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Maggie Gray Is Thrilled to Thrive On A National Stage

“When you’re doing [radio] locally, there’s no amount of minutiae that’s too small.”

Derek Futterman




Sports talk radio often extends beyond straightforward discussion of teams, players and leagues by accentuating the characteristics and idiosyncrasies of its hosts. Whether it is through their parlance, interaction with callers or means of comprehending a situation, the hosts of sports talk radio show greatly influence the direction of a program. Take Maggie Gray, for example, who recently pied her co-host Andrew Perloff in the face for charity after winning a bet.

Gray is the co-host of Maggie & Perloff, a national program broadcast weekday afternoons on CBS Sports Radio and distributed to various local affiliates. The show extends beyond traditional radio with its presence on YouTube and other digital platforms, following the new paradigm of broadcasting emphasizing multiple avenues of dissemination. The clip of Perloff taking a pie to the face was posted on Twitter and other digital media platforms spawning reach and subsequent engagement.

“You’re still getting the sound and the splat in the face and the reaction,” Gray said of the stunt, “but to be honest, it’s definitely more of a visual gag.”

Radio studios without cameras or some capability to produce visual content are ostensibly behind the curve, with some just now beginning to catch up. Gray and Perloff broadcast their show out of New York City and think about how to serve its total audience, where and how they consume the content notwithstanding. From working as colleagues at Sports Illustrated, they both knew of the growing prevalence of digital content long before hosting this program and, today, aim to catalyze its assimilation into radio.

Gray hosted digital programming on the Sports Illustrated website over the span of eight years, including a talk show titled SI Now. In this role, she covered a variety of different sports at the national level, equipping her with a broader scope of the sports landscape and concomitant early foray into digital media. Accompanied by evolutions in technology and changing consumption habits, the nature of content itself has innovated in order to be conducive to new platforms – and Gray recognized this long before most others.

Yet augmenting reach and engagement comes through the implicit differentiation of algorithms and user proclivities; that is, determining just where certain content works best. It was a lesson Gray learned from Stephanie McMahon, former chairwoman and co-chief executive officer of WWE. For example, Gray says the clip of Perloff being pied in the face works better for platforms compatible with shorter-form content, such as TikTok and Twitter. In this way, fans are given instant gratification of the impetus that compelled them to engage with the content in the first place.

“You don’t just take a one-size-fits-all [approach],” Gray said. “….Maybe understanding that could help you with your audience, and then trying to always engage with younger fans and trying to be where they are, which is a challenge.”

Akin to many others working in the industry today, Gray grew up as an avid sports fan, largely for teams within the New York metropolitan area – except in football. Her uncle, a season ticket holder for the Buffalo Bills, introduced her to the team in the ‘90s, a time when the team had a winning record in most years. The fact that none of those seasons ended in Super Bowl championships, let alone appearances, taught her resilience. Moreover, it helped her develop esoteric knowledge she utilizes today as a national sports talk radio host, although a majority of conversations do not solely revolve around any singular sports franchise.

When she was a high school student in Binghamton, N.Y., she kept statistics for B.C. Icemen play-by-play announcer Jason Weinstein, attending games and becoming immersed in the United Hockey League (UHL). Once the team reached its final game of the season, Gray was given the chance to go on the air to deliver the out of town scores, and became enamored with sports media from that moment on.

“It sort of kept evolving,” Gray said. “I think I got a taste of it kind of early in my life and that set me on this path.”

Gray attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. where she matriculated in journalism. She immediately became involved with the school’s radio station, but quickly landed an internship as a freshman with Westwood One Radio. She ended up staying with the broadcast outlet during all four years of college where she earned opportunities to attend marquee events. Some of these included the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece and various Washington Wizards games (2003-2005) to work as a stringer and collect locker room sound. She worked in a similar role with The Associated Press in 2005, her senior year of college, during the Washington Nationals’ inaugural season.

“I was able to not only be around professional athletes – be in locker rooms; be in press rooms; be on a press row,” Gray said. “I got to watch all of these other incredible journalists do their work at a young age which kind of got me a little familiar with just the pace of how to cover a game.”

Although much of Gray’s work during college took place off-campus, she still called sporting events on its radio station, in addition to briefly hosting her own show. All of her experiences helped shape her into a versatile rising star in the industry and fostered familiarity about how to conduct herself with poise and professionalism.

Expediting vertical growth immediately after graduation in any industry can be difficult, but Gray’s persistence and motivation kept her focused on finding ways to do so. Her postgraduate journey began at NBA Entertainment (NBAE) as a production assistant and tape logger, working behind the scenes to help facilitate its content. Additionally, she received permission from NBAE to work at another Olympic Games with Westwood One, this time in Torino, Italy during the winter of 2006. She calls the people with both entities, including Westwood One executives Howie Deneroff and Mike Eaby, “instrumental” in facilitating her growth.

Eager to find an opportunity to appear on-camera, Gray was hired by MSG Networks as a sideline reporter for its high school sports, then-broadcast on MSG Varsity. As a broadcaster on the broadcast of a live sporting event, Gray used her journalism skills to discover nuanced storylines and compendiously deliver them to the viewing audience.

“Finding those good stories was a challenge, especially because you’re interviewing teenagers, but also it was great because I think that they appreciated it and it was memorable for them,” Gray said. “When I would do a quick sideline hit about somebody on the team, I think that was a really big deal.”

Through her exposure on MSG Networks, Gray was hired to provide sports updates on WFAN, specifically during holidays such as Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. She also worked in various roles, including as a reporter and play-by-play announcer, in stints with and ESPNU, giving her further exposure throughout the industry. It all led up to being hired at Sports Illustrated in 2010 as an anchor for the company’s foray into digital content creation and programming.

By June 2013, the company launched SI Now, a digital talk show covering the sports landscape with news, opinion, debate and interviews both in studio and from various events. Gray hosted 1,169 episodes of the show while also hosting a Saturday morning program with Marc Malusis on CBS Sports Radio. Whether it was questioning the NFL’s handling of the infamous Ray Rice scandal; interviewing Billie Jean King; or taking calls from listeners, these roles promoted her abilities to effectively work on a national scale. Yet since consumerism is based on opinion, she naturally did not appeal to everyone.

“I stopped trying to win over the people that I knew just weren’t into me – [people who] either didn’t want to hire me or agents who didn’t want to represent me or whatever,” Gray said. “I stopped chasing that and really started to focus on the people who did like what I was doing and were trying to invest in me and were giving me good feedback.”

Additionally, Gray has faced misogyny throughout her broadcasting career and considers herself fortunate to have colleagues she can trust. She follows the advice of an unattributed quote that states, “Don’t put too much stock in an opinion of someone [whom] you wouldn’t ask their advice,” implicitly reminding her to take everything in stride. It also keeps her cognizant of which voices to genuinely value as a media professional.

“I try not to look at social media to get feedback because if you are going to believe the good things, then I think you also have to believe the bad things and that can get really dicey,” Gray said. “It’s basically two sides of a very similar coin.”

When Mike Francesa retired from WFAN in December 2017, media pundits knew he was practically irreplaceable. Francesa had been the co-host of Mike and the Mad Dog for nearly two decades, and then proceeded to have a successful solo career where he consistently finished at the top of the ratings.

Leading up to the decision, Gray had conjectured which direction the station may go in, and eventually was approached to pair with Bart Scott and Chris Carlin. Gray was not the first choice for the job, as Kim Jones and Chris Simms both turned the position down, but she was still grateful for the opportunity and tried to make the most of it.

Even though she would still continue broadcasting from New York, the audience was different in that it was based locally. There was an adjustment period and some initial challenges determining which topics would appeal to listeners, metrics that were not solely based on illuminated phone lines. Gray had not previously worked with Scott and with Carlin outside of occasional appearances on SportsNet New York’s LoudMouths, meaning that the broadcast trio needed time to develop chemistry. The difficulty was that the market had grown accustomed to consistency in afternoons spanning nearly three decades and two relatively newer local voices in Gray and Scott.

“It was definitely an overwhelming feeling,” Gray said. “If it wasn’t for Chris Carlin and Bart Scott – the three of us started that show – and if it wasn’t for our great relationship, I think it would have also been very lonely…. It was a big deal for the niche that is sports talk radio, and I’m so glad I had those guys to lean on and we all got to go through it together.”

For the first four months, the show aired from 2 to 6:30 p.m., but received immense criticism and ultimately lost the quarterly ratings book to The Michael Kay Show on 98.7 FM ESPN New York. It should be noted that the two programs faced off from 3 to 6:30 p.m., as Stephen A. Smith hosted his program on 98.7 FM ESPN New York on weekdays from 1 to 3 p.m.

Part of the struggle might have been a move away from debate-based radio, even though Francesa had been successfully hosting solo programming for many years. Instead of making disputation a hallmark of her style, Gray tries to center her programs around having fun, interacting with her co-host and imbuing laughter.

“I didn’t love doing [argumentative] radio,” Gray said. “I don’t love that – the Mike and the Mad Dog [style] where they’re just arguing with each other all the time; or a Stephen A. Smith-thing where you’re arguing all the time. That’s not generally what I love. It’s great to disagree, but I don’t love it when it’s contentious.”

Less than five months later, Francesa returned to WFAN to host afternoon drive opposite The Michael Kay Show. In his return, which was partially predicated on the launch of the Mike’s On mobile app and online platform, WFAN curtailed the time slot of Carlin, Maggie and Bart. Just a few months later, Francesa defeated The Michael Kay Show in the overall ratings (Q2, 2018), even though men aged 25-49 preferred Kay’s program. Carlin, Maggie and Bart ended up finishing fourth in the New York market during its daypart and began to mesh with listeners.

“I had never really done just New York sports, so that took a little bit to get used to,” Gray said. “….It was all the same challenges that go in with creating any new show; it just happened to be [on] an extremely visible platform where there were a lot of eyeballs on us.”

One year later amid strong ratings, Carlin was fired from WFAN and the show was rebranded as Maggie and Bart. The new show proved ephemeral though, as Francesa’s departure from afternoon drive caused a shakeup in the programming schedule. To begin 2020, the station announced that Gray and Malusis would be reunited to launch a local edition of Moose and Maggie, the show they had co-hosted together for five years nationally on CBS Sports Radio.

“When you’re doing [radio] locally, there’s no amount of minutiae that’s too small,” Gray expressed. “We can talk about the Yankees’ middle relievers; we can talk about the Mets’ closer; or we can talk about who should play third base for the Yankees. That’s a totally good topic and it will resonate with people in New York.”

By the end of the next year, Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney moved from CBS Sports Radio, their home for the prior eight years, to middays on WFAN. As a result, Gray, who was “super happy” to transition back to hosting nationally, began her current program with Perloff in afternoon drive. The shift in mindset was facile since she had covered sports from a national perspective for the majority of the preceding decade.

The duo enters each show with a “blank slate,” surmising what topics will resonate with the audience and create compelling on-air content. Working with Perloff, who she became friendly with during her time at Sports Illustrated, made these intricate tasks, in addition to developing synergy, considerably less arduous than they otherwise may have been.

“We knew that we already had chemistry, and so I think it put us on more of a fast-track than other shows that start with people who are meeting as strangers,” Gray said. “We were able to really grow the show, I think, in a great way, and it’s been so much fun doing it.”

On the air, Gray tries to find ways to stand out amid a saturation in audio content. Most media entities vie for shares of attention, parlayed into engagement and fidelity through retention. Gray and Perloff are preceded by Jim Rome, who has successfully built a legion of listeners and followers who interact with his show on a regular basis.

“The shows I like are the shows where you kind of build a universe in the show,” Gray said. “The people who are listening feel like they are a part of it. They get the language of the show; they get the jokes and the inside jokes of the show. You want to be consistent for that audience, and you want to create a world where they can sort of step into it.”

Gray affirms that “this is not journalism with a capital ‘J,’” and fulfills her role in cultivating discussions that keep people listening. Through these, they compel people to call in or comment on the live stream to demonstrate their interest in a topic and espouse opinions to potentially alter the conversation. Gray and Perloff are not mandated to implement the audience by taking calls; however, they find the interaction amplifies the program, especially when a listener understands the show’s vernacular.

The same mindset applies when booking interviews; that is, trying to find the value in having certain guests on the program. Sure, there are people who are more likely to make news with each appearance, such as athletes, executives or other celebrities, but shrewdness regarding what one wants to extrapolate from guests is essential to driving the conversation.

At the same time, spontaneity can prove invaluable in these conversations, which can lead to follow-up questions discerned through actively listening. For example, it was Gray who asked Green Bay Packers wide receiver Romeo Doubs last month about the offense’s relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He proceeded to say that he had never spent time with Rodgers outside of the team’s practice facility, composing a fair share of headlines to say the least.

“That got over [five] million views,” Gray said. “That was not a question I had ever intended to ask him going into the interview; it was just simply by listening to him.”

Hosting an afternoon drive program in particular requires thinking about ways to advance stories that have likely already been discussed in the mornings. Being in the middle of the day, there is a balance of reacting to what happened the night before and anticipating what may happen mere hours later when a majority of games begin. In a way, trying to captivate listeners through topic selection and concomitant opinions is both instinctual and strategic.

“I have a pretty big voice, so I think the sound is big,” Gray said. “I try to be very generous as a host, too. I want to make sure with me and my co-host that we’re finding topics that we both really like; we’re trying to find places maybe where we don’t agree, but I try to be generous with setting him up.”

Part of being able to effectuate that comes in being able to keep people listening, especially following Jim Rome, who has broadcast on CBS Sports Radio for the last decade. Spike Eskin, vice president of programming at WFAN and CBS Sports Radio, recommended Gray and Perloff open their show with hard-hitting opinions. Starting with potent topics and opinions in lieu of a protracted greeting or small talk keeps people engrossed in the on-air product, in turn expanding the show’s reach.

The program then blends information, opinion and entertainment to create a multiplatform product conducive to success, even though they are not measured on ratings. Rather, the show is distributed to a host of local affiliates who may opt to use ratings to guide future decision-making, but even so, Gray does not concern herself as much with those results.

“I never tried to put too much stock in the ratings even when I was personally benefiting from the ratings as far as bonuses and things like that,” she explained. “I still try not to put too much stock into it, but it’s hard because it’s a number, it’s there [and] it feels like a grade.”

The fear of failure keeps Gray going every day, possessing an awareness of the deft responsibility garnered every time she steps in the studio. Simultaneously, she remembers that new cohorts of listeners may be consuming the program, meaning she and Perloff need to make a good first impression.

“There’s no safety net with this,” Gray said. “It’s live – radio and streaming – and I’m being counted on to deliver something that’s entertaining and fun and informative and keeps an audience.”

The key is finding the niche of the industry wherein one can excel – and it differs for every aspiring professional. No matter where that may be though, without a work ethic or a will to succeed, finding and sustaining roles in sports media can be burdensome. There are plenty of fledgling talents willing to do whatever it takes for an opportunity, and it is essential people holding coveted positions refrain from complacency or acting in a sanctimonious manner.

“If you’re not energized by the red light [going] on and it’s you and it’s time for you to deliver, you’re probably not cut out for this,” Gray said. “That should be a charge in and of itself and that should be enough to motivate you to say, ‘How am I going to do my best today?’”

BSM Writers

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

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

Demetri Ravanos




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

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

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

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

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

Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.

Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

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

The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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BSM Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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