To really understand how something works, you might need to take it apart. My brother-in-law is a master electrician and a mechanical tech. When he was a kid, he would take apart all kinds of stuff and reassemble it. It gave him a deeper knowledge of how things fit together. Walker Mehl of WFNZ in Charlotte is basically the sports radio version of this.
He puts a lot of thought into how his show works, and how the listeners tie in as a result. He’ll think, why did this segment work? What can work even better? Why are people listening? What’s getting them to tune in or tune out? It’s a smart, analytical approach that gives Walker a deeper understanding of many aspects of his show. It also sets him up for more success going forward.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of Wes & Walker. Co-hosts Wes Bryant and Walker Mehl are developing more chemistry and finding a better rhythm the more they work with each other. Think the opposite of the Charlotte Hornets. (Sorry, cheap shot.)
Walker Mehl was born in Indianapolis but moved with his family to about an hour north of Charlotte when he was two years old. Along with his weekday show on WFNZ, he hosts the Locked On Hornets podcast and calls basketball games for Queens University of Charlotte. In the conversation below, Walker Mehl talks about his level of interest in sports radio compared to play-by-play. He also touches on having a producer’s mindset and not being a goal guy. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: You’re celebrating the one-year anniversary of Wes & Walker this week. What have been the peaks and valleys of the show over the first year?
Walker Mehl: I think what’s good is that Wes and me already knew each other. So when Jeff (Rickard, WFNZ Program Director) asked me about possibly teaming up with Wes, I said yeah. From my experience, knowing him, we had already gelled real well together. We had common interests. I had him on my show at ESPN 730 a couple of times. He would even be a weekly guest at times. We already had a pretty good familiarity with one another, developed some level of friendship, and had some level of chemistry already starting.
I think the peaks have been just knowing each other, finding that common interest, and figuring out what works well for us. We haven’t really had a lot of valleys, man. I don’t think we’ve had too many lows. I think, for the most part, we just all get along real well. I think we’ve found a nice workflow with one another, including our producer. I think it’s been going well over the last year and obviously hoping to build on that.
BN: What area do you think you’ve grown the most as a show, as a unit over the last year?
WM: I think for the most part we’re starting to figure out our flow of going back and forth where I’ll drive quite a bit of the time. It’s just finding the right time to drive a little more smoothly, just being a little bit more fluid. I think for the most part we’re starting to figure out when to have fun and when to focus and talk a little bit more about the Carolina Panthers.
It’s really been about the rhythm of the show that’s grown quite a bit. I think we’ve really grown upon that, where it’s just finding the right time on who needs to talk. If I’m driving, it’s when to kick it to Wes. I like having a community-based show, I like a ton of voices on, and I like Fitty, our producer chiming in quite a bit. We’ve been trying to find the right ratio with that. I think it’s just when to go to each voice.
I think we’ve grown quite a bit and started to figure that out because that’s hard. That’s hard to figure out every show. I think we’ve grown a lot in the last year of knowing when to talk and whose turn it is.
BN: What’s it like working for a PD like Jeff Rickard who also hosts a show?
WM: I actually had experience at the previous station with that, too. To me, this is kind of all I know to be honest. The program director also hosting a show, this is what I know. I’ve talked with people in the industry, though. I guess a lot of people don’t love that. I think the idea is that your program director shouldn’t be on-air because they should be listening to all the other shows and trying to figure out what works best, but this is what I know.
As far as working with Jeff, I think my favorite thing about Jeff is as soon as we had a good idea that I was going to be a co-host on the midday show, it was him telling us, “Hey, I’m going to give you suggestions, I’m going to talk about what might be a good idea, but this is your show and it has to be your show.”
I think, for the most part, he’s been pretty hands-off and letting us do what we wanted, letting us figure it out. Because if we’re not comfortable with it, then you can’t expect it to be a good product. That’s what I really enjoy.
I like to consider myself a pretty creative guy. I think coming from a producer background, that’s how you get started, right? Interning, producing, doing a lot of things behind the scenes, doing a lot of editing, putting together some imaging. I like the fact that he said, “Yeah, here’s your platform. We’ll talk during some meetings, whether it be post-show, but it’s going to be your show. You guys have free rein for the most part to do whatever you want.” That was what I liked so much on top of him just embracing us and being so welcoming, that was nice. But that was my favorite part about what Jeff was discussing as a program director for us.
BN: What’s your least favorite part? What do you hate about Jeff Rickard? This is a safe space. [Laughs]
WM: [Laughs] Oh, let me tell you about all the stuff I hate. No, look, one thing about Jeff, I love talking about the never-ending puzzle piece that is radio. I love what subconsciously makes listeners tune in to your show every day. It’s going to change the next day, and it’s going to change the next week. That’s what I love talking about. There are so many different things to discuss.
Radio is crazy, right? Hell, you know about it, it’s just trying to figure out what makes the listener continue to tune in to your show. Even if they don’t know about it, listeners might not be able to articulate what they like, but they’re not dumb. They know what they like and what they don’t, and they’re going to change it if they don’t like it. But you’ve got to try to figure it out to the point where even if they can’t articulate that to you, you’ve got to figure it out.
I think talking about that kind of stuff with Jeff has been really interesting. So yeah, clearly, it would benefit me not to say anything bad. Oh, he’s the best boss ever, there’s nothing wrong. But I really don’t have any complaints. There’s just nothing that I could say that would be like, yeah, that’s a real problem I have with Jeff. He’s been great. I really appreciate him giving me the opportunity and letting us just have our time to do whatever we want with the show for the most part.
BN: If you can think back to when you were a producer, did you find yourself thinking more times than not, “I like what this host is doing, and one day I’ll try to work that into my own style”? Or did you find yourself thinking “I wouldn’t do it like that, I’d do it a little bit differently if I’m able to be a host one day”?
WM: Yeah, this is the stuff I could talk about all day. I think both. I think one of the hardest things that sounds so simple, is being yourself on-air. Because so much of what you know, listening to radio, watching sports television is, oh, I love this person, I want to do exactly what they’re doing. Maybe early on, you try to imitate more so than be yourself and find your own lane, but draw inspiration from that person. You can’t just do copycat stuff.
For instance, I’m a huge fan of Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones. Those are a couple of people that I look up to. Even if I don’t listen to Colin Cowherd all that much, clearly, he’s very, very good at this. Dan Patrick, his inflections and his cadence, his interviewing. I do listen to a lot of different areas and I try to figure out, “Okay, I can’t copycat that, I can’t copy and paste it and do exactly what they’re doing.” But what sounds right, coming from me, drawing inspiration from them, maybe playing with whatever they’re doing that works so well for them.
It’s hard to try to figure that out. People will call you out for it. There was a time earlier in my career where I think I sounded too much like Dan Le Batard. I think there was a cadence that I rolled with and somebody said, “Man, you sound just like Dan Le Batard.” I was like, “You know, that’s probably not a great thing.” It’s a compliment, but it’s also you’ve got to try to figure out who you are.
I’ve done a lot better job at that. Even with working as a producer for certain hosts here in Charlotte. Yeah, there have been times where I’d like to steer it in this direction, or that’s not how I would’ve talked about it, or how I would’ve even acted with that topic. It’s the easy answer to say it’s both, but it really is. It’s both trying to figure out what works best for you.
BN: Do you see yourself more as a play-by-play guy?
WM: No, it’s funny you bring that up, man. I used to be interested in it a little bit. But I love talking about sports more so than I like having the play-by-play. Not even so much how tough it is, I just enjoy sports talk way more. You get to be way more creative. That’s, at the end of the day, what I love so much. I love putting together segments.
We were celebrating our birthday all day long. Before the show, I wanted to put together some of the best moments and have that playing all throughout the show. We did the Stevie Wonder birthday song in the background. I love putting together imaging. I love putting together segments. And with that producer background, being as fun, as creative as possible. I just don’t think play-by-play lends itself to that.
And I really don’t have any interest to be the voice of a team at all. I enjoy it, I do color work now for Queens. It’s fun to do it in those times, but as far as being the voice of a team and stepping away from sports talk, never. I would never want to do that as much.
BN: That’s cool, man. It’s funny, as soon as you say that, watch, all these play-by-play doors will magically open. And you’re going to be like, “Man, I just want to do sports radio.” [Laughs]
WM: That’s what I want to do. There’s a lot of people that love doing play-by-play. I enjoy it. I love a good play-by-play announcer, of course, I respect the hell out of the gig. I’ve got a ton of respect for those guys. Those guys are crazy good at what they do. I just have not gotten bit by the play-by-play bug.
Sports radio is by far what I’d like to do more just because I want to immerse myself in all the creativity possible. That’s what I love. And you’re just limited to that with play-by-play. So yeah, this is what I like doing. I’m doing it.
BN: Being a young guy, so much ahead of you, do you think more short-term or long-term when it comes to goals?
WM: I don’t have a great answer. You would think I’d have something better by now, but I think what I’ve kind of reduced my answer to is always move forward. I care about getting better every day. I really do. I care about what works for listeners, what works for me.
What I’ve reduced it to is always move forward. I don’t know if that means becoming a 15-year-long show in Charlotte. I love Charlotte. I’d love to stay here as long as I can, but I just have no clue what’s going to be on the horizon.
I think right now, always move forward within the city and figure out how to be better every day. That is such coach speak, I’m vomiting a little bit even saying that. But I really do care about getting better, having as much fun as possible, and thinking about what I’m going to say. And what’s the most approachable, what’s the most digestible way that you can put something together for the listener to enjoy? I focus on that, and as I do that, we’ll see what opportunities come along the way.
BN: I hear you. Players always say one game at a time. And you roll your eyes. You’re like, I’ve heard that a million times, but it’s so true. If you start thinking beyond that, it can get in your way. Especially in radio, man, and how crazy it is. I think it’s just one show at a time, that’s probably the best way to approach it.
WM: Yeah, I hate myself. I have talked so much about how boring that kind of talk is and then I do it myself. For me, it’s hard for me to say, oh man, in five years, I’d love to take over a timeslot.
In 10 years, I’d love to get attention nationally. I don’t have that. I think it’s so important to have as much fun as possible at your job because it’s going to help you in life.
So many people have talked about half the battle is just being in a good mood. When you’re in a good mood, your show is often good. That’s half the battle, man. If you can do that, and then you can continue to build upon it, a lot of things take care of themselves.
Yeah, you’ve got to put the work in, you’ve got to figure out how to be different, you’ve got to figure out how to put on a good show. But if you have fun while doing all that, a lot of things take care of themselves. I really do focus on that. For right or wrong, that’s just not who I am. I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t have a goal in five years. My goal is just to build the show up as much as possible, then figure it out from there.
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.