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Ryan Ruocco Has Sports in His DNA

“I think the key to doing a national game is not sounding like you’re parachuting in. You need to sound like you have your finger on the pulse of what’s been happening.”

Derek Futterman

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When a person looks back at their high school yearbook, it can be jarring to see just how much people have changed since those years and where they may be in their lives. Perhaps the student bestowed the senior superlative of most likely to succeed went on to be an overambitious entrepreneur who failed to follow through on ideas, a group of close friends may no longer be on speaking terms, or someone’s dream career may not have panned out the way they wanted it to. Or perhaps everything went according to plan. For Ryan Ruocco, it was a combination thereof.

On one hand, his dream of playing baseball for the New York Yankees never panned out – but his other dream of broadcasting their games has. In fact, it was listed in his yearbook once he completed fifth grade.

Ruocco’s early days are defined by either playing or watching sports, the latter during which he and his father Peter, who retired from working as senior vice president of labor relations for the NFL in 2021, would talk about the broadcasters.

Because of their conversations, Ruocco felt compelled to explore a career behind the microphone composing and performing an auditory score to accompany prominent moments in sports. Play-by-play is an art form to which he has been able to excel because of his understanding of storytelling, effectively being able to captivate viewers during the rising action leading up to the climax – similar to box office hits.

“If you didn’t have ‘The Godfather Waltz’ in the background, many of those scenes are completely different,” Ruocco expressed. “If you didn’t have the ‘Jaws’ music, the shark doesn’t feel as scary. Well, if you don’t have an enthusiastic call on a Kyrie [Irving] buzzer-beater, the moment doesn’t feel as important.”

Remaining close to the energy of the game was a motivating factor for Ruocco to explore a career in sports media, and it led him to attend Loyola University Maryland during his freshman year in college. Even though he did not thoroughly enjoy his time there, he still worked all year to be selected to broadcast on the school’s radio station WLOY-FM. As the year drew to a close, he was given the opportunity to host radio shows, further cementing his genuine enjoyment of broadcasting.

At the same time, he desired to transfer to a college located closer to his hometown of Fishkill, N.Y. and was told by a friend that Fordham University was known for its radio station.

“I went and I met with Bob Ahrens who’s still my mentor to this day at 86 years old,” Ruocco said. “He just made me fall in love with WFUV. I heard that there was the possibility of being a beat writer in the Yankee clubhouse and that thought was just incredible to me and then kind of getting a grasp of the alums that had come through there.”

Ruocco began matriculating at Fordham University in 2005, and although he had to enroll in several foundational courses concentrated in subject matters such as philosophy and science, broadcasting was always his true focus. During his classes, Ruocco would bring his game charts working to memorize names and other information to be prepared for the broadcast. Furthermore, he spent an interminable amount of time with his mentor Ahrens and refined his craft through both feedback and osmosis, centered around adapting and having command throughout a live broadcast.

Eventually, he was given the opportunity to go on the air as a play-by-play broadcaster for Fordham football, baseball and basketball. In the studio, he was the host of One on One, a sports talk show that took live phone calls from listeners. By the time he graduated in 2008, he had many demos to share with prospective employers and was honored as the recipient of the Marty Glickman Award, given to the play-by-play announcer who best exemplifies Glickman’s qualities.

“Once I was on air, I’d do as many games as I could,” Ruocco said. “I just treated every single demo and on-air game like it was the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals or the World Series, and treated the preparation as such. [I] felt like I came out of school much more ready to attack this profession than many people would when they’re first getting out of school because of the resources I had at WFUV.”

While he was still in college, Ruocco landed an internship with the YES Network and sought to differentiate himself by displaying his persistence and work ethic. Additionally, he utilized opportunities to network with on-air talent so they could get to know him and so he could pick their brains. Ruocco undoubtedly stood out by the end of his internship and was subsequently contacted by YES Network Vice President of Production Jared Boshnack as a junior at Fordham University to see if he would be interested in being the broadcast booth statistician for half of the New York Yankees’ home games in 2007.

“I had never done stats but I just decided, ‘Okay, let me figure out how I can best make the broadcast better,’ and I just became obsessed with being great at that,” Ruocco said. “Michael [Kay] loved me in that position and then very shortly asked to get me on every game because I was enhancing the broadcast in that role. Michael took me under his wing; we developed an incredibly close relationship.”

In 2008, Ruocco was the statistician for all the home games and by virtue of being dedicated to the role, started to be recognized for his play-by-play skills. After tuning in to Fordham Rams football on the radio, several YES Network employees, including Kay (a fellow Fordham alumnus), realized it was their colleague Ruocco doing the play-by-play, and they quickly saw great potential for him to grow and announce at a larger scale.

“They were impressed by me and how I sounded at that age,” Ruocco said. “They all kind of separately talked to the powers that be at YES and said, ‘Hey, you got to listen to Ryan.’”

Sports radio had long been a passion of Ruocco’s and was part of the reason why he began working at 1050 ESPN New York in 2008 as a sports update anchor and host of The Leadoff Spot from 5-6 a.m. Before stepping into this role though, he had filled in on various shows for ESPN Radio and anchored ESPN Radio SportsCenter updates, giving him exposure before regularly hosting an hour-long program.

Beginning his career in the world’s number one media market was not intimidating to Ruocco because of the comfort he felt being at home around the teams he had been following as a child. Moreover, he was an avid listener of New York sports radio, giving him an idea of the parlance and pulse of the city allowing him to thrive and succeed in the locale.

“I think what I love about New York is that there is this energy and attention to everything and it’s just completely different than, I think, anywhere else in the world in that regard,” he said. “There’s also the reality that so many key figures in media live in New York, so you just have a greater chance of being heard here.”

Shortly thereafter, he added hosting a midday show to his responsibilities, titled Second Verse with Robin Lundberg, and sought to lean into he and Lundberg’s youth to cultivate a unique on-air sound imbued with optimism and positivity. This was all while being especially cognizant of ensuring to resist becoming infatuated by the culture of “making mountains out of molehills,” predicated by consistent hyperbole.

“It exists because it’s not easy to fill all those hours every single day unless sometimes you overinflate how big a deal certain things are,” Ruocco said. “….If I was going to say, ‘What are the two things we wanted our show to be?,’ it would be smart and fun. I felt like it was that and we ended up having this very loyal, engaged audience with us.”

Developing cohesiveness with Lundberg was facile in nature since he had been Ruocco’s producer prior to co-hosting middays. Once Ruocco began hosting in the afternoons with Stephen A. Smith on 98.7 ESPN New York, the duo took time to learn about one another and created a synergy that attracted listeners to their show, built on authenticity and credibility.

“If you are authentic, people will respect you and you’ll just have a better chance of vibing and bonding on air if you’re just being truly who you are,” Ruocco said. “I think, for the most part, I’ve been able to do that and I think that most co-hosts are going to appreciate and respect that and Robin and Stephen certainly did.”

Maintaining a relationship with listeners is fundamental in sustaining radio programs and accentuating the qualities that make the broadcast medium distinctive. One way of effectively doing that is by having a keen awareness of the audience and discussing what it wants to hear. Essentially, radio personalities endear themselves to listeners and ultimately attempt to become a quotidian part of their schedules. Conversely, if hosts neglect the interests of the audience nor try to interact with them through taking calls or utilizing social media, consumers have plenty of other options.

“There’s an unlimited amount of entertainment out there,” Ruocco said. “….You have to have your finger on the pulse of what a New York sports fan is thinking and feeling each day and not drift too far from that for too long – and then you also just have to be relatable and someone who, I think, people feel like they can hang out with.”

Ryan Ruocco has worked with the biggest stars in New York sports media

Although Ruocco left 98.7 ESPN New York in 2015 after a stint in which he hosted with Dave Rothenberg and contributed to The Michael Kay Show, he has continued creating aural content, albeit through podcasting rather than live sports radio. When Ruocco was scoreboard hosting during New York Yankees home games at Yankee Stadium beginning in the team’s 2009 championship season, he bonded with all-star starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia.

One day in the Yankees’ clubhouse, Sabathia told Ruocco that they needed to collaborate someday in the future on a project. Fast-forward to 2017 – Sabathia’s antepenultimate season in the major leagues – and the duo launched the R2C2 Podcast with The Players’ Tribune, a media company founded by Derek Jeter focused on allowing athletes to directly communicate with fans.

Since its inception, the podcast has rapidly grown into one of the premier sports podcasts on the market and has been distributed by other platforms over the years. Longevity in a dynamic media marketplace can be hard to find, but Ruocco and Sabathia’s podcast recently celebrated five years thanks not only to the duo’s credibility, but also in the conversations they have and interviews they conduct.

“We have a very embedded fanbase,” Ruocco said. “We both are managing different aspects of our schedules now so that’s a little different when we knew, ‘C.C.’s on the Yankees’ schedule and I’m going to be in this city with him.’ That can be challenging but we’re both still completely dedicated to making sure we get our episode out every Thursday and having these conversations and I think we both still just love it.”

Some of the guests the show has welcomed over the years from the worlds of sports and media include David Ortiz, Ken Rosenthal, Aaron Judge, Sue Bird and the aforementioned Stephen A. Smith. According to Ruocco, many guests remark on how much fun they had doing the show once their segment concludes, proof of the atmosphere the duo has cultivated without “Gotcha” questions or intentionally making a guest uncomfortable.

“C.C. is really special in that he is so authentic; he does not change no matter what audience is in front of him,” Ruocco said. “….[He is] a winner and a champion… who is, I think interestingly, shy and an introvert – which people are always [initially] surprised by and he always jokes about [it] – but then when you actually get to know him, he has this unbelievably powerful and warm personality. I feel like that really disarms people and gives us the best chance to get into things with guests that otherwise maybe we wouldn’t.”

While he was and continues to work in audio, Ruocco primarily is a play-by-play announcer for YES Network and became a member of the Brooklyn Nets’ broadcast team as the backup to Ian Eagle in 2012. In the years preceding that, he had called several college games and filled in on select then-New Jersey Nets games. From the first game he called, Ruocco’s goal was and remains to put a soundtrack to the pictures on the screen, calling signature moments with ostensible aplomb and setting up his analyst, often Sarah Kustok or Richard Jefferson, for success.

“I try [to] paint the picture of the story of the game; highlight the key moments in a way that makes sense to the audience and is enthusiastic and engaged; and then bring out the best of my analyst,” Ruocco said. “If I can do all of those things – and I think that plays in any market – it ends up standing out just because you’re trying to make sure you’re doing the game justice; not because you’re trying to stand out.”

Over the years with YES Network, Ruocco has been on the call for a countless number of big games, including the largest comeback in Brooklyn Nets franchise history when they defeated the Sacramento Kings 123-121 in March 2019. It was Ruocco’s fourth game in his fourth different city in four nights and despite being fatigued, was able to muster enough energy and flamboyance in his calls to propagate the magnitude as to what had occurred.

“Sarah [Kustok] and I [called] that game and [I] literally [stood] up getting into the calls going full fist-pump,” Ruocco reminisced, “not because I was necessarily celebrating the moment, but just that’s what it took to get every ounce out of my voice.”

Ruocco has also been behind the microphone for New York Yankees games on YES Network, filling in for Michael Kay including when Kay had vocal-cord surgery in July 2019. Earlier that year, he had filled in for longtime Yankees’ radio voice John Sterling on WFAN, ending a streak of 5,060 consecutive Yankees games Sterling had called so he would be ready for the second half of the season.

This past season amid Aaron Judge’s chase towards the American League single-season home run record, Ruocco was again filling in for Sterling on WFAN amid a rotation of play-by-play announcers including Rickie Ricardo, Justin Shackil and Brendan Burke. Ruocco was scheduled to call the Yankees’ late-season series against the Toronto Blue Jays, however, he willingly stepped aside to allow Sterling the chance to call the record-breaking home run. While Judge did not break the record until the next week against the Texas Rangers, it was in Toronto where he tied the record, previously held by Roger Maris (61).

Calling a baseball game vastly differs from basketball largely because of the pace of the action. In baseball, Ruocco estimates he is only calling play-by-play for 10 to 12 minutes over the course of the game, and conversing and engaging his analyst(s), discussing storylines or sharing anecdotes over the rest of the broadcast, which usually spans, at the very least, three hours.

“The analogy my mentor used to [use] is, ‘Baseball’s like a rocking chair where you’re leaning back, telling the story and then at the moment of the pitch, you lean forward with engagement,’” Ruocco said. “….Whereas basketball and football are a little similar in that they have a more defined cadence of action and you’re not necessarily waiting.”

When Ruocco was hosting afternoons with Stephen A. Smith, he remembers Smith being one of the people to ask executives at ESPN why they did not have Ruocco doing play-by-play. Ruocco believes Smith’s words made them pay attention to his skillset more, and eventually he was given the chance to call NBA games on the network.

“Nationally – you’re going to be equally excited for both teams [while] locally, you’re going to be excited no matter what for big plays,” Ruocco said. “Of course [for] the local team whose regional network you’re on, you’re going to give a little more juice to in their big moments than an opponents’ on a local broadcast.”

Ruocco frequently broadcasts NBA on ESPN games during the regular season, recently calling the Christmas Day matchup between the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks with J.J. Redick and Cassidy Hubbarth. Since 2013, he has been the lead voice of the WNBA on ESPN, working with Rebecca Lobo, Holly Rowe and Andraya Carter to punctuate moments that have fueled the growth of the league, such as Game 5 of the 2018 WNBA Semifinals between the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury and last year’s WNBA Finals between the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks.

“My role is to call the games with the enthusiasm and credibility that the league deserves,” Rucco said. “My hope is that if someone is tuning in to the WNBA for the first time and they don’t know exactly what to expect and… they hear a broadcast that sounds elevated and sounds engaged and energetic; enthusiastic. They [would] say to themselves, ‘Oh, this is legit,’ because the basketball very much is and that’s how the broadcast should be as well.”

Ryan Ruocco has seen his profile grow to announcing NBA and WNBA games for ESPNABC

In addition to his work on presentations of NBA and WNBA basketball on ESPN/ABC, Ruocco has also called college football games on the network and NFL games on its radio platform. As it pertains to basketball though, he had the chance to call the NCAA Final Four as the lead play-by-play announcer for women’s college basketball, a role he was named to in late-2020 by ESPN. He continues to work with Lobo and Rowe, sustaining the chemistry they have formed working WNBA games while seeking to highlight the next generation of basketball stars.

“Feeling the magnitude of the event [and] walking out to the arena floor at Target Center before the championship game between UConn and South Carolina and just really feeling how big it was [is] something I’ll always remember,” Ruocco said.

Preparing for a live game broadcast at the national level vastly differs from doing so locally because of the amount of information and “catching up” broadcasters need to do so they can appeal and relate to viewers. Whether it is reading articles compiled from local publications and sent out each morning by Thomas Kintner; or listening to podcasts from the “Locked On Podcast Network” specifically focused on each individual NBA team, Ruocco is able to extrapolate information that he can use for the broadcast and add to his game boards.

A perk to broadcasting national games is the ability to speak with the coaches from each team as well, learning information – some of which is told on the condition of deep background – that can be used to formulate more cogent, erudite opinions.

“I think the key to doing a national game is not sounding like you’re parachuting in,” Ruocco expressed. “You need to sound like you have your finger on the pulse of what’s been happening with that team because any fan that watches that team regularly is going to sniff out you not really knowing what’s going on with their team very quickly.”

Evidently, Ruocco always wants to be improving at his craft and emphasize signature moments in order to do them justice. While he is hesitant to mention any specific positions he covets and just how he wants his career to evolve, being inducted as a broadcaster into a professional sports Hall of Fame is a goal he hopes to achieve by its conclusion.

“I think that’s such a cool, amazing honor for broadcasters and really what it ends up being is somebody who’s been an ambassador for a league for an incredible period of time,” Ruocco said. “That’s something I hope someday long down the road I have the opportunity to do.”

A piece of advice his mentor Ahrens was told by Vin Scully that was previously told to Scully by Red Barber was that the only thing you can take from the broadcast booth is yourself. Those words were passed down to Ruocco, and he tries to manifest them every time he authors the script of the game. Having the propensity to meet the moment has been with him from the beginning though; he is likely one in a small percentage to accurately predict his career in his fifth grade yearbook.

“Being an imitation or a knock-off of anybody else is always going to mean you’re only ever second-best,” Ruocco expressed. “The way you do your best work is by being totally and genuinely yourself. That’s something I always try and remember.”

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BSM Writers

Should Broadcaster Salaries Be Made Public?

“If you were working in a smaller market, making 50K per year, and your salary got reported in the press and discussed in media circles, how would it sit with you?”

Jason Barrett

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Many have been talking about ESPN’s reported offer of 5 years, $90 million dollars to retain Stephen A. Smith. Puck’s John Ourand broke the news last Thursday. It’s a hefty sum for Jimmy Pitaro to pay for a man many consider ESPN’s most important talent, but that number still won’t be enough to finalize a deal between the two parties. According to Ourand and other media reporters, Smith is seeking an annual salary of $25 million.

ESPN’s prior deals with Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, Pat McAfee, Scott Van Pelt, and Mike Greenberg show that Pitaro will pay premium dollars for premium talent. Smith is without question a premium star. His track record of success on First Take is well documented. He’s also consistently appeared on all shows and big network events, has created original programs that have produced interest, and he’s built a strong social presence in addition to his own media company, creating a landing spot should ESPN not reach the level he feels he deserves.

In this cluttered media environment of 2024, Smith continues to cut through. It’s not a surprise that he wants to be the highest paid talent at ESPN. He’s been saying it for months. The question is, should everyone know his or any talent’s business?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun for industry folks to talk about an individual’s earnings. Viewers, listeners and fans enjoy it too. We all play fantasy GM and look at NFL, NBA, and MLB salary caps to construct teams. Is so and so worth more or less? Where do they go if they don’t re-sign with the company? Which other talent deserves similar compensation? How will this deal affect the market for future free agents?

All of those questions make for good content. People will never not be interested in other people’s paychecks. It’s a key part of what drives daily debates and discussions in sports. The big difference is players, coaches and executives know what they signed up for. Most media people don’t expect their income to become a conversation on radio, TV, print or digital platforms.

Exceptions exist of course for popular national hosts like Smith, game announcers like Buck and Aikman, and top performers in large local markets (ex: Mike and the Mad Dog, Joe Rogan, etc.). But what if this extended to everyone in radio, podcasting or television. How would you feel if your situation was being examined across the entire media business? What if your contract was listed online the way NFL and NBA salary caps are? How would that sit with you?

If you’re being paid $18 million per year, you’re likely prepared to handle these situations. However, if you’re working in a smaller market, making 50K per year, and your salary got reported in the press and was being discussed in media circles, how would you feel? What if you’re a VP/GM and your salary and bonuses were publicly known? Would you be ok with your peers, competitors and friends knowing how much you get paid? What if people knew you were working without a contract, could be let go at anytime with 30-days notice, or that you took a big pay cut during your last negotiation. Would you want that information available?

Professionals on the outside of Stephen A. Smith’s sandbox would likely be uncomfortable with that information being released. Their employers wouldn’t like it either. But when information is publicly available, it does create a more competitive marketplace for talent. More suitors appear when they know a qualified broadcaster’s contract is expiring and they’re affordable.

Media folks on local levels often think about one or two landing spots if their situation changed with their current employer. But with limited options comes less leverage, which means a less likely chance of breaking the bank. If the whole world knows about your track record and annual income, you’d be stunned to learn who pays attention and how much more can be earned.

From an agent’s perspective, the more information available to use to help a client, the better. If the information though paints a client in a negative light, it can work the other way too. The same can be said of a company. If a GM has a good deal in place with a rising talent, do they really want the world to know they have a future star under control for 45-50K per year? Heck no. But if they’re trying to get out of a bad contract, they might not complain if outlets create noise for someone they hope to move on from.

I’m not advocating for salaries to be made public. I believe that what someone earns is between them and their employer, and you’re worth whatever a company will pay you that you’re willing to accept. You find out how much your employer values you during contract time, and rarely do companies make their final and best offer during the first conversation. It’s a process. Sometimes it’s easy, other times it’s painful, but it’s always just business. If you let it get personal, you’ll leave money on the table.

If you want to earn the most you can, start with gathering data that shows you deliver audience and proves you positively affect the bottom line. Then make sure you have legitimate suitors interested in your services, and be willing to leave your current place of employment, not just pretend you will. If you fear life without the brand you’re working for, decision makers will smell blood in the water. It will limit you every time. People don’t pay you more out of the goodness of their heart. They do so because they understand your value to their business.

If the relationship is sound between an employee and employer, and both can find common ground to move forward, a deal will get done. Would one side get more or less with the information being publicly available? Probably. The question is, can you be comfortable with that and is it really worth it? Stephen A. Smith and ESPN are about to find out.

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BNM Summit Speakers and Contest Update

The 2024 BNM Summit continues to add smart, talented professionals to our stellar lineup. I am thrilled today to announce the additions of Westwood One talk radio personality and Newsmax television host Chris Plante, and Cox Media Atlanta’s VP and Market Manager Jaleigh Long to our September conference in Washington D.C.. This now brings our speaker total to 28 with more still to come.

Chris Plante hosts the popular ‘The Chris Plante Show‘ from Washington, D.C.’s WMAL studios, syndicated nationwide by Westwood One. He spent 17 years covering breaking news, the Pentagon and national security issues, and is also seen weeknights at 10pm ET on Newsmax hosting “The Right Squad.” Chris will be part of a panel on Thursday morning September 5th. We’re thrilled to have him join us for this year’s show.

Jaleigh Long meanwhile operates behind the scenes. She’s charged with leading Cox Media Group’s Atlanta cluster, one of the company’s best. Under her watch, 95.5 WSB remains one of the news/talk format’s most successful brands. It is also one of the crown jewels of CMG’s portfolio. Having Jaleigh join Joel Oxley and Chris Oliviero for our Market Managers session on Wednesday September 4th will be a real treat for our attendees.

The BNM Summit takes place on September 4-5, 2024 at the Jack Morton Auditorium at George Washington University. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by clicking here. To become a conference sponsor, email Stephanie Eads at [email protected].

As we’ve done for each of our events, we’re giving college students an opportunity to attend the show, and meet and learn from industry professionals. Students in the DMV area who are enrolled for the fall semester can qualify for tickets by emailing the code FREE TIX to [email protected]. Emails will go out this week to local schools informing them of the opportunity for students.

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Thumbs Up

Tom Brady: If you have any doubts about Brady being good in the FOX booth, watch this clip. His recent appearance on The Herd with Colin Cowherd highlighted his intelligence, comfort level, and ability to explain the game. Having listened to many of his Monday morning chats on WEEI, he was always engaging, well spoken, smart, and invested in the conversation. The only thing that limited him was that he was an active player so he couldn’t be transparent. I’d be stunned if Tom wasn’t a massive success on FOX this fall.

Audacy/Chris Kinard: When Spike Eskin returned to Philadelphia to host afternoons on WIP, it left one remaining issue to be solved; who takes the baton as the next VP of Sports for the company. Audacy got this one right. CK has done a terrific job for years in DC, wearing many hats, always trying to move his brands and the business forward. He’s invested in the format, good with people, and someone other PD’s can confidently turn to for guidance. Great move.

Ric Bucher: It didn’t take long to learn where Ric stood on the Lakers hiring JJ Redick. He’s not sold, along with many others. But what stood out here was the reasoning, and the examples used to paint a picture of who Redick may or may not be, and what he’s up against. Just a solid, two-minute piece of analysis supported with a firm opinion. Well done, Ric.

WWE: Coming off of a strong Clash at the Castle PLE, the company followed up by delivering a homerun on RAW with the debut of the Wyatt Sicks, created a viral buzz with Joe Hendry’s appearance on NXT, and then introduced Jacob Fatu to the Bloodline angle on Friday night Smackdown after Drew McIntyre decimated CM Punk in front of his hometown crowd. The WWE hasn’t been this hot in over a decade. Paul Levesque and Nick Khan are on a heater. ______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thumbs Down

Cam Newton: The former Carolina Panthers QB questioned recently on his YouTube show why minorities don’t get paid the big money from networks like white players do. It was an interesting question that I’m sure some will be bothered by. Marcellus Wiley, Stephen A. Smith and Jason Whitlock addressed the issue and pointed out the obvious reasons – QB’s are treated differently especially those who won championships or played for high profile teams, and there’s a certain conformity, presentation and articulation expected on network TV.

If Patrick Mahomes retires one day and gets overlooked, I’ll be next to Newton asking ‘what’s going on?’ But let’s not use race to disguise the real issue, which is that Cam doesn’t fit the preferred type of hire by networks. And before you make it about executives not wanting to hire minority talent I’ll remind you that Louis Riddick, Charles Davis, Nate Burleson, Jonathan Vilma, Tiki Barber and Mike Tirico all have earned spots in the booth. If you want the bag, and the networks have it, it’s on you to adjust, not them.

ESPN Hiring Office: The College football season starts in just over two months. Lee Corso has been slowing down the past few years, and Pat McAfee generates attention every time he’s on the screen. Why is a deal with McAfee not done yet? College Gameday is one of the best sports shows on TV, and McAfee is a key part of it. This issue shouldn’t be lingering into the summer.

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Eavesdropping: The Fan Morning Show, 93.7 The Fan

“Thats right the Phillies are like the best team in baseball…and they gotta ask about Nick Sirianni acting a fool on the sideline? On June 21st?”

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Graphic for an Eavesdropping feature on The Fan Morning Show

A couple of years ago, 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh started making moves with its morning show that led them to where they are today. In May of 2022, Adam Crowley was named the producer of the show and in August of 2022, former NFL player Dorin Dickerson, who had worked for the station since 2017, was named a show co-host. About a year later in June 2023, the station announced show hosts Colin Dunlap and Chris Mack were out and Crowley and Dickerson would take over the show. With that version of the show about a year old, I thought it would be a good time to eavesdrop in on The Fan Morning Show.

Crowley and Dickerson are joined on the show by producer and update anchor Nicholas ‘Harry’ Callas and on this particular episode the show was celebrating Callas recently getting a promotion to being a full-time member of the staff. The show was planning a lunch together later in the day and one of the early topics that came up was about who would pay for the meal. The early interaction between the guys about this along with the technical difficulties they were having with Dickerson’s headsets gave you a pretty good indication of what you were in for over the course of the show.

As is the case sometimes with morning shows, sometimes the best stuff has nothing to do with the sports topics of the day, it is just whatever comes out of the hosts mouths when they first crack that microphone.

In this case, while the tech issues were being worked out, the guys hit on whether or not Callas would sweat through his shirt with no undershirt on, Callas’ plans to buy a $4,000 bus, Crowley asking for advice because his five-month-old baby was not sleeping well and whether or not Crowley used the word ‘solstice’ the day before.

For the record, he did use the word, despite being certain that he did not. Callas found the audio from the day before and played it and that is when the audience learned there was a $1,000 wager made on the issue. Turns out Callas was good with just having his lunch paid for that day, so that settled that discussion. Now, the headsets were working and with all of those quick topics out of the way it was time to talk some Pittsburgh sports.

The two hosts have no problems going back and forth on just about any sports topic or the inevitable life topics that come up. Both hosts are in their 30’s and have families while Callas is in his 20’s.

Dickerson’s football career began in western PA. He was a High School All American and Pennsylvania Player of the Year in 2005 at West Allegheny. He then moved on to play for the University of Pittsburgh and was a First-team All American tight end in 2009. Next came an opportunity to perform at the highest level, entering the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick of the Houston Texans in 2010. He also has worked on the Pitt radio team as an analyst and sideline reporter.

Crowley said the day before, Dickerson had posted his offer letters from high school on social media. “You tweeted out all of your offer letters yesterday, and I spent an embarrassing amount of time zooming in on all of these schools that offered you.”

This led to a discussion about Dickerson being recruited by Pete Carroll at USC and by Urban Meyer at Florida. “I will never forget Pete Carroll walking down the hallway…When he walked in, I was like wow,” Dickerson said. Crowley compared Carroll then to Nick Saban coming prior to his retirement. “Pete Carroll at that time transcended college football, he was a giant,” Crowley said.

This is why you want an athlete who has made it to the highest levels on your station. It was fun and insightful to hear Dickerson talk about his recruitment and about his reasoning behind why he chose to go to Pitt. “Best football decision I ever made in my life,” he said. He talked about making the decision that staying local would open doors for him in the future, something that has obviously paid off.

Crowley is passion personified. No matter the subject, it is clear he loves doing his job and trying to entertain and inform his audience. Half the battle sometimes to keeping an audience engaged is the passion with which you speak about the subject. Crowley has that on lock down. It is easy to get caught up in his passionate and aggressive takes at a lot of the topics of the day.

Even as they talk about the Pirates, who have lost about 60% of their games since 2000, Crowley does so with an energy that is infectious. This season, with the team hovering around .500 which puts them in the running for a Wild Card position, and the tremendous starting pitching they have had, there is actual hope, and you can tell the guys are happy they can talk about something different other than which star players the team will trade away next.

Crowley had mentioned a few times that, “It’s just the three of us today. No guests on the show, it is a Friday, and we are just having fun.”

The segments flowed well, and Crowley keeps it moving along. When they finish a segment, they go to a quick headlines report versus a full sports update and that generally led them to a live endorsement ad from one of the hosts.

On this day, the group spent an entire hour doing Pittsburgh Pirates report cards. Four different segments worth of throwing out player names, assigning them a letter grade and debating the merits of whatever grade they were given. If you were tuning in for heavy Pirates talk you got exactly what you were looking for. If you were not, you were out of luck.

There was some strong hockey talk in another segment as the Edmonton Oilers had evened the Stanley Cup Final series with the Florida Panthers at three games apiece after being down three games to none. “Let’s say they come back, and they win this series from down 3-0 to winning this thing, it is gonna be maybe the greatest postseason in the history of sports,” Crowley said. “And it would be the most legendary comeback in that sport’s history because of the guy who spearheaded it.” The hosts also kicked around the idea of Edmonton’s Connor McDavid winning the Conn Smythe trophy as the series MVP even if Edmonton doesn’t win.

A lot of Crowley’s takes are strong, he doesn’t waver on a lot of things while Dickerson seems to weigh both sides of a subject when he speaks. The two have developed really good chemistry and with Callas, sound like the proverbial buddies having a chat about sports.

They just as easily have a great conversation about the possibility of the NFL expanding its schedule to jumping over to which celebrities don’t seem to age and marveling at the likes of Selma Hayek and Marisa Tomei.

Dickerson again adds great perspective with the NFL schedule discussion. He said as a player he would not have been in favor of extending the regular season schedule. However, he did add, “I am ok with it now, I want more football. After the Super Bowl is kind of depressing. It gets more depressing now, because you are itching for it. If you extend it a little bit longer that takes away a little of the wait.”

Crowley added, “From our standpoint, from a talk radio standpoint our hot time of the year gets extended, so I like it. I used to be in the camp of less is more, not I am in the camp of more is more.”

The schedule talk was followed by another good discussion on the lengths of the seasons in other sports. About hockey’s season, Crowley said, “The Oilers and the Panthers will have played, literally, literally, their season is ten months long. From October all the way through June, are you kidding me? It’s absurd, that’s absurd.”

As they wrap up the week, a fun segment they do is called ‘Social Media’s Biggest Loser.’ While Matt Stafford’s wife, who admitted to dating the backup quarterback in college to get back at Stafford, was the winner, the hosts had more to say about another station in another market and what they were talking about.

Referring to a poll question he saw on social media from WIP in Philadelphia, Crowley said, “…We’re entertaining, we are having fun, we are enjoying a Friday. They are getting hot and heavy on Nick Sirianni’s sideline demeanor.”

“They’re just still irked that they got kicked out of the playoffs, they’re still mad about it,” Dickerson added. “Talk about the Phillies or something.”

“Thats right the Phillies are like the best team in baseball…and they gotta ask about Nick Sirianni acting a fool on the sideline? On June 21st? Who cares?”

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Jen Lada Has Built a Multiplatform Presence at ESPN

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about.”

Derek Futterman

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Jen Lada
Courtesy: Phil Ellsworth, ESPN Images

When Jen Lada appeared on Around the Horn earlier in the month, she became the 58th panelist to be part of the program since its launch in 2002. Facing off against three other panelists from around the country, she garnered a victory in her on-air debut and elicited plaudits from her colleagues. Throughout the program, Lada demonstrated her deft sports knowledge and nuanced opinions that have crafted her into a venerated, skilled reporter at the network.

Although she had appeared on many ESPN programs previously, Around the Horn represented a show to which she wanted to contribute for many years. In fact, she has memories of watching the show just out of Marquette University and remarking about its brilliance and ingenuity.

Utilizing reporters with comprehensive knowledge of various sports who have chronicled several events, the show provides them an opportunity to give their opinions on issues and engage in debate with their contemporaries. Lada earned a spot on the show by being persistent, continuing to express her proficiency in commentary and sports discussion. The journey to arrive at this stage of her career, through which she has realized high-level assignments and a presence both at the local and national level, required adaptability and fortitude, and she continues to never take opportunities for granted.

“It’s great that I won, but it just sets the bar really high for the next time I go out there, which is not something I’m afraid of,” Lada said. “I love a challenge, and I love proving to myself that I can keep trying new things and doing new things well, and I hope that if people see me as some sort of example in the industry, that that’s what they walk away with.”

The approach adopted by Lada within her multifarious career ventures is to develop and maintain versatility, always innovating within her approach to content. As she looks to build off her initial victory on Around the Horn, she aims to be more compendious in her discourse and applying a more succinct approach. Making the adjustment in order to deliver compelling, distinctive points quickly differs from her other work, but it is all ultimately centered on sports.

While studying at Marquette University, she observed her classmates having a conversation about the men’s basketball team and what had happened in a recent game. Lada, who at the time was dating a player on the team and cheerleading at games, began to give her thoughts and was subsequently asked if she had ever considered sportscasting.

“I didn’t know that women could be sportscasters,” Lada said. “It wasn’t on my radar as a real career that women held because there were so few of them at the time doing it, and so once I realized that that was something I could do, then I kind of turned all my attention to, ‘Well, how do I make this happen?’”

As Lada began to complete internships and navigate through the media industry, she learned to develop a thick skin and refined her conduct. Out of school, she had completed a year of a non-paid sports internship and was waitressing on the side to pay the bills. The first interview she took for a job at a television station in a top-10 market ended with her being sexually harassed. It was a jarring experience that disappointed Lada because of her propensity to give people the benefit of the doubt, and it also forced her to evaluate her own disposition.

“I think it’s only natural that you wonder how you contributed to the circumstance or what you could have done differently to maybe not put yourself in that space,” Lada said, “but I was very lucky that when I told my family about what had occurred, they very quickly knocked any notion of that out of my head.”

In navigating the industry with good intentions, Lada recognized that it is not her fault if other people fail at treating others professionally and create a misogynistic work environment. Receiving the lesson early in her career has made her more aware of the people to avoid, and she remains wary of advice given to women in the industry that they should just be nice. Lada was recently on a panel where someone advised a broadcast class that being nice would result in things working out for them in the future.

“I felt myself cringing internally because I don’t think that that is a luxury women are afforded,” Lada said. “I don’t think – maybe now is different, but when I was coming up, and I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years, there were people who preyed on niceness. And so the way that I would tweak that is to be professional; to carry yourself in a professional manner and recognize that sometimes being ‘traditionally nice’ puts a target on your back to be mistreated, and the best thing you can do is alert those people who would see you as a target that you’re not going to fall victim to that or you refuse to be victim to that.”

Lada joined ESPN in 2015 where she was hired to contribute to Colin Cowherd’s radio program. When Cowherd left the network and joined FOX Sports on a full-time basis, she started co-hosting a new, national program alongside Jorge Sedano. The show, however, had an evanescent run and left her feeling as if she had failed.

It took her a full year to recognize that she had been involved in a series of circumstances and decided to enact the necessary change, asking producers for advice and attending seminars. One of these was an interviewing course hosted by journalist John Sawatsky where he synthesized the art of the craft. Akin to when she was in college, she overheard in passing that the network needed more women in the features space.

“I was fortunate enough to have done a lot of features during my time in Milwaukee because we had a 9 p.m. newscast that required a local sports feature every night of the week, so between our three-person department, we had to fill that timeslot,” Lada said. “I had done a lot of lengthy sports features in Milwaukee [and] had a good foundation of what that job required.”

The meeting led to Lada doing features on an interim basis at the network and later granted her a spot on College GameDay, where she works as its features reporter. Lada presents stories every week to the audience that go beyond the gameplay and divulge a bigger picture.

“I always say my job is to make the viewer care about somebody and root for somebody that they might ordinarily not root for or care about,” Lada said. “One of the things that has occurred to me over the last few years is just what a skill is required to do that job well because not only are you preparing questions to ensure that you have all of the details and information, you’re also gathering perspective on what they’ve been through – the adversity and the situation that has led them to where they are now.”

Lada recently found herself in a high school classroom at 8 a.m. sitting with other students taking the ACT standardized test. She had to complete the exam as punishment for finishing last in fantasy football at ESPN Milwaukee this past season. After four hours, Lada emerged from the school and revealed her score this past week on the Jen, Gabe, and Chewy morning show. Hosting the local program alongside Gabe Neitzel and Mark Chmura, she has established chemistry over almost four years in the three-person format discussing hyperlocal topics.

“I try to be conversational,” Lada said. “We don’t lean on stats – obviously, we want to be accurate, and we want to be, again, fair to the subjects we’re talking about, but we try to also just be friends who are talking about what’s going on on any given day on the Milwaukee [and] Wisconsin sports scene.”

In balancing a variety of different roles, Lada has tried to master everything that she is doing, refraining from being content with her abilities. Although working in local radio regularly has been a newer role for her, she has grown into the job and has co-hosts who understand the subject matter and allow her to utilize her strengths.

“I just want to keep learning,” Lada said. “I’m not satisfied with what I’ve done, [and] I’m not complacent about the skills I have. I’m always interested in adding more jobs to the résumé, and I think that in this industry, you’re rewarded for versatility.”

Once College GameDay commences, Lada adds the responsibility of feature reporting on that program to her schedule and continues making appearances across additional ESPN programming. Lada hosted the Friday edition of College Football Live last season and has also filled in as a host on shows such as First Take and SportsCenter. Moreover, she continues to complete projects for SC Featured and is working on a documentary for E:60 scheduled to premiere later in the summer. 

Lada aims to keep showcasing her indefatigable work ethic and passion for the craft without slowing down. Whether it is hosting a podcast, taking part in more panels or writing essays, she is open to exploring new forms of disseminating stories.

“I have a lot of knowledge and experience rattling around my brain, [and] I think the next iteration is figuring out a way to continue passing those experiences on to the next generation.” Lada said. “I don’t ever want to gatekeep the secrets of success – I think that’s selfish – so as I continue to do the media work, I think the next phase for me is figuring out how to pass a lot of these lessons on to future broadcasting generations.”

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