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Day Spent With: ESPN Radio

“Every show that comes out has to hit our expectation to make sure we’re living up to the standard and what our audience is expecting.”

Derek Futterman

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Day Spent With – ESPN Radio

For our fifth Day Spent With feature, we sent Derek Futterman to Bristol, CT to learn what goes into a full day of programming at the ESPN Radio network. My thanks to Justin Craig and the entire management and on-air teams for making him feel welcome and providing full access to everything he needed.

If there’s one thing I love about Mr. Craig, and he was like this as a producer, he is always well prepared. In arranging the schedule for Derek’s visit, his entire day from 8am-6pm was accounted for. From meeting with the shows to PR to zoom calls with ESPN NY/ESPN LA to individual manager meetings, if there were issues to explore and people to meet, they were on his schedule. That type of detail is what sets great programmers apart. It’s why JC is one of the best.

Still planned for this series are days spent with sports television shows, a market manager, a social media manager, and a media buyer. We also left room for one additional project should something interesting come up. If you or your brand wish to be involved and have an idea you want to pitch, please email [email protected].

Now without further adieu, here’s Derek Futterman’s Day Spent With the ESPN Radio network.

– Jason Barrett

Some snow is still present on the ground at ESPN Headquarters in Bristol, CT, slowly melting away after a Nor’easter recently blanketed 13 inches worth of flurries above the town. Aside from a more strenuous commute though, this doesn’t slow down anyone on the 120-acre campus the network has called home since 1979. Beyond the entry gates are two adjacent digital centers, each containing colossal television and video production facilities with state-of-the-art technology. In the distance is the ESPN teleport farm that communicates with satellites to distribute programs to several million homes around the world. There are also plenty of network interfaces around the campus capable of disseminating audiovisual content via digital channels.

On this particular morning, two control rooms are filled with producers, directors and coordinators operating First Take on ESPN and the UnSportsmanLike simulcast from ESPN Radio on ESPN2. There are also researchers and loggers monitoring the news cycle and compiling information for use across network properties, always ready to react to breaking news or haste developments.

Up the stairs on the second floor are studios used for award-winning television broadcast institutions, including Sunday NFL Countdown, Outside the Lines and the network’s flagship program, SportsCenter. The original desk, chairs and backdrop are on display in the building next door, accessible by a skybridge spanning over a heated outdoor patio.

The journey towards the ESPN Radio studios continues through several hallways adorned with production facilities, offices and sports memorabilia. Those inside the building complex have transformed and innovated sports media as we know it, seeking to live up to its mission statement and providing value to consumers and partners. Turn a corner and down a long hallway displays a sign with the ESPN Radio logo, identifying the primary location of the division that was first established in 1992.

The radio section of the building contains several studios and control rooms, many featuring radio boards and remotely-operated cameras. There are microphones outfitted with the ESPN Radio mic flag, the heralded letters carrying ethos and prestige serving as a reminder of its sublime history and ongoing journey.

Outside of the studio where the network launched Mike & Mike is the office of Justin Craig, senior director of network talk and operations responsible for overseeing the ESPN Radio vertical. Although his days include several meetings and managerial tasks, he has not lost sight of the formatics and fundamentals of radio broadcasting and connecting with listeners.

“Every show that comes out has to hit our expectation to make sure we’re living up to the standard of what our audience is expecting,” Craig said. “There is an expectation that we’re providing them the information that they need with the personality they expect.”

Craig occupies an office previously used by Stephen A. Smith with a clear view of the fight song corridor dedicated to college football. On the top of a writable wall, he has enumerated ‘relevancy, relatability, ratings/revenue and relationships,’ adding them all together to reach a summation equivalent to ‘results.’ All of these factors ascribe the audience, which patronizes the programming and offers feedback in the form of compliments, criticisms and suggestions.

“You have to make sure that you’re focused on putting content out there that is smart, curious and focused on making a person that’s listening want to listen longer,” Craig said. “I’m going to get my impressions and my audience to stick if I’m interesting, curious and if they can learn something along the way.”

A New Sound on ESPN Radio

The top right corner of the wall has the ESPN Radio lineup listed for reference, which was revamped last fall featuring a blend of established and new radio hosts. While the network opted to alter its complete programming slate, the move was necessitated by company layoffs and a deeper radio partnership with Good Karma Brands.

Morning radio co-hosts Keyshawn Johnson and Max Kellerman were affected by these layoffs, while co-host Jay Williams re-signed with the outlet but moved away from the weekday radio lineup. Evan Cohen, Michelle Smallmon and Chris Canty were installed into mornings, hosting the new simulcast program, UnSportsmanLike, commencing a new era for ESPN Radio and its affiliates.

Megan Judge, senior director of marketing and events for ESPN’s audio portfolio, explained that the hosts of the show have immense talent but are still becoming familiar to a national audience. As a result, the company has adopted a personality-driven approach to promote their content to consumers to help showcase the program. Judge is ultimately focused on demonstrating the value of being an ESPN Radio affiliate by leveraging their properties and personalities to help drive ratings and revenue growth.

“With UnSportsmanLike, we have the ingredients to bake an incredible cake,” Judge said. “Chris, Evan and Michelle are true professionals; they’re fantastic at what they do; their chemistry is great.”

Even though the program films at the ESPN South Seaport Studios in New York City while being produced in Bristol, the synergy between the crew is hardly inconspicuous. Show producer Nuno Teixeira is at the studio by 4am and listens to SportsCenter All Night in addition to sound from the night before. Before the start of the show, he brainstorms with his colleagues and amends the rundown that has been compiled from the prior day. The program then begins its four-hour foray with regular communication between the radio and television productions for the program.

As the show reaches its conclusion, associate producer Pat Costello and board operator JoVante Lawrence complete several tasks, including editing audio and uploading clips. Television producer Mark Morales takes the walk from the digital center to the radio facilities to participate in a brief post-show meeting before watching as the hosts record audio promos for the next day. Craig and other executives routinely offer assistance and suggestions for the programs – which also comes through weekly listening sessions with every show – but they ultimately trust their employees to execute the job for which they were hired.

“I do my best not to hover because you have to entrust upon them, but you’re educating across the way by listening, chiming in [and] by offering up feedback on a regular basis,” Craig said. “That’s why I so appreciate the listening sessions that we do for everyone to continue that bond and partnership with each and every person that we have here.”

Good Karma Brands and ESPN Radio

Cohen also works for Good Karma Brands as its vice president of content, responsible for interfacing with market managers and content directors to benefit fans, partners and teammates. The media conglomerate owns several ESPN-affiliated stations in cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee and West Palm Beach, possessing control over operations and content. The company also operates ESPN New York 98.7 under a local marketing agreement (LMA) and handles marketing and sales, responsibilities for which Cohen is not directly responsible. The New York and Los Angeles-based ESPN Radio affiliates continue to manage their own content after each lost its program directors – Ryan Hurley and Amanda Brown, respectively – during the aforementioned company layoffs.

ESPN New York is set to depart its 98.7 FM frequency that it has been leasing from Emmis Communications since 2012, a decision made by Good Karma Brands that will end the LMA. Data compiled by Good Karma Brands demonstrates that 60% of ESPN New York listenership occurs outside of terrestrial radio.

Although ESPN New York recently lost the New York Jets to Q104.3 and iHeartMedia, it has retained the MSG Radio Network consisting of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, focusing on digital distribution enabled through its last media rights extension. At the same time, the station’s programming will remain available on the 1050 AM frequency owned by Good Karma Brands, a refined proposition those at ESPN are preparing to actualize.

“I feel we’re just going to do the same content and our listeners will find us no matter where we are, but my challenges as a programmer may be different from those of a seller,” said Jonathan Winthrop, manager of audio operations at ESPN New York. “I don’t necessarily have to convince anyone other than the audience where we are. A seller may have to convince their current clients that nothing’s changing [and that] we’re going to do the same robust numbers regardless of where we’re putting our content out.”

Winthrop frequently meets with Craig to discuss the content and strategy, along with relaying information from Good Karma Brands. Additionally, he and Greg Bergman, manager of audio operations for ESPN LA 710, speak several times a week pertaining to the trajectory of the outlet. Bergman shared that he had constructive one-on-one meetings to help talent improve and expressed that the station is in its best place in years with everyone pulling in the same direction.

Last summer, Good Karma Brands assumed responsibility over operations and sales for ESPN Radio and the company’s podcast entities. Shortly thereafter, Good Karma Brands founder and chief executive officer Craig Karmazin and president Steve Politziner traveled to Bristol to meet ESPN staff. After the typical introductions and pleasantries, Karmazin asked a question and received a straightforward response from a member of ESPN that was largely expected.

“Craig just kind of paused and he said, ‘Is that a real no or is that an assumed no?,’” Judge recalled. “It’s a simple question, but it sort of put me back on my heels that I think with where audio falls in the priority list for ESPN and the day-to-day of being part of a really, really, really big organization, I think we had gotten into the habit of taking assumed no’s or sometimes not even asking the questions internally about, ‘Could we do this?,’ or, ‘What if we tried to make this happen?’”

Since partnering with Good Karma Brands, Judge has detected both a new energy and new sense of possibility within the building. While outside critics have argued previously that ESPN Radio was losing some of its luster, internal operations carried optimism and excitement surrounding the expansion of a decades-long business venture. Craig believes that the entity is consistently evolving and possesses cognizance over the importance of consumer accessibility.

“Find me a location that is exactly the same now as it was back then, and I’ll find you a product that’s having challenges,” Craig said. “I’m thrilled with the direction that we’re headed.”

The Daily Grind at ESPN Radio

The broadcast of UnSportsmanLike coincides with the national morning television program, Get Up!, hosted by Mike Greenberg emanating from New York City. Greenberg’s setup, however, is somewhat unconventional in that he immediately makes the transition from television to radio within one minute. Because of this expeditious turnaround, he communicates with producer Brendan ‘Bubba’ Peregrin throughout Get Up! to prepare for his radio program. Furthermore, program co-host Paul ‘Hembo’ Hembekides diligently monitors the news cycle from Seaport and safeguards against overlooking key developments.

“[Greenberg has] been doing this longer than anybody, so the challenge was figuring out how to get everything switched over at Seaport in that minute SportsCenter and show open, but a lot of the topics are the same,” said Liam Chapman, program director for weekday shows at ESPN Radio. “If it works on Get Up!, it will work on radio.”

Chapman has worked at ESPN for over two decades, during which he has produced Mike & Mike and overseen programs such as Bart & Hahn and The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. Today, he is responsible for network scheduling along with #Greeny, Carlin vs. Joe and Freddie and Harry. ESPN Radio does not receive PPM ratings until several months after a ratings book, but even so, he emphasized how the sample size is not ideal for the amount of people who have the meter. As a result, a lot of the evaluation of his program relies on other qualitative metrics that implement his avidity and ear for radio.

“We all learned from Bruce Gilbert about the personalities to bring in, so for me it’s basically, ‘How do I feel? How do the hosts feel? How does Justin and the rest of the management team feel and how does the production team feel?,’ and I think this is the best we’ve felt about a full lineup in a good number of years.”

Before the start of Carlin vs. Joe, Chapman takes part in a pre-show meeting with the hosts and producers of the program. Throughout the half-hour discussion, there are several ideas brought forth for consideration, including creating a list of what producer Evan Wilner would do for $600, inspired by former late-night host David Letterman.

About 20 minutes before the show, everyone checks the rundown and makes the necessary adjustments to the lineup. Of course, that does not predicate any potential news, something Wilner emphasized to his colleagues in the early days of the program. Being situated within ESPN on its Bristol campus has advantages in this regard that facilitates adapting to real-time developments.

“We might only have four minutes in a break, but we will figure out exactly how to re-route the entire plan if need be,” Fortenbaugh said. “It’s a very fluid show.”

Fortenbaugh is largely working from Bristol where he also appears on various television programs such as ESPN BET Live, First Take and SportsCenter. Conversely, Carlin hosts the program remotely, a pattern that continues down the rest of the lineup. All of the hosts outside of a typical studio setup, which includes both Amber Wilson and Ian Fitzsimmons on the evening program, have the necessary technology to work effectively.

Remote Events, Studio Operations and Production

Outside of its talk programming, ESPN Radio broadcasts approximately 270 live play-by-play events annually, such as out-of-market NFL games, MLB postseason play and several NBA matchups among other properties. With the sheer volume of obligations in this department, Pete Ciccone is working several months ahead of time to make sure things are set and always maintaining a broad perspective. As the program director of remote events, he schedules update anchors and monitors station operations while ensuring fans are properly informed so they can intuitively find the game.

“Not every sport is the same in terms of distribution,” Ciccone said. “Most of them, thankfully, are on hundreds of affiliates as well as SiriusXM and our ESPN app, but it’s not one size fits all.”

Tim Thomas is involved in shaping the network’s messaging in his role as production director. Throughout the day, he is fielding requests from ESPN Radio properties and creating show opens, rejoins and general station imaging. Cayman Kelly is the primary station voice and someone who Thomas works closely with. No piece of production usually exceeds a 30-second duration, something Thomas attributes to dwindling attention spans.

There is clear cohesion and collaboration taking place daily across departments to create informative and entertaining content. Most of the talent pre-pandemic were Bristol-based and in studio for interviews and appearances, a point to which Chapman believes the network has returned. Despite Harry Douglas hosting his afternoon radio program remotely, the technology in the studios minimized latency and permitted real-time interaction with on-site co-host Freddie Coleman.

Coleman welcomed ESPN betting analyst Erin Dolan to the Freddie and Harry show for an in-person interview, taking place shortly after she finished filming ESPN BET Live. Since the show has taken the air, Dolan, along with many other ESPN personalities, have been situated in the radio studios for guest spots and provide unique insights and perspectives on sports news. Show producer Shannon Penn has an outline of Dolan’s segment loaded into AP ENPS, which allows Coleman to reference it in real time and keep things on schedule.

“Even though Harry wasn’t there, the chemistry between Erin and Freddie was so good and the chemistry between Freddie and Harry is so good that it just makes for a better interview,” Chapman said. “All the interviews in studio just are better, and I think it’s because of the face-to-face.”

Weeknights and Weekends on ESPN Radio

The studios are situated in a central location on campus that provides ease of access to other areas around the network. Furthermore, there is updated technology and streaming functionality both for audio and video, positioning each for success.

The people within these studios, however, represent the engine that keeps the train moving forward at all hours of the day to provide over 9,000 hours of talk and event content every year. With affiliates around the country in most of the top marketplaces, it is imperative that the network recognizes the time difference and broadly appeals to the target audience. Continuing its content flow for weeknight shows – Amber & Ian, GameNight and SportsCenter All Night is Mike Urrunaga – who works hours outside of the standard 9 to 5.

Urrunaga frequently attends meetings in the late-morning before arriving on campus in the afternoon to meet with producers and monitor new developments. In addition to the fans, the weeknight programs are integral resources for the morning shows to utilize as they prepare to take the air at dawn.

“We’re very much trying to generate, ‘Okay, here are some topics that you would want to talk about that you can talk about,’” Urrunaga said. “We look at the rundowns that they have setup in the afternoon to be like, ‘Okay, is there something that they are looking at that we can add to depending on what’s going on in the evening?’”

Stosh Cienki, who is the program director of weekend shows for ESPN Radio, works to deepen listener relationships and progress conversations that took place during the weekdays. His work week begins on Wednesday and runs through late Sunday night. His responsibilities include listening sessions, scheduling, planning future events and of course, meetings. Along with his weekend duties, Cienki serves as a mentor to his colleagues, offering advice to streamline their development and processes.

“A lot of the producers we have here are young,” Cienki said. “As someone who’s been here as long as I have and having gone through many different shows, that’s an area where I probably have the biggest impact – just trying to develop guys who have only been here a year or two and show them the right way to prep and get ready for these things.”

Serving Sports Fans. Anytime. Anywhere.

At the end of the day, several ESPN Radio staffers drive across the street to a full-size gym owned by the network to participate in a company-wide volleyball league. The intramural offering is one of several during the year and something Craig found out ahead of last season. Having played volleyball in the past and being recruited by his colleagues, he decided to participate and has subsequently demonstrated his skills on the court. Stepping away from the speakers and connecting outside of the building ultimately fosters friendships and builds rapport, intangible features of the new lineup those at ESPN Radio hopes it is emitting to consumers.

“It’s cool because you want to have those outside-of-the-office activities that allow that camaraderie,” Craig said. “Talk about a culture – that’s where your culture is created.”

While the management team of ESPN Radio has a wide array of responsibilities, everything ultimately centers back to what Craig has prominently displayed in his office. In order to produce successful results, there is a harmonious consensus that relevancy, relatability, ratings/revenue and relationships are the means that comprise the whole.

This is put into effect through a strong workplace culture that promotes friendships, teamwork and a sense of belonging combined with discernible passion for the craft. Those involved in the ESPN Radio operation genuinely enjoy their occupation and look forward to connecting with listeners by remaining dedicated to the the company’s overarching objective, “Serving sports fans. Anytime. Anywhere.”

“Many hosts have said it over the years – this is the toy store of life – and I consider it the universal language,” Craig said. “Everybody speaks sports in some capacity, but it’s the relatability aspect that gets them to stick around and want to do more, but you have to create that culture within the building and have strong leaders in it that are willing to help everybody grow and succeed.”

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Seeking Solutions at the NAB Show

“ My hope is that I’ll leave Las Vegas this week, smarter, inspired, and more confident in where we’re headed.”

Jason Barrett

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Photo Credit: NAB Show 2024

I’m writing this while on a flight to Las Vegas for the NAB Show, where I’ll spend the next few days talking and listening to folks discuss the future of the media business. Curtis LeGeyt and his team do a fantastic job with this event. Technology will be on full display, relationships will be extended in hallways and restaurants, and ideas and insights will be shared on stage by many operating corporately, and in local markets.

I’ve always enjoyed attending and speaking at this show because I have access to more information than most. That doesn’t make my opinions or wisdom better, it just means it doesn’t come from one source. I’ll get to share some of my thoughts on Tuesday when I join Fred Jacobs, Mitch Rosen, Rod Lakin, John Mamola and Matt Nahigian for a session titled, “Changing The Game: Creating Unique Sports Radio Programming.” I’ll also be appearing with new RAB CEO Michael Hulvey on the ‘Radio on Main Street’ podcast.

I’m privileged to consult many brands across the country. Most of my focus is on radio, but that’s not the only space I’m in. There are groups I work with that you have no idea about. News is part of my mix too. My access to various companies allows me to stay educated and see things that others only read about.

Because I see and hear so much, and I study brands, content, and audience habits, it drives me crazy hearing folks preach the same things they did a decade ago. Some leaders view the industry through one company lens, and don’t take advantage of opportunities to attend and learn at places like the NAB Show. I’ve never understood that. Why stay the same when opportunities to get better exist? What you believe works and doesn’t isn’t often seen the same by others. This is especially true when comparing the big three (Audacy, Cumulus and iHeart) to smaller groups.

But this isn’t just an executive or corporate issue. It happens with programmers, talent and agents too. I hear a lot of the same complaints but don’t see a lot of proof of a better way forward. Whether it involves discovering talent, measurement, generating revenue, mastering social media, getting talent paid or using artificial intelligence, what are your solutions?

The media business is constantly evolving. Many new brands have emerged, and they see opportunity where traditional outlets don’t, especially in digital. Growing a brand and business requires more than playing the hits, chasing meters, and sharing posts on LinkedIn. It takes adding skills you don’t have, building programming for different platforms, growing revenue beyond traditional ways, and most importantly, getting out of your own way. If you don’t have all the answers, that’s ok. Acting like you do is a bigger issue.

We have never had more real estate to work with to connect audiences and advertisers. However, we don’t take full advantage of it because many aren’t masters of multiple spaces. We also create goals that sound good in conference rooms yet lack the strategy and insight to be executed. I hear this a lot when websites, podcasts, YouTube, social media and newsletters are mentioned.

Because I love this industry so much, I defend it frequently. Print outlets love to portray our business in a negative light. Even the trades prioritize coverage of revenue projections, stock prices, investments in technology, etc., things that matter less to listeners, viewers, content creators and programmers. With so much attention on the industry’s lack of growth, it often looks like we’re steering a ship towards a tsunami.

My hope is that I’ll leave the NAB Show, smarter, inspired, and more confident in where we’re headed. Optimism is sometimes hard to find in terrestrial outlets, but this is an exciting time for the media industry. Capitalizing requires new skills, a wider focus, creativity, and forward-thinking leaders. Let’s put our time and energy into identifying solutions rather than spewing the same old narratives.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Thumbs Up

University of Florida: State of the art equipment, tons of space, on-site operations for the SEC Network, a weather network to cover the entire state of Florida, ownership of Gainesville’s leading sports radio station (WRUF), excellent hands-on training, and students who want to learn, and possess passion and desire to make a mark on the business. It was great to see so many invested on campus in the future of the industry. It’s easy to see why Florida’s track record of developing successful broadcasters is stellar.

Chris Oliviero: Audacy New York’s top boss has always had a sharp programming mind, and when faced with making moves to guide his brands forward, he’s often passed the test with flying colors. He’s doing it again with the naming of WFAN’s new program director. The news becomes official at 9am ET today. Once the name is revealed, I’ll update this space to provide proper attribution. The bottom line, WFAN made a great hire.

Dave Portnoy: Betting on sports often produces losses but Portnoy lately has been on a hot streak. The Barstool Sports owner hit last week on the NCAA Championship game, and again this weekend with the Masters. Over the past four months he’s generated over 5 million dollars in winnings. What’s next, Dave?

Thumbs Down:

NCAA Championship Game Start Time: I understand that the game between UConn and Purdue took place in Arizona, but there’s no reason for a national championship game to start at 9:20pm ET. Given how much TV networks pay, and taking into account the viewing habits of sports fans, losing audience on a Monday night over a late start time makes little business sense. Hopefully this gets figured out in the future.

AEW: Airing behind the scenes footage of an incident involving CM Punk made sense eight months ago. Doing it last week was pointless. Any momentum gained is tied to a talent no longer in the company, and having an arena full of people chanting a former talent’s name does little for anyone on the current roster. Just a strange decision that provided little upside.

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Eavesdropping: Masters Radio on SiriusXM

“And then there is the very best in the business at doing this, who is an even better teammate, the voice of the Masters, Mike Tirico.”

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Graphic for Eavesdropping feature with Masters Radio

A tradition unlike any other, indeed. It was yet another mesmerizing Masters tournament this past weekend when Scottie Scheffler took home his second green jacket. The weekend weather was perfect, and the golf was spectacular. I spent a lot of my weekend eavesdropping in on Masters Radio from SiriusXM.

Listening to golf on the radio is a bit sentimental for me. One of my best friends, Jay Randolph Jr., was a PGA Tour Radio broadcaster, and sadly we lost Jay to liver cancer in November 2022. He had worked with many of the voices I was listening to this weekend and in a weird way I felt very connected to him listening to the Masters on the radio versus hearing the audio from CBS.

I can’t say enough good things about the way the Masters is presented on radio. From tuning in early and hearing David Marr III setting the scene for the day along with Craig Stadler and Scott Simpson to hearing the starter introduce Tiger Woods to hearing the crew throughout the day as the leaders worked their way around the course, it was, in a word, masterful.

There are many voices you hear while listening and it’s obvious none of them would rather be anywhere else. That’s the overall feeling you walk away with when listening to the Masters Radio team – they love golf, they love this tournament, and they’re having the time of their lives painting the picture for the audience.

The knowledge of course, is off the charts. Whether it’s little nuggets of statistical information, historical facts or on-course reporters giving reads of a green, the Masters Radio team knows their golf and you walk away a smarter golf fan when listening to what they have to say.

As the players at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday began to tee off, around 2:15 p.m. CT, host Taylor Zarzour had a terrific introduction before turning things over to one of the best parts of Masters Radio, lead voice Mike Tirico.

As the Masters music played in the background, Zarzour said, “From the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, this is the Masters on SiriusXM. Why is it that we love this place so much? Maybe it’s because of its breathtaking beauty…maybe it’s the fellowship at Augusta National, without any electronic devices, you are your most present here. The conversation seems more meaningful. You are where your feet are.

“Or maybe, ‘YES SIR!’ the man that made that collection of words famous is Verne Lundquist, in one of his many calls we will never forget. Verne made it during what I think we love the most, the second nine on Sunday at Augusta. Today is his final assignment in an illustrious career. Wouldn’t it be fun if he had one more memorable call? If so, we will press play on it during this final round broadcast led by Jeremy Davis and his fabulous production team.

“On the air we have some Masters veterans as analysts. I wish you could see Johnson Wagner’s passion when an eagle was made. And if the Masters had an accent, Steve Melnyk would be speaking it. The best on-course commentators in golf are here with John Maginnes stationed at Amen Corner, Brian Katrek in the middle of holes 15 and 16, and the great Maureen Madill is headed over to 17.

“And then there is the very best in the business at doing this, who is an even better teammate, the voice of the Masters, Mike Tirico.”

I planned to write my own description, but I think Zarzour nailed it. Tirico did as well, saying, “Taylor, that’s awesome man, that sets the scene so perfectly and I think shapes the thoughts of so many of us as we drive into the property here on Sunday.”

While the broadcasters were all on their A-game, so too were the producers and sound engineers. As I said before, they don’t miss anything. Whether it be the sound of the club hitting the ball, the conversations between caddies and players, the atmosphere of the birds and the patrons, it is all blended exceptionally well. And when something big happens, the passion of the announcer’s voice along with the noise from the crowd is mixed perfectly.

The broadcasters gave every player at the top of the leaderboard their just do. The more you listened, the more you learned about Scottie Scheffler, Max Homa, Ludvig Aberg, Collin Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau as they made their way around the course. You caught every step of their rounds with Maginnes, Katrek, Madill and Johnson Wagner walking the course with them. And nobody is better at giving you the storylines than Mike Tirico.

Tirico is one of those voices where if you hear it, you know the event is a big one. His voice leading the way on Masters Radio makes it sound even bigger than it is, if that is even possible. He not only gives exceptional commentary, but he is terrific bringing in the other broadcasters in and out of the conversation. And, as one can imagine, he is as prepared as possible, a virtual golf and Masters encyclopedia.

As the leaders got past ‘Amen Corner’ and the tournament started to reach its climax, you could feel the emotion through the microphones.

As Scottie Scheffler led by two and then hit his second shot on 14 to within two feet of the hole, Tirico had an excellent play-by-play call, followed by a very subtle response from Steve Melnyk, who simply said, “There’s a reason he’s No. 1.”

As Scheffler putted out and took a three-shot lead, Tirico added, “He’s that close to a second green jacket in three years.”

At that point in the broadcast, Zarzour took over and Tirico moved to a setup next to the 18th green and as he did Zarzour mentioned it was from there Tirico had called Tiger Woods’ win exactly five years prior.

As Tirico and Johnson Wagner take over the call from near the 18th green at around 5:25 CT, the leaders head to the 16th hole with Scheffler leading by three.

As analyst Steve Melnyk wrapped up his time in the booth, he praised Scheffler for his play and made a statement about second place finisher Ludvig Aberg saying, “Ludvig is the new young face of the golf world.”

Maureen Madill doubled down as she told Tirico that some of the younger golfers who challenged Scheffler this weekend were like a zoom call where they are waiting to come into a meeting. “I think Ludvig Aberg and Max Homa are in the major waiting room,” she said.

As Scheffler started to wrap up his second win at Augusta, Brian Katrek had the call of his putt on the 16th hole: “…On the way, up to the cup and in. There are no more questions, Scottie Scheffler can put one arm in the jacket right now. Birdie at 16, he is 11 under par and he leads by four.”

Tirico was bringing it all home as he described Scheffler and his caddie Ted Scott walking up the 18th fairway. “The crescendo builds as Scheffler gets close to the 18th green,” he said and then brilliantly went silent and let the crowd noise takeover.

As Scheffler pitched to within a few feet, Tirico said, “Scottie Scheffler’s gonna do it again.”

As Scheffler wrapped up his championship, Tirico said, “Scheffler, over the ball, shuffles the feet, Scottie Scheffler the putter back and in! Scottie, Scottie, he’s done it again. Scottie Scheffer, for the second time in three years is the Masters Champion.” He later added, “Only eighteen men now have won multiple Masters and the latest is Texan Scottie Scheffler.”

Golf on the radio is not easy. It’s made even more difficult when you are trying to blend together a number of voices and sounds to truly maximize the coverage. I can’t imagine it being done any better than the way Masters Radio on SiriusXM did it this weekend.

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Eavesdropping: Busted Open on SiriusXM

“If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers. But what you got because of Cody’s victory last night was tears.”

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Graphic for Eavesdropping: Busted Open Radio

The day after the Super Bowl, it’s always fun to hear sports radio in the two towns which had teams in the game. In that same vein, I tuned into Busted Open on SiriusXM the day after WrestleMania weekend.

Host Dave LaGreca, who plays the role of the fan on the show, was joined live from WWE World by co-hosts Tommy Dreamer, Mark Henry and Bully Ray. The fan exhibit was not open to the public at the start of the show, but fans entered the picture after the first hour.

The first hour of this particular show went about as fast as a radio show can possibly move. As soon as the show started the hosts immediately got into making fun of Bully Ray, who had been a surprise guest-referee in a match during WrestleMania night two, for how he looked in the referee uniform.

“Allow me to be the very first to admit those stripes don’t look the best on me,” the WWE Hall of Famer replied to the jokes.

Mark Henry jumped in to say, “It was kind of just what WrestleMania needed. To have the ECW influence on the show, great representation for the brand and showing respect to Paul Heyman as well.” Heyman had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame during the weekend and was celebrated not only for his WWE contributions but as the creator of ECW, which was based in Philadelphia, where he first worked with Bully Ray who was then known as Bubba Ray Dudley.

“I had people backstage in WWE telling me ‘We have never seen you smile that much in life ever,’ said Bully Ray “…I jumped at the opportunity. Too much fun.  Last night was the first WrestleMania that I got to appreciate…the level of stress that came with [when you are performing in the matches] you’re not able to take it all in…it’s really not fun because it’s so stressful.”

Bully Ray said he could feel the pop as he was introduced and really enjoyed getting to “smell the roses for the first time.”

LaGreca could no longer hold it in. He cut off the talk about his co-host participating in WrestleMania and moved on to the heart of the matter. In the main event the night before, Cody Rhodes had ended the run of Roman Reigns as the Undisputed Universal Champion after more than three and a half years. More importantly to the hosts and fans alike, the story of Cody Rhodes building to this moment was one they all agreed was one of the great moments in WrestleMania history.

Of course, WWE loves surprises and on the second night of this year’s WrestleMania, they had plenty in store. The Rock had already come back to be a part of the WrestleMania 40 storyline and then during the Sunday main event, John Cena and The Undertaker came out as surprises.

Bully Ray gave a great description of what he was doing as the main event was happening. He said he was with Damian Priest, who had earlier in the evening won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and while they didn’t plan to watch the main event live, when it started, they thought they needed to see it. “We ran through the halls and go out into the arena,” he said. “Guys, when the gong hit for The Undertaker, the both of us turned into 12-year-olds…we were jumping up and down…lost it, loved it.”

Mark Henry said, “We reacted the same way. I cannot imagine what that must’ve felt like in person.” Bully Ray replied, “When you can hear the pop in a stadium, you know the pop is big.”

LaGreca said, “There wasn’t a lot to get excited about with night number one, but night two was just hit, after hit, after hit. And that main event, with all the stories that played out and had a conclusion during that match…You couldn’t have played that out to a better conclusion than what we saw last night.”

The hosts then listened to an audio clip from the previous year, where the day after WrestleMania some fans, including LaGreca, were extremely disappointed that Cody Rhodes did not beat Roman Reigns and “finish his story” then. At the time, Bully Ray had said there was a bigger picture story WWE would build that would show Cody fighting hard times much like his father, ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes had gone through. Mark Henry agreed.

LaGreca said he was “eating some crow” but then admitted it’s all part of it where the emotion gets so high, and he pointed out that people were actually crying when the main event ended.  “If Cody would have won at WrestleMania 39 there would have been cheers.  But what you got because of Codys victory last night was tears,” LaGreca said. “This is an end of one story, but more importantly the beginning of a new story.”

LaGreca came back from a break and reverted immediately back to what the difference was in Rhodes winning the title in 2024 versus having done it in 2023. “It went from a great moment…to maybe one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time last night,” he said.

There was strong insight given out by all of the former wrestlers at different times during the show, and they also pointed to things a casual fan may not have picked up on. One of those happened when you heard ring announcer Samantha Irvin get genuinely emotional in announcing Rhodes as the new champion.

“We’re not used to hearing emotion in a ring announcer’s voice, so Samantha Irvin brought something special and extra to the table in that announcement,” said Bully Ray.

Tommy Dreamer added, “It was the most perfect imperfection ever and it made that moment even more real…it was something that will be remembered through the annals of time.”

As the hosts continued to talk about the emotion of the night, Henry said, “It felt like WE won.” This gave Bully Ray the chance to sum it all up as he said, “The key word that you just said, WE. Cody made you feel like you were a part of his struggle. You were a part of his story.”

Henry went on to say, “I felt like last night, for the first time, that I could almost cry for Cody. I honestly felt emotional seeing him become the face of this new era, the ‘Triple H’ era….Wrestling is a feel business and if you don’t feel it then it’s not worth really putting on television. I felt that [last night] and I know every fan felt that.”

The hosts continued to give insight as they discussed a gift given to Cody Rhodes by WWE executives backstage and a spot where a table broke before it was supposed to and how smoothly the performers pivoted. Having Henry, Dreamer and Bully Ray on the show allows for a lot of this type of discussion where they can give perspective from having been in the ring.

Later LeGreca is asked if he would rank this WrestleMania up there with WrestleMania 17, widely considered the best of all time. LeGreca said if night number two stood on its own he would say it was better, but perhaps not if you consider both nights. The panel as a whole agreed it was definitely up there as one of the best and Henry noted it will be the highest grossing, so that is one way to judge which was the best.

“There were very few holes in that show,” Dreamer said.

While the first hour was rapid fire and had a ton of great reaction to all of the highlights of the night before, the show took a bit of a turn in the second hour. As the crowd became a part of the show it seemed to change the demeanor of the hosts a bit, especially LaGreca who seemed to be playing to the crowd rather than the listening audience. He yelled out “We did it!” talking about Cody Rhodes winning and then led a “Cody! Cody! Cody!” chant that didn’t go over well to those not on site.

Then there was a very strange guest appearance by WWE superstar Liv Morgan which seemed to bring the show to a halt. Later, Kevin Owens was live on the show and his appearance made a lot more sense as he participated in WrestleMania and had thoughts to share about others who performed and the storylines which were created. Owens helped bring the energy of the show back up and you could tell as a listener how passionate he is about wrestling and what took place during WrestleMania 40.

The programmer in me would remind the hosts not to do the show for their hardcore fans only, as they have to assume people are coming in and out of the show. They had incredible content in the first hour with really strong opinions from their experts, but there was never any resetting or going back to what was talked about, which I thought was a bit of a miss.

With that said, if you are a wrestling fan and you didn’t feed off the energy and excitement the hosts had for what they had witnessed the night before, something is wrong with you. Busted Open Radio was an excellent listen as a follow up to what was a memorable WresleMania weekend.

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