The golden era of sports radio in Kansas City is happening right now. The Chiefs have the most exciting player, as well as the most exciting team in the NFL and could be on the verge of the next dynasty in football. The Royals are nearly six years removed from a World Series title, but the excitement level in the city is still high, despite the team being at or below a .500 record every year since.
Ratings are good. Sales are good. It’s a great time to be a host in Kansas City.
Bob Fescoe is right in the middle of the action at 610 Sports as the host of Fescoe in the Morning. He’s one of the most established and beloved hosts Kansas City has ever had and now he’s enjoying the success of the two hometown teams. He’s truly living his best life.
But it’s not exactly where the eight-year-old version of himself thought he would be. A huge New York Giants fan in the 80’s, Fescoe was more drawn to the play-by-play side of the business, because of Pat Summerall and John Madden
“John Madden was so entertaining to me,” said Fescoe. I always loved him and I realized at that time I was never going to play professional sports. I could already tell that at 8 years old. So what was the next best thing? Being behind the mic. I always thought I wanted to do play-by-play and thought I could be good at it.”
Fast forward a few years and the kid from New Jersey is in south Texas for his first radio job out of college. He still had aspirations in play-by-play and was doing it heavily at KWED in Seguin, Texas, a town right outside of San Antonio. Fescoe was the voice of Texas Lutheran University, a Division 3 college football program and was traveling in busses all across south Texas, north Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
“I was also doing play-by-play for four or five different high schools and dealing with their coaches, which was a lot of fun,” Fescoe said. “I learned so much as to why certain coaches are really good at what they do. I also got to cover the San Antonio Spurs. That was 1999 and they had just won their first championship that year. I really wish I could go back to those years and understand who I was around and who I was covering. At 22 or 23 years old, Greg Popovich wasn’t the same guy as he is today. He was a totally different guy. David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott, it was an unbelievable group of people I got to be around, but I didn’t pay much attention to it because it was the Spurs and it was just the beginning of their dynasty. I really wish I could go back and appreciate being around those guys a little more.”
After nearly two years at KWED, Fescoe made the move to Kansas City to work at KMBZ where he truly discovered his love for sports talk radio. The station was the flagship for both KU basketball and the Royals and he was immediately drawn to the format and the ability to talk about what was happening in the community. There was something about the ability to make a difference in people’s lives that instantly stuck. He realized his new passion. It wasn’t play-by-play, it was being a host on a sports talk radio station.
He was hired to be the producer of the afternoon show. After just a couple of months, he had his own show.
“People say you never remember where you were on September 10th, 2001, but I do,” Fescoe said. “That was the first day I got my own talk show. It was a night time talk show and another guy did that while I was producing the afternoon show. There were a lot of KU and Royals games at night, so there weren’t a lot of night-time shows until the winter time. But that first day we were on the air on September 10th talking about sports and the next day, everything changed. For the next two weeks, we were doing news radio and talk radio and dealing with the after effects of 9/11.”
Fescoe would produce the afternoon show and do his night-time show for a couple of more years, before moving across the street to the competition at WHB Sports Radio 810. After three years on the job, he moved outside of the market to St. Louis.
From the outside, one would think Kansas City and St. Louis are very similar markets. They’re both in the midwest, they’re both full of baseball fans and they’re even located in the same state. But though there are some similarities, the differences of the two markets are pretty extreme.
“It’s definitely a completely different market,” Fescoe said. “That may even apply more today than it ever has before, because of the provincial nature of the city. The people in St. Louis had no interest in having me there, and never gave me an opportunity, because I wasn’t from there. St. Louis is all about what high school you went to and they would make their determination on you based on that. I grew up in New Jersey. I didn’t go to high school there. I think it was a little bit of a shock to them that a guy that wasn’t raised there was talking about their teams.”
It just wasn’t a fit for either party. Fescoe would later leave and go back to Kansas City, but he still got a lot out of his radio experience in St. Louis. Mostly, because he was working with Jason Barrett.
“Working with Jason was great,” Fescoe said. “I went to St. Louis to work for him, because I had talked to him about a potential job in Philadelphia. Jason was the first person I was around that I got real, true radio feedback from. I’ll never forget doing a demo show in Philadelphia and the feedback was like 10-15 pages off a three-hour show. I was like, wow, there’s so much to learn. I had the opportunity to work for him and really pick his brain to find out a lot of stuff that makes radio work. Some of the stuff you still do today, I learned from Jason back in 2007.”
Kansas City is where Fescoe belongs. Not only is he a beloved host but he’s made a real effort to endear himself to everyone in the community. That’s extremely important in a market like Kansas City. He’s on the board of directors for multiple non-profit organizations and people have noticed. If you take the time to embrace the community, they’ll embrace you right back.
“Kansas City is the most giving and charitable community I’ve ever been a part of,” Fescoe said. “We treat everyone in this town like they’re our own. That was one of the things I learned during the 2014 World Series run is how many people were using baseball in this town to get through tough times in their life. We had people on the air during that time talking about battling cancer, or their kids battling cancer, or they themselves had illnesses and the only thing that made them happy during the day was watching the Royals at night. Being connected to the community is vital in this town. I don’t know how it compares to other cities, but this is the most charitable place I’ve ever lived.”
Being charitable is never questioned about Kansas City, but it’s favorite sport routinely is. Is it a baseball town or a football town? That’s a popular question people from outside the market like to ask. It’s often debated with the answers almost always seemingly split. But Fescoe can accurately answer the question of if the sports fans in Kansas City prefer football or baseball more with just one word.
“People here are truly passionate about their teams,” Fescoe said. “Since 2014 we’ve been on a fairy tail run. We had the Royals make back-to-back World Series and then we’ve been to three-straight AFC Championship games and two Super Bowls. At its core I think Kansas City is a baseball town, because October of 2014 is the greatest month of my professional career, just to see the way that Kansas City came alive and fell in love with this baseball team and was living and dying with every pitch. It gets me kind of emotional to talk about those teams. People were living it every single day and the joy that ballclub brought everyone. I’ve never seen a team turn around a city from an attitude and a belief standpoint like the Royals did in 2014 in Kansas City.”
That 2014 season is a big reason why Kansas City is in the golden era of sports talk radio. Throw that Mahomes guy in as a big reason, too. The Chiefs and Royals have had success in the past, sure, but never at the same time. The past six years they have, and it’s unveiled a passion that can rival any market in the country.
Kansas City sports radio hasn’t just benefited from the golden era on the ratings sheet, but on sales sheets, as well. Local businesses have flocked to get their name attached to the local teams and it has greatly benefitted stations such as 610 Sports.
“When the sports teams are good it’s something everyone wants to be a part of in Kansas City,” Fescoe said. “In any way they possibly can, whether it’s sponsoring a coaches show or being on the air and mentioning the things that are going on in town, they just want to be a part of everyone’s listening habits, because when those teams are good, obviously the ratings are better, because people care more when the teams are winning. I’ve had conversations with people over the years and they’d ask if I’d rather have a losing team or a winning team. It’s not even close. It’s definitely a winning team. When you’re losing, people check out, but when you’re winning, more and more people than you’ve ever imagined are tuning in. Then you’re capturing all kinds of different audiences.”
The golden era of sports talk in Kansas City will likely last as long as Mahomes is playing quarterback for the Chiefs. Judging by the contract he signed last year, hosts such as Fescoe have a lot to look forward to.
“This is the golden era of Kansas City sports,” Fescoe said. “There’s never been a better time in their successes being at the exact same time. That never happened before 2014.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
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?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
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.”
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.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
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.”
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.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.