Adam Lefkoe Found A Way to Cut Through
“It was the realization as a 26-year-old that no one my age cared about the local news and I was regurgitating my Twitter timeline for people over the age of 65.”
On the night LeBron James ended up shattering the NBA’s all-time scoring record, Adam Lefkoe came to work thinking he and his colleagues would not receive the opportunity to cover the event firsthand. After all, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the then-record holder, had played for the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks over a legendary, 20-year career – and the two teams were set to square off two days later.
Nonetheless, Lefkoe came into the assignment studio hosting coverage of the Lakers’ matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder prepared just in case James put up the 36 points needed to make history. Once James was photographed arriving at the arena donning a black suit with a pin reading, “Stay present,” his mindset became evident. NBA on TNT Tuesday studio analyst and WNBA superstar Candace Parker turned to Lefkoe and assured him she could tell that James was trying to break the record that night.
Of course, James ended up making history and participated in a profound moment with Abdul-Jabbar and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver at center court, and then addressed the crowd and expressed his gratitude. Although the Lakers lost the game, all the attention was fixed on James postgame. The broadcast on TNT attracted 3 million viewers, rendering it as the most-viewed regular season telecast outside of those on opening night since 2018.
Originally, the plan for NBA on TNT Tuesday’s studio coverage, anticipating a delay in being able to speak with James, was to discuss the enormity of the record and welcome Abdul-Jabbar on the program to gain his perspective. As is often the case on live television though, plans quickly changed, and the crew had to adjust and be ready in mere seconds for the conversation of a lifetime.
“When that game ended, he went straight to the TNT camera,” Lefkoe said of James, “so now I have a producer in my ear going, ‘We’re getting LeBron.’ You want to make the moment special, and people at home are probably thinking that I have a script or I’ve planned out every word. The true thing is at that point, you kind of black out where you just rely on all the experience you have.”
Preparation is one of the keys to success as a studio host, and it is something Lefkoe has actively worked to master over his time working in sports media. Jayson Stark, who currently works as a senior MLB writer with The Athletic, told Lefkoe that he kept a journal containing compelling statistics and other abstruse information about players and teams. Uncovering these data and intelligence is achieved through remaining engaged with sports and its news cycle, staying ready at all times.
Leading up to a typical NBA on TNT Tuesday broadcast, Lefkoe is fervently reading information and columns about all 30 NBA teams from both local and national outlets. Moreover, he regularly listens to NBA podcasts and respected national commentators; however, he always makes sure to form his own opinion on matters beforehand to prevent merely adopting other people’s viewpoints.
When he flies to Atlanta on Mondays, he continues to compile information, statistics, and storylines onto a spreadsheet which he refines Tuesday with updated information. He also texts with game commentators Ian Eagle and Brian Anderson, along with the network’s reporters to discover what they are hearing from across the league.
“I’m communicating constantly with my producer Keith Robinson to make sure that we are doing right as the show of record for that night,” Lefkoe said. “….Once I sit on the set, then it’s almost like creating a battle station where I have everything where I think I need it. That’s also when I start going, ‘Okay, what are the current events? What are some things that maybe we should bring into this?’ because we’re more than just a basketball show.”
Differentiation has been an essential aspect of Lefkoe’s fortuitous rise in sports media, and something he feels he has done from the onset of his career. As a high school basketball player, he would sit in the stands with his teammates during other games and perform faux broadcasts. Realizing he enjoyed this, he decided to matriculate at Syracuse University to study broadcast journalism, but did not take the typical path of most alumni in quickly joining WAER-FM.
Instead, Lefkoe found a path on the air as a freshman for four hours on Sunday mornings before NFL action on WJPZ-FM (Z89) hosting a talk show called Between the Lines. As a radio host, he tried to be conversational and congenial, forming enduring professional relationships with the listeners and the athletes. He viewed himself as an “outsider” and thought of Ernie Johnson and Ahmad Rashad as sources of inspiration on which to base his career.
“Ernie, for me, is the godfather,” Lefkoe said. “His ability to control the flow [and] to be calm, cool, collected; to always get a point across without being overbearing – I just thought it was perfection. Ahmad – I only saw him playing golf with Michael Jordan or smoking a cigar or dunking with Shaq. That connection with athletes; almost getting to be friends with [Jordan], I just thought was such a cool approach.”
Out of school, Lefkoe began working in news as a reporter and anchor for KHAS-TV in Hastings, Neb. where he was exposed to and became an expert on college football. It was a difficult moment in his career when many of his friends had moved to major markets and began to build viable careers for themselves. Lefkoe was making $18,500 a year, persisting through this time period to hone his craft and define his style.
By mid-2010, Lefkoe had moved to Louisville, where he eventually became a sports anchor and began primarily covering college basketball. Yet he realized at this point that he was working for an outlet that did not attract viewers in his age demographic and had not established notoriety in the space. As a result, he struggled to find agents to represent him as a sportscaster, with some citing what they believed was a lack of growth potential.
“It was the realization as a 26-year-old that no one my age cared about the local news and I was regurgitating my Twitter timeline for people over the age of 65,” Lefkoe explained. “[I had to figure out] how [to] bridge this gap between digital and linear, and kind of create almost a watch party for my show.”
Out of frustration, he began performing unique stunts on the air, including famously dropping 41 Seinfeld references in five minutes on a newscast, and blogged to fans, asking them for suggestions to freshen up the program. One month later, his phone was essentially ringing off the hook with agents looking to represent him since his broadcasts had become appointment viewing, blending information and entertainment.
It led to work with Bleacher Report where he executive produced and hosted the Simms and Lefkoe podcast with former NFL quarterback Chris Simms. In combining their knowledge, expertise, experience, and entertainment-value, the two cultivated a formidable duo, welcoming guests and attaining high ratings. The success was earned through consistency in their posting schedule and remaining connected with football fans, producing content they would want to hear. Four years later, the company introduced a weekly video series during the NFL season shot partially from its midtown Manhattan headquarters and in the field.
Once Simms left Bleacher Report in 2019 to join Football Night in America, the program was rebranded as The Lefkoe Show, marking a new chapter in Lefkoe’s broadcasting career by hosting a solo podcast. The program itself had recently lost its longtime producer Josh Fendrick, who had just been hired by Overtime as head of content operations, making the challenge even more daunting.
“That was the squad, and I remember feeling a lot of doubt thinking, ‘Are people actually going to still listen to this without the former football player?,’” Lefkoe said. “What happened then was that it really expanded my marketing frame…. It became an adventure of being more comfortable with myself as an opinion-haver, and it also let me dive deeper into storytelling.”
Although he continues to work with Bleacher Report on select programming, Lefkoe essentially made a transition towards the end of 2019 when it was announced that he would host NBA on TNT Tuesdays. Growing up as a fan of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith on Inside the NBA, it was a dream come true for Lefkoe to join this storied sports media property. Lefkoe began working alongside O’Neal, along with Dwayne Wade and Candace Parker, delivering fans compelling linear studio content blended with his digital-savvy and the unique approach Turner Sports brings to its programming.
“When I was given that opportunity, that was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Lefkoe said. “Our careers are very subjective, so when someone comes and says they believe in you enough to give you such an important role, it’s very meaningful and it really makes you take a step back and have gratitude for your journey.”
Before beginning the role, Lefkoe received advice from Dan Patrick, host of the nationally-syndicated program, The Dan Patrick Show, about how he should approach the job like former Utah Jazz guard and Basketball Hall of Fame member John Stockton. As the association’s all-time leader in assists, Stockton exhibited an alacrity for setting up his teammates on the court. His on-court generosity helped propel the team to playoff appearances in every year of his career and teammate Karl Malone near the top of the all-time scoring list.
“I joked with him that I want to be John Stockton but I very much end up being Stephon Marbury,” Lefkoe said. “I love being able to sit back and listen to my analysts have a discussion and realize that they don’t need me to guide it. That’s when the solo-hosting of a podcast starts bubbling up, and I have an opinion and I want to get it in so bad.”
Lefkoe aims to have his analyst express five times the words per minute as he does on the show, realizing the importance of divulging and accentuating their perspectives. At the same time, he tries to enjoy himself on set and work with the social media team to promote viral moments across multiple platforms. In this way, the show breaks the metaphorical “fourth wall” between the panel and the viewer, and has been recognized for doing so with Sports Emmy Award honors for “Outstanding Interactive Experience.”
“It’s a conversation that we have during every production meeting, which is, ‘What are people talking about?,’ and ‘How do we join the conversation?,’” Lefkoe said. “I think it’s something beautiful. I think a lot of sports TV is, ‘Let me yell my opinion at you, and you need to listen.’ I feel like our show is, ‘Let’s talk with NBA fans.’”
Much of the entertainment value of the broadcasts, while it is surely an intent before each show, comes organically through interaction between Lefkoe and the rest of the panel. Usually, he arrives on the set and just then begins to ponder over unique angles, even though he frequently brainstorms new ideas, oftentimes on a napkin at a coffee shop. Once these segments sporadically occur, Turner Sports tries to quickly post them on digital platforms to exhort instant reactions, some of which are then featured on the program.
“You can talk about a dunk all you want, but if you compare it to Michael B. Jordan dunking on a reporter, someone at home might find that enjoyable,” Lefkoe said. “I think just talking to a lot of comedian-friends of mine too, the one thing you can’t do with comedy is force it. Again, it’s kind of like having it in the chamber in case it comes up, and then that also might be something that we do with our social media people in-between hits or during commercial breaks that we can put that online to bring more viewers to linear.”
With the advent of new technology and changes in consumption habits, alternate broadcasts have permeated into the broadcast landscape over the last several years. Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, under the leadership of company president and CEO David Zaslav and sports chairman and CEO Luis Silberwasser, has innovated in the space and created effective content offerings to pair with traditional programs.
For example, the Inside the NBA crew has appeared on Inside the All-Star Game during the hallmark event for the last two seasons, broadcast live on TBS. Bleacher Report, which is a subsidiary of the company, produces digital live shows surrounding game action, some of which Lefkoe has hosted including during the NFL Draft. Moreover, Turner Sports experimented with “Players Only” broadcasts but scrapped the concept before the 2019-20 season, instead launching NBA on TNT Tuesday. Nonetheless, the willingness to venture into different kinds of broadcast demonstrates briskness in adaptability and flexibility amid a dynamic, saturated marketplace.
“I think that this next generation – this Gen-Z generation – I don’t know if anybody really has a firm grasp yet on how they consume [content], but I do know it seems like it’s personality over information,” Lefkoe said. “It’s finding a way to connect with people and provide them a place where they’re watching with friends. How this develops and what the final product is; I still don’t think we’re there yet.”
Lefkoe recently signed a contract extension with Warner Bros. Discovery Sports in which he will continue his work with Turner Sports, NBA TV, and Bleacher Report, citing its familial environment. His previous contract extension coincided with the move towards its linear platforms and decided to remain with the company because he feels he has helped build something that is somewhat incomplete.
“I didn’t think I was finished,” Lefkoe said. “I’m going into year 10 with this company, and there’s been a lot of different iterations…. For me, it’s about working with your friends, and also, I’m still living out my dream. They’ve been so good to me, and I want to put in that effort back to reward that faith.”
During one of the first times Lefkoe was reporting at a game, he asked famed men’s basketball head coach Rick Pitino a question to which he responded, “Come back with a better question; that’s not a good question.” As soon as the press conference concluded, many of the other reporters approached Lefkoe and told him that what he had endured from Pitino was usual and that he does it to everybody. Even so, it prompted Lefkoe to cogitate on his thought process of asking questions. He duly redeemed himself by the next press conference, arriving ready and more confident in his abilities.
This year, Lefkoe covered the NBA All-Star Game and has fostered relationships with many of the players around the league. On several occasions, players have approached him to express how they think he is doing a great job in his role with Warner Bros. Discovery, including Phoenix Suns teammates Chris Paul and Kevin Durant. This year as a media member at NBA All-Star Weekend in Salt Lake City, he called the Jordan Rising Stars Challenge, along with contributing to additional coverage across Turner Sports’ platforms. Some of his memorable moments included interviewing Philadelphia 76ers guard Mac McClung after he won the 2023 AT&T Slam Dunk Contest, and Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard following his win in the 2023 Starry 3-Point Contest.
Today, Lefkoe continues to work with O’Neal and Parker, along with former NBA guard Jamal Crawford, who replaced Wade on the panel after he departed Turner Sports before the season. Crawford ended up proving invaluable during the network’s interview with James after he broke the scoring record, helping Lefkoe realize the gravity of the moment he was a part of. That realization, combined with the perspective of just how rare this circumstance was, allowed Lefkoe to construct and deliver a comprehensive and reflective question. It elicited an insightful response from James surrounded by cheering fans and the bright lights of “Tinseltown.”
Since James broke the record in the third quarter, Lefkoe opened up his “gem notebook,” something he began keeping in the offseason featuring notes, quotes and other information about NBA players and teams. From the time he started accumulating content for the notebook, Lefkoe has filled several pages and utilizes it to be able to react in the moment.
As he turned the pages of the book, he came across a quote penned by Suzanne Collins, the author of “The Hunger Games” that read: “Throw me to the wolves, and I’ll return leading the pack.” Lefkoe quickly remembered that the logo of James’ tequila brand, Lobos 1707, is a wolf, along with how he has been regarded as a leader and role model throughout his storied career. After reciting the quote to James on the air, Lefkoe said to James: “You are now leading the pack. How is the view?” James cracked a smile and proceeded to explain how breaking the record was never something he had entered the league intending to do and said the achievement was “surreal.”
“I had written that down from the previous July from a book I was reading,” Lefkoe said. “….To be able to kind of use that in that moment, and when I said it he kind of shook his head, I was kind of like, ‘Wow, the universe does conspire sometimes to really create the magical moments.’ I was so proud of that because I think we did justice to him. Shoot, man – when’s the next time that’s going to get broken? Seventy years from now; maybe never?”
With a new contract and parity across the NBA, Lefkoe is motivated to continue improving his craft both on digital and linear platforms of dissemination and seeks to make a connection and an impact with viewers. Refraining from thinking about his job or sports in general is difficult since it has been a part of his life for many years – first as a fan and now as a media member.
“I truly want to be one of the best,” Lefkoe articulated. “I don’t know how to do things less than 100%, and this is something for me that even when I’m out to dinner with my wife or I’m playing with my nephew, I’m still thinking about the gig. The passion just doesn’t quit; it’s like a fire that burns.”
As Lefkoe gains more broadcast opportunities and propagates an effective blend between digital and traditional forms of media, he consistently reviews his footage to find areas in which he can improve. Much like a professional athlete, part of his job is not only to perform but also to reflect on his performance and strive for excellence every time he steps in front of the camera. Quite simply, he is his own harshest critic, and through this criticism, he develops bonafide skills while always remaining cognizant of his roots and the essence of actualizing and expanding his potential.
“If you’re going to listen to your parents telling you how great you are, that means you also have to listen to the people [who] tell you [that] you suck,” Lefkoe said. “That means you can’t listen to anybody. Every time you do a show, you need to sit there and watch yourself after the show. You need to look at your hands; you need to look at your mouth; you need to listen to it. If you made a mistake, you can’t just blame the fact that you had a busy day. ‘How can you continue to improve?,’ and I think it starts with actually watching yourself.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he interns in video production with the New York Islanders and formerly worked as production manager for the team’s radio broadcasts. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Bruce Gilbert Revisits His Sins at the BSM Summit
“The spirit and the intention is to remind people that are serious about doing this that they have to take the craft very seriously, but NOT take themselves too seriously.”
The twenty deadly sins of sports radio are legendary. Maybe you know them by heart. Maybe you have seen the condensed version that is only a list of seven. Maybe you have no idea what is on that list, you just know that it exists.
Whatever your relationship to the presentation Bruce Gilbert put together in 2005 is, it has played a role in your career. Even if you haven’t seen it, someone you learned from has.
After all, as 104.3 The Fan programmer Raj Sharan told me, Bruce Gilbert is kind of like the Bill Walsh of his coaching tree. Not every talented and successful person in sports radio learned from Gilbert, but a whole lot of them did. Even the ones that were never directly under his wing have been influenced by him.
“Raj is one of the brightest young programmers in our industry. He has incredible instincts, great knowledge and a positive passion. I truly admire him. It’s very humbling to know that Raj feels as though he picked something up from me through the years,” Gilbert told me. “It reminds me that it’s vital to our business that we all pass along important things we’ve learned to keep this format vibrant for generations to come. I had so many wonderful bosses and worked with so many unbelievably talented hosts and producers that taught me so much. For that, I am grateful and extremely lucky. Sharing some of those things seems like the absolute right thing to do. Nothing gives me more joy at this point in my sports radio journey than to see a young talent or manager find their success and reach heights they never thought they could reach.”
Even if it is forever entrenched in sports radio lore, the twenty deadly sins cannot live behind glass as a sacred text never to be altered. That document and the rules in it are eighteen years old now. It may not require a full rewrite, but it is certainly time to revisit and take stock of what still works and what could benefit from a new perspective.
“Honestly, I am a bit embarrassed by how cocky and somewhat arrogant my writing was when those deadly sins were published in 2005,” he said. “The world has changed a lot in those eighteen years. PPM has become the methodology in major markets. Digital distribution has blossomed across numerous platforms. Social Media is a prominent part of what we do. Podcasting has become a critical part of our environment. Talk hosts, podcasters, listeners, and the athletes we cover are doing more to make our world a better place. Fans have more choices and less tolerance for mediocre, angry, negative hosts.”
Gilbert is revisiting that 2005 list with fresh eyes and a red pen on Wednesday morning in Los Angeles at the BSM Summit. It is a sequel nearly two decades in the making. He knows you want The Empire Strikes Back, but hopes the audience remembers that most sequels are more akin to The Force Awakens – not great, but as long as it is fun and moves the subject forward, it has done the job.
“There, I lowered the bar and reset expectations,” he jokes.
Not many people could get Bruce Gilbert, who oversees all sports programming for Cumulus and Westwood One, to do this. Honestly, if the man never did anything else in sports radio, he has left a hell of a legacy and the twenty deadly sins are at or near the top of his long list of accomplishments.
Jason Barrett isn’t just anybody though. JB worked for Bruce at ESPN Radio and counts him as a mentor. He was in the room for the original twenty deadly sins of sports radio presentation as a young producer. He may tell you that if it weren’t for Bruce Gilbert taking the time to listen to a demo of a professional wrestling radio show more than 20 years ago, we may not all be getting together this week.
“JB has had a remarkable career,” Gilbert says. “His experience in all aspects of sports radio have led him to this place where he has become an energetic, dedicated, intelligent evangelist for this format. His passion is unmatched, and I truly admire how much he cares about making this format, sports media – and everyone that has a place in this ecosystem – successful.”
It isn’t just that the right guy asked, it is that the right event exists. When Bruce Gilbert presented his original list, it was to his employees and colleagues at ESPN Radio. At the BSM Summit, his audience will include talent, programmers and executives from Audacy, Bonneville, Cumulus, Good Karma Brands, iHeartMedia, and many other radio companies as well as FOX, FOX Sports Radio, MRN, and more.
“This event is a celebration of all the love and commitment Jason has bestowed upon many of us in this business,” he says. “It’s a tangible example of how none of us should ever stop learning and how ALL of us should take our responsibility to grow the industry and nurture the newcomers to our business.”
With so much power in our industry consolidated in one room, Gilbert is bound to field questions. He also knows he has the chance to shape the industry and the content we generate going forward.
He told me that he wants people to remember that a lot of thought went into his list. The original version from 2005 was not a series of knee-jerk reactions to problems that existed only in his mind. Each bad habit he counted as a deadly sin earned that designation by watching the effect it had on the audience.
“The spirit and the intention is to remind people that are serious about doing this that they have to take the craft very seriously, but NOT take themselves too seriously. To show that if you are committed to the non-stop preparation and the artful execution of meaningful content, you can cut through the ever-growing morass of sports content that permeates society. Lastly, while what we do is subjective, there are some things that we know through research and experience that damage your chances for success. The hope is that by highlighting some of these important things we can help the professionals in our business go from good to great.”
When you gather people like Colin Cowherd, Mina Kimes, Jay Glazer, Al Michaels, Shawn Michaels, and Jim Rome for a conference, your program has some serious star power. Plenty of us in the room are those people’s biggest fans. Given his impact and the impact of a list he made 18 years ago, no one’s presentation may be more highly anticipated at this year’s BSM Summit than Bruce Gilbert’s.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Jimmy Powers is Shocked & Honored
“When Jason called me and told me about it, I was just kind of dumbfounded, really. I was shocked and honored at the same time.”
Barrett Sports Media presents the Mark Chernoff Award on an annual basis. It goes to a local program director that has basically been crushing it. Creativity, leadership and sustained success. Those are the words that comprise the foundation of the award. Those are also the descriptions that tell the story of Jimmy Powers, the PD of 14 years for 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit.
On Tuesday, March 21, Powers was presented with the prestigious honor at the 2023 BSM Summit in Los Angeles. It was a great moment for him, but being the center of attention is not exactly Powers’ comfort zone. He describes himself as someone that doesn’t seek the spotlight. Well, it was spotlight city when Powers was thrown into the deep end of the pool while giving a speech in front of some of the industry’s heaviest hitters.
His message was succinct, but the appreciation Powers has for people that were instrumental in his development — Debbie Kenyon, Mike Thompson, Tom Bigby — was apparent. In our conversation just prior to the Summit, Powers revealed the best decision and the biggest mistake he’s made during his programming career. The Marietta, Georgia, native mentioned the peer that he admires the most in sports radio. We also saved some time to talk about the Detroit Lions, Georgia football and balancing birthday parties with networking. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: I read a quote this morning from Albert Einstein. It said “life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance you must keep moving”. I thought that was interesting; how do you keep moving as a programmer?
Jimmy Powers: I don’t think you have time to stop or stand still. As everything evolves in the industry and just different ways, I think you really don’t have time to sit still. I think it’s important to try to — and I know that sounds weird — it goes against what Einstein said. What does that guy know anyway, right?
JP: But he’s absolutely right. You can’t sit still and just sit back and wait, but at the same time, there are times when you have to carve out time, especially as a programmer, and step away from your desk. I have a thing that I do, I try to do it once a week, and that’s just hop in the car and drive around. Your commute is one thing, but a lot of times you’re taking calls. It’s important because we’re getting pulled in so many different directions that you don’t have time sometimes to actually listen to your station as a listener would. I try to carve out time and block off my calendar so I’m not taking phone calls or answering emails, and I’m just consuming the radio station to see what it sounds like from a consumer standpoint.
BN: Have you had a chance to attend the Summit before?
JP: No, this is actually my first time and the timing couldn’t be better. Obviously, I’m honored to be recognized. But this is the first year that it hasn’t coincided with — so I have two girls — and both of my daughters’ birthdays are in March. Ever since Jason put this together, it always fell on one of their birthdays or parties. I’m a family guy first and foremost. So when he told me the day, I wasn’t sure if I could do it or not. Then he told me the dates and it’s after all my daughter’s birthday party celebrations, all that fun stuff. This is the first year of all the years that it hasn’t coincided with something they have going on.
BN: That’s good. I’m glad the timing worked out where you don’t have to say “Sorry, girls, I’m getting a big award this year.”
JP: [Laughs] No kidding. They wouldn’t understand it. It’s all about them. They’re two girls and they’re young, so I’m glad it worked out for both of us.
BN: What does it mean to you to be honored with the Mark Chernoff Award that you’ll be receiving?
JP: I’m very grateful. Obviously, I don’t shoot for awards or anything like that. I just try to stay in my lane and focus on what’s important to me, and that’s creating good radio and generating ratings and revenue in the market. When Jason [Barrett] called me and told me about it, I was just kind of dumbfounded, really. I was shocked and honored at the same time. As I mentioned before, the fact that you put that in the mix in the same sentence with Chernoff and yeah, it’s pretty cool.
BN: What’s the best decision you’ve made over your programming career?
JP: Wow, great question. Damn, that’s good. I think taking the advice of your talent sometimes because as a programmer, we’re not always right. And I’m not going to claim to know everything and have all the right answers. I think being a good listener to talent, it doesn’t mean they’re always going to be right, but you’ve got to believe in those guys. I think the trust in talent because they may have a different finish line, or an end goal of what the topic may be.
When we’re talking topics and things like that, it’s like “Well, wait a minute, they can have a payoff and really that hook at the end of it”. So it’s really trust in your talent and listening to them. Look, they’re better at that than I am when it comes to actually delivering those types of things. Just trust, I would say, having the trust in the people because let’s be honest, they wouldn’t be on the station if you didn’t trust in them anyway. I think just being a good listener and having trust in your talent.
BN: What’s the biggest mistake that you made throughout your career that you might have learned a lot from?
JP: I would say not taking risks sometimes, trying to play it safe. Nothing’s really bit me in the ass if you will, and excuse my French. I think sometimes we can take more risks because we’re not going to bat a thousand. I think there’s opportunities sometimes that you miss and you didn’t jump on because there is a small window of certain things that you could do. That’s playing off topics and stories and things like that. I think just at times not taking a risk.
BN: There are titles for these Q&As. I can just see it now, Jimmy Powers Hasn’t Been Bitten in the Ass. I love that title.
JP: [Laughs] Well, I have, trust me I’ve got plenty of situations personally and professionally, but not devastating in the professional world. You do have to calculate risk because here’s the thing, as we all know, what we do is under the microscope. It’s not like a normal job where if you make a mistake, there’s three people, or maybe two people, even one person knows about it. If we make a mistake, everybody knows about it. It’s in the media, the listeners know, so you do have to kind of assess the risk factor. But you also have to take risks at times.
BN: What would those risks be pertaining to?
JP: It’s slippery, right? Depending on your relationships, and I think of topics and coaching situations, and strictly for format reasons, you have partnerships with teams and clients even. Sometimes there’s a fine line you can walk it up to, and it’s obviously my job to make sure the talent doesn’t take it over that line. It’s really pushing the envelope when performance of teams, things like that, where the fans aren’t dumb. Especially in our market, Detroit’s a great sports town and the fans are passionate. They want winners. They’ve had success in some sports, but not all of them. Not letting the teams off the hook sometimes. A lot of the times, it may not be the coaching staff, it could be ownership.
That’s the risk, you have to be careful because trying to be transparent on the air and really assess the situation and why something happened, that’s where you have to walk a fine line to not overstep the boundaries because of partnerships and things like that. We have all four pro sports teams. It’s a juggling act of being overly critical, but yet extremely fair, because that’s how we approach any topic that maybe doesn’t sit well with teams.
BN: Is that a little bit like dating four girls at the same time?
JP: [Laughs] Well, that’s a loaded question. Not really. Obviously because they’re seasonal, there’s a little bit of overlap. We have great relationships with the teams. They understand that based on the time of the season, when things happen, we can’t avoid it. They understand that it’s a juggling act for us, andwhat’s top of mind that particular day is what’s going to get airtime, if you will.
BN: I’m really interested in what it’s like managing relationships with pro organizations because I don’t have experience with that. There are a lot of people in sports radio that just don’t deal with situations like that and have no idea what it’s like. How would you describe what it’s like, the good and the bad of trying to maintain those relationships?
JP: Well, for the most part it’s just like any other relationship. You’ve got to have trust in one another. You’ve got to have a cordial relationship; it doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. Trust me, we go round and round with all the teams at some point in the calendar year because of things that my guys say on the air. But again, I use the word fair, nothing’s personal so you just have to be fair.
If it’s all on the field of play, or things that are just not going well, the teams aren’t going to be happy a lot of times. But it works the other way too, the understanding from the team perspective that performance does dictate what we talk about. My counterparts with the teams understand that this isn’t personal, we’re all fans and we want the teams to do well, so when they’re not doing well and we have to come after them for performance on the field, that’s where you have to be measured. We’re going to butt heads and disagree, but at the end of the day, we have the conversation between both parties. As long as we’re responsible on the air, then I can defend my guys and say “Look, I’m sorry you disagree with us but it’s what we have to talk about.”
BN: Are you kind of like an agent? You’re the buffer between the two sides: talent and the organizations?
JP: Yeah, I never thought of it that way. I guess in a way, for sure. Yeah, I would say that’s a fair way of looking at it. I always defend our guys if we’re playing within the rules that are set. Then just on the flip side of that, there’s times when there’s something off the field that has been really, really concerning that we have stayed away from. And you know how talent is, they have resources and they know things that happen off the field that may not be quite made public, and we know for a fact that happened, but again, out of being responsible, we avoid bringing that up because it’s not the right thing to do.
BN: If you could magically make all the teams successful in your area, which two teams would do the most for your station’s ratings?
JP: Oh, my God, without a doubt, the Lions. If the Lions won the Super Bowl, put it this way, if the Lions even made it to the NFC Championship game, I mean, this town would go absolutely bonkers. Keep in mind they’ve only won one playoff game in 50 years. And they haven’t had a home playoff game, I don’t think in their lifetime. Without a doubt, if they ever made it to the Super Bowl, there’d be a parade from Southern Michigan all the way up to the U.P., which is about eight hours away. There’d be a parade that would run forever and it would be amazing. And then second would be the Tigers, no doubt about it. Their last World Series, they made it in ’12, got swept by the Giants. But the last title was in ‘84, so it’s been, what, 40 years?
BN: It’s hard to believe because I’m from South Bend, Indiana, and Notre Dame football’s last championship was ‘88. Metallica’s Black album was ‘91. It feels like “Ehh, it wasn’t that long ago”. No, that was a long freakin time ago. You start thinking Notre Dame and the Tigers, that’s was a long time ago, man.
JP: And with the history and then just a tradition, then you’re like, wow, that’s been a long time. Hey, trust me, I know the feeling, I’m a Georgia fan. It was 40+ years, and they finally won the one two years ago. Then it’s been a nice little run since, so I know what you mean. As a kid, I’ll never forget the championship in ‘80, but man, you’re just like “Wow, that was a long time ago”. Then thankfully, they’ve turned the page on it. Yeah, things are good right now down there.
BN: Oh yeah, you’re living the good life right now.
JP: [Laughs] Hey, but as we all know that can dry up and be another 40 years in no time.
BN: That’s right, can be. What would you say is the toughest part of your job?
JP: I think buying time. I think there’s so many things that go on now that it’s a time issue. Just prioritizing the things that are important without neglecting the little things too, which can be conversations with people that are on staff. It’s just managing enough time. I’m a big fan of mentoring the new guys that are just getting in the business because we’ve all been there. Unfortunately, that sometimes gets neglected because of other things that are pressing and comes across as like you don’t care. I try not to make that come across that way, but it’s reality and it’s just not fair. I just think it’s a time thing just because so many different things are on your plate these days.
BN: What would you say is the most enjoyable part of your job?
JP: Sit back, listen to the radio station. When these guys are clicking, when there’s things going on in the market and these guys are having fun, but yet they’re dialed into what matters. And look, they’re not always right. But when they’re clicking, you can hear it coming through the speakers. I think that’s just very enjoyable because you know that if you’re entertained by it, hopefully everybody else is as well. So I just think when things happen and we’re on it, it’s really enjoyable because you can just sit back and listen to what’s going on.
BN: Of your peers in sports radio, who do you admire the most?
JP: Well, Mike Thomas was one that, obviously his role has changed, his ability to do what he has done in Boston and BZ. I think with his background too from where he came from, and what he did, and the success that he had, he’s one that I really admire. Just phenomenal with what he did. Obviously, just because his role has changed, but yeah, he’s definitely one most recently. Then, my mentor, who’s retired now was obviously somebody that I’m fond of and thought highly of, but the most recent would be, obviously, Mike Thomas.
BN: As you give your speech when you receive the Mark Chernoff Award, you’re going to be giving your speech in front of some of these people in the industry that you admire a lot. Have you worked on the speech, or are you just going to wing it when you get up there?
JP: You know, I’m not one for speeches. I’m sure it’ll be brief, to the point. Yeah, I absolutely will give some shout-outs, no doubt about it. But it’ll be probably something I think about on the way out there. It won’t be finely tuned, but hopefully, it comes across well and I get my point across.
BN: Yeah, it’s funny. It’s kind of like a fish out of water, where, you’re a programmer. And now all of a sudden, for a little bit of time, you’re an on-air guy when you receive that award.
JP: [Laughs] And there’s a reason why I’m not on air, right? I’m not a guy that really likes the spotlight. It’s really an uncomfortable situation for me. It’s not something I want, the spotlight on me, I want it tobe on the guys. So yeah, it’s a little like you said, fish out of water for sure.
BN: I know this is your first time at the Summit, but I’m sure you’ve gone to other conferences and certainly networked and all of that. For someone in sports radio that’s wanting to progress their career, especially for someone that’s young, why would you say it’s important to be there?
JP: Oh, my God, I think just to hear the different panelists, speakers. Having, like you said, been to other conferences, I date back to the Rick Scott days, the networking is invaluable. I think the people that are there have hundreds of years of experience and can speak to things that these guys are unaware of, and kind of fine-tune skill sets and things like that, the takeaways from it. But I think the biggest thing is the relationship building. That’s the biggest thing. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
I’ve heard great things from cohorts that have been out there, and they rave about it. But at the same time getting back and face-to-face and seeing some of these guys I haven’t seen in years. I talk to themover the phone, but to see them in person again, and just the sidebar conversations, and the takeaways can be enormous for especially a young person that may not know many people, but they get a chance to meet these guys. I think it’s extremely valuable.
BN: This might sound like a loaded question, I swear it is not. The day you get your award and make your speech, if afterward you could ask one person who will be at the Summit to grab dinner with you, who would you choose and why would you choose them?
JP: Well, from what I just saw, probably Al Michaels. Yeah, for sure. Just obviously he’s a legend. He’s one of the best that has ever done the job. The Miracle on Ice thing is just one of those that always will be in our historical aspect of one of the greatest sports accomplishments ever. So I think the stories from that guy would be amazing. I think that would be probably the top of the list.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coaches & News Conferences Don’t Have To Be So Boring
“It is a recent phenomenon that the public even sees a full news conference. Now that they do, though, they get to see how the sausage is made…and it’s pretty boring.”
I couldn’t possibly count how many news conferences I have watched or attended in my career. It would be like counting each individual pine tree you pass while driving a two lane country road. Eventually, every tree and news conference looks the same. You would just end up losing count and interest.
Most news conferences contain ten times the recommended daily amount of cliches and safe answers. There’s the occasional oasis in the desert of “one game at a time” answers that restores faith in the existence of a non-cookie cutter news conference. Often, those hopes are quickly reeled back in by the coach that would rather have his teeth pulled out one by one than show even an iota of personality in an answer.
I get that the purpose of a news conference is to get the answers to the pertinent questions facing a coach or his team at that given moment. The view inside a news conference that the general public is given is rare. It is like a live look-in at the accounting firm’s weekly staff meeting (and, often just as exciting).
It is a recent phenomenon that the public even sees a full news conference. Now that they do, though, they get to see how the sausage is made…and it’s pretty boring. The fan of the team gets to see how the quote of their coach is edited down from the 90 second soliloquy to the 20 second “money quote”.
Here’s the thing; there is no law mandating every question has to be the boring, run of the mill roster spot question. The reason they are is that most of these news conferences are a race against time by media members that cover the team on a daily basis to gather as much information as possible. It is a race against time because the head coach will not stand at the podium all day. He’d rather be anywhere else.
It is in that environment that a member of the media risks raising the ire of their colleagues by asking a coach if they could be one movie character in all of history, who would they choose? Can you imagine Bill Belichick, unlikely as it may be, explaining why he’d choose to be Michale Corleone from The Godfather? Instead, he is mumbling a non-answer on any variety of positional battles in Patriots practice.
Last week in the news conferences leading up to Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament game against Providence, Wildcats coach John Calipari was asked about not taking the North Carolina State job because of bad Raleigh, North Carolina pizza. The story, originally told by former Calipari assistant Josh Pastner, was relayed by WSJS’s Josh Graham. The ensuing answer, far from a knee slapper, showed some personality from Calipari. He informed the reporter the pizza was from Mellow Mushroom and it was not why he passed on the Wolfpack.
Calipari is a guy not afraid to show a little personality, in fact, he is a very big personality. It is not uncommon to see a news conference clip from him that is beyond the normally mind numbing coach speak. This is the guy that had a press conference interrupted once by Temple coach John Chaney trying to fist fight him. It would be nice to randomly see that from other coaches across sports.
Imagine if we discovered most coaches were actually funny people who didn’t mind not being robots 24/7? It would be like dropping a rock in your driveway only to have it break into pieces revealing gold dust on the inside. We could inadvertently stumble into a whole new realm of news conferences. I mean, the breakdown down of the two deep at the offensive guard spots might not get discussed in excruciating detail but, maybe, we find Andy Reid’s go to burger patty seasoning.
What we may discover is that our audience actually likes that kind of thing. It doesn’t mean Reid, or any other coach, never gets to tell us it is one week at a time and they’ve moved on from last week’s game. There will be plenty of that kind of talk, it is in their DNA. We could only hope the fun stuff gets seasoned in.
It will take a member of the media that doesn’t mind ruffling the feathers of some of the old school writers who wear mustard stained shirts and Sansabelt slacks. Those guys devour the coach speak of the week one two deep. They’ll ostracize the media member who “doesn’t take this seriously enough”. Deep down inside, though, I think they’ll give it a laugh, heck they may even use it in their content. When that day comes, you’ll thank me for this idea. Then you can go right back to the battle for the back-up spot at the left corner.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.