.
Noe: Do you ever get confused between being on SiriusXM where it’s uncensored, and another platform where cussing isn’t allowed?
Covino: That’s so funny, man. We’re really, really good at that.
Rich: Well now you jinxed us.
Covino: I know, right? We’ve been pretty great at that because we’ve been uncensored for almost 17 years, saying whatever the hell we want, talking about whatever we want. No censorship whatsoever. But I think Rich and his background, I give him credit here, his background in pop radio keeps him on his toes all the time. He’s able to put a different hat on. And me honestly it’s just a matter of reminding myself where I am and wearing that different hat. Like alright, I’m not doing this satellite radio thing where I can say whatever, I’m on FOX Sports Radio now. Every once in a while, I think there are things you can play with. Some guy called our show on Sunday and said something about Nick Chubb and touches and he kept on talking about Chubb touches. You can’t help but at least acknowledge the Chubb touches.
Rich: I don’t know; how many Chubb touches do you think are appropriate?
Covino: There’s a nice way to dance around it and make it fun and acknowledge that I can’t ignore that he said Chubb touches 10 times. Like I said when you wear different hats, although we’re guys just hanging out talking sports, we’re also parents. We have to keep that in mind that there are kids in the car and there are families listening.
Noe: Your background of interviewing celebrities is a little bit of a different world, but you can take that and apply it to the sports world. What has your music background helped you with as sports hosts?
Rich: It’s funny you would say that because I was just thinking about this recently. Everyone’s doing Zoom interviews. It’s the standard now. Howard Stern, Rogan, all these people, everyone’s doing Zoom interviews. I was like we’ve interviewed everyone I could possibly imagine and the relationships we’ve made over the years in mainstream music, television, actors, actresses; do we have that infiltrate FOX Sports Radio in a fun way? Would it be cool if we were like Guy Fieri, come hang with us Sunday night on FOX Sports Radio?
Covino: You know what’s cool about that and what we’ve learned through the years is even though Guy Fieri is known for FlavortownUSA and being on the Food Network, the guy loves sports. These guys love talking sports. Or they played sports growing up. It could be the most random people. We had Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins on our show. He wants to talk about baseball. He’s sick of talking about Siamese Dream. He wants to talk about the Cubs. You realize that there are a lot of people in the world of entertainment that are known for something, but deep down they like sports like anyone else and love to talk about it.
Rich: I remember Ty Burrell from Modern Family. Phil Dunphy, he was more excited to talk about the Mets with me than talk about Modern Family.
Covino: That’s when you really see these people open up because now they’re just being real about some stuff they’re really passionate about and you’re seeing a different side of them. You’re not getting that canned answer about their project coming up. When guests can enhance the conversation, we have a lot of fun talking to them. It’s just fan stuff. We’re not trying to out-knowledge each other. That’s what I feel sports radio and sports broadcasting has become. And to me that’s not fun.
Noe: For someone who’s new to Covino & Rich, if they wanted to check you out on FOX Sports Radio, what are they going to hear that will appeal to them?
Rich: We’re well aware that we’ve lived in a little bubble known as SiriusXM. That’s not a bad thing. SiriusXM is a great company; we still both work there, but we know that it’s a bubble. If they’ve got 30, 40 million subscribers, that’s still 10 percent of the population. There’s still 90 percent of people in America that don’t know of us because of the numbers. I think what we deliver that’s different; I guess you would say the fun conversation. If you want buddies talking about life and sports and entertainment in a fun way, check us out.
Covino: Fun is definitely the word. They were calling it Football Sunday, we’re like no, it’s Football Funday. We’re here to have fun. But from a fan perspective. Again, not claiming to be the expert. I’m just trying to relate and be as real as possible and call it as I see it. And I think we fit perfectly in the pocket where we can relate to the older sports fans with our old-school references, but still relate to a younger audience with social media. I feel we’re fluent in both languages being right there in the middle of both generations. We’re here to bring the fun and bring the laughs and bring the energy that so many people leave at home I guess, or just don’t have anymore.
Rich: Yeah, I think a couple of our takes on Sunday were so silly and stupid. I love that Covino’s take on Aaron Rodgers is that not dying his beard or hair just makes him look even worse. The fact that you came on and you’re like yo, dude’s got to use Just For Men. That was Covino’s big takeaway. If you can play like shit and look that bad on the field, it’s not helping you that you look like a washed out Negan from Walking Dead at the postgame.
Covino: Yeah, in a young man’s game when you already talked about retirement, and you come in looking like that, it doesn’t help the case. So yeah, we’re coming from a fan perspective. There’s no filter. There’s ballbusting and we’re going to bring all that, everything we’ve been doing for the past 17 years to FOX Sports Radio every weekend. Just anything that we can do to make it relatable and fun, that’s what our goal is to do.
Julian Edelman Has Been FOX’s NFL Breakout Star
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments.
He was a key member of the NFL’s last true dynasty, a children’s book author, a regular talking head on NFL Network’s America’s Game anthology, an actor in the film 80 for Brady, and a multimedia favorite. And oh yeah, he is third all-time in the NFL for postseason receptions and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII. He is Julian Edelman.
These days he answers to a new calling – a rising star on FOX’s excellent NFL commentator roster. Edelman, who retired in 2020 after 12 seasons as a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, has logged impressive recent stints on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
Edelman has been an unexpected jewel in FOX’s football crown, providing behind-the-scenes, players-only insight in a casual and humorous style. On a recent edition of The Herd, Edelman’s talent was on full display.
In a discussion about Patriots’ signal caller Mac Jones, Cowherd implied that it would have been easier for the Alabama QB if he had gone to a less intense environment with an offensive-minded head coach.
Edelman countered by referencing Josh Dobbs, who played great in his first start for the Vikings after being with the team for just a couple of days. Edelman stated, “If you’re a guy, you’re a guy,” meaning that good players adapt to any situation. He added, “This is the National Football League. If you don’t win, the quarterback and the head coach get the blame. This is a production business.”
One of the refreshing aspects of Edelman’s TV game is his candor. He was deeply rooted in the Patriot Way and benefitted from all it offered him, but he pulls no punches in talking about his former team.
He does not buy into the excuse that Mac Jones has had three different offensive coordinators in his three NFL seasons. Edelman stated that ex-Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ and current OC Bill O’Brien’s offensive schemes are essentially identical.
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments. He uses his strong connections to Tom Brady and other members of the NFL’s glitterati to his advantage, but he is not violating these friendships with kiss-and-tell BS.
In his young broadcasting career, Edelman has also embraced a rare quality among media personalities, namely, the courage to admit when he is wrong. He recently stated that he thought Texans’ quarterback CJ Stroud was going to be just another failed Ohio State quarterback joining the likes of Cardale Jones, Terrell Pryor, Troy Smith, and the late Dwayne Haskins.
Julian Edelman acknowledged his error and lauded Stroud for his performance and the Houston offensive staff for keeping it simple and allowing Stroud to flourish. He then made an accurate comparison between Stroud and Dak Prescott who had a similarly amazing rookie season in 2016. He also revealed that he and Tom Brady would sit and watch Prescott play during that season and marveled at his performance.
Such neat revelations have become commonplace for Edelman who also told Cowherd that Bill Belichick had different rules for different players. This goes against the accepted theory that Belichick coached all his players the same.
When asked about good and bad locker rooms, Edelman revealed that the 2009 Patriots had some “a-holes” on the team, “guys who had a lot of money and acted like they had a lot of money.”
He also regaled Cowherd with a funny story about former teammate and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi. During his rookie season, Edelman made repeated contact with Bruschi during a team drill. After the play, Bruschi got in Edelman’s face and said, “If you ever touch me again, I’ll cut your arm off, Rook!”
In a subsequent discussion, Edelman was asked about how NFL players view Thursday night games. He said that the goal for players is to just get through the game and try to get the win. He called having a Thursday night game a “baby bye week” because of the extra prep time gained for the next week. Baby bye week – new lingo from a new age analyst.
Speaking of language, Julian Edelman may have created another new football term. He called the NFL games after Thanksgiving “cream season,” when the cream rises to the top and when football season truly starts. Edelman told Cowherd that this is when coaches raise the intensity in the building.
A week later, Edelman was a panelist on FOX’s NFL Kickoff. It was clear that the show’s producers and host Charissa Thompson were tuned into Edelman’s Herd appearance as they made his cream season line a theme of discussion.
Edelman picked the Ravens and Niners as his current cream teams and entertained Thompson and his fellow panelists with a few dairy-related puns. He was funny, saying that both these teams could end up becoming butter teams – even better than cream.
Edelman is unafraid to ruffle feathers, even if those feathers reside in Foxboro, MA. In discussing last week’s Patriots-Giants game, he boldly tweeted and stated on NFL Kickoff that the Patriots would be better off losing that game in order to get a better 2024 draft position.
If Julian Edelman has any flaws, it is that at times his analysis RPMs run into the red. In his discussion of last week’s crucial Jaguars-Texans game, he was visibly pumped up and spoke far too quickly even stumbling on some commentary. He recovered well and simply needs to slow down, trust his knowledge, and calculate his pace.
Edelman has made such an immediate impact that NFL Kickoff has even given him his own segment. It is called “The Nest” and his based on his children’s book Flying High, the story of Jules, a football-playing squirrel who is small in stature but big on heart and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?
Julian Edelman was joined in the nest by panelists Charles Woodson and Peter Schrager and provided a pretty cool analysis of current NFL wide receivers. He based his opinions on four attributes: sociability, aggressiveness, activity level, and boldness. Along the way, Edelman provide some unique commentary on the likes of Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, A.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs.
There is a rhythm to Edelman’s conversation. He is comfortable with his career, comfortable with himself, and comfortable on air. As a player, Julian Edelman was an unexpected star, a guy who parlayed personality, hard work, and hustle into a fantastic career. He is doing the same in media dishing out knowledge his way – brash, all-out, and with total abandon.
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
Mike Breen is Ready For Whatever The NBA Season Brings
“I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
Every time a new basketball season is on the precipice, there is a certain kind of enigma that permeates the landscape. Although he has been on basketball broadcasts for nearly three decades, Mike Breen still feels added nerves before donning the headset to call the NBA Finals. Last season, ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice called the 100th NBA Finals game of his broadcast career. In doing so, Breen became just the third basketball announcer on radio or television to attain such a feat.
When he first joined the broadcasts on ABC in 2006, Breen was stepping into the play-by-play role previously held by Al Michaels, working alongside color commentator Hubie Brown. He never could have imagined that the conclusion of the 2023-24 season would mark his 19th time calling the best-of-seven championship series and attributes his success to the people around him.
“There’s not a stage anywhere in the world big enough to hold that many people because that’s how many people have really been there for me and supported me and guided me and at times chastised me because you need people to always tell you the truth,” Breen said. “I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
For the last 18 NBA Finals broadcasts, Breen has worked alongside color commentator Jeff Van Gundy, a former head coach of the New York Knicks. Mark Jackson served as a color commentator as well for 15 of these series, taking a three-year detour to work as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. The broadcast trio was widely regarded as one of the best in basketball and frequently lauded for the strong chemistry they possessed on the air. Over the offseason though, Van Gundy and Jackson were laid off by ESPN as a part of cost-cutting measures by The Walt Disney Company. The decision disappointed Breen because of the bond he and his colleagues fostered and shared.
“We spent so much time together and we felt we had something special, and we were hoping that it was going to last longer, but nothing in this business lasts forever and that’s part of the business, and you have to figure that out and you move on,” Breen said. “Now the way I look at it is I’m just so grateful and honored that I had all that time sitting next to those two for so many big games over the years, but it’s hard when it ends.”
Breen is currently working with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers on ESPN’s lead NBA broadcast team. Broadcasting the NBA Finals, let alone sporting events as a whole, was never in his mind though; that is, until he was told by family friend and former New York Tech radio staffer Tony Minecola to consider going into the industry as a sportscaster.
Recognizing that he would not succeed as a professional athlete because of a lack of skill or as a doctor because of a lack of passion, Breen chose to major in broadcast journalism at Fordham University, immediately joining the campus radio station. Over his four years matriculating at the institution, he prioritized versatility and contributed to sports, news, talk and music programming.
“When you leave college and you have tape résumés and experience of being on the air on a live 50,000-watt station, it really gives you a great perspective of what it’s like to be in the business,” Breen said. “It’s kind of a great way to figure out, ‘Okay, is this something you like? Is this something you have a chance to be good at?’”
Ed Ingles, the former sports director of WCBS 880, helped instantiate that mindset for Breen when he interned with him during his days in college. Aside from his delivery, Breen took notice of how he interacted with his colleagues and other people in the industry, always demonstrating professionalism and kindness. Ingles advised Breen to get out of his comfort zone, which proved to be invaluable when Breen started his first job out of school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. at WEOK-AM/WPDH-FM.
In his first year with the outlet, he would frequently attend school board meetings and county legislative sessions in order to collect 45 seconds of sound for the morning anchor to use on their program. Whereas at a sporting event, the game is oftentimes the primary story, Breen had to review the agenda and listen to the meeting to have an understanding of what is essential to the story.
“If you can cover a school board meeting that you know nothing about and do a good job on it, then you can certainly cover an NBA basketball game and figure out the storylines and the narratives and all those types of things,” Breen said. “It really made me a better sportscaster. I wasn’t just a sportscaster; I was a broadcaster.”
Breen eventually began calling Dutchess County High School basketball games and serving as an analyst on Marist College basketball broadcasts, all while working as the morning news anchor for the radio outlet. In balancing various different roles at once, Breen found himself on the air for six days a week for an entire year. The strenuous workload allowed him to enhance his skillset and ingenuity and have the confidence that he could make a career in the profession.
Through a connection he had with a classmate at Fordham University, Breen landed a part-time producing job on Jack Spector’s sports talk program, SportsNight, on WNBC. The commitment was initially for one day per week, but as Breen’s workload at the outlet increased, he was able to leave Poughkeepsie and focus on working in New York City. There was a dearth of sports talk programming at the time; that is until the summer of 1987 when WFAN launched on 1050 AM and introduced a new format to the medium.
“We were all sitting around the radio at WNBC thinking, ‘Okay, here comes our competition on the air,’” Breen remembered. “We were laughing, saying, ‘Oh, this is never going to make it. There’s no way this is going to make it,’ and it turns out that it was just the start of something that would completely change the radio industry.”
Ironically enough, WFAN moved to WNBC’s 660 AM frequency when General Electric sold several of its stations to Emmis Communications as part of a multi-station deal. Even though the station had transitioned to a new format, Don Imus kept his morning show on the airwaves, which Breen had been a part of starting a year earlier. His segments were filled with sound effects and jokes, giving him exposure within the marketplace and allowing him to penetrate beyond his comfort zone of traditional sports broadcasting and reporting.
“It wasn’t just your normal sports update,” Breen said. “It was something where you had to use your personality; you had to use your sense of humor [and] you had to use your writing skills, and it showed a little versatility and that was important.”
MSG Networks hired Breen in 1992 as the New York Knicks radio play-by-play announcer, and he assimilated into the role while keeping his spot on Imus in the Morning. In addition to adjusting to the pace of the NBA, he also refined his approach to calling games on the radio as opposed to television. Throughout this process, Breen thought about Marist play-by-play announcer Dean Darling and how he had called the games when they worked together.
“There are very few people – and there certainly are exceptions – but there are very few people who are instantly really good on the air,” Breen said. “It takes a while to hone your skills to figure out how you want to broadcast things if you have a certain style, and that’s the No. 1 thing is to get repetitions.”
When Marv Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1997, Breen was suddenly promoted to fill the role as the television play-by-play announcer for the team. Having listened to Albert call games for many years growing up, Breen knew the importance of appealing to the local audience in the New York metropolitan area. Many of the local play-by-play announcers in the locale grew up around the city, and he affirms that the knowledge and passion is discernible to consumers. Breen met New York Yankees television play-by-play announcer and ESPN New York radio host Michael Kay, who was a fellow student at Fordham University at the time, and discussed sports and broadcasting with him.
“He would tell me, ‘Oh, I’d love to be the Yankees announcer,’ and I’d say, ‘I’d love to be the Knicks announcer,’ and we would laugh at each other [like] two fools,” Breen said. “But I think because we were both New Yorkers and we both understood the New York fan because we were and still are New York fans, I think perhaps it gave us an edge because we knew what it’s like to live in New York and root for the teams in New York, and I think, or at least I hope, the fans can feel that.”
Albert returned to the Knicks telecast in 2000, prompting Breen to move back to radio broadcasts and work with John Andariese. At the same time, he began doing work for NBC Sports, including calling NBA games with Bill Walton and announcing ski jumping at the Olympic Games. When Albert was removed from the television broadcasts for being too critical of the team, Breen returned to the position and has held the role ever since.
“I tend to be old-school in that my job is to accurately describe what’s going on and also set up my partners and give them space and the lead-ins to make them excel,” Breen said. “The personality stuff, I think that comes – I hate to use the cliché – but it comes organically in terms of you’re doing the game. If something calls for you to react that involves more personality than actually broadcasting, then you do it and you have to find that balance.”
Every time Breen takes the air, he hopes that the consumers are able to see that he is prepared, enamored with the sport and enjoys working alongside his colleagues. From his days on the Knicks’ radio broadcasts, Breen has been paired with Walt “Clyde” Frazier for 25 seasons and understands how venerated the two-time NBA champion is within the city.
As the only member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a broadcaster, Frazier strikes a chord with basketball fans and brings his credibility and proficiency to the airwaves every season. In addition, he always arrives in his signature flamboyant outfits and intersperses astute rhymes to the cadence on the hardwood.
“He’s managed to stay true to who he is, yet develop this unique on-air style that very few people have had, but the bottom line is yeah, there’s style, but there’s so much substance to what he says,” Breen explained,” and I think Knick fans love him because he tells it like it is, but at the same time, you can feel his love for the franchise.”
Since joining the NBA on ESPN broadcast team in 2003, Breen has balanced his local responsibilities with calling games at the national level. Throughout the season, he logs a considerable number of traveling miles and always puts his family first when he is not working. In fact, the reason he stopped calling other sports was not only to recharge over the summer, but also to spend time with his children.
By being absorbed in the NBA during the year, the preparation for the different types of broadcasts often overlaps. One thing he cannot prepare for, however, is the occurrence of a buzzer-beater or game-saving block.
“For me, I’ve always felt at a big moment, less is more for a broadcaster because your voice is not made [for] those high-intensity calls to go for 20 seconds,” Breen said. “Your voice can crack; who knows what else could happen, but when you make a good, strong concise call at a big moment and then let the crowd take over, I think that’s always been, for me, the best way to go.”
Although he derived his signature three-point call of “Bang!” while sitting in the stands at Fordham Rams games as a student, he did not think it worked on the air. But by the time he was calling a weekly high school basketball game for SportsChannel America, he noticed that the maelstrom of amplified sound within the gyms drowned out his voice during consequential moments. As a result, he resorted back to the monosyllabic exclamation and has stuck with it ever since.
“I’ve just been very careful about not overusing it,” Breen said. “I try to save it for big moments because if I was yelling, ‘Bang!,’ on every three-pointer, it would lose its luster, I believe.”
Breen will call NBA games from a new venue next week in Las Vegas, Nevada – T-Mobile Arena – when the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament reaches its conclusion and a champion is crowned. The Association introduced the single-elimination endeavor this year in an effort to further incentivize regular-season play and establish a new tradition.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that these In-Season Tournament games bring out a little extra in the players [and] in the fans, and we’re not even at the knockout round yet and this is only the first year,” Breen said. “….To have this kind of excitement in November and then early December, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Despite the NBA still being in its first half of the season, Breen feels encouraged by the broadcasts he has participated in thus far with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. After all, he had worked with Burke on the first NBA game she ever broadcast and could tell how talented she was. Moreover, he has been friends with Rivers for over 30 years and speculated that he would be a broadcaster when he was finished playing and coaching.
The network’s lead broadcasting team will embark on a new challenge ahead of their first NBA Playoffs working together next Saturday, Dec. 9 when they broadcast the championship game of the NBA In-Season Tournament on ABC at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST.
“It takes a while to get the on-air chemistry, and the three-person booth is not easy for the analyst because they have to figure out a way to still get all their points across with less time, and same thing for me and that’s part of it,” Breen said. “Everybody has to just find their niche, and so far they’ve been great. They’re not only great friends; they’re really talented broadcasters, and I’m really excited about the potential.”
Breen recently signed a four-year contract extension with ESPN that will keep him on the airwaves past the expiration of the network’s current media rights deal with the National Basketball Association. The rationale behind staying with the network had to do with the people at the company, avouching that it is a great place to work and how he is thrilled he will be allowed to stay longer.
“Clearly I’m hoping that they work out a deal and I’m fairly confident they will,” Breen said. “ESPN loves the NBA; the relationship between the league and ESPN has always been wonderful. So I’m rooting hard for them to say ‘Yes’ and sign on the dotted line.”
In 2021, Breen was honored as the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Electronic Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his excellence as a broadcaster, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a basketball announcer. Even with various accolades to his name though, Breen’s mission each year is to get better with every broadcast. Complacency and apathy are out of bounds as he lives out a lifelong dream and strives for an outstanding performance no matter the situation.
“You have days where you’re not feeling well; you’ve had a tough travel day; you’ve got issues going on in your life, but then you sit down at half court and they throw the ball up the opening tip,” Breen illustrated. “There’s an adrenaline there that has never gone away.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
How Radio Sellers Can Beat the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Question
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned — that we don’t answer essential questions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about technical features and company achievements with radio advertising prospects without considering the essential question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) from the client’s perspective.
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned.
However, the heartbeat of successful sales isn’t just about these features, it’s about translating them into tangible benefits that directly address the needs and challenges of our potential clients. Here are some common pitfalls in our sales approaches and strategies to get prospects to listen to “WIFM”.
Focusing Solely on Product Features
We all sometimes get caught up in detailing our radio stations’ technical specs and features without translating those features into tangible benefits for the prospect. We love to point out that our all-sports station is on AM and simulcast on digital FM.
We need to connect them directly to the prospect’s needs or problems, which might result in a disconnect.
Instead, we could say that we reach two audiences for the price of one. 45-65-year-olds are on AM, and 25-44-year-olds are on FM. More bang for your buck!
Talking About Company Achievements
While our station won the “Best radio station in XYZ town” award from the local media, which might be impressive, prospects are often more concerned about how these accolades directly benefit them.
We need to bridge the gap between our survey win and how our listeners are proud of listening to the station and will trust the recommendations we give our listeners when it comes to buying from our prospect.
Not tailoring the pitch to suit the prospect’s specific needs or pain points is a huge miss. When we use generic, one-size-fits-all approaches, we miss the opportunity to highlight how their product or service addresses the prospect’s unique challenges or goals.
Don’t tell a car dealer he needs to sell more new cars when he wants more used sales and service business.
Failure to Listen Actively
Sometimes, we focus too much on delivering our deck without actively listening to the prospect’s concerns or desires.
Pay attention to the prospect’s feedback or cues, and maybe even ask them if anything has changed before you start the presentation.
Forget About “Across the Street”
Constantly highlighting how your station is superior to competitors without explaining how it benefits the prospect is counterproductive.
For example, if your station does a limited number of endorsements, tell the prospect they will stand out amongst the other advertisers better cause they are part of a select few live endorsements.
Prospects want to know why your idea is right for them, not just that it’s better than your competition.
What’s the ROI?
A sales pitch that doesn’t explicitly outline the return on investment (ROI) or demonstrate the value the prospect stands to gain falls short.
Running spots can outrun ‘turtle-like’ positive word of mouth or Google reviews, like the Roadrunner. Tell them that.
Too Much TSL or CPM talk
Using industry jargon without explaining its relevance to the prospect’s situation can create confusion or disinterest. Don’t pitch TSL. Tell them they can run fewer spots that have more impact. Your efficient CPM demonstrates that radio can compete with any ad medium and won’t waste money.
Communicate in a language that resonates with the prospect, making the benefits clear and understandable.
No Hit and Run
Our engagement doesn’t end with the initial pitch. Don’t forget to follow up and give them ongoing support and assistance to address any concerns or questions post-sale. By showing them you are in it for them, they will feel valued.
In the sports radio ad sales game, it’s not just about announcing your stats and shoutouts; it’s about hitting a home run with benefits that score with our clients. If our pitch doesn’t answer “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM), we might end up with the L.
So, dive into our clients’ playbook, check their needs, and deliver a play that makes them cheer for you and your station. Tackle the “WIFM” challenge head-on, and don’t worry about targeting so much.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.