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Meet The Market Managers: Joe Bell, Beasley Media Philadelphia

“I don’t consider myself a sales guy. I have always considered myself a radio guy who could sell.”

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Philadelphia loves its sports and is devoted to sports talk radio. The ratings battle between 94 WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic is certainly never boring. It is the perfect market to start the new season of Meet the Market Managers.

Joe Bell oversees Beasley’s Philadelphia cluster. He isn’t just making decisions for The Fanatic. He is in charge of one of the market’s most successful clusters.

He came to Philadelphia from Miami, where he was in charge of a cluster that included WQAM. Those are two very different sports and sports radio cultures.

The radio business has taken Joe Bell all over the place. His last two stops have been major markets, but his 50 year career has seen him lead groups in small markets across Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina. That’s not too bad for a guy that started at 19 because a friend told him radio was a great way “to get chicks to call you.”

In our conversation, Joe Bell talks about why the Philadelphia Flyers don’t mind not being on the Fanatic when their games conflict with a Sixers game. It is a real testament to the powers of the brands he runs. He also talks about how relationships are changing as the pandemic subsides and why it isn’t impossible for outsiders to succeed in Philadelphia.

Demetri Ravanos: You were part of a panel at the BSM Summit last month where you talked a bit about surviving the pandemic and being in a good position coming out of it. You pointed out that you were the only one on the stage talking about it from a sales perspective because everyone else was a programmer.                

So, The Fanatic has made some programming changes since you’ve been the leader there. When you have conversations like with Chuck Damico, when you’re thinking of making him the program director, with John Kincade, when you’re thinking about bringing him in for mornings, what do programming candidates need to know about The Fanatic’s sales goals when you start talking with them? 

Joe Bell: Well, first of all, I don’t consider myself a sales guy. I have always considered myself a radio guy who could sell. I got in the business through programming. If I did it better, that’s what I would still be doing. I look at it a little bit different. I am excited that folks like Mike Thomas and, Chris Olivero get the shot to be market managers. For a long time, everybody came from sales, right? This is such a programing driven business. It’s all about content.     

I manage eight radio stations here, and while ratings are important, sports radio is a much more emotional buy. There are so many opportunities to attach your clients to programming for them to get direct results. So it’s a lot different than selling ads on a music station. There are just so many ways to involve a client through sponsorships, whether that’s attachment to the teams, personalities, and/or live endorsements.        

Our sales effort is so closely aligned with our programming that sometimes it’s hard to separate them. Kincade is the best I think I’ve ever seen at being able to weave a liner into content to where you really don’t realize that’s what he did.        

To me, sports radio is reality radio. It’s like reality TV before reality TV. It changes every day. It’s live every day. I mean, things happen and you’re on it. So it’s been a lot of fun. I did sports radio in Miami with WQAM, so it’s been a big part of what I’ve done my whole career. 

DR: So I do want to come back to a couple of different things you said in there, but you mentioned some of the guys that have gone from programing into the market manager side of things. And I wonder, as somebody that is a market manager right now, how do you scout talent for future management? You mentioned this. It would be so easy to say, “Oh, well, that seller has the best numbers. They should be leading and teaching everyone else.” But you need more than that. So what are you looking for in either sellers or programmers that makes you think it is worth investing your time in helping them take the next step? 

JB: That’s a great question, because first of all, they have to want to do that, not everybody does. I work with some sales people who have no interest in doing anything other than their doing. They’re awesome salespeople. They make a lot of money.          

Same thing with talent. A lot of talent does not want to be management. They’re really good at being on the air. They enjoy it.       

I think the first thing is identifying what somebody’s goals are longterm and how can we help them get there. But we’ve got two or three people that work here right now that I’d be shocked if I opened the trades in 10 years and they weren’t market managers.

DR: You mentioned your history running a cluster in Miami that included WQAM. Obviously, that is night and day as a sports market compared to Philadelphia. Did you have enough of a background in sports radio coming into Philadelphia that it didn’t necessarily change your expectations for what sports radio could do in a marketplace, do you come in, see the how much the city revolves around sports conversations and immediately raise your expectations?

JB: Yeah, absolutely. If I were to pick my favorite radio station of all time that I did not manage. It’s probably WLW in Cincinnati. They did a lot of play-by-play and sports talk. I mean, going back to Bob Trumpy and people like that. So I’ve always been a huge consumer of the format.         

You’re right, Miami is a great place to live, but it doesn’t have the passion for sports that exists here in Philly. So many people are not from Miami, they’re transplants. They’re interested, but they don’t live and die with as we say here, four-for-four.

DR: I really like that term. I’ve never heard that before. 

JB: That’s big here. Our guys ask all the time, are you four-for-four? And you know, Philly is not unlike Boston and New York in a couple of markets that support more than one very successful sports talk radio station. 

DR: Very true. That brings me back to something else you said at the Summit. You talked about how important it is to build and service relationships with the teams you broadcast. For you guys, it is the Sixers and the Flyers.        

I want to talk specifically about the Sixers here because I do wonder how you capitalize on something like this. I mean, the never-ending story around that team this year from a sales perspective, is that just pitching to clients that they want to be a part of the excitement? They want to be a part of everything Sixers in the 2021-2022 season? Or do you start to talk to them about how you can make moments like the Harden trade special specifically for them? 

JB: It’s more of what we do around the team. We’ve got a tremendous relationship with the Sixers and the Flyers. My whole theory is that your partners are partners. If one of the teams asks me to do something and we can do it, we do it. I think the teams pretty much do the same thing.              

You’re at the mercy sometimes of the momentum the team has. And right now, I mean, the Sixers have been red hot. It’s been a great ride the last few years, but it just gets better and better.         

We are always brainstorming about how we can take what we do and take it to the next level. We do a shoot-out, a knockout tournament, every year. It turned out that this year it was on the night of Harden’s first game. We have a hundred listeners on the court after the game trying to win a prize in a knockout tournament. And so, we look at all different kinds of things.

The other thing is our hosts are very embedded in the marketplace, and with the teams. Gargano, Kincade, those were local guys. It’s not an act. They grew up here, they’re big fans, and I think it comes across on the air. 

DR: When you are doing both the NBA and NHL, they’re both the top league in their sport and they play at the exact same time. So, what are the negotiations like between the two? How do you make them understand, “Hey, they’re going to be nights you’re playing on the same night and here’s how that’s going to work.”? 

JB: The Sixers are always on the Fanatic. Oddly enough, and this deal was already in place when I got here, we carry the conflict games for hockey on WMMR, which is the number-one-rated station in Philadelphia. When you take a look at the audience of MMR, as a rock and roll station, a lot of males are in the audience, and it hasn’t hurt the ratings at all. As a matter of fact, I know the Flyers like the fact that when they can’t be on The Fanatic they are on MMR. So it’s a really good combination. There’s about 20 games a year, I would guess, that we have to put on MMR, but it’s been a good situation for everybody. 

DR: A legendary station to be associated with too. That’s not a bad consolation prize when the sports signal isn’t available. 

JB: Absolutely! In terms of play by play, unless the team is really hot at the moment, your numbers at night probably aren’t going to be as good as your daytime numbers. What it does is it fuels conversation and interest and passion. The Sixers have been driving content on The Fanatic. It’s all people want to talk about in a city where they usually just want to talk about the Eagles. 

DR: When you talk about capturing the moment for partners and teams, I think about Anthony Gargano. I can’t tell you how much mileage we got out of that video of him learning live on air about the James Harden trade. That was that was such an authentic kind of moment. 

JB: That’s who he is. You know, each of our guys are that way. Kincade is pretty slick and comes across different. I mean, he’s a Philly guy. I ask him how many cousins he has because everybody that calls the station says they’re related to him in some way.          

I tried to hire John for a couple of years when he was in Atlanta. Every time I talked to him, he’d say, “You know, I’m going to end up back in Philly, but today’s not the day.” He had a daughter in high school but when they blew up his former station, I called him the next day and I said, “Is today a good day?” He starts laughing and says “Today would be a great time to talk.”

He’s been a huge addition to the station. Gargano and Mike Missanelli were both newspaper guys. That generation of sports talk talent, so many of them came from print locally. You know, that means they’re so invested in the area and well know. It makes us a lot of fun. 

DR: You mentioned that on-air, listeners really crave that authenticity. I think that is part of the reputation of Philly being kind of a tough sports market, right? They want to hear from their own Who are you to talk about the Eagles if you didn’t grow up in Jenkintown, right? You know what I mean? 

JB: Oh, that’s right on. Listen, Anthony Gargano is more Philly than a good cheesesteak. 

DR: So what about the clients? Why do local voices matter when you are going out to sell The Fanatic?

JB: Well, the first thing is our guys get results for people. I think that’s one of the real attributes of spoken word. If done right, whether it’s sports or political or whatever, people develop such a close relationship with the talent and believe what they say. It works really well at generating results for the client. You can spot phony a mile away and our guys are really authentic and love what they do and it comes across. 

DR: So what about with your sellers? Can a seller from outside the market come to Philadelphia and find success? 

JB: I think so. Somebody told me when I came here that your talent all had to be from Philly. Preston and Steve are doing 20 shares in the morning on MMR. Neither one of them are from Philly, but they’ve been here for 100 years. I think the key, if you’re coming in from outside of the market is to understand what makes the market unique and what people love about it.

What people don’t want to have is somebody to come here and tell them what’s wrong with it. That’s the thing here. If you don’t like it, go back to where you came from.

I think it’s a great market. I love it. Growing up in southern Ohio, around Dayton and Cincinnati, I see the same kind of people and same work ethic. People love it here. Very few people leave Philly, and if they do, they oftentimes come back. It’s very provincial. 

DR: So you mentioned MMR several times, I want to talk a little bit about the fact that you have Chuck Damico involved with both The Fanatic and WMMR. Maybe you have already given me the answer to this with how much crossover there is, but why is it important to you to have someone involved with The Fanatic who also has experience with WMMR? 

JB: The reason that I made Chuck just the PD of The Fanatic is he was instrumental in the development of Preston and Steve. He still does some producing for them. He gets storytelling and understands how to build talent. I think those are two attributes he really has. When you get right down to it, that’s what we do, right? We tell stories.          

I tell our guys all the time that it’s not about the scores. You can get your scores on the phone, and once you know the score, what more is there to know about that game?           

What they want to know is what happened. What’s going to happen? What do you think might happen? That’s storytelling and Chuck is really good at developing talent and teaching them to do that. So, when I saw what he had done with Preston and Steve, I thought ” you know, we have a tremendous PD at MMR in Bill Weston. Hopefully Bill’s not going anywhere anytime soon. So Chuck was in the number two spot and did a great job with talent. And we talked and I said, “could you handle both?” and he said, Absolutely.               

We have a really strong APD on The Fanatic in Eric “Coach” Camille, who also executive produces the morning show. So it’s about having really good people and making sure you get him in the right spot in the lineup. 

DR: So how much of an asset is it to have somebody that has so much influence on both brands when you are putting together these big multi-station campaigns? Because MMR and the Fanatic like that Venn diagram seems like it should be a perfect circle of listeners. 

JB: Even though we have some people involved in both, we operate them totally separate. In the last monthly ratings, we have four of the top six stations in the market, 25-54 primetime. So we’ve got strong brands and we do try to keep them what we call “wingtip to wingtip”. You want them not getting in each other’s way. We want all of them to be as strong as possible. 

DR: At the Summit, you talked about coming through the pandemic that it was a real opportunity to strengthen the relationship with local clients and to reach out and say, “How can we help you right now?” So here we are, we’ve passed the two year anniversary of the world turning upside down and you go out and it looks like we’ve either learned to live with it or at the very least, COVID 19 has faded into the background in a lot of people’s lives. I wonder if the same thing has happened with the strength of those relationships at all. As that uncertainty and that threat subsides, do you wonder if the memories of how you helped those clients, whether it was keep their doors open or just make one specific thing happen, do you worry that those are going to start to do the same? Time just seems to have that effect on everything. 

JB: That’s a really good question. I think this cluster, even when it was Greater Media, before we bought it, had a very, I guess you would call it, “servant style” sales operation. What can we do to help you?  We’ve carried that through. The pandemic intensified that.           

Our whole thing has always been creating partnerships and programs with clients that goes a lot further than selling spots for a specific timeframe. 

BSM Writers

Radio Partnerships With Offshore Sportsbooks Are Tempting

The rush to get sports betting advertising revenue offers an interesting risk to stations in states where the activity is illegal.

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Maryland Matters

As the wave of sports gambling continues to wash over the United States, marketing budgets soar and advertisements flood radio and television airwaves. Offers of huge sign-on bonuses, “risk-free” wagers, and enhanced parlay odds seem to come from every direction as books like DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM fight over market share and battle one another for every new user they can possibly attract.

For those in states where sports betting is not yet legalized–or may never be–it is frustrating to see these advertisements and know that you cannot get in the action. However, as with any vice, anybody determined to partake will find ways to do so. Offshore sports books are one of the biggest ways. Companies such as Bovada and BetOnline continue to thrive even as more state-based online wagering options become available to Americans.

While five states–Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, and New York–have passed laws making it illegal for offshore books to take action from their residents, using an offshore book is perfectly legal for the rest of the country. While there are hurdles involved with funding for some institutions, there is no law that prevents someone in one of those other 45 states from opening an account with Bovada and wagering on whatever sporting events they offer. The United States government has tried multiple times to go after them, citing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006, and have failed at every step, with the World Trade Organization citing that doing so would violate international trade agreements. 

While gambling is becoming more and more accepted every day, and more states look to reap the financial windfall that comes with it, the ethical decisions made take on even more importance. One of the tougher questions involved with the gambling arms race is how to handle offers from offshore books to advertise with radio stations in a state where sports betting is not legalized. 

Multiple stations in states without legalized gambling, such as Texas and Florida, have partnerships with BetOnline to advertise their services. Radio stations can take advantage of these relationships in three main ways: commercials, on-air reads, and the station’s websites. For example, Bovada’s affiliate program allows for revenue sharing based on people clicking advertisements on a partner’s website and signing up with a new deposit. This is also the case for podcasts, such as one in Kansas that advertises with Bovada despite sports gambling not being legal there until later in 2022.

People are going to gamble, and it’s legal to do so. In full disclosure, I myself have utilized Bovada’s services for a number of years, even after online sports wagering became legal in my state of Indiana. As such, advertising a service that is legal within the state seems perfectly fine in the business sense, and I totally understand why a media entity would choose to accept an offer from an offshore book. However, there are two major factors that make it an ethical dilemma, neither of which can be ignored.

First, Americans may find it easy to deposit money with a book such as Bovada or BetOnline, but much more difficult to get their money back. While the UIGEA hasn’t been successful in stopping these books from accepting money, it has made it difficult–near impossible, in fact–for American financial institutions to accept funds directly from these companies. Therefore, most payouts have to take place either via a courier service, with a check that can take weeks to arrive, or via a cryptocurrency payout. For those who are either unwilling or not tech-savvy enough to go this route, it means waiting sometimes up to a month to receive that money versus a couple days with a state-licensed service.

The other major concern is the lack of protections involved with gambling in a state where legislation has been passed. For example, the state of Indiana drew up laws and regulations for companies licensed to operate within its borders that included protections for how bets are graded, what changes can be made to lines and when they can take place, and how a “bad line” is handled. They also require a portion of the revenues be put towards resources for those dealing with gambling addiction or compulsion issues. 

None of those safeguards exist with an offshore book. While the books have to adhere to certain regulations, it’s much more loosely enforced. I’ve lost track of the number of times a book like Bovada has made somewhat shady decisions on what bets to honor as “wins”, and how they handle wagers on what they deem to be “bad lines” where they posted a mistake and users capitalized on it. Furthermore, not a single dime of the monies received go towards helping those dealing with addiction, and there are few steps taken by the offshore books to look for compulsive or addictive behaviors.  

As states look to move sports betting out of the shadows, the decision whether to take advertising dollars from offshore books seems to be an even larger gray area than ever before. Although it is perfectly legal to accept these funds when offered, it feels unethical to do so. There are moral obligations tied to accepting the money involved, especially given the lack of regulations and safeguards for players in addition to the limited resources for those who find themselves stuck in a situation they may struggle to escape. While it’s possible to take steps to educate listeners on these pitfalls, it simply feels irresponsible to encourage people to utilize these services given the risks involved, and the lack of protections in place.

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BSM Writers

Saban v. Jimbo Is WrestleMania for College Football Fans

Ryan Brown says the Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher feud is one made for pay-per-view and we have nearly five months to hype the match.

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It was the day after I turned eleven that Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre ‘The Giant’. WrestleMania III filled 90,000 seats at the Pontiac Silverdome and the living room of one of the houses in my neighborhood. Real or fake, we didn’t care. Three decades later, Nick Saban versus Jimbo Fisher is 100% real and it is coming to a living room near you.

I live in the capital city of SEC Country – Birmingham, Alabama. SEC football needs no additional drama here. You get a complete college football obsession at birth. That said, the October 8th Texas A&M visit to Alabama will be among the most anticipated regular season college football games both regionally and nationally.

One would think CBS will use their annual prime time date for that Saturday just as they did for last season’s Alabama at Texas A&M game, you know, when Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher were on speaking terms. Not knowing how the season will play out, it would be no surprise if ESPN’s College Gameday is in Tuscaloosa as well. While we are at it, let’s just cut to the 2024 chase and schedule a Presidential debate in Tuscaloosa that weekend, as well.

Not one person will be surprised if Alabama is undefeated and the top ranked team in the nation that week. The surprise, based on the rest of the Jimbo Fisher era, will be the Aggies being unbeaten. Their trip to Alabama comes at the end of a five game stretch that includes Appalachian State at home, Miami at home, Arkansas in Dallas and a road game at Mississippi State. Incidentally, the same Texas A&M team that was able to upset Alabama last season also managed to lose to Arkansas and Mississippi State.

Just the prospect of the two teams being unbeaten and highly ranked causes some to say this game would need no extra storylines. Shouldn’t that, and being on CBS in prime time, be enough? The Saban-Fisher Feud already has people discussing this game nationally and Lee Corso hasn’t even donned a body odor-filled mascot head yet.

I would like to project this game to deliver the largest TV audience of the regular season but I can’t, for one reason: I’m not certain it will be close. I think Alabama is that much better than Texas A&M. That’s why the build up will deliver a huge first half audience.

For perspective, in the 2021 regular season, the Alabama at Texas A&M game had the fifth largest TV audience, in a game that went down to the final play. The Ohio State at Michigan game had 15.8 million viewers on as part of FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff, almost double that of Alabama at Texas A&M on CBS in prime time.

That brings me to another misconception: big games have to be in prime time to get a big audience. Of the top ten largest college football audiences in the regular season and conference championship weekend, only half were prime time games. College football fans, and NFL fans for that matter, will find the best games no matter where they are placed.

So, back to Saban v. Fisher; why is it a bad thing? Would SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey prefer it not happen? Of course. Will it bring more attention to a game in the conference he oversees? I say, absolutely. Heck, my daily show is already selling t-shirts for the game. You may say “shameless plug”, I say paying for my kid’s college. Tomato, tomahto.

This is what made “Mean” Gene Okerlund a household name in the 1980’s. He was the far too serious host that interviewed the wrestlers who challenged other wrestlers to a grudge match in exotic places like the Macon Coliseum and the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum and the Dallas Sportatorium. Why did they do that? First, it was entertaining but, primarily, it sucked the viewer into making plans to view those matches.

I mean, if Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat said he was going to rip the head off “Big” John Studd, was I going to miss that?

That was why a bunch of kids crowded into a living room in Anniston, Alabama in 1987 to watch WrestleMania III, The Main Event. I can’t tell you who was on the undercard that night. The only wrestlers we cared about were Hulk Hogan and Andre “The Giant”.

Actually, my friend’s mom thought the Ultimate Warrior was “cute and had a great body”. He wasn’t on the card and I thought it was odd she told us that but she was footing the bill for the pay-per-view and had mixed the fruit punch Kool-Aid, so who am I to judge one’s wanton desires?

Texas A&M at Alabama will be the SEC’s main event this season and, if the cards fall right, it may be college football’s main event. What happened between the two head coaches might not be the proudest moment in SEC history but it will bring more attention to that game. And, my word, we finally have a nano-second in which two prominent coaches weren’t pre-programmed robots refusing to deviate from the script.

As amazing as WrestleMania III was for my childhood, it was scripted. The Tide and the Aggies will not be. College football remains one of the greatest values in sports. I pay very little to watch unscripted game after unscripted game. Truth is, you couldn’t even script most of what we see on a college football Saturday. 

Texas A&M at Alabama is already beyond what the most creative writers could imagine and that is why this fuel to the already smoldering fire adds to this game. Now, if Nick Saban will just try to bodyslam Jimbo Fisher, we’ll have something.

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BSM Writers

Doc Emrick’s Love Letter is Hockey and… Language

The Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Doc Emrick developed his love for the sport and the art of the call early in life and never let go of either.

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LaFontaine, Indiana is a small rural town in the northeastern sector of the state with a population of just under 900 people. Located between the cities of Fort Wayne and Indianapolis, it is similar to the village illustrated in the 1986 movie “Hoosiers,” and its name, rooted in the French language, translates to “The Fountain” in English.

In the summer of 1955, the local Cub Scouts managed an organized softball league, and once children graduated to become a member of the Boy Scouts, they would transition to play baseball. One nine-year-old child in the summer of 1955 had the common realization that he would not likely make the major leagues since he was not considered an elite-level athlete. While he enjoyed playing the game, he enjoyed listening to the game on the radio even more, so much so that he wanted to pursue broadcasting as a career.

There would often be a softball or baseball game being played on a near-nightly basis in LaFontaine, with upwards of 100 people attending. The town ballpark had a public address system; however, it had no steady announcing presence, instead relying on adults to volunteer to provide the play-by-play for the spectators. For this prospective broadcaster with a nascent avidity for baseball, sitting behind the microphone and vivifying the action became something hardly perfunctory, but rather an inspired art form. It afforded him the chance to interact with his community and his friends as a familiar voice, and helped prepare him for what would become a 47-year professional career carrying out this very task, albeit in different settings for different audiences through different mediums, and primarily in an entirely different sport. 

Going to a Major League Baseball game from LaFontaine was quite the trek for the young Mike Emrick and his family; therefore, attending was often a once-a-year event that took place in the summer. Driving northwest through the corn fields for approximately 150 miles without the presence of super highways, he and his brother Dan, accompanied by their parents, would eventually reach their “Field of Dreams” in Chicago, Il., where they would take in an afternoon game. From the time he was young though, Emrick cheered on the Pittsburgh Pirates. He grew up listening to Bob Prince and Jim Woods call games of hall-of-fame outfielder Roberto Clemente on the wide-ranging KDKA radio signal.

Emrick had always had an interest in calling baseball games; however, that all changed one day in 1960. At the age of 14, he attended his first hockey game just before Christmas, a matchup between the visiting Muskegon Zephyrs and Fort Wayne Komets in Fort Wayne, Ind. The game ended in a tie, but Emrick was enamored with the game’s nuances, spontaneity and occasional fights nonetheless. While on the way to the car in a snow-filled parking lot to return home, he realized that this fast-paced game on ice would be the outlet through which his voice would be heard and passion for sport expressed.

“When I saw my first hockey game,” Emrick said, “overnight the whole idea changed from baseball to hockey. Then the question was: ‘Well, how do you get to do that?’”

Emrick closely followed the Komets after his realization, learning its players and the game of hockey listening on WOWO radio. While he was a fan of the team and enjoyed watching its hockey games at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, he was also there for another purpose in his quest to become a professional broadcaster.

“After I got my driver’s license at age 16, I would drive 40 miles on Wednesday nights to Fort Wayne and sit in corner sections of the old Coliseum… and do games into a tape recorder and try to get better at it,” Emrick recalled. “It was taking those games and using those sort of phony games; I used legitimate names of players because I would get a lineup and learn who they were. Then I would save the tape – and that was eventually my first audition that I sent out.”

Emrick grew up within a pedagogical household where great emphasis was placed on the proper use of the English language. His mother, Florence, was a home economics and physical education teacher while his father, Charles, was a high school principal, and the family owned a music store on the side as well. From the time he was in fifth grade, he received a salient piece of advice from one of his teachers about the inculcation and subsequent expansion of his vocabulary which he carried with him throughout his career.

“Once we used a word five times, it was ours for life,” Emrick recalled. “[My teacher] encouraged us to build our vocabulary, and so that was influential, I think, along the way.”

Emrick landed his first broadcasting job in 1973 as the radio play-by-play announcer in the International Hockey League for the Port Huron Wings (later renamed the Port Huron Flags) on WHLS radio for $160 per week. That job came after a series of rejection letters from a legion of hockey broadcasting outlets, the stationery located in a binder he keeps to this day.

The next season, despite nearly landing the Pittsburgh Penguins radio play-by-play job, Emrick added another job to his résumé by becoming the team’s public relations director and continued broadcasting games. While he had the will and determination to succeed and become an NHL broadcaster, his backup plan of becoming an educator was quite genuine in scope as his time in the minor leagues continued.

Shortly after he graduated from Manchester University in 1968 with a B.Sc in speech, and, one year later, an M.A. in radio and television from Miami University, Emrick’s foray into the world of college instruction began. Prior to working in Port Huron, Emrick resided in Pennsylvania, teaching public speaking classes at Geneva College and managing it’s 15-watt campus radio station. In addition, he volunteered to work as a correspondent for The Beaver Sun Times coverage of the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a season press pass so he could further immerse himself in the game of hockey.

One of Emrick’s mentors in broadcasting was Bob Chase, the Fort Wayne Komets’ play-by-play announcer for 63 years, and someone who had a profound influence on his career. Chase called hockey, along with various other sports including basketball and racing amid his time behind the microphone, and while there were many other announcers doing play-by-play professionally, Chase was representative of Emrick’s soundtrack of hockey.

“I was a college guy and befriended him and he was very kind to me and would listen to my work,” said Emrick. “He was the one person that I listened to because at the time there was not a national TV package for the NHL, and so he was about the only guy I had access to.”

Emrick sought after his Ph.D in broadcast communications to ensure he would have a successful teaching career if his broadcasting dreams fell through. While in the doctorate program, Emrick honed his craft and earned his nickname “Doc,” a pseudonym he was called throughout his broadcasting career. In fact, his dissertation was titled “Major League Baseball Principal Play By Play Announcers: Their Occupation Background And Personal Life,” and signed off by Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell, his nonacademic advisor. Later in his career, he famously used 153 different verbs in a single game to describe the movement of the puck, including “squibbed,” “flagged” and “galloped” – an aspect of his broadcasting style, per se, that demarcated him from others in his profession.

“I always tried to use words that were hopefully interesting, but also I didn’t want to come across as talking down to the audience,” said Emrick. “I just wanted to use something that was creative and maybe amused people a little bit. Once one of those words was used, I tried never to repeat it the rest of that night because you don’t want to hammer people with the same one.”

Prior to the 1976-77 season, Emrick relocated to Portland, Maine to serve as the radio play-by-play voice and public relations director of the brand-new Maine Mariners in the American Hockey League – an affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers. After three more years of hard work in the minor leagues, he finally made it to the pros with the Flyers as its television play-by-play announcer for home games on PRISM cable beginning in the 1980-81 season.

Having worked in both broadcast mediums, Emrick knows that radio requires the announcer to evoke imagery within the mind of the listener, while television is centered on the announcer’s reaction to the already-cultivated picture. While he never broadcast a boxing match, Emrick uses an analogy within that sport to describe the difference between the two broadcast mediums.

“I’ve heard it described before, and it’s probably accurate, [as] the difference between a boxer leading or counterpunching,” said Emrick. “In radio you basically lead, and in TV you counterpunch.”

Regardless of the medium though, what truly makes a broadcast unique is in how effectively it goes beyond the action taking place on the ice. Being able to do that comes in one’s preparation and knowledge of the game, both of which Emrick possessed and continued to grow upon being named the inaugural television play-by-play voice of the New Jersey Devils in 1982 on the MSG Network.

“The legs that get you from one thing to the next are the identity of the players,” said Emrick. “I think that’s still the most important thing of any play-by-play description is… the ‘who’… because it’s the people who are competing that draw the audience, and you need to identify who it is.”

Emrick returned to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1982-83, first as a spot announcer, and upon his departure from the Devils in 1986, as an studio analyst on UHF telecasts. In the same year, he began his first of many years of national television work as the lead play-by-play announcer for NHL games on ESPN, working alongside former NHL forward Bill Clement.

Before the 1988-89 season, Emrick was promoted by the Flyers to be the team’s lead television play-by-play announcer, working with his analyst Clement for a majority of the time in both his regional and national obligations. Working in both roles simultaneously, he has had to be cognizant of his audience – meaning that the preparation for regional and national games, while similar in methodology, differed from one another in terms of the time devoted to each team.

“Usually with a national telecast, it’s 50-50 on how much you talk about one team or the other,” said Emrick. “With a local broadcast, it’s usually 70-30 or 80-20 because if there’s one team that is supplying all of your viewers or most of them, you go that way.”

Emrick’s presence on regional sports networks continued upon his departure from the Flyers after the 1992-93 season, as he returned to Newark as the play-by-play voice of the Devils on MSG Networks. Broadcasting within the three-team New York-Metropolitan area marketplace for the Devils from 1993 to 2011, Emrick stayed up to date not only on his primary team, along with the Rangers and New York Islanders. As a result, the shift from regional to national television became smoother for Emrick, and with it, the allocation of the time he spent discussing each team more consistent.

“You treated it like a network telecast and I was very comfortable shifting from regional games to network because you had fans of numerous teams living in New York,” said Emrick. “Whereas in Philadelphia, you made the assumption that most of the people that were watching… were Flyers fans.”

Over his years at ESPN, Emrick called two Stanley Cup Finals, something that would render itself into an annual occurrence once he joined Fox in 1995. From there, Emrick called 20 more Stanley Cup Finals with Fox, OLN, Versus and NBC Sports – providing the description throughout the final roadblock standing between one team and a championship. Television, being the visual medium that it is, not only requires an announcer to be aware of their audience, but also of the moment and what will best transmit the atmosphere within the arena to the viewer. Throughout the course of enduring moments that stand the test of time, including game-winning goals, penalty shots and highlight-reel saves, Emrick uses his words judiciously, following a tried-and-true philosophy that requires discipline from the announcer with the potential to put an indelible stamp on the action.

“Less is more. Especially with television, you have a lot of people that have qualified to be in trucks and operating cameras and placing microphones in arenas,” Emrick stated. “Just like you are qualified to be there to describe it, they are the best at their profession… You don’t have to do everything. You have a lot of help.”

Emrick worked his first of seven Olympic Games in 1992 while on CBS, calling the ice hockey championships. While he had to consistently learn names of new players and adjust to the cultural differences of the host country, the quadrennial worldwide showcase built on tradition has induced games that have helped grow the game of hockey on an international scale. One of his most memorable broadcasts emanated from the thrilling conclusion of a gold medal matchup between Canada and the United States from Vancouver, B.C. in February 2010.

The game drew 27.6 million viewers, the largest television hockey audience since Al Michaels was behind the microphone for the “Miracle on Ice” semifinal game between the Soviet Union and the United States aired on tape delay in 1980 from Lake Placid, N.Y. 

“Sam Flood, our executive producer at NBC, always told us [for big games] to broaden the brush,” said Emrick. “In other words, never try to talk inside stuff because we were going to have a lot of extra viewers, and you didn’t want to talk [about] inside stuff and have them feel like they were being left out. And so we basically let the game do the talking and did not try to do a lot of strategy or things like that.”

Part of a broadcaster’s job is to recognize their role within the greater production of a live sporting event. Sure, they are often omnipresent throughout the broadcast; however, they are hardly, if ever, supposed to be the main character. The job of the rest of the production crew is to adequately tell the story of the game, whether it be through camerawork, graphics or interviews. While they are not scripting the moments on the ice, the broadcast director coordinates the assorted roles to help the team’s vision of the end product come to life. It is a task that allows for creativity, but also requires evolution to shifting consumer trends – achieved through collaboration.

Down by one goal in the gold medal game, the United States pulled it’s goaltender Ryan Miller for the extra attacker, which led to forward Zach Parise tying the game with 24 seconds remaining in regulation time. Then in overtime, Canada forward Sidney Crosby scored the “Golden Goal,” giving Canada its first gold medal since the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“I think I said, ‘…and Crosby scores – the goal to Canada,’ and then I said nothing for almost two minutes,” Emrick recollected. “I didn’t need to say anything because what we showed and what the people in our truck and the people operating cameras provided was the sound of the crowd and the microphones on cameras”

Over the years, Emrick has worked with numerous analysts, including Bill Clement, John Davidson, Bobby Taylor, Chico Resch, Doug Sulliman, Sal Messina and Eddie Olczyk. As a play-by-play announcer, Emrick ensured that his analyst would be implemented into the game, usually when he felt they could contribute to the broadcast or when he needed to take a breath. By including them in the broadcast, a greater ethos is established with the viewing audience and multiple perspectives are acknowledged.

“I think our business is analyst-driven,” said Emrick. “Those of us in play-by-play are there to enhance the game but not get in the way of it. It is when the play stops that you really learn about what has happened or what could happen in the future. Those of us who are describing the game don’t have time to throw that in, and if we did, our credibility is not nearly that of people who have actually experienced it, and that’s why analysts are there.”

Following the 2010-11 season, Emrick relinquished his role as the play-by-play announcer for the New Jersey Devils and continued to work as the national play-by-play voice of the NHL on NBC for the next decade. His final season as an announcer was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and once professional hockey made its return, Emrick found himself calling games remotely – something he had never done in his illustrious career.

Emrick officially announced his retirement from broadcasting in October 2020 after 47 years behind the mic calling over 3,750 hockey contests, including 22 Stanley Cup Finals, 45 playoff Game 7s and 19 outdoor games. Prior to his retirement, Emrick won the Foster Hewitt Award for “outstanding contributions as a hockey broadcaster” presented by the Hockey Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. 

Today, the NHL is in the first of new seven-year contracts with both ESPN and Turner Sports worth a reported $1 billion. For Emrick, the specific networks carrying the games do not mean as much to him as the continued worldwide dissemination of the game of hockey itself.

“I cheer for everybody who winds up being on the air doing games… because this is a game that is wonderful and needs to be continually promoted by whoever winds up with the rights,” said Emrick. “I’m not a businessman; I don’t have billions of dollars in my pocket.”

Following the conclusion of the 2010 gold medal game, sideline reporter Pierre McGuire interviewed Miller and Crosby, and the two athletes, despite being on opposite ends of the outcome, spoke about the significance of competing in the Olympics and how special it was to play the game on an international stage. Reflecting on that broadcast sequence, Emrick affirms that he had never been more proud to be associated with the game of hockey because of the eloquence, class and humility with which they spoke. Therefore, as ESPN and Turner Sports are in the midst of presenting the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs to millions of hockey fans around the world, Emrick hopes that they focus on telling the stories of the athletes – the primary reason for which people tune in to the games.

“The athletes are wonderful, and they have been all the way back through the first years that I started going to IHL games and getting to meet them for the first time,” said Emrick. “The number one thing that we have to sell is not only the speed of the sport, but more importantly, the guys who play it because they’re really good people.”

Whatever the future of hockey broadcasting holds, Emrick has undoubtedly become an integral figure in the history of the sport – all while never donning skates on an ice rink in his life. The half-a-century he covered hockey would not have been possible without his steadfastness towards becoming a professional broadcaster, avidity for the game of hockey and the group of people who allowed him to expatiate on the proceedings situated on a 200-foot sheet of ice. Emrick continues to watch hockey to this day and listens to the next generation of broadcasters be themselves while calling the action, the very advice Bob Chase conferred to him early in his career.

“It was the realization of a lifelong dream to get to do hockey games anywhere to anybody, but to be chosen to do national games was a great honor and responsibility,” Emrick stated. “I never took it lightly, and I always appreciated those who gave me a chance.”

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