To say that Greg Papa has experienced a lot during his Bay Area broadcasting career, is sort of like saying an otter has a lot of experiences involving water. In other words, Papa has done a ton. Outside of the San Jose Sharks, he’s the only guy in history to call games for the other five Bay Area teams.
Just look at his play-by-play resume as the voice of multiple teams in Northern California:
San Francisco 49ers – since 2019
San Francisco Giants – 7 years
Golden State Warriors – 11 years
Oakland A’s – 14 years
Oakland Raiders – 21 years
Somehow, Greg Papa managed to be the voice of the San Antonio Spurs for three years as well. And beyond play-by-play, Papa did a lot of studio work including pre and postgame shows for the Warriors and Giants. He’s also been a full-time sports radio host for the past 11 years. When does the man sleep?
His sports radio career began briefly during the NBA lockout in 1999 as a fill-in for Gary Radnich. Later in 2011, Jason Barrett approached Papa about joining 95.7 The Game. He initially hosted shows on a part-time basis, but later took on a full-time role, one he’s been in for over a decade now. Papa and John Lund currently host the 10a-2p midday show on KNBR.
As you’ll gather in our conversation, Greg Papa is a really interesting guy with truckloads of amazing experiences. From Al Davis wanting to hire him as Raiders GM, to accidental MF bombs and the story behind his signature “touchdown San-Fran-ciscooooo” call, Papa shares some awesome details. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: How would you describe what it was like to get fired but then immediately land on your feet?
Greg Papa: Oh, it’s traumatic. I got fired by the Warriors, the A’s, and the Raiders. I remember the first time when the Warriors let me go. That was because of my work with the Raiders. There was so much Raider talk in ‘97 and the Warriors got pissed.
I was literally fired by the Warriors and one day later Don Nelson calls me and says, ‘How do you feel about going to San Antonio? Gregg Popovich wants to hire you there.’ That was in October. The Spurs were already in training camp.
So I was fired for like a day, and then Pop called me and said, ‘Do you want to come to San Antonio?’ I said, ‘Sure’. That was an amazing experience. My family loves San Antonio.
Then when the A’s fired me, I remember my boss at NBC Sports Bay Area, Ted Griggs, called me. Literally, when they called to tell me I was done with the A’s, I got a call five minutes later saying sit by your phone, Larry Baer is going to call you. And the Giants hired me. That was like literally 10 minutes later.
Then when I lost the Raiders job, Bob Sargent called me and set up a coffee meeting for like a week later. We wound up going out for coffee for eight hours. He had this whole plan to bring me over to the Niners. It was pretty amazing. One was one day later, one was 10 minutes later, one was a week later. I was fortunate that the trauma of being told we don’t want you anymore was alleviated almost immediately by, ‘Do you want to come work for us?’ It was pretty amazing.
BN: What would you say has been your wildest experience? Is it what you just explained, or is it something else in your broadcasting career?
GP: Well, those were all amazing experiences, but I have to say it was the time that Al Davis reached out to me about working for him directly and being the general manager of the Raiders. We talked about that for a long time, for many, many years, ’06, ’07, ’08, ’09, all the way until he died. That was kind of a weird time in my life where I had to weigh getting out of broadcasting completely and going to work for him.
I was never going to be the GM because Al was the GM of the Raiders while he was alive, but he wanted to groom me to take over for him in that role and work next to him in the Raider front office after Bruce Allen and Mike Lombardi left. He had a falling out with Al. That was probably the wildest time in my life for those years, ’06 to the time he died in October 2011, where he wanted me to come work with him at the Raiders.
BN: What did you think about Al wanting you to do that?
GP: I thought long and hard about it for years, every day and night and actually backed off of broadcasting for a long time to make myself available. It would have been fascinating. It would have been challenging because he’s a challenging man, but I loved him. He was like a second father to me. We got along so well because I never did work for him. I think if I would’ve gone to work for him, I probably would have gotten fired in a week because we would have fought. But it would have been fascinating. I wish I had the opportunity.
It probably would’ve been a little bit of career suicide to take a job like that because Al wound up dying and Mark came in and he’s still changing things. Look at what he’s doing now. He fired a head coach and a general manager a year and a half into a six-year contract. So I don’t know what kind of contract I would’ve gotten. [Laughs] I dream about it all the time. Sometimes I think that really was my calling. I think the longevity of it would have been a real risk, but it was something I was willing to do because who gets the opportunity to have that chance?
I reached out to Bruce Allen. Bruce was an agent before Al hired him. He gave me the background on a lot of people whether it was Scotty Stirling or Ron Wolf. They didn’t come from the background as a player or a coach to be in a front office. Other people have done it and have had success, so I wish I’d had the chance. It may not have given me the career longevity, but at that time I wasn’t after that. I was after a challenge. As far as the most interesting career path that I did not take, or was not afforded to me, that was certainly the time. Those five years that Al was talking to me about coming to work for him directly.
BN: What’s it like to manage your time between play-by-play and sports radio?
GP: Yeah, it’s challenging. It’s just doing all the different things I do around it. It was really hard, I did all three sports overlapping. I did the Warriors games for a while, then I added the Raiders, then the A’s, and then did the Spurs. I was doing the three sports simultaneously and in different cities. I was living in San Antonio and doing the A’s and the Raiders. What I didn’t factor in was the overlap. Three times a year, for two months, the teams play simultaneously. That’s really the hard part. I only could do that for three years and then I couldn’t do it anymore. It was just difficult.
Now, I would do sports talk radio all day long whether it was 10-2 or noon-3, then at night I’d be on TV doing Warriors and Giants pre and postgame shows until midnight. That was hard. That was wearing me down, but I was younger then. Now, I don’t know how I did it. Now, it’s just sports talk radio 10-2 and then the 49ers on the weekend, which is hard enough because I work Monday through Friday. Then when Friday night comes, at two o’clock I’ve got to get ready for a football game. So I’m thinking, “Wow, what am I doing?”
It helps that I don’t sleep, I literally sleep four or five hours a night. I wake up all hours of the night and I can multitask. But sometimes I wonder what the hell am I doing? [Laughs] Why am I doing this? To pay the bills and get my kids through school. I have twins. My son is a sophomore at Santa Clara law school. So I’m just trying to get him through that.
Believe it or not, the schedule I have now is the easiest that I’ve had. Now I’m not doing TV at night for Warriors and Giants which makes it easier. But it doesn’t seem like the schedule is lighter at all. I kind of wonder “How the hell did I do all that?” I was younger, in better shape to get through it. Now that I’m old and tired, I can barely get through the day and crawl into bed at eight o’clock at night.
BN: I just think about all those hours and running low on sleep, can you think of a time when you made a big mistake on the air?
GP: Well, I mean, I’ve said motherf—er on the air a couple of times.
BN: [Laughs] Have you really? Oh, man.
GP: Some have been when I didn’t know my mic was hot. I think there’s a lot of times when I critique myself and I think, “Wow, that was a sloppy mistake. I shouldn’t have said that or shouldn’t have done that”. I could blame it on being tired and doing too much, but I’ve made a lot of errors on the air.
Not the egregious one where you say something and get fired over it. I’m hopefully never going to do that. But that’s the fear you have is that you say something just out of the realm and inappropriate that it’s over. I don’t think I’m going to do that, but you never know.
I’m hard on myself. I go back and listen to every 49er game that I broadcast. I try to listen to everything just to see how it came off. There are times where you think “Why did he say that?” Sometimes it’s just there aren’t enough hours in the day to get ready to do all of this. Maybe I was tired and traveling, but you can’t use that as an excuse.
Vin Scully was 83 years old and that guy hardly ever made a mistake to the end. Marv Albert went right to the end. The guys that I grew up idolizing did it at the highest level all the way till they were done. But there are times where you think to yourself, “Well, I hope nobody heard that”. [Laughs] Whatever the reason, you wear yourself too thin and you make a sloppy mental mistake because you’re just tired, or because of travel, or I didn’t get to bed until four in the morning and I’ve got to get back on the radio in a few hours. That does happen. But if I can’t do the job there are hundreds of people looking to take the job. So I can’t use that as an excuse.
BN: How did your signature call “touchdown San Francisco” come about?
GP: Well, I didn’t even know what the call was going to be. I never really had a signature home run call in baseball. I never had a basketball call. The Raider call evolved over time as a homage to the great Bill King. Bill’s call was touchdown Raiders. Then I stretched it out on some big ones. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the 49ers for so long.
Initially, I thought it was going to be a homage to Don Klein, the great Niner announcer. When I got to the Bay Area in the mid-‘80s, his call was touchdown 49ers. That preseason, my dad died right when I was getting ready to do my first 49er game. And my dad’s name is Frank. The city is named after St. Francis of Assisi, which is Frank, my dad’s name. He died right in August of that year, late July. We were playing the Chiefs in the preseason. It was the third preseason game. In the preseason I do television, so I wasn’t going to do a long touchdown call on TV. It was strictly going to be a radio call.
I was listening to Mitch Holthus, the great voice of the Chiefs. His call is “Touchdown Kan-sas-City!”, and it dawned on me, “What if I didn’t say 49ers, but I made the call San Francisco?” It was easier to say after touchdown, like “touchdown Raiders”, “touchdown San Francisco”, and have it be a tribute to my dad, St. Francis and Frank Papa. So the touchdown call came for all those reasons and it just dawned on me. I thought about it a long time and how I was going to do it and that’s what I came up with. And I like it. Hopefully, people like it too.
GP: Respect. Mutual respect. We like each other. I obviously work very hard to do what I do. I remember the first time I was working with John when we started together, I think it was August 1, 2011 when Jason Barrett put us together. I remember doing a show with him. We got done and I was doing Giants pre and post on TV.
We get off the air and then a half hour later I see him sitting on the Giants dugout bench next to Bochy. And I’m like, “What are you doing here?” He was getting audio for the next day’s show. John just works. He works hard and he knows how to set me up. He knows the things that I like to talk about. And then we have fun. We went out a lot then and partied together, drank, hung out.
John pretends like he’s much younger than me but he’s not. He is younger than me but not much younger. Our references and our likes, our music, hanging out and partying and drinking and acting a fool, we just kind of hit it off. He’s fun. We’ve gone through it in our lives with family stuff. It’s just real and I respect him.
The bottom line is he’s a friend of mine, so on the air, I think it comes across that way where we are friends, we are contemporaries. We have similar interests. We look at things the same, but then at the same time, we look at things differently. He’s had a different background than I have. We’re from different parts of the world.
We’ve been through it. I’ve lost my mom and dad. I was with him the day his dad died. He went on the air 10 minutes after his dad died. His family situation and raising kids, we’ve kind of grown up together. We’ve been together a long time. I think the bottom line is we like each other. We hang out together off the air when we can and we respect each other. I think that’s why it works and hopefully it comes across that way on the air.
BN: What still drives you? You could say, “Hey man, this grind is too much. I’m going to scale back.” What still drives you to grind the way that you do?
GP: Money? Bottom line, money. If I didn’t have to put my last kid through law school and pay the bills; if they could just send me the money, Brian, and I could stay at home and drink and party all day, I could do that. If you could go do the games and do the talk show, and they just send me the checks, I’m good. The bottom line is US currency. I’ve got a lot of creditors I have to deal with.
BN: So what would happen if you buy a scratch-off lottery ticket tonight and win big? Are you doing the next Niners game?
GP: [Laughs] No, I’m going to make an offer to the DeBartolos and the Yorks and buy the team. That’s what I want to do. No, you know where I am right now? I’m off, I just finished the radio show. I’m at a bar called the Canyon Inn, in Redwood City, which I’ve heard about. I’ve never been, and I’m going to go in there and have a beer and a burger and hang out with Niner fans and soak it up a little bit. That’s the first minute that I’m off on my mini vacation and I’m going to go there and watch some sports. I love sports, I would be watching somewhere.
It’s not pressure, but the responsibility of watching it and having to report on it, or call it, or talk about it gets a little bit tiresome sometimes. But what drives me is I love it. So here I am. The first minute I have time off, I could be doing something else, but right now I just want to have a beer and a burger and hang at the Canyon Inn.
Honestly, if they didn’t pay me to do this, I would be doing it anyway. So don’t tell them. I do need the money. It’s a labor of love, it’s what I love to do, and fortunately, they’ve been able to pay me all these years to do it.
*** This interview was conducted prior to KNBR announcing Adam Copeland as the station’s new program director.
Julian Edelman Has Been FOX’s NFL Breakout Star
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments.
He was a key member of the NFL’s last true dynasty, a children’s book author, a regular talking head on NFL Network’s America’s Game anthology, an actor in the film 80 for Brady, and a multimedia favorite. And oh yeah, he is third all-time in the NFL for postseason receptions and was the MVP of Super Bowl LIII. He is Julian Edelman.
These days he answers to a new calling – a rising star on FOX’s excellent NFL commentator roster. Edelman, who retired in 2020 after 12 seasons as a wide receiver with the New England Patriots, has logged impressive recent stints on FS1’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
Edelman has been an unexpected jewel in FOX’s football crown, providing behind-the-scenes, players-only insight in a casual and humorous style. On a recent edition of The Herd, Edelman’s talent was on full display.
In a discussion about Patriots’ signal caller Mac Jones, Cowherd implied that it would have been easier for the Alabama QB if he had gone to a less intense environment with an offensive-minded head coach.
Edelman countered by referencing Josh Dobbs, who played great in his first start for the Vikings after being with the team for just a couple of days. Edelman stated, “If you’re a guy, you’re a guy,” meaning that good players adapt to any situation. He added, “This is the National Football League. If you don’t win, the quarterback and the head coach get the blame. This is a production business.”
One of the refreshing aspects of Edelman’s TV game is his candor. He was deeply rooted in the Patriot Way and benefitted from all it offered him, but he pulls no punches in talking about his former team.
He does not buy into the excuse that Mac Jones has had three different offensive coordinators in his three NFL seasons. Edelman stated that ex-Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ and current OC Bill O’Brien’s offensive schemes are essentially identical.
Edelman has an easy-going and free-wheeling nature about him. He’s a joy to watch, and he seldom wastes airtime with cliches and empty comments. He uses his strong connections to Tom Brady and other members of the NFL’s glitterati to his advantage, but he is not violating these friendships with kiss-and-tell BS.
In his young broadcasting career, Edelman has also embraced a rare quality among media personalities, namely, the courage to admit when he is wrong. He recently stated that he thought Texans’ quarterback CJ Stroud was going to be just another failed Ohio State quarterback joining the likes of Cardale Jones, Terrell Pryor, Troy Smith, and the late Dwayne Haskins.
Julian Edelman acknowledged his error and lauded Stroud for his performance and the Houston offensive staff for keeping it simple and allowing Stroud to flourish. He then made an accurate comparison between Stroud and Dak Prescott who had a similarly amazing rookie season in 2016. He also revealed that he and Tom Brady would sit and watch Prescott play during that season and marveled at his performance.
Such neat revelations have become commonplace for Edelman who also told Cowherd that Bill Belichick had different rules for different players. This goes against the accepted theory that Belichick coached all his players the same.
When asked about good and bad locker rooms, Edelman revealed that the 2009 Patriots had some “a-holes” on the team, “guys who had a lot of money and acted like they had a lot of money.”
He also regaled Cowherd with a funny story about former teammate and current ESPN analyst Tedy Bruschi. During his rookie season, Edelman made repeated contact with Bruschi during a team drill. After the play, Bruschi got in Edelman’s face and said, “If you ever touch me again, I’ll cut your arm off, Rook!”
In a subsequent discussion, Edelman was asked about how NFL players view Thursday night games. He said that the goal for players is to just get through the game and try to get the win. He called having a Thursday night game a “baby bye week” because of the extra prep time gained for the next week. Baby bye week – new lingo from a new age analyst.
Speaking of language, Julian Edelman may have created another new football term. He called the NFL games after Thanksgiving “cream season,” when the cream rises to the top and when football season truly starts. Edelman told Cowherd that this is when coaches raise the intensity in the building.
A week later, Edelman was a panelist on FOX’s NFL Kickoff. It was clear that the show’s producers and host Charissa Thompson were tuned into Edelman’s Herd appearance as they made his cream season line a theme of discussion.
Edelman picked the Ravens and Niners as his current cream teams and entertained Thompson and his fellow panelists with a few dairy-related puns. He was funny, saying that both these teams could end up becoming butter teams – even better than cream.
Edelman is unafraid to ruffle feathers, even if those feathers reside in Foxboro, MA. In discussing last week’s Patriots-Giants game, he boldly tweeted and stated on NFL Kickoff that the Patriots would be better off losing that game in order to get a better 2024 draft position.
If Julian Edelman has any flaws, it is that at times his analysis RPMs run into the red. In his discussion of last week’s crucial Jaguars-Texans game, he was visibly pumped up and spoke far too quickly even stumbling on some commentary. He recovered well and simply needs to slow down, trust his knowledge, and calculate his pace.
Edelman has made such an immediate impact that NFL Kickoff has even given him his own segment. It is called “The Nest” and his based on his children’s book Flying High, the story of Jules, a football-playing squirrel who is small in stature but big on heart and enthusiasm. Sound familiar?
Julian Edelman was joined in the nest by panelists Charles Woodson and Peter Schrager and provided a pretty cool analysis of current NFL wide receivers. He based his opinions on four attributes: sociability, aggressiveness, activity level, and boldness. Along the way, Edelman provide some unique commentary on the likes of Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, A.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs.
There is a rhythm to Edelman’s conversation. He is comfortable with his career, comfortable with himself, and comfortable on air. As a player, Julian Edelman was an unexpected star, a guy who parlayed personality, hard work, and hustle into a fantastic career. He is doing the same in media dishing out knowledge his way – brash, all-out, and with total abandon.
John Molori is a weekly columnist for Barrett Sports Media. He has previously contributed to ESPNW, Patriots Football Weekly, Golf Content Network, Methuen Life Magazine, and wrote a syndicated Media Blitz column in the New England region, which was published by numerous outlets including The Boston Metro, Providence Journal, Lowell Sun, and the Eagle-Tribune. His career also includes fourteen years in television as a News and Sports Reporter, Host, Producer working for Continental Cablevision, MediaOne, and AT&T. He can be reached on Twitter @MoloriMedia.
Mike Breen is Ready For Whatever The NBA Season Brings
“I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
Every time a new basketball season is on the precipice, there is a certain kind of enigma that permeates the landscape. Although he has been on basketball broadcasts for nearly three decades, Mike Breen still feels added nerves before donning the headset to call the NBA Finals. Last season, ESPN’s lead play-by-play voice called the 100th NBA Finals game of his broadcast career. In doing so, Breen became just the third basketball announcer on radio or television to attain such a feat.
When he first joined the broadcasts on ABC in 2006, Breen was stepping into the play-by-play role previously held by Al Michaels, working alongside color commentator Hubie Brown. He never could have imagined that the conclusion of the 2023-24 season would mark his 19th time calling the best-of-seven championship series and attributes his success to the people around him.
“There’s not a stage anywhere in the world big enough to hold that many people because that’s how many people have really been there for me and supported me and guided me and at times chastised me because you need people to always tell you the truth,” Breen said. “I’ve had an amazing set of teammates my entire life.”
For the last 18 NBA Finals broadcasts, Breen has worked alongside color commentator Jeff Van Gundy, a former head coach of the New York Knicks. Mark Jackson served as a color commentator as well for 15 of these series, taking a three-year detour to work as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. The broadcast trio was widely regarded as one of the best in basketball and frequently lauded for the strong chemistry they possessed on the air. Over the offseason though, Van Gundy and Jackson were laid off by ESPN as a part of cost-cutting measures by The Walt Disney Company. The decision disappointed Breen because of the bond he and his colleagues fostered and shared.
“We spent so much time together and we felt we had something special, and we were hoping that it was going to last longer, but nothing in this business lasts forever and that’s part of the business, and you have to figure that out and you move on,” Breen said. “Now the way I look at it is I’m just so grateful and honored that I had all that time sitting next to those two for so many big games over the years, but it’s hard when it ends.”
Breen is currently working with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers on ESPN’s lead NBA broadcast team. Broadcasting the NBA Finals, let alone sporting events as a whole, was never in his mind though; that is, until he was told by family friend and former New York Tech radio staffer Tony Minecola to consider going into the industry as a sportscaster.
Recognizing that he would not succeed as a professional athlete because of a lack of skill or as a doctor because of a lack of passion, Breen chose to major in broadcast journalism at Fordham University, immediately joining the campus radio station. Over his four years matriculating at the institution, he prioritized versatility and contributed to sports, news, talk and music programming.
“When you leave college and you have tape résumés and experience of being on the air on a live 50,000-watt station, it really gives you a great perspective of what it’s like to be in the business,” Breen said. “It’s kind of a great way to figure out, ‘Okay, is this something you like? Is this something you have a chance to be good at?’”
Ed Ingles, the former sports director of WCBS 880, helped instantiate that mindset for Breen when he interned with him during his days in college. Aside from his delivery, Breen took notice of how he interacted with his colleagues and other people in the industry, always demonstrating professionalism and kindness. Ingles advised Breen to get out of his comfort zone, which proved to be invaluable when Breen started his first job out of school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. at WEOK-AM/WPDH-FM.
In his first year with the outlet, he would frequently attend school board meetings and county legislative sessions in order to collect 45 seconds of sound for the morning anchor to use on their program. Whereas at a sporting event, the game is oftentimes the primary story, Breen had to review the agenda and listen to the meeting to have an understanding of what is essential to the story.
“If you can cover a school board meeting that you know nothing about and do a good job on it, then you can certainly cover an NBA basketball game and figure out the storylines and the narratives and all those types of things,” Breen said. “It really made me a better sportscaster. I wasn’t just a sportscaster; I was a broadcaster.”
Breen eventually began calling Dutchess County High School basketball games and serving as an analyst on Marist College basketball broadcasts, all while working as the morning news anchor for the radio outlet. In balancing various different roles at once, Breen found himself on the air for six days a week for an entire year. The strenuous workload allowed him to enhance his skillset and ingenuity and have the confidence that he could make a career in the profession.
Through a connection he had with a classmate at Fordham University, Breen landed a part-time producing job on Jack Spector’s sports talk program, SportsNight, on WNBC. The commitment was initially for one day per week, but as Breen’s workload at the outlet increased, he was able to leave Poughkeepsie and focus on working in New York City. There was a dearth of sports talk programming at the time; that is until the summer of 1987 when WFAN launched on 1050 AM and introduced a new format to the medium.
“We were all sitting around the radio at WNBC thinking, ‘Okay, here comes our competition on the air,’” Breen remembered. “We were laughing, saying, ‘Oh, this is never going to make it. There’s no way this is going to make it,’ and it turns out that it was just the start of something that would completely change the radio industry.”
Ironically enough, WFAN moved to WNBC’s 660 AM frequency when General Electric sold several of its stations to Emmis Communications as part of a multi-station deal. Even though the station had transitioned to a new format, Don Imus kept his morning show on the airwaves, which Breen had been a part of starting a year earlier. His segments were filled with sound effects and jokes, giving him exposure within the marketplace and allowing him to penetrate beyond his comfort zone of traditional sports broadcasting and reporting.
“It wasn’t just your normal sports update,” Breen said. “It was something where you had to use your personality; you had to use your sense of humor [and] you had to use your writing skills, and it showed a little versatility and that was important.”
MSG Networks hired Breen in 1992 as the New York Knicks radio play-by-play announcer, and he assimilated into the role while keeping his spot on Imus in the Morning. In addition to adjusting to the pace of the NBA, he also refined his approach to calling games on the radio as opposed to television. Throughout this process, Breen thought about Marist play-by-play announcer Dean Darling and how he had called the games when they worked together.
“There are very few people – and there certainly are exceptions – but there are very few people who are instantly really good on the air,” Breen said. “It takes a while to hone your skills to figure out how you want to broadcast things if you have a certain style, and that’s the No. 1 thing is to get repetitions.”
When Marv Albert pleaded guilty to assault and battery in 1997, Breen was suddenly promoted to fill the role as the television play-by-play announcer for the team. Having listened to Albert call games for many years growing up, Breen knew the importance of appealing to the local audience in the New York metropolitan area. Many of the local play-by-play announcers in the locale grew up around the city, and he affirms that the knowledge and passion is discernible to consumers. Breen met New York Yankees television play-by-play announcer and ESPN New York radio host Michael Kay, who was a fellow student at Fordham University at the time, and discussed sports and broadcasting with him.
“He would tell me, ‘Oh, I’d love to be the Yankees announcer,’ and I’d say, ‘I’d love to be the Knicks announcer,’ and we would laugh at each other [like] two fools,” Breen said. “But I think because we were both New Yorkers and we both understood the New York fan because we were and still are New York fans, I think perhaps it gave us an edge because we knew what it’s like to live in New York and root for the teams in New York, and I think, or at least I hope, the fans can feel that.”
Albert returned to the Knicks telecast in 2000, prompting Breen to move back to radio broadcasts and work with John Andariese. At the same time, he began doing work for NBC Sports, including calling NBA games with Bill Walton and announcing ski jumping at the Olympic Games. When Albert was removed from the television broadcasts for being too critical of the team, Breen returned to the position and has held the role ever since.
“I tend to be old-school in that my job is to accurately describe what’s going on and also set up my partners and give them space and the lead-ins to make them excel,” Breen said. “The personality stuff, I think that comes – I hate to use the cliché – but it comes organically in terms of you’re doing the game. If something calls for you to react that involves more personality than actually broadcasting, then you do it and you have to find that balance.”
Every time Breen takes the air, he hopes that the consumers are able to see that he is prepared, enamored with the sport and enjoys working alongside his colleagues. From his days on the Knicks’ radio broadcasts, Breen has been paired with Walt “Clyde” Frazier for 25 seasons and understands how venerated the two-time NBA champion is within the city.
As the only member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and a broadcaster, Frazier strikes a chord with basketball fans and brings his credibility and proficiency to the airwaves every season. In addition, he always arrives in his signature flamboyant outfits and intersperses astute rhymes to the cadence on the hardwood.
“He’s managed to stay true to who he is, yet develop this unique on-air style that very few people have had, but the bottom line is yeah, there’s style, but there’s so much substance to what he says,” Breen explained,” and I think Knick fans love him because he tells it like it is, but at the same time, you can feel his love for the franchise.”
Since joining the NBA on ESPN broadcast team in 2003, Breen has balanced his local responsibilities with calling games at the national level. Throughout the season, he logs a considerable number of traveling miles and always puts his family first when he is not working. In fact, the reason he stopped calling other sports was not only to recharge over the summer, but also to spend time with his children.
By being absorbed in the NBA during the year, the preparation for the different types of broadcasts often overlaps. One thing he cannot prepare for, however, is the occurrence of a buzzer-beater or game-saving block.
“For me, I’ve always felt at a big moment, less is more for a broadcaster because your voice is not made [for] those high-intensity calls to go for 20 seconds,” Breen said. “Your voice can crack; who knows what else could happen, but when you make a good, strong concise call at a big moment and then let the crowd take over, I think that’s always been, for me, the best way to go.”
Although he derived his signature three-point call of “Bang!” while sitting in the stands at Fordham Rams games as a student, he did not think it worked on the air. But by the time he was calling a weekly high school basketball game for SportsChannel America, he noticed that the maelstrom of amplified sound within the gyms drowned out his voice during consequential moments. As a result, he resorted back to the monosyllabic exclamation and has stuck with it ever since.
“I’ve just been very careful about not overusing it,” Breen said. “I try to save it for big moments because if I was yelling, ‘Bang!,’ on every three-pointer, it would lose its luster, I believe.”
Breen will call NBA games from a new venue next week in Las Vegas, Nevada – T-Mobile Arena – when the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament reaches its conclusion and a champion is crowned. The Association introduced the single-elimination endeavor this year in an effort to further incentivize regular-season play and establish a new tradition.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that these In-Season Tournament games bring out a little extra in the players [and] in the fans, and we’re not even at the knockout round yet and this is only the first year,” Breen said. “….To have this kind of excitement in November and then early December, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Despite the NBA still being in its first half of the season, Breen feels encouraged by the broadcasts he has participated in thus far with Doris Burke and Doc Rivers. After all, he had worked with Burke on the first NBA game she ever broadcast and could tell how talented she was. Moreover, he has been friends with Rivers for over 30 years and speculated that he would be a broadcaster when he was finished playing and coaching.
The network’s lead broadcasting team will embark on a new challenge ahead of their first NBA Playoffs working together next Saturday, Dec. 9 when they broadcast the championship game of the NBA In-Season Tournament on ABC at 8:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. PST.
“It takes a while to get the on-air chemistry, and the three-person booth is not easy for the analyst because they have to figure out a way to still get all their points across with less time, and same thing for me and that’s part of it,” Breen said. “Everybody has to just find their niche, and so far they’ve been great. They’re not only great friends; they’re really talented broadcasters, and I’m really excited about the potential.”
Breen recently signed a four-year contract extension with ESPN that will keep him on the airwaves past the expiration of the network’s current media rights deal with the National Basketball Association. The rationale behind staying with the network had to do with the people at the company, avouching that it is a great place to work and how he is thrilled he will be allowed to stay longer.
“Clearly I’m hoping that they work out a deal and I’m fairly confident they will,” Breen said. “ESPN loves the NBA; the relationship between the league and ESPN has always been wonderful. So I’m rooting hard for them to say ‘Yes’ and sign on the dotted line.”
In 2021, Breen was honored as the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Media Electronic Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his excellence as a broadcaster, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a basketball announcer. Even with various accolades to his name though, Breen’s mission each year is to get better with every broadcast. Complacency and apathy are out of bounds as he lives out a lifelong dream and strives for an outstanding performance no matter the situation.
“You have days where you’re not feeling well; you’ve had a tough travel day; you’ve got issues going on in your life, but then you sit down at half court and they throw the ball up the opening tip,” Breen illustrated. “There’s an adrenaline there that has never gone away.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. 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.
How Radio Sellers Can Beat the ‘What’s In It For Me’ Question
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned — that we don’t answer essential questions.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of talking about technical features and company achievements with radio advertising prospects without considering the essential question: “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) from the client’s perspective.
We often get caught up in showcasing the bells and whistles of our stations—the audience reach, the sophisticated technology, and the awards we’ve earned.
However, the heartbeat of successful sales isn’t just about these features, it’s about translating them into tangible benefits that directly address the needs and challenges of our potential clients. Here are some common pitfalls in our sales approaches and strategies to get prospects to listen to “WIFM”.
Focusing Solely on Product Features
We all sometimes get caught up in detailing our radio stations’ technical specs and features without translating those features into tangible benefits for the prospect. We love to point out that our all-sports station is on AM and simulcast on digital FM.
We need to connect them directly to the prospect’s needs or problems, which might result in a disconnect.
Instead, we could say that we reach two audiences for the price of one. 45-65-year-olds are on AM, and 25-44-year-olds are on FM. More bang for your buck!
Talking About Company Achievements
While our station won the “Best radio station in XYZ town” award from the local media, which might be impressive, prospects are often more concerned about how these accolades directly benefit them.
We need to bridge the gap between our survey win and how our listeners are proud of listening to the station and will trust the recommendations we give our listeners when it comes to buying from our prospect.
Not tailoring the pitch to suit the prospect’s specific needs or pain points is a huge miss. When we use generic, one-size-fits-all approaches, we miss the opportunity to highlight how their product or service addresses the prospect’s unique challenges or goals.
Don’t tell a car dealer he needs to sell more new cars when he wants more used sales and service business.
Failure to Listen Actively
Sometimes, we focus too much on delivering our deck without actively listening to the prospect’s concerns or desires.
Pay attention to the prospect’s feedback or cues, and maybe even ask them if anything has changed before you start the presentation.
Forget About “Across the Street”
Constantly highlighting how your station is superior to competitors without explaining how it benefits the prospect is counterproductive.
For example, if your station does a limited number of endorsements, tell the prospect they will stand out amongst the other advertisers better cause they are part of a select few live endorsements.
Prospects want to know why your idea is right for them, not just that it’s better than your competition.
What’s the ROI?
A sales pitch that doesn’t explicitly outline the return on investment (ROI) or demonstrate the value the prospect stands to gain falls short.
Running spots can outrun ‘turtle-like’ positive word of mouth or Google reviews, like the Roadrunner. Tell them that.
Too Much TSL or CPM talk
Using industry jargon without explaining its relevance to the prospect’s situation can create confusion or disinterest. Don’t pitch TSL. Tell them they can run fewer spots that have more impact. Your efficient CPM demonstrates that radio can compete with any ad medium and won’t waste money.
Communicate in a language that resonates with the prospect, making the benefits clear and understandable.
No Hit and Run
Our engagement doesn’t end with the initial pitch. Don’t forget to follow up and give them ongoing support and assistance to address any concerns or questions post-sale. By showing them you are in it for them, they will feel valued.
In the sports radio ad sales game, it’s not just about announcing your stats and shoutouts; it’s about hitting a home run with benefits that score with our clients. If our pitch doesn’t answer “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM), we might end up with the L.
So, dive into our clients’ playbook, check their needs, and deliver a play that makes them cheer for you and your station. Tackle the “WIFM” challenge head-on, and don’t worry about targeting so much.
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at [email protected] or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.