Connect with us
BSM Summit
blank

BSM Writers

Programming WFNZ is a Dream Come True For DiGiacomo

Brian Noe

Published

on

blank

“If you can’t entertain, challenge, and engage a listener, you have no spot on my radio station.” Those sound like the words of a raging taskmaster, but they are actually the words of WFNZ program director Tony DiGiacomo (Dee-jock-omo). Tony is enthusiasm defined. He has a true passion for sports radio and makes a fun job even more enjoyable for the people around him.

I think Tony shares some similarities with Jim Harbaugh. They both attack the day with “an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” Although they truly love what they do and the people they work with, they will not hesitate to turn off the buddy-buddy approach while pushing talent to new heights. They both have some unique quirks too. I can see Tony rocking khakis or something else off the wall like Harbaugh.

It’s an art to help talent improve while actually enhancing their passion for the industry. Tony does an outstanding job of accomplishing both. You can feel his enthusiasm for sports radio, his hosts in Charlotte, and his favorite baseball team below. It’s unfortunate that Tony uses all of his vigor to describe his love for the Cubs, but we all can’t be perfect. Enjoy, everybody.

Noe: I’ve noticed a very disturbing trend in sports radio. There’s Bruce Gilbert, Dan Zampillo in LA, you. You guys are all Cub fans. Are there any St. Louis Cardinal fans calling the shots in sports radio these days?

Tony: (laughs) Not that I know of. There is, however, a guy here on WBT our sister station named John Hancock — a 30-year radio vet who was just inducted into the WBT Hall of Fame — who’s a die-hard Cardinal fan. I do know that. He’s in our building, but no I can’t think of one actually. I know Matt Nahigian in San Francisco at The Game is also a die-hard Cub fan. I’m sure he’ll appreciate having that out there. A lot of Cub fans are running the show at sports radio stations across the country.

Cardinal fans, man. You know what? They’re a rare breed. People think Cub fans are nuts. Cardinal fans are even crazier. Cardinal fans believe baseball starts and stops in St. Louis. They don’t open their eyes to the rest of the Major League Baseball world. Where Cub fans can appreciate the success of the Yankees and the Red Sox and even the Cardinals over the years, because at our core we are baseball fans, because we suffered through losing for so damn long, man. So yeah, that is a trend. That’s not a disturbing one though, Brian.

Noe: It is very disturbing. It needs to change immediately. If I see any up-and-coming programmers that are Cardinal fans, I will definitely try to get them on the radar. So tell me Tone, how did you get your start in sports radio?

Tony: I grew up a kid wanting to be Harry Caray. I think like every Chicago kid who was interested in getting into broadcasting, they wanted to be like Harry Caray who was my idol growing up. I just loved the way he described baseball. It wasn’t so much the funky stuff he did with the glasses and “this Bud’s for you” and all that stuff, but I just loved how he described the game. He took you inside a broadcast booth with theater of the mind. He told great stories. I thought Harry was actually really good on radio too. He was doing radio games on WGN.

So I wanted to be Harry Caray, but then I realized that, hey, I had to pay for school. I went to community college for a couple of years, and in that two-year phase, I grew even more fond of the business. I then chose Columbia College in downtown Chicago. A lot of guys and gals have graduated from there. From Pat Sajak to Pat O’Brien to others that are in the Chicago media industry still. I heard it was a great school and spent two and a half years there. Their job placement scenario was perfect.

I got my first internship at WBBM — actually WMAQ at the time, which is now WBBM. I was a Bears network producer as an intern. I did that for a year, which was a great experience. Then, Brian Davis, the bald guy who calls the Oklahoma City Thunder games, actually turned me on to Sporting News Radio and said, “I know this guy named Mark Gentzkow who’s looking for some guys.” He was the PD at the time there. “Looking for some guys on a part-time basis and I think you and your twin brother will be great for this.”

So, that’s how I got my start at Sporting News Radio part-time. Running weekends, editing sound, cutting tape, all that stuff. My first job on a full-time basis was in 2000 running the Bob Kemp Show overnight and Rick Ballou who was on from 9 to 1. Rick is now in Jacksonville, and I think Bob is still in Arizona.

I worked overnights for four years and I actually dug it, man. I thought it was really, really fun. You got to learn so much in that time slot because the pressure was off on guest booking and all of that. It was where I could hone my skills as a producer and a programmer. I learned a ton from those two shows from 8 o’clock at night until 5 in the morning.

From there, I just rose thru the ranks at Sporting News. Then when Sporting News was bought by ACBJ Journals — which ironically is based here in Charlotte — when the Shaw’s took over they were moving the company to LA. I said, “I really don’t want to go to LA.” Then a couple of phone calls later, I found myself in Charlotte hired by DJ Stout who is one of my mentors, and still programming country radio here in Charlotte. That’s how I got down here.

It’s been a long and not so much windy road, but a solid road. To work in two markets like Chicago and Charlotte has been fantastic. A big city top-five market to a 23rd-ranked market, and to just be able to enjoy the ins and outs of a network, and go from network to local has been fascinating to learn. It’s made me a better programmer.

Noe: Did you have a vision or a goal to be in programming?

Tony: No, I wanted to be on the air. I always thought I was going to be on the air, and I fell in love with producing and programming. I fell in love with the rush of booking a guest. I fell in love with the rush of creating a great imaging piece. I fell in love with a great bit. I loved the interaction between host and producer and then becoming a sidekick on shows at the network.

Then moving down here and becoming a third-chair sidekick on the show “PrimeTime with the Packman.” I fell in love with that role. I got the best of both worlds. I was able to chime in on the air and add to great content while also delivering and producing the great content, which I thought was invaluable to listeners to have the experience of doing both.

I don’t think anybody tries to be a producer. I think everybody grew up through the ranks or in high school or in college, they want to be on the air. They want to aspire to be on the air. If you’re not aspiring to be that, I think they’re in it for the wrong reasons because everybody should want to be on the air. That’s the ultimate. But I do think the production side and producing side gives you a different rush which is also exhilarating. When a show comes together formatically and you can walk in studio at the end of a four-hour show and fist bump your host and be like, “You know, that was a great show.” That’s the best part about sports radio.There’s no monotony in this job and I love that.

Noe: Do you think there are hosts that might be better suited to be producers or programmers but are just unwilling to go down that road?

Tony: I do and it’s not that they’re not talented because I think everybody on the air has talent, but I think it’s the way you see yourself and the stage you’re at in your career. I think a lot of hosts think that that’s all they’ll do for the rest of their life. When in reality if they flipped a coin and realized how good they were at production and formatting and programming, they would actually fall in love with this side of the job.

This side of the industry is awesome. I come in as a programmer every day thinking what could I do today to make the station better? Whether it’s to coach a guy up, image a little better, suggest a guest to help a show or something else. It keeps things fun and interesting. I’ve been around some guys over the years and I’ll look at them and think, “Man, you’re really good on the air, but you’ve topped out. I think you’d be an excellent assistant PD, or an excellent PD, or heck even a great executive producer of a show.” But most don’t think about that. I also think there are some PD’s and producers who are really good on the air and just don’t allow themselves to expand their role and pursue those opportunities, so I think it works both ways.

Noe: What’s the toughest decision you’ve had to make as a program director?

Tony: Man, I’ve made some tough calls here in a year and a half. Looking back on it, we had to make a decision here to elevate a show which we formed about a year and a month ago. We had this dynamic show in “Garcia & Bailey.” Frank Garcia, a former NFL player, and Kyle Bailey who is an up-and-coming rising star from Charleston. We formed the show and I knew right away the chemistry was great. That’s something you can’t coach. Great chemistry is either there or it isn’t. You can coach the formatics and get guys better at the logistics of how to win the PPM game, but you can’t coach chemistry.

I also knew that our afternoon drive show, “Primetime with Chris Kroeger”, had been in afternoons for a long time and it too is a dynamic show. I met with my ops manager and we got together and said, “You know what, there’s this dynamic show that we believe is best suited for afternoon drive and we’ve got to make that adjustment.” It had nothing to do with Chris not being great because he definitely is, it was just about the way I saw the station flowing. Chris is a dynamite fit in middays and he’s already thriving since we made the move. That was a very tough decision. Certainly my toughest one.

There are times of course where you’re going to have to unfortunately cut a guy. Whether it’s for financial reasons or someone not delivering ratings. I think the tougher situations are when you have a really successful show in one daypart, and want to move them to another daypart, but still have another strong performer in that slot. My belief is that every daypart is important but you also have to consider where everyone fits and that’s not always easy to explain.

Noe: How do you go about that process? I don’t know what Chris’ mentality is, but someone might view that and say, “Hey, man. I used to be the starting quarterback and now you’re bringing me in as the Kordell Stewart slash player.” How do you talk a guy up and make him believe that he’s still very valued?

Tony: You’ve got to be honest with people and explain why you’re doing it. You have to let them know how they’re performing individually and as a team, from the producer, to the host, to the board op, to the engineer, and communicate that it’s not always about rating points. Sometimes it’s just about the dynamic of the shows that you have in front of you and where you feel they fit best.

As long as you’re honest with them, and you share your reasons, and remind them that you’re still a huge fan of what they’re doing and they’re not going anywhere other than to a different timeslot, I think you’ll continue to win together. It’s up to them to take you at your word and remain confident in themselves and sometimes that’s the hardest challenge, keeping a guy’s head right.

You know as well as I do, Brian, that in this job you go through ebbs and flows. One month you’re confident. One month nothing’s working for you and you lose yourself. Then you find yourself right back in the fast lane two months later. I believe that if you’re honest as a PD, you garner the respect of everybody on your team and find yourself having a lot of success together.

Noe: What’s a trait that’s a deal-breaker for you when you’re evaluating a host? Just something that’s unappealing and would cause you to say, “Nope. I’m not interested in this guy.”

Tony: I think just faking It. I think not being honest. You can tell when a guy is throwing something up against the wall to make it stick. Not believing in their opinion. Not feeling convicted in their opinion. That’s a big thing for me. Look, you don’t have to be so outrageous that I’m getting emails every day about how over the top you are, but I want you to have conviction in your thoughts.

I want you to have three things — I think, I feel, I believe. As long as you have those three things all the time you’re going to succeed. So if I don’t hear that out of a guy, that’s the biggest turn off of a host. If you’re just coming on the radio and reading the newspaper, I can do that every day. The guy listening can do that every day. He’s got his cell phone and can read scores in the palm of his hand. Engage a guy. If you can’t entertain, challenge, and engage a listener, you have no spot on my radio station.

Noe: What do you think is the most common mistake that hosts make?

Tony: I think the biggest mistake some make is not formatting a show. I think winging it is a huge mistake. If you do not format your show — and I’m not saying you have to format it like the best national host out there or the best local host in a market, but if you have no flow or plan for where you’re going, you are dying on a vine. The listener can tell, and the PD can definitely tell. And honestly the producer can tell. It may be easy to turn it on if you’ve done it for a while and start talking, but when you’re winging it, you’re not doing three things you should be doing, and that’s engaging, entertaining, and challenging.

I hear guys come on the air sometimes in different markets saying, “Hey, the Cavs and the Celtics played last night, let’s recap the game.” Okay, well what do you want to recap? What points do you want to hit on? Which way do you want to take the audience? How are you going to challenge them to think a different way? How are you going to incorporate sound?

You have to have a plan. You have to have a flow to what you’re doing. You can’t just, every time you turn on the mic in each segment, talk about something different. You have to have an educated way to do that hour and you don’t do that by winging it.

Noe: You’re a very enthusiastic guy. Do you find that you tune a host out if they don’t have energy or passion?

Tony: As energetic as I sound right now, when you’re too over the top and too high-strung the listener can tune you out. I don’t want my guys to be like me. I’m on a different level. Not to say that they can’t be like that every once in awhile, but I want my guys to be who they are. You know when a guy’s got energy. You also know when a guy is tired and just isn’t bringing it.

I don’t find that to be a tune out. I find that to be actually engaging if the guy is like that every day. I find it to be real. I don’t like the approach of the Stephen A. Smith’s of the world where it’s just in your face, yelling and screaming at you every day. You don’t have to talk louder or yell at me to get your point across. You can do that in a nice, calm manner. I don’t need you to yell at me and talk louder to get your point across. It’s the same point you’re going to bring to me if you do it the other way around.

Noe: Do you think it’s tougher to bring the energy out of a host that doesn’t have it, or to try to lower the caffeine level of a guy that is high-strung?

Tony: That’s a great question, because I’ve had examples of that. Mac in the morning, Chris McClain my morning show host, he is high energy, wake you up in the morning, caffeine rush every hour. I think it’s a lot easier to tone a guy down than try and drag energy out of him. A guy either has energy or he doesn’t. That’s just the way it is. Telling a guy to amp it up sounds fake because when they do amp it up it doesn’t sound real.

Having a guy tone it down is much easier in my opinion. I do that a lot with Chris McClain. I’ll get in around 7:30 in the morning and be like, “Hey, bro. You’re screaming at me today. While I love that you’re waking people up, let’s just tone it down a bit. Keep it on a level where everybody driving around is not going to tune you out because you’re yelling at them.”

Noe: The NFL just passed a new policy regarding the national anthem. What are your desires as a PD when it comes to your staff talking about topics that might transition from sports and bleed into politics?

Tony: My philosophy is I want you to talk about it, but I also want you to be educated. I want you to know your audience. By know your audience I mean, know how far you can go. I want you to give your opinion. I want you to give your take. I want to keep politics out of it, but if it’s a political issue I want you to be educated on the political part of the issue.

I had this example come up last Wednesday. I had Stan Norfleet filling in for Chris Kroeger while he was gone for a little bit. Stan works out of Atlanta, and does some work here for us too. He’s a very educated black man. A former high school and college football player who’s educated on the subject. He could’ve gone one of two ways. He could have gone so over the top because of race that I would have looked in there every segment and said, “Bro, what are you doing? Cut your mic off.” He went the opposite way. He educated people on what the rule change was, how it’s going to affect the NFL, and gave his take on it while not being political or one sided. He also listened to everybody that called in, and engaged them in conversation.

One of the things that we are not good at as talk show hosts — listening. I think listeners are the same way. I think listeners have a hard time hearing what hosts say sometimes. They just want to hear things a certain way. But if you are educated on the topic, you can have a thought-provoking conversation, and I will never turn your mic off. Ever. It’s the one thing that you’ve just got to be okay with — pushing the envelope. But push the envelope in an educated way.

Noe: You hear all of the talk about athletes sticking to sports. If you take that concept and apply it to sports radio, I don’t think that you can have that approach in this day and age. These are the main topics that people talk about. How you can constantly avoid all of them?

Tony: You can’t. The stick-to-sports guy is one guy that gets on my nerves all the time. Those guys call every day. They text you. They tweet you, “Stick to sports.” Well guess what? It is not entertaining. It is not engaging. It is not challenging to talk about a box score. What you’re going to do on sports radio is talk about a game in a way that you can find an angle, reasons why a team lost, reasons why a team won, and in this political time in sports especially, you can do that. You can get into a debate because there’s so much out there to educate yourself on in the debate to where it is thought-provoking, can’t-turn-the-radio-off sports radio. That’s what I love. The listener wants that. As long as you know your audience, you will succeed at that every day.

Now there are times where it becomes so racially stressed that you have to cut the conversation off and change gears. I think as a host if you’re good enough, you’ll know when that is. That moment will hit you during a four-hour talk show to where you go, “Alright, enough’s enough. We’ve gone too far. We’ve got to rein it in.”

But I love thought-provoking radio. It’s what we’re in the business for. If I wanted rip-and-read radio, I’d watch SportsCenter. It’s rip-and-read TV. You get a score. You get the highlights. You break the game down a little bit. Then you move on to the next game. If I wanted that, I’d listen to music during the day and watch SportsCenter in the morning.

I want my guys to challenge and engage. That’s the fun part about sports radio. When you can turn on a radio and my host makes you late for a meeting because of what they’re talking about, that’s awesome. It’s why we do this job.

Noe: I was thinking about the interviews that I’ve been on throughout the years. They always ask where you see yourself in five to 10 years. I never know what to say. I just want to do a good job, man. Do you have a vision of where you want to be?

Tony: Yeah, man. I love this town. I love this market. I’ve always thought if I can make this radio station a top-five performer every book, I’m doing my job. That’s my goal, to make WFNZ a top-three, top-five player in sports radio. Honestly, I love Charlotte. Not to say I wouldn’t go anywhere else to do sports radio, but I’ve grown so in love with this market and the sports landscape of this market and this brand. It’s a heritage brand. 25-years-old overall, and 20 years old in this current live-and-local format 6a to 7p.

When I took over for DJ Stout, the passion I have for Charlotte and for FNZ is just tremendous. While maybe I’d love one day to go back to Chicago or be in a top-five market again, I really love Charlotte. If I can stay here for my last 20 years in this business, I’d have no problem with that. I love this station. I love this community. I love our local sports. This is only a 22-year-old sports market. The Hornets and the Panthers are not that old. So we are growing on a daily basis.

Who knows what other professional teams might come here in the future. I think it’s the best time to be in this market and working for Entercom. I see myself in 10 years being right here. If not, Boston, Chicago, New York is where I’d want to be if I didn’t remain in Charlotte, but I want to be here. I don’t want to go anywhere else.

Noe: I just want your unbiased opinion on this. It’s going to be another 100+ years before the Cubs win a World Series again, right?

Tony: (laughs) No, it’s not going to be another 100+ years. You know what? I’ve thought about this a lot Brian. My brother Joe’s a die-hard. He’ll love that I’m mentioning him in here. The guys that you mentioned at the beginning of this conversation are passionate Cub fans, but my brother is one of them rare cats that lives and breathes every pitch from April 1st to October. If the Cubs are not 20 games over .500 every month, he freaks out.

I believe the Cubs will win another World Series in the next five years. It might even be this year. They are notorious for starting slow, but they have too many talented young guys, and too much of a star-powered young core to not win another World Series. I believe this team as currently constructed will contend for the World Series and win it this year, especially if they add a piece or two.

I’m proud to be a Cub fan right now, but I’m a lifelong supporter of my team. I think the best part about what happened in 2016 was hearing my dad cry on the phone. My dad, God bless him 70 years old, he went to games back in the 70’s when nobody went to Wrigley Field. When Wrigleyville was the worst part of Chicago outside of this little baseball stadium built in a neighborhood. So he suffered through every losing season more than my brother and I did. And to hear him cry over the phone in happiness, Man, I teared up. To call my dad from a sports bar here in Charlotte to a sports bar down in Tampa where he lives, and hear another grown-ass man cry about a Cub World Series, that was the best moment in my life. I’ll experience that once again with my father. I guarantee it.

Noe: That’s cool, man. Well, I think it’ll happen sometime between now and the next one hundred years, sadly. Hopefully, not this year. I’m not ready for this year. I need at least a good 15-year window in between.

Tony: I tell my brother all the time, and all of the Cub fans that call in, tweet or email me down here — you can’t win it every year. But if we’re in contention every year to make the playoffs and to go to the World Series, I am completely happy with that. Especially after all of those years of losing.

BSM Writers

John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup

“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”

Brady Farkas

Published

on

blank

Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.

The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.

Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.

(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)

BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?

JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.

BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?

JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.

So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.

BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?

JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.

So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.

Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.

BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?

JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.

And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.

We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.

BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?

JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.

The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive.  If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk

“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”

Tyler McComas

Published

on

blank

It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood. 

“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.

If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy. 

Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.

“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”

What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air. 

“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.

“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.

“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.

“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”

Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again. 

“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.

“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”

As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?

“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.

“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”

Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content. 

For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show. 

“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.

“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.

“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”

It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle. 

“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’

“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank

It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.

Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.

The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.

There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?

More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.

“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”

Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.

“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf  family and our entire organization.  I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”

I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.

For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.

“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”

Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.

“I would say this. I am my own worst critic.  I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I  am to be in the position where  I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said.  “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”

In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making  a commitment to work on their  skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said. 

“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his  glove,  his ability to play multiple positions?  His  character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”

Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one  meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.” 

The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.

Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.

Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.

I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.

A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.

“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels.  My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case,  my foundation is  built on respect,  kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”  

Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of  the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”

The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.

Continue Reading
Advertisement blank
Advertisement blank

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2022 Barrett Media.