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Jeff Catlin: No Matter Who Is In Town, The Ticket is the Bar

No matter who’s in town or not in town, or who our competitors are or aren’t, we’ve always felt like our bar is ourselves.

Brian Noe

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Jeff Catlin

Believe it or not, there is a lot of common ground between coaching an NFL team and coaching a radio station. Take this quote for instance; is it from a coach or a programmer? “We have to focus on ourselves and we have to focus on our process and our vision. That’s just to continue to grow, continue to get better every week.” It’s from Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott before he faced the New England Patriots for the first time back in 2017. It sounds an awful lot like Jeff Catlin too.

Catlin is the Program Director at 96.7 The Ticket in Dallas. Like McDermott and many other NFL coaches and teams, Catlin focuses on his building and staff, not the competition. Sure, he politely answers a question about Mike Rhyner, the Godfather of The Ticket, coming out of retirement to join a new crosstown rival, The Freak. But Catlin isn’t distracted by what other stations in town are doing. He makes it clear that his focal point is The Ticket.

Catlin also talks about the most important lesson for a PD to learn, why talking about non-sports topics works for some stations but not others, and The Ticket being nominated for what would be its fifth Marconi for Sports Station of the Year. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: Where are you originally from?

Jeff Catlin: I’m from Arlington, Texas, USA.

BN: Okay, wow, so you haven’t strayed too far from your backyard?

JC: Yeah, I was the PD of KCMO AM in Kansas City from 2000 to 2003. But otherwise, yeah, I’ve spent the entirety of my career in Dallas Fort Worth, except for those two and a half years.

BN: What were those two and a half years like for you in Kansas City being away from home?

JC: It was great. I love Kansas City. I think Kansas City is a great town, it’s a great place to live. It was a great learning experience. That was my first PD job. I was able to really learn a lot there. It was with the same company I had been working for, so in terms of a move it wasn’t that difficult. It’s not too far away from where I was from. We had family and friends visit a lot and we came back to Texas a lot. It all worked out great.

The main difference business-wise in a town like Kansas City versus a market like Dallas, is there was really just three radio companies working in Kansas City at the time. In a market like Dallas, you have all three of the major companies, and then you have another three or four smaller broadcasters, and then a bunch of mom and pops. There’s a lot more competition here. There’s also a lot more companies doing business, where in Kansas City, it was much smaller.

BN: What led to you becoming a PD in the first place?

JC: When I was here at The Ticket in Dallas, Susquehanna was the company at the time. I was the assistant PD and I was the producer of the afternoon drive show. I knew that I wanted to be a PD. The PD here at the time wasn’t really going anywhere; he was kind of entrenched. I had had this goal professionally that I wanted to try to be a PD before I was 30 years old. When this opening came up in Kansas City, as I mentioned, it was with the same company for KCMO. So I went to my bosses in Dallas and said, ‘Hey, this is something that I want to apply for; it’s something that I really want to do.’ 

It was a different format. It was a news talk format versus a sports format. I thought that was great. It was still spoken word, but it would just give me another opportunity to try something similar, yet different format-wise. They encouraged me and the fact that it was with the same company kind of gave me a safety net because if I got the job, which I did, I would still be working with all the same corporate folks and it would kind of help me along. I thought that was really great and it turned out to be a great.

We had some success when I was there. The station was kind of starting over and it did allow me to learn a lot of different things. I learned some lessons as being a program director there that I still carry with me to this day. Overall, it was just a great experience. When I got there, I never thought I would move back to Dallas again, or come back to The Ticket. That wasn’t my intention.

My intention was to take that job in Kansas City at KCMO and be there and see where it led from there. That was how I approached it. I think that’s the way that you have to approach things, you can’t really approach a job like you’re only going to be there for a year or two because otherwise you’re always looking down the road and you’re not giving that particular station at that particular time your full attention and focus. 

BN: What were a couple of the most important things that you needed to learn back then that you still apply today?

JC: The number one thing for any young programmer is just remember that it’s always about the people. When I was younger and when I got that job I just had a bunch of ideas for the format clocks and service elements and the promos and the rejoin beds and what I want the content to be focused on and all those kind of things. And that’s great. So you write all these notes down on your legal pad. But at some point, you have to be in a conference room, or a studio, or an office with the people that are on the air and running the board and producing those shows and doing the news updates. You’ve got to communicate your vision to them and they have to execute it.

You can have the best sounding radio station playing in your head 24/7, but at some point it’s about the people. It’s about communicating to your team what you want, and what your expectations are, coaching them on the way things are being done that are right, and those that need to be improved, and then getting all those ideas out onto the air. It ultimately comes down to somebody else. I think that’s hugely important to remember as a PD because you have to empower folks to do those things, and you have to communicate at every level in every way to people, what that vision is, how to execute it, and then how to follow up and critique and all those kinds of things.

Everybody’s different. You hear this all the time about people: ‘Well, everybody’s personality is different.’ And that’s so true. Some people want to be told. Some people want to be shown. Some people want to see a memo. Some people need all three. I think that was a big thing that I learned initially was just because you’re the PD and you have an idea and you say something, it doesn’t mean it’s going to make it on the air immediately.

BN: The Ticket strays outside of just hardcore sports. And it’s worked for you guys tremendously. Why does that formula work so well for your station?

JC: I think it’s kind of a misconception among sports radio listeners and programmers and talent is that this is the formula that works, X, Y, or Z. First of all, every city and every market is different. What works on the East Coast is not going to work in Dallas, Texas, and what’s working in Dallas may not work in California, or Seattle, Washington. Every market is different.

Going way back to the early days of The Ticket, and I was part of that, we went several years where all we did was talk about sports. I use this joke all the time; for the first two or three years we were on the air, all we talked about was does Pete Rose belong in the Hall of Fame and who’s better, Emmitt Smith or Barry Sanders.

But over time, as you start to develop the radio station and develop a relationship with your audience — and this is super important — without a very strong relationship with your audience based on sports or whatever, they’re not going to really allow you as a talk show host or producer or station to kind of stray from what you’re known for. It’s like listening to a country station and they drop in an oldies record. Well, they’re not going to really be down for that.

You have to understand what you’re trying to accomplish first, build the relationship with your audience second, and you will know at that time based on those factors when it’s okay to stray from sports. The reason we kind of knew it was working for us back then, is that when we would stray off into something more pop culture or more timely or newsworthy, we would hear from our listeners that they liked it and it was memorable for them. It was something they could relate to.

As the years have gone on, we kind of developed — again, in this market with our audience with this radio station — what worked, and what balance was right for us between sports and non-sports segments. Now, I think a lot of sports stations do it and they say they’re copying The Ticket or whatever, but it’s different for everyone.

The other thing here at the radio station is our main talk show talent has been with the radio station, some of them for as long as 28 years, and the newcomers have been here for 15 or 20 years. It’s not like we’re hiring people new coming into town and they’re immediately not talking about sports. That relationship with the audience happens along with a radio station organically and it grows over years. Then you have talent and shows that are working together for years and growing up on the air together and with their audience.

When you’ve been on the air for decades, just think about what happens not just in sports, but in life over the last 20 years. A pandemic, 9/11, different wars, protests, Michael Jackson died, it doesn’t just have to be news things, it can be pop culture things. But as those things happen, that’s what people talk about regardless of sports. Yeah, sure, they’re talking about Aaron Judge too, or they’re talking about the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl or not winning the Super Bowl, but they’re also going home and talking to their family about things that matter to them.

To be a radio station over the long haul in a market going on 28 years like The Ticket, you have to recognize that and really ultimately, that’s what we’re doing. We’re talking about what our listeners are talking about. And 85, 90, 95% of the time on a station like The Ticket, they care about sports. But there’s other times where things are more important in the world than sports.

You have to have that broad understanding of your audience and your station and the growth that you’ve had together and the responsibility and the relationship. That’s what allows you to understand and have the ability and the responsibility to talk about other things outside of sports. It’s not something that happens overnight, or because someone in a programming office says this is the way that we’re going to do it. It just doesn’t work that way I don’t think.

BN: Do you ever hear stations in Dallas or around the country that try to talk about things beyond sports and it just doesn’t go over well?

JC: Every single day.

BN: [Laughs]

JC: [Laughs] End of answer. Every single day.

BN: What do you attribute that to where it either fits and it works, or it’s forced and it’s just lame?

JC: I think it really goes back to the previous answer, which was a long answer but it’s really true. It’s just understanding what your station is about, how it’s being consumed by listeners, what relationship you have with your audience, and what they really will allow you to do based on those factors. I think sometimes it falls flat for any of those reasons, or it falls flat because the topic selection isn’t correct.

In other words, what you’re going off the sports page for isn’t the right topic, or it’s not something that resonates with the audience, or it’s not handled in a way that’s entertaining or informative. Some of those things are kind of like non-negotiables, right? Great storytelling is great storytelling. Having an opinion that resonates with your audience regardless of what the topic is, is universal. I think those are some of the reasons why it falls flat or it doesn’t work.

BN: You mentioned a lot of competition in Dallas. What’s your reaction to Mike Rhyner coming out of retirement after starting The Ticket to join The Freak?

JC: Well, when I first heard the rumors I was so surprised I didn’t believe it. And now I’m just sad about it. I just wish it wasn’t happening. But we’ve faced a lot of competition over the years and we take every competitor in this market, regardless of who’s there and what format they are, very seriously. And that’s what we’ll do in this case too.

BN: Why do you feel sadness about Mike?

JC: Because I think Mike has a home at The Ticket for life. And I thought that if he was itching to get back into radio, this is where he would have come and since he didn’t that makes me sad.

BN: Yeah, totally fair. Whether it’s that station or any other station popping up, does the competition have any impact on the way you approach things at The Ticket?

JC: Regardless of what new stations pop up, or have popped up over the last three years, we’re constantly evaluating the way we do things and changing them. Always. For example, I would say that for the most part, no media outlet, no radio station, no male-targeted radio station does the same content now that we did prior to 2017 and the Me Too movement for just one example. There are certain things that you could get away with saying 15 years ago, or 10 years ago, or five years ago, that you can’t say now. And that’s fine. That’s what we all do.

As a society, we’re all constantly evolving, we’re educating ourselves, we’re learning, and we change with it. I think that goes for The Ticket too. No matter who’s in town or not in town, or who our competitors are or aren’t, we’ve always felt like our bar is ourselves. We’re constantly evaluating what we’re doing. We want to constantly evolve and make it exciting and new for listeners, whether they’ve just moved into town or they’ve been with us for 10 years or since day one. If you don’t do that, I don’t think you make it as long and have as much success as The Ticket would have had if we just stayed the same.

BN: The Ticket is nominated for Marconi Sports Station of the Year again. The station won last year and four times altogether. When The Ticket is honored like that, what does it mean to you and the entire staff?

JC: I mean, I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty fun. It’s great. And I love it for the guys. Last year, we won Sports Station of the Year and my morning show won their first Marconi for Major Market Personalities of the Year after having been nominated like eight times. Like, seriously, you don’t have a radio station winning Marconis like The Ticket, and you don’t have a radio station with the ratings success over the years with The Ticket without a fantastic morning show. I think The Musers are the best morning show in the country, regardless of format. That was a completely deserved and well-earned Marconi last year, and I am just so happy for them.

But last year to win both, for the station and for those guys to win, it was a huge day around here for everybody. It matters to everybody, that every person that worked here last year, or have worked here before, has a piece of those things. It goes to everybody. Not just me, it’s not about me, it’s about them. I just get super excited and super thrilled for them because in radio that’s like our Super Bowl. To have four of them sitting in there feels pretty good. It’s fun.

BN: It makes all the sense in the world to get fired up when winning those big awards. Who wouldn’t be excited for that? On a day-to-day basis though, what excites you? You just said that’s like your Super Bowl, what’s like a solid Week 7 win?

JC: Well, first of all, being in the media business, we all understand what our report cards are when they come in every month. That is prime goal number one. That’s what we’re doing this for, so that gets me fired up every day. But what is a random win on a day is I just want us to, number one, have fun, and to be executing to the best of our ability on that day, whatever it is. I want the guys to be in the studio having a great time. I want them to be talking about stuff our listeners care about. I want them to be passionate. I want to laugh. I want to have a good time. I want to have something thought-provoking happening.

It’s all those little things that happen throughout the day that make me excited to come to work. It’s the personal relationships I have with everybody up here and that we’re all on the same team and we’re all a part of this thing and everybody is still so into it and excited about it. That’s what is fun for me. That’s what gets me fired up to come in here every day. That’s how I measure our success on the day-to-day. And then those monthly report cards that I talked about sure are nice too.

BN: If you could write the script, what do you think would make you happiest over the next five years for you and the station?

JC: I think to just continue to have the great success that all these guys have had and we enjoy it together. I think that’s the most important thing that you realize as you do this for a long time with largely the same core group of guys, is we want to be together, and we want to continue to do what we’re doing, and we want to continue to do it at the highest possible level we can for as long as we can. I don’t mean that to be generic. I think that’s as true as it possibly can be.

I want this radio station to continue on long after I’m not working here anymore. If that’s not anytime soon, I just want to keep doing what we’ve been doing with the same group of people that we’ve had. Just enjoy ourselves and to continue to change what we’ve been doing and to be leaders here in town.

I think that’s something that we think about and probably take more seriously than we did 15 years ago because it didn’t matter. Our position in the market now and the way that we can serve the community is just as important as making the community laugh or goofing around or whatever. And that stuff’s fun too, but we just have a responsibility to serve the community. I think that’s important to continue to do that in the best way that we can.

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Eavesdropping: Busted Open on SiriusXM

“If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers. But what you got because of Cody’s victory last night was tears.”

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Graphic for Eavesdropping: Busted Open Radio

The day after the Super Bowl, it’s always fun to hear sports radio in the two towns which had teams in the game. In that same vein, I tuned into Busted Open on SiriusXM the day after WrestleMania weekend.

Host Dave LaGreca, who plays the role of the fan on the show, was joined live from WWE World by co-hosts Tommy Dreamer, Mark Henry and Bully Ray. The fan exhibit was not open to the public at the start of the show, but fans entered the picture after the first hour.

The first hour of this particular show went about as fast as a radio show can possibly move. As soon as the show started the hosts immediately got into making fun of Bully Ray, who had been a surprise guest-referee in a match during WrestleMania night two, for how he looked in the referee uniform.

“Allow me to be the very first to admit those stripes don’t look the best on me,” the WWE Hall of Famer replied to the jokes.

Mark Henry jumped in to say, “It was kind of just what WrestleMania needed. To have the ECW influence on the show, great representation for the brand and showing respect to Paul Heyman as well.” Heyman had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame during the weekend and was celebrated not only for his WWE contributions but as the creator of ECW, which was based in Philadelphia, where he first worked with Bully Ray who was then known as Bubba Ray Dudley.

“I had people backstage in WWE telling me ‘We have never seen you smile that much in life ever,’ said Bully Ray “…I jumped at the opportunity. Too much fun.  Last night was the first WrestleMania that I got to appreciate…the level of stress that came with [when you are performing in the matches] you’re not able to take it all in…it’s really not fun because it’s so stressful.”

Bully Ray said he could feel the pop as he was introduced and really enjoyed getting to “smell the roses for the first time.”

LaGreca could no longer hold it in. He cut off the talk about his co-host participating in WrestleMania and moved on to the heart of the matter. In the main event the night before, Cody Rhodes had ended the run of Roman Reigns as the Undisputed Universal Champion after more than three and a half years. More importantly to the hosts and fans alike, the story of Cody Rhodes building to this moment was one they all agreed was one of the great moments in WrestleMania history.

Of course, WWE loves surprises and on the second night of this year’s WrestleMania, they had plenty in store. The Rock had already come back to be a part of the WrestleMania 40 storyline and then during the Sunday main event, John Cena and The Undertaker came out as surprises.

Bully Ray gave a great description of what he was doing as the main event was happening. He said he was with Damian Priest, who had earlier in the evening won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and while they didn’t plan to watch the main event live, when it started, they thought they needed to see it. “We ran through the halls and go out into the arena,” he said. “Guys, when the gong hit for The Undertaker, the both of us turned into 12-year-olds…we were jumping up and down…lost it, loved it.”

Mark Henry said, “We reacted the same way. I cannot imagine what that must’ve felt like in person.” Bully Ray replied, “When you can hear the pop in a stadium, you know the pop is big.”

LaGreca said, “There wasn’t a lot to get excited about with night number one, but night two was just hit, after hit, after hit. And that main event, with all the stories that played out and had a conclusion during that match…You couldn’t have played that out to a better conclusion than what we saw last night.”

The hosts then listened to an audio clip from the previous year, where the day after WrestleMania some fans, including LaGreca, were extremely disappointed that Cody Rhodes did not beat Roman Reigns and “finish his story” then. At the time, Bully Ray had said there was a bigger picture story WWE would build that would show Cody fighting hard times much like his father, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes had gone through. Mark Henry agreed.

LaGreca said he was “eating some crow” but then admitted it’s all part of it where the emotion gets so high, and he pointed out that people were actually crying when the main event ended.  “If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers.  But what you got because of Codys victory last night was tears,” LaGreca said. “This is an end of one story, but more importantly the beginning of a new story.”

LaGreca came back from a break and reverted immediately back to what the difference was in Rhodes winning the title in 2024 versus having done it in 2023. “It went from a great moment…to maybe one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time last night,” he said.

There was strong insight given out by all of the former wrestlers at different times during the show, and they also pointed to things a casual fan may not have picked up on. One of those happened when you heard ring announcer Samantha Irvin get genuinely emotional in announcing Rhodes as the new champion.

“We’re not used to hearing emotion in a ring announcer’s voice, so Samantha Irvin brought something special and extra to the table in that announcement,” said Bully Ray.

Tommy Dreamer added, “It was the most perfect imperfection ever and it made that moment even more real…it was something that will be remembered through the annals of time.”

As the hosts continued to talk about the emotion of the night, Henry said, “It felt like WE won.” This gave Bully Ray the chance to sum it all up as he said, “The key word that you just said, WE. Cody made you feel like you were a part of his struggle. You were a part of his story.”

Henry went on to say, “I felt like last night, for the first time, that I could almost cry for Cody. I honestly felt emotional seeing him become the face of this new era, the ‘Triple H’ era….Wrestling is a feel business and if you don’t feel it then it’s not worth really putting on television. I felt that [last night] and I know every fan felt that.”

The hosts continued to give insight as they discussed a gift given to Cody Rhodes by WWE executives backstage and a spot where a table broke before it was supposed to and how smoothly the performers pivoted. Having Henry, Dreamer and Bully Ray on the show allows for a lot of this type of discussion where they can give perspective from having been in the ring.

Later LeGreca is asked if he would rank this WrestleMania up there with WrestleMania 17, widely considered the best of all time. LeGreca said if night number two stood on its own he would say it was better, but perhaps not if you consider both nights. The panel as a whole agreed it was definitely up there as one of the best and Henry noted it will be the highest grossing, so that is one way to judge which was the best.

“There were very few holes in that show,” Dreamer said.

While the first hour was rapid fire and had a ton of great reaction to all of the highlights of the night before, the show took a bit of a turn in the second hour. As the crowd became a part of the show it seemed to change the demeanor of the hosts a bit, especially LaGreca who seemed to be playing to the crowd rather than the listening audience. He yelled out “We did it!” talking about Cody Rhodes winning and then led a “Cody! Cody! Cody!” chant that didn’t go over well to those not on site.

Then there was a very strange guest appearance by WWE superstar Liv Morgan which seemed to bring the show to a halt. Later, Kevin Owens was live on the show and his appearance made a lot more sense as he participated in WrestleMania and had thoughts to share about others who performed and the storylines which were created. Owens helped bring the energy of the show back up and you could tell as a listener how passionate he is about wrestling and what took place during WrestleMania 40.

The programmer in me would remind the hosts not to do the show for their hardcore fans only, as they have to assume people are coming in and out of the show. They had incredible content in the first hour with really strong opinions from their experts, but there was never any resetting or going back to what was talked about, which I thought was a bit of a miss.

With that said, if you are a wrestling fan and you didn’t feed off the energy and excitement the hosts had for what they had witnessed the night before, something is wrong with you. Busted Open Radio was an excellent listen as a follow up to what was a memorable WresleMania weekend.

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Andrew Catalon is Prepared to Meet the Moment

“You get excited like a fan would – you inform – but ultimately the game is the show, and you’re just kind of there to supplement what we’re watching.”

Derek Futterman

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Andrew Catalon
Courtesy: John Paul Filo, CBS

The city of Pittsburgh is known for its propensity to build, serving as the point of widespread adoption of steel-making that revolutionized the construction industry for perpetuity. Situated at the conjunction of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers, the locale is fixed at the pathway of innovation and splendor where what may seem impossible can expeditiously render itself into reality. Even though Andrew Catalon did not forecast it beforehand, he found himself at the intersection of fantasy and reality at PPG Paints Arena during a game within the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. The No. 14 Oakland Golden Grizzlies were closing in on an all-time upset of the No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats, and time was waning on the clock.

Catalon has called many upset victories behind the microphone across a variety of sports since starting his work as a play-by-play announcer. Just one year ago, he delivered an enduring call of No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson defeating No. 1 Purdue in the first round of the tournament. Fans can purchase T-shirts with Catalon’s verbiage of “FDU Believe It?!,” commemorating what is regarded as one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport and demonstrating the impact of his words. The key to it all is to remain focused on the action taking place on the court in order to deliver an accurate and apropos soundtrack to the moment.

“I’d say the biggest lesson I’ve learned with some of the upsets over the years is not to get ahead of yourself,” Catalon said. “It’s a long game, and there will be time at the end to explain the significance of it, but before that, you’ve got to call the game and stay within that moment.”

Throughout his broadcast career, Catalon has broadcast 300 college basketball games and usually does not think about hypotheticals; however, the FDU-Purdue matchup happened to represent a rare exception in that paradigm. After all, a FDU victory would represent just the second time in tournament history that a No. 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in the bracket. The only other time it had happened was in 2018 when No. 16 UMBC beat No. 1 Virginia, and the moment as delivered by play-by-play announcer Jim Nantz continues to stand the test of time.

“I knew it’d be replayed [and] I wanted to be prepared in that moment, but I also think that being spontaneous and just kind of going with the flow also makes for a good final call,” Catalon said. “Last year I did have that ‘FDU Believe It?!’ kind of in the back of my mind as the game went on, but for Oakland this year, it just kind of came out.”

Once Kentucky guard Antonio Reeves clanked a desperation three-point attempt long off the rim, Catalon exclaimed that Oakland had completed “a March memory of a lifetime.” From there, he let the crowd and marching band tell the story accompanied by a dichotomy of jubilation and despair. Part of what makes that possible is the understanding from color commentator Steve Lappas of how to approach the moment, something that has been built through the countless repetitions he and Catalon have had broadcasting games together. In fact, Catalon estimates he can count the number of college basketball games he has announced without Lappas on his hands.

“I know what he wants to say or when he wants to get in, and he knows when I want to get in and what I want to say, and that just makes it so much better,” Catalon said. “So look, there’s nothing better than having a consistent partner, and I credit CBS for that; they have kept us together.”

Reaching these types of moments requires comprehensive preparation, research and informed observation to understand the teams and accurately report and expound on the surrounding storylines. For a typical March Madness game, Catalon watches the previous matchups for the teams he has coming up on his schedule and reviews his boards from years prior.

“I don’t want to be the guy that just parachutes in having never seen a team before, and I think fans can detect that, so my prep is always to get up to speed so that a viewer of a team doesn’t think that, ‘This guy hasn’t watched us play,’ or, ‘This guy doesn’t know what we’re all about.’ That would be a huge disservice to the viewer and to the fan, and that’s always what I try to accomplish in my prep.”

Catalon has sought to prove that he can come through in the clutch during his time working in sports media, bringing a consistent approach to his craft no matter if it is among the strident crowd at a college basketball arena or the subdued greens of Augusta National. Over the course of the week, he has been on-site to call the 88th edition of The Masters golf tournament from Augusta, Ga., a revered tradition that takes place annually with its coveted green jacket and several other lucrative prizes hanging in the balance. With the inherent spirit of congenial competition subdued yet effervescent, storytelling takes center stage with a keen foresight and cognizance of the moment.

“There’s a lot more teamwork involved,” Catalon said. “You think about a broadcast – we have 7-8 announcers as opposed to two or three for a football or basketball game – and that’s another big part of camaraderie and partnership is spending time with that golf crew so that when I pinch hit for Jim Nantz, it’s seamless. I don’t want them to think that, ‘Okay, we’re in a different broadcast because Jim’s not here.’”

Nantz has been hosting coverage of The Masters since 1989 and has become synonymous with the tournament itself, authoring its slogan, “A tradition unlike any other.” Catalon understands the responsibility he incurs when taking the air from Augusta and is living out a longtime career aspiration of calling golf. Leading up to a pivotal shot or tournament-winning putt, he works to effectively contextualize the situation and let it play out in the environment.

“No one can fill Jim’s shoes and I’m not trying to,” Catalon said, “but I want to make sure that that team knows that I’m doing my homework and that they can count on me to deliver in the big moment.”

From the time he was an undergraduate student at Syracuse University, Catalon knew that he had a penchant for sports media and began gaining repetitions at WAER, the student-run radio station. Calling football, basketball and lacrosse games, he developed professional friendships and gained a broader understanding of the industry itself. Being situated in the broadcast booth, he developed ideas of how to approach a game and an ability to translate the feats of athleticism and achievement into succinct, nuanced phraseology.

“There’s no doubt that all the reps that I got in college at WAER have certainly helped me not only get a job, but also for a lot of the stuff that I do now,” Catalon said. “I still make my boards the same exact way I did in college. I handwrite everything with different colored markers and pens, and I just retain the information better.”

Before Catalon was calling sporting events though, he had not settled on play-by-play announcing as his primary career path. Instead, he applied to work at WVNY, a local news television station in Burlington, Vt. and was later hired over the phone as its sports director. As a result, Catalon moved to the city without ever seeing the station and remembers immediately being part of the regular workflow.

“It was a whole new world of learning how to run a department and kind of how to be mature,” Catalon said. “When you’re that young, you learn a lot of lessons, and it was an unbelievable experience. I couldn’t have asked for a better first job out of college.”

Three years later, WVNY announced that it was closing its news department and was consequently laying off several of its employees. Catalon was among the job cuts, a devastating outcome that prepared him to move back home. Yet he received assistance from his colleagues, specifically WVNY news director Peter Speciale, and helped him land a new job as a weekend anchor on WNYT in Albany, N.Y. two months later. While he was in the capital city of New York, the outlet allowed him to seize other industry opportunities to augment his versatility, including freelance play-by-play announcing for SportsNet New York (SNY) and CBS Sports Network.

“They were incredible to allow me to do all these opportunities,” Catalon said. “Very rarely did I have to say ‘No.’ They were very accommodating with my schedule, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude because they allowed me to do all those things while I was still a full-time employee.”

Carr-Hughes Productions in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. gave Catalon the chance to voice over a curling show in their studios, and he eventually expanded his portfolio to include luge and equestrian. In 2007, NBC was looking for new curling announcers, leading Catalon to be recommended and calling a curling exhibition in Rockefeller Center. The next year, he contributed to Olympics coverage for the first time, calling handball games remotely from the network’s New York studios.

When the games were in Vancouver, B.C. in 2010, Catalon traveled to the city to call curling matches. It was there where he met award-winning sports anchor Fred Roggin, who was hosting coverage of the sport for NBC. During a dinner they had over the three weeks they were working together, Roggin shared an observation he had made about Catalon with him that fundamentally altered the trajectory of his career.

“He’s like, ‘Hey, I know you love doing the local news,’ and that’s what he did; he said, ‘but I really think that you’ve got what it takes to be a play-by-play guy, and I think that you should focus on that,’” Catalon remembered Roggin telling him. “Hearing that from him – who had been in the business for so long and who was doing what I wanted to do – I really valued his opinion, and I would say after that Olympics, I really turned my attention to focus on play-by-play.”

Catalon officially joined CBS Sports full time as a play-by-play announcer in 2013, but he had been steadily assimilated into the role with several opportunities years earlier. The first National Football League game he broadcast came in 2011 in an AFC matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals when he was asked to fill in for Bill Macatee. As has turned out to be happenstance for Catalon, the game ended in the final seconds when Bengals kicker Mike Nugent struck a 43-yard field goal for the win.

“When you’re in a close game and there’s strategy talk and you have those opportunities, you’ve got to step up and nail it,” Catalon said. “I think that I showed them in that game that I could handle a close game, NFL big stage. And after that, more and more opportunities came, but every one I treated like it was my last, and I knew that I had to do a good job to prove it to them that I could do this on a full-time basis.”

As the years went on, Catalon continued to garner more opportunities and worked to further refine his commentary to appeal to a national audience. While there are differences in the profile of a football game and golf tournament, he understands that it is his job to accentuate and describe the moments over the course of action. Through it all, he seeks to be relatable, informative and entertaining to his audience in disseminating an accurate account to pair with the video.

“I try to be the guy that you’d want to have a beer with if you’re at a restaurant watching the game,” Catalon said. “You want to come across where you’re not overbearing. You get excited like a fan would – you inform – but ultimately the game is the show, and you’re just kind of there to supplement what we’re watching.”

Catalon had been working with James Lofton on NFL games for several seasons, but CBS Sports revealed various changes across its announcing teams ahead of the 2023 regular season. As the play-by-play announcer on a new broadcast team featuring two analysts – former running back and WFAN afternoon host Tiki Barber; and former quarterback Matt Ryan – and reporter AJ Ross, Catalon spent time familiarizing himself with his new colleagues and building rapport applicable to the broadcast. Weekly dinners and several rounds of golf was part of this assimilation process and led to an enjoyable season with the broadcast team.

“I think because of that, we bonded as a group a lot faster than maybe I have with other partners in the past just because we had no choice but to kind of get up to speed quickly,” Catalon said. “Matt did a tremendous job in his first year, and Tiki is phenomenal as well and AJ is one of the best out there, so I feel lucky that I was with this group, and it was definitely one of the more fun seasons I’ve had on CBS.”

In calling three different sports throughout the year that require different preparation and travel, Catalon frequently has a packed schedule. With this heavy workload, he has a vocal coach to ensure he is doing what is necessary to keep his voice strong. Catalon is proactive to safeguard against losing his voice, something that can occur more readily during March Madness because of the volume of games he is calling in short proximity.

There are occurrences where it takes some time for his voice to bounce back, and he remains prudent, so he is able to perform his job. Aside from his role to the fans, Catalon is working hard for his family and wants to make them proud.

“It’s not easy for any announcer who travels like we do to be away from their family and to miss weddings or kids’ soccer games,” Catalon said. “You have to understand when you get into this business that there’s a lot of things that you’re going to miss, and you have to have an understanding family along the way, and I’m lucky that I have one.”

Although there is no guarantee Catalon will be present for another stunning upset or overtime winner, he looks at his assignments and breadth of work with gratitude and awareness of his career windfalls. If such instances do happen in the forthcoming assignments though, viewers can rest assured that they are hearing a veteran who knows how to punctuate the climax and conclude the story unfolding in real time.

Even though he is not the author of the event itself, he is among its documentarians who writes the manuscript within a library that aims to stand the test of time. The final buzzer represents a deadline of sorts as he crafts the parlance in real time, embedded with the vernacular of the moment. 

“NFL, college basketball and golf – three of my favorite things – and CBS has all three,” Catalon said. “So I’m so lucky in this job, and I can’t tell you that there’s something I haven’t done that I want to do. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing now.”

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The ’70-20-10 Rule’ for Advertising Budgets

No one wants to be the business that holds onto the past and gradually declines.

Jeff Caves

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Graphic for 70-20-10 Rule
Credit: PennyCallingPenny.com

The ’70-20-10 rule’ is a widely accepted concept in business. Google, Coca-Cola, and other big brands manage their resources in a specific ratio to stay cutting-edge and grow. The idea is that 70% of a company’s investment should go to the core business, 20% to new developments, and 10% to new and untested ideas. If you are trying to maximize your ad budget and don’t know how to fit in all the opportunities, try this method. Here is a look at an annual advertising budget of $120,000. The clients’ best months of the year are November and December. Here is how the 70-20-10 rule could be applied to maximize returns while minimizing risks.

70%: Proven Strategies – $84K

The foundation of your advertising budget should be built on proven strategies that consistently deliver results. Allocate 70% of your budget to these safe bets. These are proven campaigns that you know will work from history or borrowing tactics from industry-trusted sources. In general, these are ad campaigns on proven platforms, such as radio, TV, Google and Facebook. Advertisers should use these tactics 12 months a year to provide a consistent return. This will establish a solid foundation for your advertising strategy while minimizing risk. Spend $7,000 each month on proven winners.

20%: Competitor Tactics – $24K

To unlock higher returns and explore new opportunities, allocate 20% of your budget to advertising initiatives that you have never tried before, but maybe your competitors are using successfully. These activities could include OTT commercials, TikTok or email marketing. You could handle these chores yourself or ask a trusted media partner, like your TV or radio rep, to assist you with their locally based digital department. It is sometimes easier to rely on trusted partners when exploring new spending in areas you are unfamiliar with. Since the best time of year for this business is November and December, this $24,000 should be spent in these two months to maximize results. Attacking the busiest time of the year with an extra $24,000 in advertising can yield the best outcome. Testing new initiatives when business is slow is like trying to sell parkas in July. Good luck. 

10%: Out-of-the-Box Ideas – $12K

Trying new concepts is critical to long-term success in advertising. Allocating 10% of your budget to experimental tactics that encourage outside-the-box thinking may lead to results you can’t quickly gauge or have a long-term benefit. Support a local cause or sports team. Generate buzz by handing out mini fans at the local summer fair. Put your ads on car dashboard monitors with QUU from your local radio rep. Spend the money wherever it makes sense for the tactic you are buying; fall, summer, or morning and afternoon drive times. Go with the flow and see if it pays back. These tactics can set you apart from your competition and endear you to audiences. Here is the latest on QUU.

Read and React

Try adapting the ’70-20-10 rule’ to your specific business and goals. Regularly evaluate the performance of your advertising efforts, measure ROI, and be open to adjusting your allocations based on sales AND metrics. Every business wants to be an early adopter of money-making new ideas. No one wants to be the business that holds onto the past and gradually declines. The road is littered with brands that didn’t evolve: Blackberry, Blockbuster, MySpace, etc. Mix up your ad spend with the proven, borrowed, and new to achieve sustainable growth in the long run.

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