You can’t assume the double play in baseball. You also can’t assume to have a rough idea of what a host’s journey in sports radio has been like. Take Donovan Lewis for instance. He hosts at one of the most successful stations in the country, The Ticket in Dallas, Texas.
He must have started at a sports station, right? Nope, he began in news talk. Then sports radio? Nope, next he worked at a classic rock station. Hmm, conservative talk radio and classic rock; sounds like a white guy. Nope, Lewis is black. Well, being from Dallas he’s probably a Cowboys fan. Nope, he was an Eagles fan growing up.
Donovan Lewis isn’t predictable, which makes him and his journey so interesting. The Dallas native began his career at 570 KLIF in 1993. Lewis was a self-described, bottom-of-the-rung board-op who only worked about nine hours on weekends. Then he transitioned to the classic rock station 93.3 The Bone. Lewis occasionally got some airtime, but he was mostly a board-op and producer for nearly 13 years combined before landing at The Ticket.
Lewis talks about the biggest bump he’s faced during his radio journey. He also mentions what it’s like to host a show for nearly seven years with Dallas icon Norm Hitzges. Lewis touches on his love for a certain NFL quarterback and tosses in an epic story about Alice Cooper as well. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: Where are you from?
Donovan Lewis: I’m born and raised in Dallas. It’s a little section of Dallas called Oak Cliff. My parents still live in the same house I grew up in, man. Nothing is ever going to change. I love the little neighborhood where I grew up. I went to school for radio and television; they always told us to be prepared to move anywhere and everywhere if you’re really serious about this. I’ve been really blessed, man, not having to leave the city of Dallas to keep going with the radio game. I started here and I’ve never lived anywhere else but Dallas. That’s pretty unusual in this business.
BN: Who were your favorite teams growing up and where do you stand with those teams now?
DL: It’s funny because being from Dallas of course everyone thinks you’re a Cowboys fan and I wasn’t a Cowboys fan growing up because my dad was not a Cowboys fan. Of course I want to grow up and be like him. He didn’t like the Cowboys so I grew up not liking them. But of course if you’re going to do radio in Dallas, you’re going to have to like the Cowboys somehow, someway.
Right now if you ask me what my favorite team is, now it’s Dallas. But growing up, man, I loved and idolized Randall Cunningham. I was an Eagles fan for a while and wherever he went, I followed. That’s my guy. That’s who I was in love with when I was growing up. I considered myself an Eagles fan, but always been Rangers, always been Mavericks. Of course hockey came around here in ‘93, so I’ve always been a Stars fan. Yeah, it’s pretty unusual, I’m pretty homegrown until you get to the football team. I wasn’t a Cowboys fan at all.
BN: Did they give you a hard time because the Eagles — it’d be one thing if your team was the Ravens, but a divisional rival? What was that like?
DL: Oh dude, it was not fun. I’ll tell you that much. I think everyone understood, but it just didn’t matter because my love for Randall Cunningham wasn’t going anywhere. They just had to accept the fact that whatever team he was going to be on, that’s who I was going to like.
I went to a game one time at Texas Stadium and I had my Randall Cunningham jersey on. My wife now, who was my girlfriend at the time, had a Cowboys jersey on when we went. I understand when you go to a rival’s stadium how things can go, but man, that’s the most afraid I’ve ever been in a stadium before in my life. I thought that was it. I thought I was done. I was like, ‘I’m about to get beat up, they’re going to take my girlfriend, they’re going to take everything I have and leave me in a bloody pulp in this Cunningham jersey’. But I survived. It worked out.
BN: What led to you getting on the air at The Ticket?
DL: I was at The Bone and I was producing the morning show. It did include some on-air things, but not the whole time. Then Cumulus came in and bought all the stations in 2006. That’s when they fired everybody at The Bone. I thought I was going to get fired too. They said there’s an opportunity for you to slide over and see how it’s going to work at The Ticket if that’s what you want. I was like ‘hell yeah, that’s exactly what I want’. That’s how it started. It was like May of 2006.
They kind of pushed me onto the show that was on from noon to 3. It was BaD Radio with Bob Sturm and Dan McDowell. They had been together for about seven years before I got there. So it was almost like okay, here’s the third man, go make it work. They didn’t really give us any direction or anything like that. Of course me being paranoid and all this other stuff, I didn’t know how to fit in.
It’s funny because right when I got in there with them is when the Mavericks made their first 2006 title run. Those guys were going on the road. They were in Miami for the Finals and I was back in the studio because I was so new and I didn’t know what was going on. It was the weirdest time ever, man. I didn’t think I was ever going to make it. I can’t find my way. I don’t know when to jump in. Those guys are talking to each other and I’m just kind of sitting back here supposedly the third man on the show in Dallas. It was a little awkward at first.
I had a conversation with Corby Davidson who’s on The Hardline now. It was at training camp. It’s 2006, it’s July and we went to Oxnard for Cowboys training camp. We sat by the pool, man, and we talked for like three hours. He was a third man on a show and he was telling me hey man, get your footing, they wouldn’t have you here if it wasn’t for a reason. Once you find your voice it’ll be fine, just be patient. I wasn’t comfortable for a year, year and a half, you’ve been doing this for three months. It’ll come to you. It’ll come around.
He kind of talked me off the ledge a little bit. That’s how it started ticking up on the roller coaster as far as that went. You find your footing. You find your voice. You get comfortable and then you just keep on pushing. It was a weird start to the beginning of me at The Ticket. I’m telling you, it was crazy.
BN: How did it work for you to co-host with Norm Hitzges?
DL: That was a little weird also because I was with Bob and Dan for like nine years. I’m comfortable, I know exactly what they expect from me. I know what to expect from them, we’re kind of rockin’ and rollin’. Now I’m going on a show with a guy that’s been doing it by himself for 40 years. Now it goes from being pretty comfortable in your surroundings to I don’t know how he’s going to accept this. Is it going to be cool having a partner?
The thing that helped us out though is we did the Cowboys postgame show together. We had done it for eight years before I moved on the show with him. So we did have some type of knowledge of working with each other. Then once he said ‘you know what, I’m cool with it, let’s go with it’, as soon as I got with Norm it was pretty instantaneous that I felt pretty comfortable being the co-host of my own show. It didn’t take too long because he was really cool.
I told him one of the things I wanted was not to be Norm’s show with Donovan sitting in; this is our show together. It’s almost like starting brand new and trying to build something. I think that will benefit both of us. He totally agreed. You’re going to have some elements of the things he’s used to and then some new stuff that I incorporated in and it meshed pretty well really quickly. I was really surprised by that because somebody’s doing something by themselves for 40 years can get quite comfortable doing it by themselves and not want to have some young whippersnapper in there thinking he knows what he’s doing. That was a cool jump.
One of my professors at school, who is a real big mentor for me, used to tell me, “once you figure out what you want to do in your life, write down some goals on a piece of paper. And every now and then just look at it and see if you can check some of those off.” One of those goals that I had written down was to have a show with my name on it. Bob and Dan, it was BaD Radio. That show didn’t have my name on it. Now I get with Norm Hitzges and now this show has my name on it.
That was a pretty big milestone for me to check that goal that I had in 1993 off the list. That’s really cool. Some of that stuff, we try to be all hard and take for granted and all that stuff, but when you kind of get one of those milestone moments that you’ve probably been wanting since you’ve been in college or something like that, is pretty dang special.
BN: What would you say is the biggest bump in the road you’ve faced over nearly three decades in your radio career?
DL: We had this one thing with our company; they wanted the people of color to let them know how it is working in that company being a person of color. I said sometimes I feel like I have to work twice as hard to get half as far. To try to let you know ‘hey, I’m worthy of this position, just look at me.’ I don’t think it’s just this company specifically, I just think that’s how this game seems to be.
Just being a brother in this radio game, I think sometimes it’s had some of the bumps that a lot of people may not think it had. Trying to prove myself that I’m worthy of being on the air and not trying to be anyone else, just being myself, I think that’s been the biggest bump.
When I was in school, one time I got kicked out of class because my professor told me when someone closes their eyes and listens to you, they shouldn’t be able to tell whether you’re white or black. I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. It doesn’t matter if you know whether I’m white or black as long as I’m speaking correctly, as long as I’m giving you the information you need, who cares?
It’s about proving yourself. It’s about the opportunity and sometimes you just don’t get the opportunity to prove yourself. I’ve gotten the opportunity and I feel I’ve done a good job of proving that I do belong in this game. I’ve been here for a while, but a lot of people who look like me I don’t think they’ve gotten the proper opportunities to showcase their talents just because of the perception of what sports radio is supposed to sound like. I think I share that bump along with some of my colleagues who look like me to try to change that barrier and say ‘it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you know what you’re doing and you sound good doing it’, that’s all that should matter.
BN: Has that feeling changed for you over the last couple of years, or has it stayed relatively the same?
DL: I feel like it is getting better, but it’s not nearly where it’s supposed to be. Sometimes, especially with some of the things that have happened across America in the last few years and me being the only African-American voice at my station, I’m almost carrying a bigger load as far as what you say and how you say it and how it’s going to be perceived and all of that stuff. It’s something that you have to be conscious about.
Look, I tell everybody, I don’t speak for anybody but me. You may look like me and you may not believe a word that I’m saying and I’m okay with that because I’m not trying to speak for a race. I’m not trying to speak for anybody but myself and my opinion on whatever situation is out there. I think that’s the beauty of our station because it’s not just sports. They allow us to speak freely about a whole bunch of things, issues sensitive or not. You are allowed to say what you truly feel, what you truly believe without any consequences from the company. I do think that that’s one of the better things about our radio station that allows us to do that.
I think it’s a little bit of an extra burden when you are the only African-American voice and you’re speaking on sensitive subjects like that. I take that responsibility seriously, man. I really do. You’re going to get talked about badly by some people, some of your own people, some people that just disagree with you, all that. But that’s the price of playing poker, man. That’s the platform that you have and you have to try to use it to the best of your ability and try to do what you feel is right.
BN: [Market manager] Dan Bennett has been a big believer in you along the way. What has he meant to your career?
DL: He’s meant a ton, man. He tells me all the time, he just walked into the cafeteria one time and he saw me holding court. That’s when I was a board operator. It was lunch and there was a table full of people and I was holding court. He thought you know what, maybe that can work on the air. He’s been really instrumental in allowing the opportunities for me to show myself where I think I may not have gotten those opportunities. He saw something in me and thought ‘hey, let’s put this on the air and see if it works.’
He knew that I wanted more than what I was getting at that particular time. Once he knew I was willing to do whatever it takes to work up and try to prove myself, he allowed those opportunities to happen. And again, when Cumulus came in and bought The Bone, I thought I was going to get fired along with everybody else at that radio station. But he said ‘let’s see if this works at The Ticket. I think it’ll be a good fit.’ I’m thankful to him for that big time because it worked out and we are where we are right now. He’s played a huge part of where I am right now.
BN: Your story is crazy, man. Same city, didn’t have to go to Iowa or whatever. From a classic rock station; it’s wild, right?
DL: Yeah, from conservative talk radio to classic rock to sports radio. Because when I was in college, sports radio was just kind of a niche genre. It wasn’t as prevalent as it is right now. I didn’t think about sports radio as a job. I didn’t even think about that. If I wanted to get into sports it was going to be doing games, sideline reporter or something like that. And now that that opportunity worked out. It just makes the story even better though. There’s no way I thought I would ever work at a classic rock station and I almost didn’t take the job because I don’t know anything about the music.
I’ll tell you a quick, funny story; when I got hired for the producer gig for the classic rock station, the weekend before I was going to start they had this big event. They said ‘why don’t you come out and check it out and then start on Monday, kind of get a feel for everything.’ I was like, that’s cool. They said ‘hey, do you want to meet Alice Cooper?’ I was like ‘yeah, who is she?’ They were like oh my gosh. You got a lot to learn buddy boy. [Laughs] You’ve got a lot to learn. That’s how my classic rock career got started.
BN: Hey, Shannon Sharpe is going to be in town. Oh yeah? Is she pretty?
DL: Nikki Sixx. Oh, who is she? Yeah, you don’t know anything about this. That’s how the classic rock career got started by asking about Alice Cooper, who is she.
BN: Man, I’m sure you came a long way from that point.
DL: It didn’t take long to realize that I’ve got a lot to learn. But it was four of the most fun years I’ve had in radio. It was really cool exploring that whole new world. Like these songs made in the ‘70s were new to me. So I’m like okay, I knew nothing about this and it was fantastic.
BN: That’s cool, man. How about the future? Your piece of paper, do you have anything else written on it besides having your name on a show that you want to check off?
DL: I know I have it somewhere and I need to go and look at it and see if anything hasn’t been checked off. Man, that’s a great question because it’s Dallas, it’s a huge market, you have your own show with your name on it and it feels like I can get really, really comfortable right here. It’s my hometown. I’m pretty sure there are going to be other things that I think of to say okay, this is something else I want to accomplish or get into. But right now, man, this is dream job one and it’s been that way for a long time.
Just to try to do it as best as I can. It’s been really cool. I think there are still some challenges in doing this job. That kind of keeps the blood going, it keeps the mind racing to try to think of different things, different segments, different topics and all that stuff. It hasn’t gotten old yet. It feels like sometimes you may hit a wall and think okay, you want to do something else, but I really enjoy getting up every single day going into the office, working with Norm and trying to think of different ways to entertain the audience.
I wanted to be an engineer when I first went to college. I couldn’t imagine being an engineer now, I’d be asleep right now. I’d be so bored with myself. No disrespect to engineers, but this is definitely a path that I saw. I didn’t think it would be this wild and crazy or anything like that. But it’s been fun as hell and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Julian Edelman Has Been FOX’s NFL Breakout Star
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments.
He was a key member of the NFL’s last true dynasty, a children’s book author, a regular talking head on NFL Network’s America’s Game anthology, an actor in the film 80 for Brady, and a multimedia favorite. And oh yeah, he is third all-time in the NFL for postseason receptions and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII. He is Julian Edelman.
These days he answers to a new calling – a rising star on FOX’s excellent NFL commentator roster. Edelman, who retired in 2020 after 12 seasons as a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, has logged impressive recent stints on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
Edelman has been an unexpected jewel in FOX’s football crown, providing behind-the-scenes, players-only insight in a casual and humorous style. On a recent edition of The Herd, Edelman’s talent was on full display.
In a discussion about Patriots’ signal caller Mac Jones, Cowherd implied that it would have been easier for the Alabama QB if he had gone to a less intense environment with an offensive-minded head coach.
Edelman countered by referencing Josh Dobbs, who played great in his first start for the Vikings after being with the team for just a couple of days. Edelman stated, “If you’re a guy, you’re a guy,” meaning that good players adapt to any situation. He added, “This is the National Football League. If you don’t win, the quarterback and the head coach get the blame. This is a production business.”
One of the refreshing aspects of Edelman’s TV game is his candor. He was deeply rooted in the Patriot Way and benefitted from all it offered him, but he pulls no punches in talking about his former team.
He does not buy into the excuse that Mac Jones has had three different offensive coordinators in his three NFL seasons. Edelman stated that ex-Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ and current OC Bill O’Brien’s offensive schemes are essentially identical.
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments. He uses his strong connections to Tom Brady and other members of the NFL’s glitterati to his advantage, but he is not violating these friendships with kiss-and-tell BS.
In his young broadcasting career, Edelman has also embraced a rare quality among media personalities, namely, the courage to admit when he is wrong. He recently stated that he thought Texans’ quarterback CJ Stroud was going to be just another failed Ohio State quarterback joining the likes of Cardale Jones, Terrell Pryor, Troy Smith, and the late Dwayne Haskins.
Julian Edelman acknowledged his error and lauded Stroud for his performance and the Houston offensive staff for keeping it simple and allowing Stroud to flourish. He then made an accurate comparison between Stroud and Dak Prescott who had a similarly amazing rookie season in 2016. He also revealed that he and Tom Brady would sit and watch Prescott play during that season and marveled at his performance.
Such neat revelations have become commonplace for Edelman who also told Cowherd that Bill Belichick had different rules for different players. This goes against the accepted theory that Belichick coached all his players the same.
When asked about good and bad locker rooms, Edelman revealed that the 2009 Patriots had some “a-holes” on the team, “guys who had a lot of money and acted like they had a lot of money.”
He also regaled Cowherd with a funny story about former teammate and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi. During his rookie season, Edelman made repeated contact with Bruschi during a team drill. After the play, Bruschi got in Edelman’s face and said, “If you ever touch me again, I’ll cut your arm off, Rook!”
In a subsequent discussion, Edelman was asked about how NFL players view Thursday night games. He said that the goal for players is to just get through the game and try to get the win. He called having a Thursday night game a “baby bye week” because of the extra prep time gained for the next week. Baby bye week – new lingo from a new age analyst.
Speaking of language, Julian Edelman may have created another new football term. He called the NFL games after Thanksgiving “cream season,” when the cream rises to the top and when football season truly starts. Edelman told Cowherd that this is when coaches raise the intensity in the building.
A week later, Edelman was a panelist on FOX’s NFL Kickoff. It was clear that the show’s producers and host Charissa Thompson were tuned into Edelman’s Herd appearance as they made his cream season line a theme of discussion.
Edelman picked the Ravens and Niners as his current cream teams and entertained Thompson and his fellow panelists with a few dairy-related puns. He was funny, saying that both these teams could end up becoming butter teams – even better than cream.
Edelman is unafraid to ruffle feathers, even if those feathers reside in Foxboro, MA. In discussing last week’s Patriots-Giants game, he boldly tweeted and stated on NFL Kickoff that the Patriots would be better off losing that game in order to get a better 2024 draft position.
If Julian Edelman has any flaws, it is that at times his analysis RPMs run into the red. In his discussion of last week’s crucial Jaguars-Texans game, he was visibly pumped up and spoke far too quickly even stumbling on some commentary. He recovered well and simply needs to slow down, trust his knowledge, and calculate his pace.
Edelman has made such an immediate impact that NFL Kickoff has even given him his own segment. It is called “The Nest” and his based on his children’s book Flying High, the story of Jules, a football-playing squirrel who is small in stature but big on heart and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?
Julian Edelman was joined in the nest by panelists Charles Woodson and Peter Schrager and provided a pretty cool analysis of current NFL wide receivers. He based his opinions on four attributes: sociability, aggressiveness, activity level, and boldness. Along the way, Edelman provide some unique commentary on the likes of Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, A.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs.
There is a rhythm to Edelman’s conversation. He is comfortable with his career, comfortable with himself, and comfortable on air. As a player, Julian Edelman was an unexpected star, a guy who parlayed personality, hard work, and hustle into a fantastic career. He is doing the same in media dishing out knowledge his way – brash, all-out, and with total abandon.
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
Mike Breen is Ready For Whatever The NBA Season Brings
“I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
Every time a new basketball season is on the precipice, there is a certain kind of enigma that permeates the landscape. Although he has been on basketball broadcasts for nearly three decades, Mike Breen still feels added nerves before donning the headset to call the NBA Finals. Last season, ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice called the 100th NBA Finals game of his broadcast career. In doing so, Breen became just the third basketball announcer on radio or television to attain such a feat.
When he first joined the broadcasts on ABC in 2006, Breen was stepping into the play-by-play role previously held by Al Michaels, working alongside color commentator Hubie Brown. He never could have imagined that the conclusion of the 2023-24 season would mark his 19th time calling the best-of-seven championship series and attributes his success to the people around him.
“There’s not a stage anywhere in the world big enough to hold that many people because that’s how many people have really been there for me and supported me and guided me and at times chastised me because you need people to always tell you the truth,” Breen said. “I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
For the last 18 NBA Finals broadcasts, Breen has worked alongside color commentator Jeff Van Gundy, a former head coach of the New York Knicks. Mark Jackson served as a color commentator as well for 15 of these series, taking a three-year detour to work as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. The broadcast trio was widely regarded as one of the best in basketball and frequently lauded for the strong chemistry they possessed on the air. Over the offseason though, Van Gundy and Jackson were laid off by ESPN as a part of cost-cutting measures by The Walt Disney Company. The decision disappointed Breen because of the bond he and his colleagues fostered and shared.
“We spent so much time together and we felt we had something special, and we were hoping that it was going to last longer, but nothing in this business lasts forever and that’s part of the business, and you have to figure that out and you move on,” Breen said. “Now the way I look at it is I’m just so grateful and honored that I had all that time sitting next to those two for so many big games over the years, but it’s hard when it ends.”
Breen is currently working with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers on ESPN’s lead NBA broadcast team. Broadcasting the NBA Finals, let alone sporting events as a whole, was never in his mind though; that is, until he was told by family friend and former New York Tech radio staffer Tony Minecola to consider going into the industry as a sportscaster.
Recognizing that he would not succeed as a professional athlete because of a lack of skill or as a doctor because of a lack of passion, Breen chose to major in broadcast journalism at Fordham University, immediately joining the campus radio station. Over his four years matriculating at the institution, he prioritized versatility and contributed to sports, news, talk and music programming.
“When you leave college and you have tape résumés and experience of being on the air on a live 50,000-watt station, it really gives you a great perspective of what it’s like to be in the business,” Breen said. “It’s kind of a great way to figure out, ‘Okay, is this something you like? Is this something you have a chance to be good at?’”
Ed Ingles, the former sports director of WCBS 880, helped instantiate that mindset for Breen when he interned with him during his days in college. Aside from his delivery, Breen took notice of how he interacted with his colleagues and other people in the industry, always demonstrating professionalism and kindness. Ingles advised Breen to get out of his comfort zone, which proved to be invaluable when Breen started his first job out of school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. at WEOK-AM/WPDH-FM.
In his first year with the outlet, he would frequently attend school board meetings and county legislative sessions in order to collect 45 seconds of sound for the morning anchor to use on their program. Whereas at a sporting event, the game is oftentimes the primary story, Breen had to review the agenda and listen to the meeting to have an understanding of what is essential to the story.
“If you can cover a school board meeting that you know nothing about and do a good job on it, then you can certainly cover an NBA basketball game and figure out the storylines and the narratives and all those types of things,” Breen said. “It really made me a better sportscaster. I wasn’t just a sportscaster; I was a broadcaster.”
Breen eventually began calling Dutchess County High School basketball games and serving as an analyst on Marist College basketball broadcasts, all while working as the morning news anchor for the radio outlet. In balancing various different roles at once, Breen found himself on the air for six days a week for an entire year. The strenuous workload allowed him to enhance his skillset and ingenuity and have the confidence that he could make a career in the profession.
Through a connection he had with a classmate at Fordham University, Breen landed a part-time producing job on Jack Spector’s sports talk program, SportsNight, on WNBC. The commitment was initially for one day per week, but as Breen’s workload at the outlet increased, he was able to leave Poughkeepsie and focus on working in New York City. There was a dearth of sports talk programming at the time; that is until the summer of 1987 when WFAN launched on 1050 AM and introduced a new format to the medium.
“We were all sitting around the radio at WNBC thinking, ‘Okay, here comes our competition on the air,’” Breen remembered. “We were laughing, saying, ‘Oh, this is never going to make it. There’s no way this is going to make it,’ and it turns out that it was just the start of something that would completely change the radio industry.”
Ironically enough, WFAN moved to WNBC’s 660 AM frequency when General Electric sold several of its stations to Emmis Communications as part of a multi-station deal. Even though the station had transitioned to a new format, Don Imus kept his morning show on the airwaves, which Breen had been a part of starting a year earlier. His segments were filled with sound effects and jokes, giving him exposure within the marketplace and allowing him to penetrate beyond his comfort zone of traditional sports broadcasting and reporting.
“It wasn’t just your normal sports update,” Breen said. “It was something where you had to use your personality; you had to use your sense of humor [and] you had to use your writing skills, and it showed a little versatility and that was important.”
MSG Networks hired Breen in 1992 as the New York Knicks radio play-by-play announcer, and he assimilated into the role while keeping his spot on Imus in the Morning. In addition to adjusting to the pace of the NBA, he also refined his approach to calling games on the radio as opposed to television. Throughout this process, Breen thought about Marist play-by-play announcer Dean Darling and how he had called the games when they worked together.
“There are very few people – and there certainly are exceptions – but there are very few people who are instantly really good on the air,” Breen said. “It takes a while to hone your skills to figure out how you want to broadcast things if you have a certain style, and that’s the No. 1 thing is to get repetitions.”
When Marv Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1997, Breen was suddenly promoted to fill the role as the television play-by-play announcer for the team. Having listened to Albert call games for many years growing up, Breen knew the importance of appealing to the local audience in the New York metropolitan area. Many of the local play-by-play announcers in the locale grew up around the city, and he affirms that the knowledge and passion is discernible to consumers. Breen met New York Yankees television play-by-play announcer and ESPN New York radio host Michael Kay, who was a fellow student at Fordham University at the time, and discussed sports and broadcasting with him.
“He would tell me, ‘Oh, I’d love to be the Yankees announcer,’ and I’d say, ‘I’d love to be the Knicks announcer,’ and we would laugh at each other [like] two fools,” Breen said. “But I think because we were both New Yorkers and we both understood the New York fan because we were and still are New York fans, I think perhaps it gave us an edge because we knew what it’s like to live in New York and root for the teams in New York, and I think, or at least I hope, the fans can feel that.”
Albert returned to the Knicks telecast in 2000, prompting Breen to move back to radio broadcasts and work with John Andariese. At the same time, he began doing work for NBC Sports, including calling NBA games with Bill Walton and announcing ski jumping at the Olympic Games. When Albert was removed from the television broadcasts for being too critical of the team, Breen returned to the position and has held the role ever since.
“I tend to be old-school in that my job is to accurately describe what’s going on and also set up my partners and give them space and the lead-ins to make them excel,” Breen said. “The personality stuff, I think that comes – I hate to use the cliché – but it comes organically in terms of you’re doing the game. If something calls for you to react that involves more personality than actually broadcasting, then you do it and you have to find that balance.”
Every time Breen takes the air, he hopes that the consumers are able to see that he is prepared, enamored with the sport and enjoys working alongside his colleagues. From his days on the Knicks’ radio broadcasts, Breen has been paired with Walt “Clyde” Frazier for 25 seasons and understands how venerated the two-time NBA champion is within the city.
As the only member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a broadcaster, Frazier strikes a chord with basketball fans and brings his credibility and proficiency to the airwaves every season. In addition, he always arrives in his signature flamboyant outfits and intersperses astute rhymes to the cadence on the hardwood.
“He’s managed to stay true to who he is, yet develop this unique on-air style that very few people have had, but the bottom line is yeah, there’s style, but there’s so much substance to what he says,” Breen explained,” and I think Knick fans love him because he tells it like it is, but at the same time, you can feel his love for the franchise.”
Since joining the NBA on ESPN broadcast team in 2003, Breen has balanced his local responsibilities with calling games at the national level. Throughout the season, he logs a considerable number of traveling miles and always puts his family first when he is not working. In fact, the reason he stopped calling other sports was not only to recharge over the summer, but also to spend time with his children.
By being absorbed in the NBA during the year, the preparation for the different types of broadcasts often overlaps. One thing he cannot prepare for, however, is the occurrence of a buzzer-beater or game-saving block.
“For me, I’ve always felt at a big moment, less is more for a broadcaster because your voice is not made [for] those high-intensity calls to go for 20 seconds,” Breen said. “Your voice can crack; who knows what else could happen, but when you make a good, strong concise call at a big moment and then let the crowd take over, I think that’s always been, for me, the best way to go.”
Although he derived his signature three-point call of “Bang!” while sitting in the stands at Fordham Rams games as a student, he did not think it worked on the air. But by the time he was calling a weekly high school basketball game for SportsChannel America, he noticed that the maelstrom of amplified sound within the gyms drowned out his voice during consequential moments. As a result, he resorted back to the monosyllabic exclamation and has stuck with it ever since.
“I’ve just been very careful about not overusing it,” Breen said. “I try to save it for big moments because if I was yelling, ‘Bang!,’ on every three-pointer, it would lose its luster, I believe.”
Breen will call NBA games from a new venue next week in Las Vegas, Nevada – T-Mobile Arena – when the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament reaches its conclusion and a champion is crowned. The Association introduced the single-elimination endeavor this year in an effort to further incentivize regular-season play and establish a new tradition.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that these In-Season Tournament games bring out a little extra in the players [and] in the fans, and we’re not even at the knockout round yet and this is only the first year,” Breen said. “….To have this kind of excitement in November and then early December, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Despite the NBA still being in its first half of the season, Breen feels encouraged by the broadcasts he has participated in thus far with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. After all, he had worked with Burke on the first NBA game she ever broadcast and could tell how talented she was. Moreover, he has been friends with Rivers for over 30 years and speculated that he would be a broadcaster when he was finished playing and coaching.
The network’s lead broadcasting team will embark on a new challenge ahead of their first NBA Playoffs working together next Saturday, Dec. 9 when they broadcast the championship game of the NBA In-Season Tournament on ABC at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST.
“It takes a while to get the on-air chemistry, and the three-person booth is not easy for the analyst because they have to figure out a way to still get all their points across with less time, and same thing for me and that’s part of it,” Breen said. “Everybody has to just find their niche, and so far they’ve been great. They’re not only great friends; they’re really talented broadcasters, and I’m really excited about the potential.”
Breen recently signed a four-year contract extension with ESPN that will keep him on the airwaves past the expiration of the network’s current media rights deal with the National Basketball Association. The rationale behind staying with the network had to do with the people at the company, avouching that it is a great place to work and how he is thrilled he will be allowed to stay longer.
“Clearly I’m hoping that they work out a deal and I’m fairly confident they will,” Breen said. “ESPN loves the NBA; the relationship between the league and ESPN has always been wonderful. So I’m rooting hard for them to say ‘Yes’ and sign on the dotted line.”
In 2021, Breen was honored as the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Electronic Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his excellence as a broadcaster, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a basketball announcer. Even with various accolades to his name though, Breen’s mission each year is to get better with every broadcast. Complacency and apathy are out of bounds as he lives out a lifelong dream and strives for an outstanding performance no matter the situation.
“You have days where you’re not feeling well; you’ve had a tough travel day; you’ve got issues going on in your life, but then you sit down at half court and they throw the ball up the opening tip,” Breen illustrated. “There’s an adrenaline there that has never gone away.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
How Radio Sellers Can Beat the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Question
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned — that we don’t answer essential questions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about technical features and company achievements with radio advertising prospects without considering the essential question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) from the client’s perspective.
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned.
However, the heartbeat of successful sales isn’t just about these features, it’s about translating them into tangible benefits that directly address the needs and challenges of our potential clients. Here are some common pitfalls in our sales approaches and strategies to get prospects to listen to “WIFM”.
Focusing Solely on Product Features
We all sometimes get caught up in detailing our radio stations’ technical specs and features without translating those features into tangible benefits for the prospect. We love to point out that our all-sports station is on AM and simulcast on digital FM.
We need to connect them directly to the prospect’s needs or problems, which might result in a disconnect.
Instead, we could say that we reach two audiences for the price of one. 45-65-year-olds are on AM, and 25-44-year-olds are on FM. More bang for your buck!
Talking About Company Achievements
While our station won the “Best radio station in XYZ town” award from the local media, which might be impressive, prospects are often more concerned about how these accolades directly benefit them.
We need to bridge the gap between our survey win and how our listeners are proud of listening to the station and will trust the recommendations we give our listeners when it comes to buying from our prospect.
Not tailoring the pitch to suit the prospect’s specific needs or pain points is a huge miss. When we use generic, one-size-fits-all approaches, we miss the opportunity to highlight how their product or service addresses the prospect’s unique challenges or goals.
Don’t tell a car dealer he needs to sell more new cars when he wants more used sales and service business.
Failure to Listen Actively
Sometimes, we focus too much on delivering our deck without actively listening to the prospect’s concerns or desires.
Pay attention to the prospect’s feedback or cues, and maybe even ask them if anything has changed before you start the presentation.
Forget About “Across the Street”
Constantly highlighting how your station is superior to competitors without explaining how it benefits the prospect is counterproductive.
For example, if your station does a limited number of endorsements, tell the prospect they will stand out amongst the other advertisers better cause they are part of a select few live endorsements.
Prospects want to know why your idea is right for them, not just that it’s better than your competition.
What’s the ROI?
A sales pitch that doesn’t explicitly outline the return on investment (ROI) or demonstrate the value the prospect stands to gain falls short.
Running spots can outrun ‘turtle-like’ positive word of mouth or Google reviews, like the Roadrunner. Tell them that.
Too Much TSL or CPM talk
Using industry jargon without explaining its relevance to the prospect’s situation can create confusion or disinterest. Don’t pitch TSL. Tell them they can run fewer spots that have more impact. Your efficient CPM demonstrates that radio can compete with any ad medium and won’t waste money.
Communicate in a language that resonates with the prospect, making the benefits clear and understandable.
No Hit and Run
Our engagement doesn’t end with the initial pitch. Don’t forget to follow up and give them ongoing support and assistance to address any concerns or questions post-sale. By showing them you are in it for them, they will feel valued.
In the sports radio ad sales game, it’s not just about announcing your stats and shoutouts; it’s about hitting a home run with benefits that score with our clients. If our pitch doesn’t answer “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM), we might end up with the L.
So, dive into our clients’ playbook, check their needs, and deliver a play that makes them cheer for you and your station. Tackle the “WIFM” challenge head-on, and don’t worry about targeting so much.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.