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Steve Levy Has Asked The Right Questions During Nearly 30 Year ESPN Career

“Whatever sport it is, I’m sitting next to experts on the subject. I think better than me giving my explanation of why something might have happened, why not ask the Hall of Famer who’s lived it?”

Derek Futterman

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In the summer of 1993, the price of a movie ticket was a mere $6. Over the preceding half a decade, Steve Levy lived in a high-rise apartment in New York, working in television and radio, launching his career in sports media.

In the “city that doesn’t sleep,” seeing a movie at 11 p.m. and grabbing a meal afterwards was not uncommon; it was the distinct culture of the area, and still is today. Native New Yorkers, while they are characterized by some outsiders as insolent, combative and egocentric, have their own unique ways of demonstrating the innate affability and tenderness.

It was a Tuesday night and Levy had just been honored with a goodbye party held by his family, friends and colleagues. He had recently left New York, something unimaginable for many young 27-year-old broadcasters looking to move up in the business, and relocated to Bristol, Conn.

Six months earlier, Levy’s agent Steve Lefkowitz received a call from the “Kingmaker” and then-soon to be ESPN Vice President of Talent Al Jaffe looking to recruit Levy to join ESPN, located nearly two-and-a-half hours north. While the network had made Levy a substantial offer, he declined, opting to remain at home working with WCBS-TV as a sports reporter and WFAN doing updates on Mike and the Mad Dog and hosting its Sunday NFL whiparound coverage. Today, Levy is on the verge of celebrating his third decade working at ESPN.

The second time around, ESPN had significantly increased their offer to Levy, and he was told by his agent that the network would not likely give him a third opportunity to join. Feeling an attachment to the New York marketplace, Levy pleaded with television executives at WCBS-TV to promote him to the lead sports anchor; however, he was told that having a 27-year-old in that role would never work in the marketplace.

As he weighed his future and what would be a prudential decision for his career, Levy decided to officially put pen to paper and became a national broadcaster with ESPN, ending his time in New York, N.Y.

During his first week in Bristol, Levy was living in long-term housing provided by the network as he sought to become acclimated with the area and adopt a new lifestyle. On that particular Tuesday night, Levy was feeling apprehensive and lonely and decided to go out to see a movie at 9 p.m. Much to his surprise, he was the only one in the entire theater and thought the show would be canceled because of the meager turnout.

Instead, an employee of the theater knocked on the projection glass behind Levy and asked him if he was ready for the movie, to which Levy replied ‘“Yeah, alright, game on.’” Although he cannot remember the title of the movie he saw, that kind gesture began his assimilation to covering sports nationally, a role that has substantially expanded since his debut on Saturday, Aug. 7, 1993.

Merrick, N.Y. is just a short train ride away from “The Big Apple,” the number one media market in the world, and is where Levy was raised. From the time he was young, he was conscious of the sports landscape of the area, closely following the NFL and NHL with hopes of one day playing professionally.

Just as many aspiring athletes eventually discover, Levy recognized he was “remarkably average” at everything, and while he was enamored with playing the game, knew it was not a viable career path for him. By instead pursuing a career in sports media, he could remain around the games with which he was enamored while significantly diminishing the risk of suffering formidable physical injuries.

“I had a chance for a long career without getting beaten up on a regular basis and it’s really worked out,” Levy said. “Honestly, I still sort of can’t believe it. I know my parents can’t believe it.”

From the time he was 17 years old and approaching his graduation from John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, N.Y., Levy aimed to position himself to attain a sustainable career in sports media. When he was applying for college, he desired to attend Syracuse University, as it was known for its excellence in media studies and vast alumni network.

However, his parents only had enough money to send one of their two children to a private college. Since his sister was a better student than he, the State University of New York Oswego was where he would earn his degree in communications, concentrated in broadcasting. It ended up being the second-best professional decision he ever made, coming after joining ESPN; yet the latter may not have been as feasible without the former.

“Because they have all this great equipment and all these things for broadcasters to do, it was my understanding that freshmen, sophomores [and] sometimes even juniors don’t get to do any of that because they’re in such demand for all their great opportunities at Syracuse; you had to be maybe a senior even to be able to get near any of that stuff,” Levy recalled. “At Oswego with lesser studios and lesser equipment, there were more opportunities to do it right away.”

Indeed in his freshman year, Levy became a member of various student-run media outlets, including WTOP-TV, WOCR Radio, and The Oswegonian newspaper (where he began writing his own weekly column called “Levy’s Lines”). By the time he was a junior, he was named the sports director of the television station and became sports editor of the newspaper in his senior year. Simultaneously, Levy worked with WABC-AM as a part-time reporter while in college, giving him early professional experience and exposure in the industry.

Once he graduated, Levy went to Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. – not as a student, but to work in his first professional job compiling the “Jets Report” for WNBC-AM. Beginning in 1968, Levy’s childhood team, the New York Jets, practiced on the school’s north campus – sometimes in front of fans – until 2008. In this role, he worked at the radio station behind current Seattle Mariners play-by-play announcer Dave Sims and New York Knicks and NBA on ESPN play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, primarily assembling the “Jets Report” and filling in for them on the SportsNight program.

A couple of years later, Levy joined WFAN during its first year on the air as the host of The NFL in Action and a contributor on some of the station’s radio shows, including Imus in the Morning and the aforementioned Mike and the Mad Dog. Rather than solely working in radio, Levy also joined the Madison Square Garden Network as a host of MSG SportsDesk and intermission updates for both the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers.

Being on the air professionally in New York City is no easy task for most broadcasters, especially recent college graduates; therefore it helps to have a keen awareness of industry trends and a wide array of connections to effectively get started. Luckily for Levy, his father was friends with a prominent broadcast agent who agreed to look at Levy’s demo reel coming out of college. It was through this connection that Levy was introduced to Lefkowitz, and ultimately how he landed his first professional job with WNBC-AM.

Starting in 1992, Levy joined WCBS-TV, the local New York station, as a sports anchor and reporter, giving him the chance to cover the sports teams he grew up watching. Levy primarily worked on weekends, doing sports on Friday and Saturday nights alongside lead news anchor Brian Williams. At the same time, Levy remained at WFAN working four days a week on radio and was satisfied with his career. In short, ESPN was never the goal.

“I was not one of those people watching ESPN growing up and in college,” Levy said. “I was strictly a local guy; I wanted nothing more than New York City.”

Nonetheless, Levy signed a deal with the national network and found himself anchoring the 2 a.m. edition of SportsCenter with now-Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play announcer Karl Ravech – which was subsequently replayed 12 times through the morning hours. The half-hour program brought fans all of the scores and news around sports both at the professional and collegiate levels, covering every game despite there being commercial breaks.

“I recognize the power of that show and being national,” Levy said. “I still love to go to games and I found myself still going to games as a fan. I’d go around and I’d see Charles Barkley at a game and he knew my name. Ken Griffey Jr. knew my name – and that was really weird to me…. That really made me think about the power of the show [and] the real responsibility of the show to get [it] right.”

Levy, along with all of the network’s young anchors, came in trying to emulate the styles of Keith Olbermann or Dan Patrick, the two lead hosts of SportsCenter at the time. That is, all but one.

“We all came in trying to be Dan or Keith and then you realize you can’t be either of them because that’s how great they are and then you eventually settle into who you are,” Levy said. “Stuart Scott was special. He immediately knew who he was [and] he wasn’t trying to be anybody else.”

Over the years, Levy has gained a deep understanding of what players go through on a daily basis through his research and interactions with them. He is cognizant of the reach of the platform and how it has shifted, requiring the flagship show of the network to do more than just read scores to attract and enthrall audiences on a daily basis.

“It’s real easy at 2 in the morning [when] you’re wearing makeup sitting in Bristol to do bloopers [and] to make wise cracks,” Levy said. “‘Look at this guy. He can’t catch that! Come on, man.’ That kind of thing and then you go into the locker room and you see these guys the next day and all of a sudden, [it’s] ‘Wait a second, this is real.’ If I make that same joke in New York about Ken Griffey Jr., there’s no way he’s seeing it but if I say that on ESPN; he, his family, the manager, the coaches, the general manager [and] all the fans [are] seeing it.”

Beginning in 1994, Levy started his foray into national play-by-play announcing across many different sports. At the time, ESPN held national broadcast rights for the National Hockey League and found himself working with Bill Clement at a sold-out Madison Square Garden for a Wednesday night matchup between the New York Rangers and the Calgary Flames.

Once the Rangers advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks, he worked with former NHL defenseman and head coach Barry Melrose bringing fans unparalleled coverage of the action.

Once ESPN reacquired part of the NHL’s national broadcast rights in a seven-year agreement, the iconic theme song was re-recorded and the coverage was revamped in an effort to grow the game of hockey and reimagine the ways in which it is covered.

Before the start of last season, ESPN named Levy as the lead studio host for its NHL coverage and was tabbed to work with new analysts and members of the Hockey Hall of Fame, Mark Messier and Chris Chelios.

“I knew both of them personally prior to working with them,” Levy said of his new colleagues. “I’ve really enjoyed the relationship we’ve had; I just wish we were able to do it on a regular basis…. In the second half, we’ll get into a regular rhythm. I thought we were really clicking on all cylinders last year in the postseason and in the Stanley Cup Finals when I got to work with those guys on a regular basis.”

Messier and Chelios had some previous experience entering their new roles as studio analysts, working with local and national sports networks and occasionally appearing as guest commentators.

In spite of that, Levy treated them like rookies last season, as it was their first substantial experience working regularly with a national platform, and is excited to continue their partnership and enhance the coverage of the sport.

“I can’t throw them a curveball; they know everything,” Levy expressed. “It’s just [if you] can say it in 20 seconds and make it informative and be entertaining at the same time. That’s kind of the trick. They’ve made great strides and I think come this postseason, we’ll be really excellent, entertaining and a fun show to watch.”

Levy continues to work as a play-by-play announcer on NHL coverage, and holds the distinction of calling two of the three longest overtime games in Stanley Cup Playoffs history – both of which took five extra periods to decide.

Additionally, he has been behind the microphone for the network’s football coverage working with Brian Griese and Todd McShay calling weekly college football games on ESPN and ABC beginning in 2016. It is a role he worked earlier in his career on Friday nights from 1999 until 2002, and something that prepared him when he was named as the new voice of Monday Night Football in 2019.

As both a host and a play-by-play announcer, Levy describes his style as minimalistic, trying to make sure to read sponsorships and set his analyst up to effectively translate esoteric knowledge into concise, comprehensible points.

“I really feel that I know what I don’t know and I’m never trying to fool anyone with all of my knowledge,” Levy said. “I think that’s a strength of mine because in whatever sport it is, I’m sitting next to experts on the subject. I think better than me giving my explanation of why something might have happened, why not ask the Hall of Famer who’s lived it?”

Levy worked on Monday nights with Griese and Louis Riddick before the network reassigned him in a multiplatform role prior to this season, coinciding with the additions of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to the lead television broadcast booth.

Throughout this NFL season, Levy called a Week 2 matchup between the Tennessee Titans and Buffalo Bills and a Week 8 international game from Wembley Stadium in London, England between the Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars. Additionally, he has called multiple NFL games on ESPN Radio, a challenge that has elevated his skills as an all-around broadcaster.

“All this stuff that I don’t have to say on television where most of my career has been spent – I have to say all of that so that’s really hard on the radio analyst,” Levy said. “….The radio analyst has very, very little time to get in a story, an anecdote and be funny – all those kinds of things – and analyze the play. I really find radio difficult, [but it] it is really enjoyable.”

Calling NFL games nationally requires a shift in preparation, as the broadcasters are not usually around the teams every week and, once on the air, are speaking to a broader audience. It demands extensive research, notetaking and interviewing in advance of each matchup to bring consumers a product they use to effectively follow the game and return to later for future matchups.

“You spend the majority of that week really drilling down – it’s a ton of reading; it’s a ton of talking to people; it’s a lot of meetings but it’s really enjoyable,” Levy said. “I enjoy the process of preparing for an NFL game the way the week breaks down.”

From the start of his career, Levy’s talent as a broadcaster, combined with knowing the right people and taking chances on new opportunities, has propelled him into a stellar national television personality. Over the years, he has made cameos in various movies, including Million Dollar Arm, Tooth Fairy and Fever Pitch, and also hosts the annual U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Celebration.

At his alma mater, Levy was the recipient of the inaugural G.O.L.D. Award honoring distinguished graduates who have achieved success in their careers and also had the press box at the Marano Campus Center Arena named in his honor. He also maintains the Steve Levy ‘87 Broadcasting Summer Internship Fund which is given to a broadcasting student looking to gain professional experience and compensates their cost of tuition and housing expenses that may otherwise prevent them from doing so.

As he gives back to his community and makes time for aspiring professionals looking to enter the field, he compels them to seize any opportunity given to them and build relationships.

When he was working with WABC-AM, the station provided him a chance to cover the PGA Tour Westchester Classic in Rye, N.Y., and although he was not interested in golf, he learned about it and served as a stringer from the tournament. It helped him broaden his skill set and move up in the industry, as he knew that if he turned it down, somebody else would be ready to take the chance and therefore have a leg up on him.

Opportunities to stand out extend far beyond what one may see media professionals doing on the silver screen – and in such a competitive industry, they have the power to rapidly determine a career trajectory and overall potential.

“When you’re coming out of college, nothing is beneath you in the business within reason,” Levy expressed. “What I mean by that is if you’re interning someplace and somebody asks you, ‘Hey, can you get me a cup of coffee?,’ go get the cup of coffee for that person…. Don’t come in with an attitude. Don’t come in with, ‘I have a degree. This is beyond me; this is beneath me. I didn’t go to Syracuse to go get people coffee.’ Just go get the cup of coffee; I promise you it will work out.”

Without doing the small things to advance his career, it would have been much more difficult, if not near impossible, for Steve Levy to establish himself as a versatile broadcaster at ESPN. By staying ready to take on anything thrown in his direction and carrying himself with alacrity and enthusiasm for the profession, he has become a venerable staple of sports coverage who has had the chance to cover many enduring moments over the last three decades.

“It’s a relationship business, and all those things of ‘Have your eyes open’; ‘Have your ears open’; ‘Listen more than you talk’; all those things you’ve heard; all the clichés,” Levy said. “They’re all very true and have all been very successful and really helped me out to achieve whatever success I have to this point.”

(Photo: ESPN Images)

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BSM Writers

Rich Shertenlieb Enters New Era on WZLX: No Fred Toucher, No Music, No Guarantees

“It’s worked for me in the past and there’s no secret sauce. It’s just try to be entertaining every morning and work your ass off to do it right.”

Demetri Ravanos

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Rich Shertenlieb and WZLX logo in Boston
Boston photo: courtesy of Getty Images

It’s a time of change and transition for rock radio listeners in Boston. WZLX rolled out its new morning show last week featuring local icon Rich Shertenlieb. It’s not only a new adventure for the former Sports Hub morning man. It’s also the start of a new era for the station.

Kevin Karlson, the anchor of the station’s previous morning show, died in his sleep in October. It ended a nearly 20-year run on WZLX for Karlson, McKenzie & Heather. Pete McKenzie and Heather Ford carried on, but earlier this month, they were let go.

“I definitely have big shoes to fill,” Shertenlieb says of his new gig. “Kenny Young, who was a member of the previous show, I got to know him pretty well over these last couple of months. He is now our producer, and he couldn’t be more valuable to the show. He has been an awesome bridge between what was and what is now, and I love the guy to death. He is one of the more skilled people in radio when it comes to being a jack of all trades and it’s awesome that he’s there.”

After seventeen years together, Shertenlieb split from his radio partner Fred Toucher in November. They held down morning drive at 98.5 The Sports Hub since the station’s launch in 2009. The duo was an institution in Boston and their ratings proved it over and over again. 

There has to be a juicy story there, right? I mean, who walks away from that kind of success without a concrete reason? 

Speculation will continue to run rampant. After all, each twist and turn during the final days of Toucher & Rich were covered pretty extensively on this site and others. According to Shertenlieb though, no one ever crossed a red line. There is no moment when he realized the partnership could not be saved. He was just ready for something new.

“I mean, listen, it’s kind of boring because it’s not as scandalous as people might think that it is,” he says. “You only get a couple of times in your career to be able to reevaluate what you’re doing. I would sign long term contracts for about five years. And so, you only get about once every five years to sit and say, ‘I got a chance to try to do something else.’ When your contract comes up, you ask yourself a few questions. It’s like, ‘Do I still absolutely love what I’m doing?’ and ‘Do I absolutely love where I’m doing it?’ And finally, ‘Is there another step I’d want to take?’ If any of those questions have any kind of doubt or cloud, then you owe it to yourself to at least explore what’s out there. And that’s what I did.”

Shertenlieb doesn’t hide from reality. It was scary to leave the familiarity behind. Even when apparent tension between he and Fred Toucher was impossible to hide, he never pinned blame for wondering what is next on the state of their relationship.

Listeners and social media followers did a lot of speculating about the show’s future in early 2023. Toucher missed extended time, first to deal with a vocal condition and then to focus on his mental health.  They wanted to know what was going on in the Beasley Media offices after Toucher took to Twitter to say no one from the show’s cast had reached out to check on him during his absence. 

Rich Shertenlieb says that the conversations were never that interesting. He didn’t think it had to be a catalyst for drastic action.

“There was no discussion about the future of the show. I think that there was confusion. The guys on the show, I think, were confused about why he was saying stuff about us that obviously, we’re all looking at each other and going, ‘Well, this isn’t true. Why is he saying that? I don’t know what was going on there.’ That part was definitely strange, but there weren’t any conversations about the future of the show at all.”

When the decision was made to leave Toucher & Rich, Shertenlieb says he knew instantly that it would mean leaving 98.5 The Sports Hub. It wasn’t about hard feelings. It was about on-air real estate.

Shertenlieb didn’t want to join an existing show. He wanted to start something new with him at the center. Maybe it would work. Maybe it wouldn’t. Either way, he was comfortable with the consequences of his name being the only one on the marquee. Without a major overhaul, that wasn’t possible at his current station.

“I don’t think that that would be fair to anybody. I think that to achieve that they’d have to move people around and stuff like that. I don’t think that that would be fair. I do think that in fairness to everybody else that I worked with, I would have to go do that on my own.”

WZLX, Shertenlieb’s new home, is owned by iHeartMedia. The company made it clear to the host that he was a priority. Bosses asked Shertenlieb who he wanted to work with and got those people on board. They presented him with the opportunity to launch a podcast network in the future. 

The company even acquiesced to Shertenlieb’s demand that the classic rock the station is known for disappear in morning drive.

“I’ve just looked around and I’ve seen that there’s really no morning show that is geared mostly towards guys that truly wins while also playing music. That’s the recipe that you have to go with, at least in mornings,” he says.

Music snobs aren’t totally left out of the new morning show. Shertenlieb loves rock music and makes it a part of the show’s regular discussions. He also notes that what is now considered “classic rock” is the music he grew up with and holds most dear, particularly Alice in Chains.

Listeners will hear Michael Hurley, who Shertenlieb calls “truly a gem” every day. Every host needs someone that gets all of his references and that’s what Hurley is for Shertenlieb. Throughout the week, former Patriots linebacker Ted Johnson, Meadowlark Media host Charlotte Wilder and Mike Giardi of the Boston Sports Journal will all make appearances.

“I like having different personalities, you know, different walks of life and people who are experts in different things to be able to rotate,” Shertenlieb says. “The great thing about everybody that I picked, whether it be Ted Johnson or Mike Girardi or Charlotte Wilder, is that even if they didn’t talk about the one thing they’re known to be an expert on, I would still love talking to these people about everything else in their life, because they’re just that interesting.”

Every new show faces challenges when it launches and The Rich Shertenlieb Show is no exception. His former partner has poked fun, his former competitor has taken shots, but Rich Shertenlieb knows that no show gets to launched as a finished product. That only comes from years of building chemistry amongst the people in studio and the people listening.

He isn’t shy about admitting that there is no guarantee that he is going to leapfrog anyone in the ratings. Sure, he has the know-how given the success he helped propel The Sports Hub to in morning drive. He also has the advantage of joining a station that already performs well.

“It’s hard work and patience,” Shertenlieb says when asked if he has thought about how he will pull ahead of The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Hardy or anyone else. “It’s worked for me in the past and there’s no secret sauce. It’s just try to be entertaining every morning and work your ass off to do it right.”

Shertenlieb knows that, for many Bostonians, he and Fred Toucher will forever be linked. He doesn’t run from that. He says he never considered leaving Boston for a “fresh start” when he decided to strike out on his own.

He doesn’t wish Toucher or The Sports Hub any ill-will. He insists that the titillating scandal everyone wants to hear about doesn’t exist. He isn’t “over sports.” It was just time to do something new.

New adventure comes with risk and uncertainty. Rich Shertenlieb is willing to embrace it and live with whatever it becomes.

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Which Areas of Executive Performance Should Be Known in Media Companies?

“How do we know if a CEO, executive, market manager or PD is outperforming or underperforming?”

Jason Barrett

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I read a great piece on Monday from Front Office Sports, which reflected on the NBA’s financial growth under Commissioner Adam Silver. Since taking control in 2014, Silver has more than doubled the NBA’s annual revenue to $12 billion from $4.8 billion. The league also set an all-time regular-season attendance record this year, and grew NBA franchise values to an average of $3.85 billion, according to Forbes. The worth of an organization alone is up 75% from 2019.

If I asked you to judge the Commissioner of the NBA and whether or not he was doing a good job, would those three categories get your attention? Adam Silver isn’t perfect in other areas, but if you more than double league revenues, increase attendance and fan interest, and elevate the value of the league’s franchises, few are going to want a different voice.

But what about in media circles? How do we know if a CEO, executive, market manager or PD is making a difference? Shouldn’t we know if our markets/companies are growing in revenue and value, and increasing audience?

Radio program directors get judged by their brand’s ratings (quarterly and annually), but that doesn’t tell the complete story. What if the PD shrinks expenses 25% and stays flat? Isn’t that progress? How about if they possess digital skills and quadrupled the brand’s social media following, video viewing, newsletter signups, and podcast downloads but ratings dropped 10%. Is that a win or a loss? What if the company they work for lost the rights to a key property that drove ratings growth. Is that on them or their employer?

GM’s are tasked with boosting local market revenues, controlling expenses, and making smart business decisions. Most people inside of a cluster though have no idea if they’re on top of those things. They judge the GM based on an individual relationship, and trust the company’s judgment. The issue with that, sometimes company’s aren’t plugged in. Other times they know things that folks on the local level don’t. Regardless, little information is available to people in the building to show if the GM’s plan is working.

On the executive level, revenue growth, stock price (if public), investments in technology, continuing key relationships, forming new partnerships, recruitment, and company PR are all part of the company’s progress report. CEO’s earn credit and blame for the overall performance of the company, but wins and losses depend on people. You can blame and change them or the CEO when results are missed, but sometimes that’s a reflection of other factors. For instance, if the economy is weak, the individual and their ability to perform may not be the issue.

Examining company value over a 10-year period should be part of the evaluation process for executive leadership. But whether they’ve crushed it or laid an egg, few inside organizations know those details. Should it be? It’s easy to say yes, but radio isn’t the NBA. To expect similar progress is unrealistic. But to know how a company is growing or stalling beyond its stock price and year-to-year revenue would be helpful.

Aside from corporate leaders, many don’t know if their leaders are outperforming or underperforming expectations. We don’t look at enough areas of a position to determine if the right individual is in charge. For example, if your web traffic grew 10% but your social media audience declined 10% because article posts grew from 10 to 50 posts per day, is that a good or bad strategy? If a salesperson made budget because they got one big order from one client but did nothing else the rest of the month, is that acceptable? There should be multiple boxes to check to determine if someone is or isn’t successful in their position.

We should all be asking these questions, and challenging each other to help raise the bar. The best way to do that is through transparency. If everyone knows the score, the better equipped they are to make adjustments to win the game. That in turn inspires more confidence in those leading the company. Media folks are competitive by nature, and don’t like being tied to negative results. However, that also motivates people to perform better.

I’m not sure we’ll ever have information available the way it is with the Commissioner of the NBA. If we did, we’d know who the Adam Silver’s are in each group, and that would make our organizations stronger. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a boost in revenue, value and audience?

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Remembering Bill Walton

An industry giant was lost yesterday. Bill Walton passed away at the age of 71 following a battle with cancer. He was beloved by the sports media industry, thanks to his infectious personality, and ability to crack a joke, call something out or share a gem that left you smarter. Many have greater stories to share than mine but this was my favorite because I lived it.

It’s a Saturday night just after midnight, and I’m producing GameNight on ESPN Radio. John Seibel is hosting with Michael Kim, and Bill Walton calls in as scheduled. We bump back from break with Higher by Creed because Seibel wants to share the news that the band broke up. We welcome Bill to the show after the quick Creed story and try to transition to NBA talk but Bill wants more details on Credence Clearwater Revival’s breakup. John explains that it’s Creed, but Bill is so focused on CCR, that soon he’s telling 5-minutes worth of CCR stories.

We try to reset a few times to get on track but Bill keeps finding ways to connect CCR to Seibel’s words. The entire studio is crying laughing, and I tell John in his ear ‘don’t even try to talk hoops, just go with this.’ We do 12 minutes of CCR talk, laughing so hard it hurt, and wondering ‘was that radio gold or a train wreck?’ That was the beauty of Bill Walton. He kept you on your toes, went to places few did, but always kept you laughing and wanting to engage. Sports media has lost a larger than life character, great analyst, and gem of a human being.

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KNBR Fallout

I stand by everything I wrote last week and credit Cumulus Media for taking quick action in San Francisco. Yet seeing someone hurt their career is still sad. Larry Blumhagen, Bruce Gilbert and Dave Milner will find a strong, capable leader to move KNBR forward but for Adam Copeland it’s a blown opportunity.

I’m done discussing this issue but I want to make one thing clear. This was about unprofessional PD behavior, and a lack of understanding of how ratings work. I saw tweets raise the issue of race, which was embarrassing, and irresponsible. Some people say and do foolish things when they’re backed into a corner. Going down the diversity lane with me might be the dumbest decision yet.

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Thumbs Up:

Charles Barkley: He hit the nail on the head when he reminded folks that WBD CEO David Zaslav likely pissed off NBA Commissioner Adam Silver when he said that Turner didn’t need the NBA. Those comments in 2022 were likely going to create a stir. Sure enough, TNT is now in jeopardy of losing a near three decade relationship with a popular sports league. Kudos to Barkley for calling out executives for dropping the ball on what should’ve been a layup.

SKOR North: The Timberwolves haven’t answered the bell against Dallas, but SKOR North was more than ready entering the series. After Anthony Edwards told Charles Barkley following a Game 7 win against Denver to ‘bring ya ass’ to Minnesota, the Hubbard Radio brand had digital billboards, merchandise, and a box truck out on the streets promoting its content, featuring the famous Edwards quote. T-Wolves fever and leaning into the moment quickly, helped SKOR’s ‘Flagrant Howls’ crack the top-10 podcast charts last week. Nice job.

Stephen A. Smith: Nice job by Mr. SAS Productions on Up For Debate: The Evolution of Sports Media. Covering decades of the media industry in under two hours is impossible, but I watched all three episodes and enjoyed it. The guest list was beyond impressive. I can nitpick sports radio’s role in elevating debate style discussions not getting enough focus, and Jamie Horowitz and Skip Bayless deserving to be featured heavily given their roles with the shift to debate content, but if you watch a show looking for holes to poke, you’ll find them, and miss out on being entertained. If you watch to learn more than you knew previously, you’ll find it to be pretty good.

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Thumbs Down

Sports Emmys: The on-stage show and social media execution of the event was fantastic. The access given to media covering the show though left little to be desired. BSM covered the show, and was surprised by the lack of organization for pulling people aside for conversations. There was also no press working area or seats to view the show. Instead, press had to watch the show on a small monitor in the very back of the room for almost four hours. Given how awesome the Sports Emmys are, hopefully the media covering the show are taken care of better at the 2025 event.

WFAN: A phone number change? Say it ain’t so! New York sports radio fans know WFAN’s phone number better then their own. They also tend to be resistant to change. But they’ll get over it. The only valid question is why make the change at all?

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Jobs

Barrett Media is interviewing potential writers to contribute to our expanded music radio industry coverage. Our brand relaunch takes place Monday July 15th. If you’ve programmed or hosted on music radio stations, enjoy writing, and have views and insights to share on the industry, email a resume and writing sample to [email protected]. Please do not DM on LinkedIn or social platforms. I won’t be answering messages through there.

1010 XL in Jacksonville has a cool opening for someone with creative social/video skills. The outlet is looking for a Digital Content Producer. Details can be found here.

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Steve Fifer Adds Local Programming Back to 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee

“I don’t think it’s an impossible dream to think we can be right back in this battle again.”

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Photo of Steve Fifer and a logo for 1250 The Fan
Photo Courtesy: Steve Fifer LinkedIn Profile

In August of 2022, local shows at 1250 The Fan in Milwaukee were discontinued in favor of national programming from CBS Sports Radio, now called Infinity Sports Network.  Steve Fifer has been with the station since the launch in January 2005 and while other hosts looked for hosting opportunities elsewhere, he stayed on becoming the station’s Assistant Program Director.  He learned the ropes on how the management side works, hosted local podcasts like “Curd and Long,” “Green and Growing” and “Spare/Time Bowling Show” and also did some fill-in hosting on stations in other markets.

While Fifer missed local shows, he had zero intentions of leaving the radio station.

“There were days along the way when big things would happen locally where it’s like man, I wish I had a talk show today,” said Fifer.  “I was asked before if I would want to leave and I didn’t want to leave.  I love the people who work in this building.  I had no inclination at any point to leave this building or go anywhere.”

That loyalty and patience has paid off for Fifer because a little over two years later, local programming is back.

This past March, Fifer helped turn the clock back just a little when he started hosting Milwaukee Bucks postgame shows on “The Fan” and the reaction was overwhelming.

“It was like the old days,” said Fifer.  “It was huge.  It was absolutely over the top huge. It gave me a lot of hope for the future going forward that a lot of the people who were listening before were right back in it again and a lot of social media right back in it again.” 

And then, the station announced the launch of Wisconsin Sports Daily, a live and local show weekdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. hosted by Fifer.  It didn’t take long for the station’s loyal listeners from the past to return and also offer Fifer some feedback on what the show should sound like.

“Everybody came with their ideas and opinions of what was missing in the market, what this show needs to be about and so forth,” said Fifer.  “It’s been a very positive experience for sure.”

And so has the experience learning the business side over the last 2 ½ years.  Fifer has worked closely with several Audacy executives including Mitch Rosen, Operations Director and Brand Manager of 670 The Score in Chicago and the Vice President of the BetQL Network.  While The Fan continued to carry national programming, Fifer was absorbing the business side of the industry like a sponge.

A lot of that knowledge came from Rosen.

“He’s taught me a lot about the business,” said Fifer.  “I’ve learned a lot from him as far as just more of the professional side of how to be a programmer, how to work with talent, how to work with producers and how to work with people outside of the company.  The last year and a half to two years, even though there hasn’t been local programming, I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot and matured a lot and I’m ready for the next step.”

And now that The Fan has taken those first couple of steps back into the local game with the Bucks postgame shows and now Wisconsin Sports Daily, perhaps it’s time to go “Back to the Future” and bring back some more local programming.

Is it possible?

Not only is it possible, it’s the vision.

“That’s the hope and the plan is to eventually over the course of time is to eventually get this thing back to close to where it was as far as doing more local programming,” said Fifer.  “That’s going to be a process.  It’s going to probably be baby steps here over the course of time to try and work its way back up again.  Hopefully, at some point in the future, we’re able to do that.”

That vision is not just to restore local programming to The Fan, but the vision also includes returning the station to dominance in a crowded Milwaukee sports radio landscape.

The Fan is one of four sports talk stations in town and the goal would eventually be to be on top.

“I don’t think it’s an impossible dream to think we can be right back in this battle again,” said Fifer.  “I think we will be and eventually be back to being number one again in this market.”

Steve Fifer has been a loyal soldier to Audacy and The Fan in Milwaukee.  He could have left when the station went national, but he stayed and now there is excitement over the return of a local show and what could lie ahead down the road.

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