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Jimmy Traina Has Always Had Thoughts On Sports Media

“The older I got, the more I found myself more of the sports media than the games sometimes. ESPN and SportsCenter was a huge part of my life back in the day before the internet. It’s always been there and has always been an interest.”

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Jimmy Traina

For a lot of sports fans, getting ready to watch a game on television or listening to a game on the radio is more than just about the players on the field, court and ice.  Part of the fabric of sports these days is also knowing who is in the broadcast booth. Whether you’re talking about it with a co-worker next to the water cooler or reading about it in a sports media column, everyone has an opinion about sports broadcasters.

There are beat writers who cover teams. There are columnists who cover sports in general. There are sports talk show hosts who break down what’s happening in sports on a daily basis. And there is now a plethora of reporters who cover sports media.

There is a fascination among sports fans as to who is calling the games.

“I’m not surprised at all because I’ve been covering it for a long time,” said Jimmy Traina who covers sports media for SI.com.  

“Even before I covered it, everyone has an opinion on the announcers in least in my world.  I’ve always been able to write about that at SI and they’ve always gotten a good response.”

Growing up a huge sports fan in New York, Traina dreamed of being a play-by-play announcer.  He loved to hear Phil Rizzuto call Yankees games on Channel 11 and then became an avid listener of the Mike and the Mad Dog show on WFAN.  While still having a passion about the games themselves, Traina developed a keen interest in the business and has carved out a career covering the sports media.

“I’ve always been into the broadcast world,” said Traina who writes a daily Traina Thoughts column for SI.com and hosts the weekly Sports Illustrated Media Podcast

“The older I got, the more I found myself more of the sports media than the games sometimes. ESPN and SportsCenter was a huge part of my life back in the day before the internet. It’s always been there and has always been an interest.”

The sports media business has always kept Traina busy, but during this past off-season, the NFL broadcasting world was turned upside down with some blockbuster comings and goings.

Joe Buck and Troy Aikman departed FOX and signed on with ESPN to call Monday Night Football.

Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olson were elevated to replace Buck and Aikman as the number one FOX team and it was also announced that legendary quarterback Tom Brady would join Burkhardt when his playing career is over.

There was a changing of the guard at NBC as Mike Tirico replaces Al Michaels as the lead play-by-play voice of Sunday Night Football.  

Michaels will still do some games for NBC but he also signed on to be the lead play-by-play announcer for Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video where he will be teamed with ESPN College Football analyst Kirk Herbstreit.

That was a lot of sports media news to cover.

“It was fantastic from a content standpoint,” said Traina.  “We got so much content out of it on a daily basis.  I also recognize that I think this was sort of a once in a lifetime deal. The only thing that is up in the air right now in terms of the top NFL teams is when Tom Brady will retire and join the Fox booth. But everything is sort of settled now.”

The game of sports announcer “musical chairs” was fascinating to follow because of the big names that were on the move and the amount of money that was being paid to the big-name broadcasters on the move.  

And that begs a couple of questions…

Why would networks dole out big bucks to sportscasters?

Do the announcers really have an effect on whether or not you will watch a particular sports game?

“Do I think that someone is going to sit down and watch a three-hour game because of an announcer?  Absolutely not,” said Traina.  

“But, if I’m flipping the channels at 11:30 on a Thursday night and I hear Bill Walton calling a Pac-12 game on ESPN, will I leave it on for five or ten minutes to hear how wacky Bill Walton is? Absolutely. No fan of any sport is going to watch a game for three hours because of an announcer.”

Another big sports media item has been leagues signing deals with streaming services.  Many sports fans have been up in arms over this as now it will cost more money to watch games that you were already getting on over-the-air television, your regional sports network, or on various national cable networks like ESPN.  

The NFL sold their Thursday Night Football package to Amazon Prime Video.

Major League Baseball signed streaming deals with Apple TV+ and Peacock while the New York Yankees took 25 games that were on free television in New York and sold them to Amazon Prime Video.

And as part of the National Hockey League’s new television deal with ESPN, some exclusive national games were shown on ESPN+ meaning that they could not be shown by those teams’ regional sports networks. 

“It works in some cases and it doesn’t work in other cases,” said Traina. “In terms of the NFL and Thursday Night Football, I think it works.  It’s a standalone national game. It’s the NFL.  This country is addicted to the NFL. It is our crack cocaine. People will do what they have to do to watch the NFL.”  

The baseball streaming is a completely different story.

If you’re a Yankees fan, you needed to subscribe to three streaming services in order to have access to all 162 regular season games.

If you’re a fan of any Major League team, you had to get used to Sunday morning games and just having to navigate through a new broadcast world.

“For baseball, I think baseball despises its fans and I think it’s been proven out with these streaming deals,” said Traina.  

“Nobody is watching Peacock at 11:30 on Sunday morning.  Nobody is watching Apple on a Friday night. It is so detrimental to the game it’s not even funny. Baseball has become a localized sport. People are into their local teams. You yank their local teams and you put them on a service where people can’t see it and I think it’s very bad for the game.”

The landscape of sports broadcasting has certainly changed over the years. It was a pretty big deal when the NFL first brought Sunday Night Football to ESPN in 1987.  

The NFL on basic cable?  Really?

But that was just the start in how the sports broadcasting world was going to change as now we can watch games on our mobile devices and we’re infatuated with the talent and what network is doing the game.

But what’s next?

What is the next big thing to happen to sports broadcasting?

Traina has been looking at his crystal ball.

“There’s been a lot of talk of ESPN becoming direct to consumer where you can just get ESPN as a standalone,” said Traina.  

“I think that would be surprising but I definitely can see it happening. So many people, especially 35 and under, are cutting the cord (with cable) so I can see where it would make sense for ESPN to go direct to consumer. I can absolutely see them doing this and even though I can see them doing it, it would be one of those surprising moves.”

As we gear up for the Major League Baseball pennant/playoff races and the start of the NFL season, there will certainly be plenty of opinions on how the games are going to be presented by the networks and streaming services and how the announcers are calling the games.

Here’s one thing that’s for certain…

Jimmy Traina will have his thoughts on what’s going on. 

BSM Writers

Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes

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Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3xYq3Oe 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3JVYgDp   

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3JWPFQS 

Google: https://buff.ly/3w9RBzX 

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3psPDGZ  

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BSM Writers

Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game

“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

Tyler McComas

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If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without long thoughts and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up. 

In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.

“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”

Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.

“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kinda learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?

“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ok, what the hell have you done? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”

Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible. 

“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”

Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk. 

“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”

To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, wow, this is a PD I would love to work for. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, he’s incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts, but he’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him. 

“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”

I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?

“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”

Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show. 

“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”

So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun 

“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”

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BSM Writers

Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt

He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster, Kevin Burkhardt

It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated. 

Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY. 

A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him. 

He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”

Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed. 

ROAD TO FOX

After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season. 

Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw. 

According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”

He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen. 

Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.

GOOD CHOICE

When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers. 

If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision. 

Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons. 

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.

While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.  

The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst.  It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York. 

I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised. 

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.

In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.

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