Radio and television personalities have a few responsibilities to their viewers/listeners that are very critical. Yes, they need to inform you. Letting the audience know the latest information going on with the game they are covering. These folks also have a job to entertain, to keep an audience when a game is a blowout and to help the casual fan enjoy what they’re seeing or hearing. This applies to play-by-play announcers, booth analysts, studio hosts, and studio analysts. It takes a special skill to be able to keep tabs on a game and find ways to keep it light when the moment calls for it.
After careful consideration, I’ve constructed a list of the top 5 current personalities (play-by-play, game analyst, studio host and studio analyst) that are currently working. Entertaining can mean a few things among the people on this list. Humor is obviously one of the criteria. In the case of the play-by-play announcers here, the way they are able to work laughs into the broadcast without compromising it is critical. As far as the analysts go, it’s all about personality. I think you’ll understand better as we document the folks on this list. Remember also, this is a list of those currently working in the industry.
He is perhaps one of the most enthusiastic of the play-by-play announcers out there. His voice screams excitement, without screaming at you. Harlan is a wordsmith. He can weave in some of his catchphrases, right in the flow of the broadcast, but the point still makes it across the airwaves.
Whether it’s LeBron James dunking on someone, “with no regard for human life” or a play in a Ravens game featuring Lamar Jackson, where he escaped trouble. For that escape he was rewarded with a patented OHHHHH and a “HE IS HOUDINI!” I love his calls because while they are up there in excitement, Harlan always, forgive the sports cliché here, stays within himself. It’s not over the top.
Another reason he’s on this list is his ability to improvise, overcome and adapt. Like this gem from a year or so ago, during a Monday Night Football radio broadcast, when a runaway cat got loose on the field.
“Oh, and there a cat, a cat black has taken the field. A black cat is running from the 20 to the nearside the 10, from the 39 of Dallas here is a short throw down the middle caught by Engram. Caught at the 35 to the 30, now the cat running the other way and so is Ingram at the 25 near the 24-yard line of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a catch-run of 15. Now the cat is stopped at the 50 … he’s at the eight … now he is at the five … he’s walking to the three, he’s at the two… and the cat is in the CDW Red Zone… now a policeman, a state trooper is on the field- AND THE CAT RUNS IN THE END ZONE! THAT IS A TOUCHDOWN!”
Gold, I tell you, gold!
Uecker is as much a part of Brewers lore as Bernie Brewer, who goes down a slide into a beer mug when Milwaukee homers. The guy has had an extraordinary run, not just in baseball, but in movies and television as well.
For those too young to remember, Uecker made numerous appearances on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Johnny Carson, who nicknamed Uecker ‘Mr. Baseball”. He starred in his own sitcom in the 80’s called ‘Mr. Belvedere’ and appeared in memorable commercials for Miller Lite beer. In one ad he exclaimed, ‘I must be in the front row’ a line uttered by many at baseball games. Of course, he is well known for his role in the movie ‘Major League’ where he plays baseball announcer Harry Doyle.
Uecker’s announcing style is not much different than ‘Doyle’s’, in that he always seems up beat. But it’s the stories that he tells, most are self-deprecating in nature, referring mainly to his playing career which wasn’t as spectacular as his post-baseball career. Here’s one from his Hall of Fame induction speech on July 27, 2003.
“My two boys are just like me,” Uecker told a crowd. “In their championship Little League game, one of them struck out three times and the other one had an error allowing the winning run to score. They lost the championship, and I couldn’t have been more proud. I remember the people as we walked through the parking lot throwing eggs and rotten stuff at our car. What a beautiful day.”
Uecker is beloved in his hometown of Milwaukee where he was recently celebrated for 50 years behind the microphone. At the ceremony he did have a thought for the final giveaway that would include his likeness.
“My last bobblehead, this is what I want,” Uecker said. “It’s going to be a box, the top will open, I will get up, and do my get up, get up, get out of here, and back down, close the cover and that’s it. That’s the way I want to go.”
Uecker is a baseball treasure.
The debate has been raging now for about 20 years. Was Charles Barkley a better player or broadcaster? If you watch him regularly on ‘Inside the NBA’ on TNT, you’ll likely vote for the latter choice. He’s about as real and as entertaining as it gets on television. That statement isn’t just limited to basketball either.
The former Philadelphia 76er, Phoenix Sun and Houston Rocket, played for 16 seasons in the NBA. He was an NBA MVP, 11-time All-Star and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, enshrined in 2006. While most know him for the career on the hardwood, some know him better for sitting behind the desk on set with, Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal.
Barkley definitely keeps it real and entertaining. His opinions are without filter and his personality is endearing. He plays along well with everyone on the panel and even when he’s on a different show, hilarity usually ensues. Just like when he appeared on the inaugural Manningcast a few weeks ago.
When Peyton Manning asked, “Hey Charles, you ever get booed at home? Never happened to you, right?” Barkley quickly responded, “I played in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That was a regularity.” “You were lucky, Peyton. Everybody liked you. Eli knows what it’s like to get booed at home.”
Barkley appeared on the debut edition of ‘The NHL on TNT’ pregame show with Wayne Gretzky. The former NBA star is a big NHL fan and threw shout-outs to ‘his’ Tampa Bay Lightning on the show. But nothing was better than watching ‘The Great One’ shoot hockey pucks and arguably one of the biggest goalies ever on live television. Barkley learned how to hold a goalie stick with his blocker hand and learned what the ‘5’ hole was. He was able to stop 1 of Gretzky’s five shots.
Later in the evening, video surfaced of Gretzky in a hockey fight with Minnesota’s Neil Broten. Upon seeing Gretzky beaten in the fight Barkley yelled, ‘you lost to a guy with a perm? Are you serious?’ Remember it was the 80’s so the hairstyle of choice for many was the ‘perm’. Great stuff.
Barkley on air is charming and acts like a big kid, which is a lot of fun for everyone.
Who knew that Peyton Manning was such a fun-loving personality when he played in the NFL? We got a glimpse of it as he was getting ready to finish up his great career as a quarterback for the Colts and Broncos. Peyton became that ‘geeky guy next door’ spokesman for several companies and left us with some memorable lines from his commercials.
As a spokesman for Nationwide Insurance he had the ad where everything he said was in the tune of ‘Nationwide is on your side’. Like “Chicken Parm you taste so good…” or “that’s a first rate queso dip.” He was also known for a legendary Mastercard commercial where he plays a ‘fan’ of people doing every day tasks. Lines like ‘Cut that meat, cut that meat’ and ‘Charlie you’re my favorite accountant, come on you’re on my fantasy team’. Manning was seen leaning over a railing like some young fans that are seeking autographs from their favorite players.
The work he and his brother Eli are doing on the “Manning MegaCast” during some Monday Night Football games is fantastic. He and Eli are funny and play off of each other well. Peyton is genuinely entertaining and not afraid to put himself out there for ridicule. Eli continues to make fun of Peyton’s forehead and it’s all good. Peyton relies on his perceived personality to take advantage of most situations. People saw him as this, ‘buttoned up’ athlete, but now he’s a must-watch whenever he appears on his own show or any other for that matter.
Manning is almost like a ‘dad joke’ waiting to happen.
Then there is the granddaddy of them all, Bill Walton. Half the time I’m not even sure what the heck he is talking about, but I guess that makes it entertaining, right? Walton can be a play-by-play announcer’s worst nightmare, except most of, if not all of them, get it. They understand that Walton stands out in the crowd. I guess, literally (6’10”) and figuratively.
His rants are epic. They usually have nothing to do with the game he’s calling, whether it be basketball or baseball. Yes, he got a chance to call a baseball game in August of 2019. The White Sox and the Angels played in Anaheim and what ensued was the stuff of legends.
After a James McCann grand slam, he exclaimed, ‘What a fantastic turn of events if you love the White Sox, and I’m falling in love by the breath.’ Then after Mike Trout took Lucas Giolito deep,
‘That’s Trout? Swimming upstream, avoiding all the flies and sending one ricocheting through the universe,’ Walton said. Then there was the Walton everybody knows and loves, just stringing together words. ‘Woodstock. 50 years. ’79. Full moon. Waterfall. Exploding volcanoes. Baseball. White Sox. Angels. Summertime. No rain on the horizon. Greg Gumbel. Sam Smith. David Axelrod. Wow.’ Walton exclaimed. Ok, sure.
During the typical game called by Walton, there will likely be just as much discussion about non-basketball topics than basketball topics. Walton’s rants can drive some fans crazy, but most viewers love them. Take for example a game between Colorado and Oregon in February of 2020. Mark Jackson joined Dave Pasch and Walton on the call. Going to break, Walton exclaimed, ‘Get me some grass!’. I mean Buffaloes do graze on grass, but the double entendre works so well here. It continued after the break.
Jackson politely asked, ‘You said ‘Get me some grass.’ What kind of grass do you want?’ Walton replied quickly ‘I want Oregon grass! In Oregon, when you live here… what you do all the time is you cut firewood & you cut the grass. And then you gotta get rid of both of those, so you use them all.’
That is just one example of MANY that are out there if you search the internet. It’s awesome that his bosses at ESPN let him be himself. Remember, it’s Walton’s World and we’re just living in it.
That’s my list, hope it entertained you, as much as these five people entertain you and me, every time they open their mics.
Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable
After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.
Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.
Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.
The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)
OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.
What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY
Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.
This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.
I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.
I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.
What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.
I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.
“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”
Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.
“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “
“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”
OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.
However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.
“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.
“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”
Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.
That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.
Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”
I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.
I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.
I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.
By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”
Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:
Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”
If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.
Media Noise – Episode 75
A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.
Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM
Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.
Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.
I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future.
Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?
Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.
How is advertising on Bleav different?
We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content.
What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see?
The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space.
SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like?
We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?
There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple.
At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram.
If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.