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Dan McNeil Is Taking His Mask Off

“I can’t change those who want to look at me only as what I did to get fired. I can’t change that.:

Brian Noe

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Dan McNeil

Some hosts know how to create interesting radio. They can entertain and deliver compelling topics that catch your ear. Then there are rare talents that know how to create interesting radio, while also being interesting themselves. Dan McNeil is one of these hosts.

McNeil consistently showcased the chops that made him one of the titans of Chicago sports radio. He oozed both big personality and presence. He also spoke openly about his life. McNeil pointed out his warts, which made him more relatable and real. He connected with people easily.

Great stories rarely involve smooth rides. They typically include some turbulence and maybe a loss of cabin pressure along the way. McNeil’s journey has been bumpy at times. In our chat he opens up about addiction, depression and the tweet describing Maria Taylor’s wardrobe that got him fired. McNeil has a new opportunity though. He’s talking football and having a blast podcasting twice a week for BetRivers Network.

This could be a fluff piece, or it could be honest. My guess is that McNeil prefers the latter. The Northwest Indiana native is a striking mixture of triumph and tragedy. He’s won big, but should’ve won bigger. His career is like the Seattle Seahawks at the 1-yard line with a chance to win another Super Bowl, only to make the wrong choice. Danny Mac is both successful and complicated. Through it all, he’s unforgettable.

There’s a great line from an old Michael Jordan commercial: “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why, I succeed.” McNeil’s struggles have helped and hurt his success. It’s been a game of tug of war, but it’s part of who he is. It’s part of what makes him, him. He’s flawed. He’s raw. He’s also magic behind a mic. Enjoy.

Brian Noe: What did you learn the most during your early trial-by-fire days in radio?

Dan McNeil: Yeah, just try to get all of the suck out of your system as you possibly can. [Laughs] I had a real good program director at my first job at an FM rock station called the Loop. A guy named Greg Solk. He’s still in the business. We’re still friends. He encouraged me to interact with callers. A host named Chet Coppock didn’t do that very well and he didn’t like to do it.

Greg said to me, you’re more of an every man’s man, you’re more capable of having a conversation with Joe in Orland Park than Chet is. Why don’t you do that? Because you’re kind of more suited for it. That story you told about quitting a job at a restaurant on the spot to go see a concert; people dig that shit. Just be you.

That went a long way in, I think, separating myself from the rest of the pack because there’s millions of guys who know sports, but not all of them have the ability to engage an audience and get that audience to invest in them as personalities. I have to give Greg Solk a lot of credit for bringing that out of me.

BN: Are you surprised at all that a lot of hosts don’t have that ability? It seems like a very common trait, but there are a lot of hosts that don’t have it.

DM: That’s a challenging question, Brian, and I like it. I think the reason for it is many of them haven’t lived interesting lives maybe. Maybe some of them have been very sheltered. There’s a lot of nerds in sports broadcasting who haven’t been in a lot of places where some of us street kids have been, or they just aren’t willing to share it. Things as simple as admitting you smoke weed, which is legal in a ton of states now. I know some guys who that’s verboten; don’t ever mention that we smoked pot together. But I think those who have the courage to lay it all on the line — you’re gonna rub a lot of people really wrong, but that’s okay if a lot of people on the other side are really on board.

BN: Correct me if I’m wrong, but have you had to take a break or two along the way from radio?

DM: Oh yeah, I took a couple. It was February of 2012 when I hit the brakes to address addiction and depression because I hadn’t been treating those very debilitating mental health issues with any degree of reverence. I had gone off of a psych med without discussing it with my doctor. About six months prior to when I finally tapped out, I noticed a precipitous loss in appetite for the things that interested me when I went off the psych med. In addition to that, it’s been my history. I’m a pothead and drank a little bit more back then.

I was starting to get a little bit heavier involved in pain medication; I became addicted to it. When I had spinal fusion surgery in ‘07, I discovered Norco. I’d had pain medication before and I used it recreationally before without issues, but that Norco just did something different to me and it made me want it all the time. I had to stop and reassess and catch my breath and get healthy. Unfortunately, I stumbled again about 15, 18 months after that and went into residential treatment for the same reasons. 

I was sick. I don’t dispute that for a second, but there is a big part of me that always will wonder if I paused and went to the bench again, because I was simply f—kin’ sick of working. The culture of the Score at that time was incredibly negative, and foolishly, I let that get into my head. Most of the shows got along. I got along with everybody on the show; I loved doing radio with them, but all the individual shows were on an island. There was no sense of team.

That was a radical departure from the first run at the Score, it was considerably opposite of what I experienced at ESPN. And frankly, I didn’t handle it very well. I wanted to run away from that; and self-medication, and sadness, and clinical depression are not a good cocktail. I don’t regret it. They easily could’ve fired me, but I was trying to get right and hopefully it helped.

BN: How would you describe what those toughest days of radio were like for you, when you’re dealing with all that stuff at the same time?

DM: You have to put on a mask sometimes when your mind is occupied by family issues, or whatever, whether it’s personal issues, whether it’s irritability, lack of sleep, clinical, whatever. You put on the mask and you try to fake it. Sometimes it’s hard to even make speech when you’re wanting to shut down. It was particularly rough on me. I was in a position where I had to talk about things that didn’t interest me. I couldn’t give a f—k about NBA basketball. Baseball in the winter doesn’t pump my testosterone a bit. When you’re in there every day for four or five hours, you have got to grind out thoughts.

Matt Spiegel and I had a basketball guest on once. I remember having physical pain in my stomach, not being able to think of one f—king thing I wanted to ask that guy. And I think it was a big name; I think it was Kenny Smith from TNT. And I like his work, but at that time, I would have rather had a root canal procedure than talk publicly with Kenny Smith. It didn’t interest me. I was done with that part of my life and trying to get through that was real tough. It’s like trying to punch underwater is one way I’ve heard it described and that’s pretty accurate.

BN: I have to ask you about the Maria Taylor tweet. If the Score was with you through these stints where you had to pause due to some really heavy stuff in your life, and then you get fired for a tweet about Maria Taylor, was that a surprise to you?

DM: Well, it was a different management team and it was a different company. At the time it was Entercom now Audacy. It was a completely different group from CBS, even though my program director, Mitch Rosen, was the same. Was I surprised I got fired the next day? No. A couple close friends of mine asked me if I was trying to get fired. I think the answer is no.

I only had 18 months left to go. Even had that not happened, I wouldn’t be on the Score today. We had agreed to extend my deal 18 months to coincide with the conclusion of this past year’s Super Bowl. I wouldn’t be doing afternoons now anyway, even if that didn’t happen. And to a large degree that softened the blow for me that I only had 18, 19 months until the finish line.

I hated to see it end the way it did because I’m not a misogynist. I contend to this day, it wasn’t a sexist tweet. It was a wardrobe critique that was harsh. I’d have said the same f—king thing about Kyle Brandt if he showed up for Good Morning Football wearing shorts and a sleeveless tank top; I’d ask when he’s going to work for the Thunder Down Under in Vegas. But it was directed at Maria. If I really hurt her, I feel terrible.

I’m not a bully. I abhor social media bullying. When you look at teen suicide as a result of that, it’s startling. But she is not a high school cheerleader. She was on Monday Night goddamn Football. That’s a high profile position. I live in a world where wardrobe is part of the critique of visual media. That’s never going to change for me. But your question was, was I surprised? No, because that’s where we are in this era.

BN: If I was in your position, I’d feel like, ‘It was wrong, it was stupid. Fine, but can we not blow things out of proportion?’ But if you say that, it doesn’t land well; you know how it goes. How do you balance those two things together?

DM: Yeah, I hid basically for six months after it happened. It’s remarkable how I stayed off of reading stories; I checked my newsfeed of things that I usually read. You know how they always pop up on your phone. I’m seeing on SI.com, ‘Chicago yacker fired for misogynistic tweet’. Every paper in the country is using that as a tease to get people to look at their products. I’m like, I can’t f—king believe this.

I’m on Inside Edition with Deborah Norville who I’ve loved since the ‘80s when she used to be at Channel 5 in Chicago. But I didn’t open them. I think I read social media for maybe three hours after I tweeted and I said this is a battle I’m going to lose, and I’m probably going to lose it tomorrow. I don’t want to open a thing because I know myself and I’ll be tempted to reply and just dig a bigger f—king hole and I don’t want to do that.

BN: Spinning it forward, do you ever experience, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who sent that tweet?’ And you’ve done all this other work. How do you distance yourself from the tweet while owning it at the same time?

DM: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s like Mark Giangreco at Channel 7 who gets fired over a joke he made about Cheryl Burton. And all the Emmys that are on the shelf above his fireplace, all out the window. That’s how he’s going to be remembered. Yeah, that’s frustrating, but there’s nothing I can do to change perception. Early on in your career you’ve got to accept that because you’re going to be tagged as the guy who did this or did that regardless.

Thom Brennaman was a very versatile broadcaster, very good voice, both baseball and football. And everyone’s gonna remember him for when he thought he was off the air. That gets out and it’s like, that’s how he’s always going to be remembered. That’s the way it goes. My listeners, especially those who were on board early on, know who the f—k I am and what my values are. And like I said, I can’t change those who want to look at me only as what I did to get fired. I can’t change that.

BN: What is it about your relationship with BetRivers that excites you most?

DM: It’s football and it’s unsupervised. It’s just me, which I historically have not enjoyed. I always preferred having a partner. It’s more natural. It’s more fun when it’s interactive and two guys play ping-pong. It can be real magic as it was with most of my partners. I’m trying to get used to just standing on my feet for 35 minutes and flapping my gums about football. I’ve done four or five of them and remarkably I have found it to be incredibly exhilarating without the partner.

I love football and that’s going to be a super high percentage of my content. God, I don’t see it changing between now and the end of the Super Bowl. I’m talking football. I don’t have any pressure from business partnerships at radio stations, ‘Hey, calm this down,’ or, ‘Tone that down a little bit.’ Not that that happened often, but it’s present. I don’t have to weigh every thought like these poor slobs have to do on terrestrial today. I can just lay it all out there. I’m not gonna say f—k for effect, but if I want to talk about the Bears going one and f—king 13 on third down, that’s what I’ll say.

BN: [Laughs] Have you been into sports gambling for a long time?

DM: First Super Bowl I bet on was Super Bowl III. I was nine. [Laughs] I took the Colts laying 18.5 and the Jets won straight up. I should have known then. No, but I started wagering on sports more seriously, probably as I started to earn a little bit of money in the ‘90s. It’s taken a long time to learn how to get better at it, but I think the last five years I have figured out some things that have led to winning seasons finally. Not colossally huge seasons, but I’m winning more than I’m losing. 

The biggest reason is betting fewer games. And laying off parlays, not chasing, not looking at money earned as free money. That’s the biggest mistake guys make. You hit two games at noon, okay now it’s time for the afternoon tilts. I didn’t like Denver before, but I like them now. No, no, no, keep the money in the pocket, so that’s helped.

BN: BetRivers has signed some major talent: you, [Mike] Francesa, Mark Schlereth. Is there a sports radio host that’s really appealed to you over the years where you’re like, man, that person knows what they’re doing?

DM: The partner I would love to work with most and it just wouldn’t happen — that ship has sailed, I’ll never do terrestrial likely again other than this thing I’m doing now for WJOB, my hometown station in Hammond — but it’s Boomer Esiason. I would love to be in Gio’s shoes or Carton’s shoes before he went to the stripy hole for shit he got involved in.

That’s a great number two chair because football matters a ton to him and he loves the Rangers and he speaks hockey. When he’s talking baseball or basketball, he does it on a very cursory level, which for me is the only way to talk about it without going crazy. And he’s a regular dude. He was also born in 1961 and all the coolest people who walk the face of the earth were born in 1961. So Boomer would’ve been a great partner.

BN: Who would you say has either been your favorite partner, or the most talented partner you’ve worked with?

DM: Terry Boers at the Score between ’92 and ‘99 was a very good partner. I think where he was strong I was weak and vice versa. He also was very content to be the number two. That helps when you have a guy who’s the second or third option not trying to run everything.

Danny Parkins is a very, very talented guy and he’s very, very close to becoming a great host. That was kind of a fun way to wrap it all up doing what I called a father-and-son vibe. There were 25 years between us and I had not heard that attempted anywhere. It’s kind of remarkable nobody tried it over these years because what you do is lock in every goddamn demo there is. I got the old guys. I got some guys in the middle. He’s got guys in the middle and the young guys.

BN: What do you think would cause Danny to go from good to great as the host?

DM: I knew you’d pick up on that. The more life experiences he has, and he has had some really trying ones over the last three years. His first son was born I think nine weeks prematurely and was in NICU for a number of weeks. His brother has glioblastoma and has been fighting for his life for a couple years. His father isn’t in great shape.

Those life experiences and his willingness to talk about them when he has the courage to do that, stand in front of that microphone, it’s making him more relatable. It’s making him much more appealing to the everyday motherf—kers who might have just seen him as another silver spoon from the North Shore years ago. His life, until he started experiencing real life shit, was one of leisure. And I think Danny could take more of an interest in the history of sports before he started watching them. As he experiences more, hopefully he will, because many sports talk consumers enjoy reflecting on the ups and downs of their lives as fans.

BN: What would be ideal for you in terms of your future?

DM: Winning the Powerball.

BN: [Laughs] Yeah. If the Powerball doesn’t have your numbers, what do you want it to look like?

DM: You know what, Brian, you learn at some point not to obsess about the destination. It took me forever to get there. The podcasting thing is fun. If it grows into something really big, terrific. I really don’t want to commit any more than a few days a week doing it. Would I love Sirius XM to say hey, we love you, we want to hear you get wild, you want to do Sunday nights and do NFL? If the money is right, yeah, that would be a lot of fun too.

But just trying to enjoy it week by week. The little terrestrial thing I do on Fridays for my hometown station, I’m enjoying the shit out of it. It pays a little bit better than I expected it to and most would’ve expected it to. I have a great crew. That’s been fun. If that show were on every day in Chicago, until I got sick of it and didn’t show up, it would be one of the best shows in the market. [Laughs] But I’ve learned all things in moderation, including me.

BN: Is there one thing that you would like to do most going forward?

DM: I’ve got to finish the book I started a while back. I have been grinding away at this thing for several years and I had the perfect opportunity to do it when they fired me. But I needed some distance between that time and reliving so much of a career that was both very rewarding and satisfying, but also sometimes very upsetting.

I had my heart ripped out of my chest several times in this business by people who should’ve treated me better. When they broke up the original partnerships at the Score in ‘99, that sickened me because I should’ve been involved in those conversations and not just told what was happening. Then when ESPN fired me in ‘09, that kind of changed the way I looked at the industry for a long time. I’m sorry, I get a little [emotional].

I gotta finish that book. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell. Many of them I’ve told already, but there’s a lot of stuff I’ve left on the cutting room floor. This is kind of a no-holds-barred approach to my career, the people I’ve met in it, athletes, coaches and radio dorks, and also some of the challenges I’ve had in my life away from work.

BSM Writers

Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?

“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career. 

Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN boss Mark Chernoff. 

Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.

Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.

Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country. 

Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids. Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and actively shunning the sport.

Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance. 

Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!

A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.

FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan.  MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team.  I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”

JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions. 

“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).

“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”

MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”

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BSM Writers

Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?

The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

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As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.

Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.

But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.

The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.

As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.

Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.

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The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.

Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!

But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)

That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?

We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!

The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.

Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.

Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)

Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.

We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.

When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?

If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.

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BSM Writers

There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle

“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”

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Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.

The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.

Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark. 

It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.

Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.

Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.

One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.

It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.

It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.

One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.

Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”

There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.

We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.

The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.

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