Earlier in the week, Inside the NBA studio host Ernie Johnson was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame, a monumental achievement within his illustrious broadcast career. Johnson had been informed of the news over the summer while hosting coverage of The Match in Las Vegas, and he was surprised by colleagues Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny “The Jet” Smith at the ceremony in New York City to present him with the award.
During his acceptance speech, Johnson took the time to thank people involved in the show at Warner Bros. Discovery Sports, his colleagues and family as he continues in his 34th year hosting what is widely regarded as one of the signature sports television programs.
Johnson’s father, Ernie Johnson Sr., was a former baseball player for the Atlanta Braves and moved into the broadcast booth when his career ended. Although Johnson Jr. played baseball for a year at the University of Georgia – including knocking in a game-winning RBI against the University of Tennessee – he was cut from the team in his sophomore year and became involved in the student radio station. There was no pressure from his father to get into broadcasting, but Johnson Jr. ended up pursuing the craft on his own accord.
“He just wanted me to do whatever was going to get my heart pumping a little faster and whatever I had passion for,” Johnson said in an interview with The Steakhouse Friday morning on 92.9 The Game. “Once I tried that, it was like, ‘Well, this is a pretty cool thing to do. Get into the games for free and cover sports,’ and that’s how it started.”
Co-host Stephen “Steak” Shapiro articulated to Johnson that Inside the NBA is the finest program in the history of sports television. Moreover, he articulated the reputation that the show has which always keeps viewers interested and entertained despite the quality of the games on the air that night. Shapiro asked Johnson what has made the program so appealing to viewers over the years aside from the ostensibly organic chemistry of the analysts on the panel.
“I think the fact that nobody’s really tried to make the show about themselves,” Johnson answered. “It just kind of happens from one night to the next that, ‘Oh, everybody’s talking about what Shaq did,’ or, ‘Charles said this,’ [or], ‘Kenny said that.’ That, I think, [has] been the real key.”
Barkley, O’Neal and Smith all played in the NBA for several years, wherefore they work to explain the esoteric knowledge they gained from playing and following the game to the audience. The adept and nimble manner in which they render concepts discernible and comprehensible informs the viewers, along with their on-air banter and gimmicks. Some of these include races to the big board and interactions during “EJ’s Neat-O Stat of the Night,” the latter of which has been famously unsullied by sponsorship since 1989.
“We have an unrehearsed, unscripted show [where] these guys don’t go to the production meetings; they’re not invited,” Ernie Johnson said of the Inside the NBA analysts. “We don’t want them to know what we have cooked up that night, and sometimes it’s the things that we talk about in the production meeting that carry the night, but a lot of times it really [is] something that happens.”
Johnson genuinely does not know what is going to happen next on the program and is aware of the fact that while there are dedicated viewers, there are also people who could be watching the show for the first time on any given night. Because of this, it is incumbent on him and his panelists to remain consistent and provide the viewers with what they came to see. Within these performances, they amalgamate pedagogy and repartee before, surrounding and after the NBA games of the night.
“You can’t take a night off; you can’t just mail it in,” Ernie Johnson said. “There are new sets of eyeballs on that show and [we] want to prove to them, ‘Yeah, this is what you heard about and I hope it met your expectations.’”
Smith and Barkley have worked with Johnson for over 20 years, while O’Neal joined the program in 2011 and has remained on the air ever since. The cast of the program recently inked decade-long contract extensions, although Barkley has stated that he does not intend to finish out that deal. Warner Bros. Discovery is reportedly expected to enter negotiations with the NBA to continue its relationship with the league as a rightsholder ahead of the expiration of the existing media rights deal at the conclusion of the 2024-25 campaign.
“There’s always somebody in TV who says, ‘No, I’ve got a better idea. I think these guys work,’” Ernie Johnson said. “No, [Warner Bros. Discovery Sports has] just kind of left us alone and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a good thing going on there with Inside,’ and so they can scratch that off their list of worries. ‘Okay, let those guys do their thing,’ and that is really – I can’t express how great that makes us feel, and I think we try to repay their loyalty to us with a product night-in, night-out that folks enjoy.”
ESPN 97.5 in Houston Announces New Lineup
“The station had to make some very tough & unfortunate economic decisions last week.”
ESPN 97.5 in Houston announced they will have a new lineup starting Monday Feb. 26. The drive time slots will continue to feature John Granato and Lance Zierlein in mornings and The Killer B’s, Jeremy Branham and Joel Blank, in the afternoon.
In between the two shows will now have The Del Olaleye Show airing from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. followed by Gallant and George with Paul Gallant, who had been hosting the early midday slot previously and Joe George, the station’s Assistant Program Director.
Earlier this week, Josh Beard and Michael Connor confirmed they had been let go from the station after being in the midday slot for just six months. George posted on X at the time, “So here’s the deal. The station had to make some very tough & unfortunate economic decisions last week. It has nothing to do with the quality of their show and work they did. Programming on the station will be weird this week, then back to fully local from 7 am – 6 pm on 2/26.”
Former Toronto Blue Jays Announcer Ben Wagner Named to Baltimore Orioles Broadcast Team
A release from the Blue Jays says Wagner will appear on radio and select television broadcasts throughout the year.
The Baltimore Orioles announced the club’s broadcast talent lineup for the 2024 season, which includes former Toronto Blue Jays announcer Ben Wagner. Wagner had served as the radio voice of the Blue Jays for the last six seasons before Sportsnet announced it decided not to renew his contract. Prior to joining the Blue Jays broadcast team, Wagner spent 11 seasons with Toronto’s Triple-A affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons. A release from the Orioles says Wagner will appear on radio and select television broadcasts throughout the year.
The Orioles will continue to use guest analysts throughout the season, including Orioles Hall of Famers Mike Devereaux and Brian Roberts, as well as former Orioles Brad Brach and Dave Johnson.
Geoff Arnold will return for his fifth season with the Orioles broadcast team and will be the primary play-by-play announcer. Kevin Brown will be in his third season as the primary television play-by-play announcer for MASN.
Other team members for the 2024 season include Scott Garceau, Brett Hollander, Rob Long, Ben McDonald, Melanie Newman and Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, who will be in his 32nd season as an analyst and 61st year as a member of the Orioles organization.
Fred Toucher: ‘I Would Feel Weird’ if Rich Shertenlieb Reached Out to Me
“Even if it was nice, I wouldn’t like it, so if he’s listening, don’t reach out to me.”
Fred Toucher is in the midst of co-hosting a new morning program on 98.5 The Sports Hub with Rob “Hardy” Poole. The Toucher & Hardy show made its premiere in January following the end of a 17-year run in which he worked alongside Rich Shertenlieb. Last November, Shertenlieb parted ways with the outlet that elicited questions and nostalgia from listeners, some of which continue to persist on the new program.
On Friday’s edition of the program, a caller asked Toucher about the last time he spoke to Shertenlieb and if there was still communication between them. The duo started hosting their radio program together at rock radio station WBCN-FM before making the move to the sports talk format with 98.5 The Sports Hub (WBZ-FM) for its launch in the summer of 2009. The caller wanted to specifically hear a “juicy story” and apologized if his broaching the topic was “a forbidden path.”
“I have not talked to Rich,” Toucher said. “I told you I got the text message the Saturday after they didn’t put him on the air anymore, and I haven’t talked to him.”
Toucher wondered who among former members of the Toucher & Rich program had heard from Shertenlieb, leading him to go around the studio and ask. Update anchor Jon Wallach revealed that Shertenlieb texted him on Thanksgiving Day to discuss how the music group Bell Biv DeVoe was performing, but he has not heard from him since. None of the others in the studio had heard from Shertenlieb in a considerable amount of time either.
“None of us were really friends with him so I don’t know what to tell you,” Toucher replied to the caller. “I wasn’t friends with him; I didn’t talk to him, so it’s not odd that I don’t talk to him.”
Toucher then began to hypothesize what would happen if Shertenlieb were to reach out to him. As he thought over such a potential occurrence, he realized that he would have a feeling in his stomach and get anxiety. He did concede, however, that if someone paid him a large sum of money to appear somewhere with Shertenlieb, he would do the 10 seconds.
“I would feel weird; I wouldn’t enjoy the process,” Toucher said. “Even if it was nice, I wouldn’t like it, so if he’s listening, don’t reach out to me. You’d make me incredibly uncomfortable. Just don’t do it.”
In thinking about the potential nostalgia from Toucher & Rich, the program briefly mentioned Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo and his relationship with former co-host Mike Francesa. Toucher believes that Russo is doing fine without Francesa, a sentiment Wallach concurred. Wallach also shared that he feels Russo is doing better after Mike and the Mad Dog than Francesa.
Russo hosts a SiriusXM program on the Mad Dog Sports Radio channel named after him, in addition to High Heat on MLB Network and a weekly appearance on ESPN’s First Take. The split between both shows elicited interest from the listening public, something Toucher completely understands because of the unique facets of radio.
“People consume you 20 hours a week or they conceivably could, so when there’s any change, your immediate reaction to it, even though it hasn’t been bad, a lot of people if you listen to an old thing all the time it’s going to be strange to you, a new thing, or when a component of it is missing,” Toucher explained, “even if it’s better than it was, which I contend Toucher & Hardy over the last three weeks is better than Toucher & Rich was in 2023 and 2022 certainly.”
The segment concluded with Toucher proclaiming that he had answered the question and now will not have to entertain it again. “I have no idea what he’s doing and no one I know does, and no one I know has seen him,” Toucher said. “I haven’t even had a listener email me and go, ‘I saw him.’”