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A Conversation with Christopher Gabriel

Tyler McComas

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It’s 4:00 a.m. inside a smoky bar somewhere in Queens, New York. The year is 1986 and just like a scene straight out of a Martin Scorsese film, a crowd of rough and downright scary individuals with unorthodox ways of making money, have flooded into the after-hours establishment. The bartender, 28-year-old Christopher Gabriel, knew he didn’t need to be mixing it up or getting involved with the type of people he’s serving scotch to. However, the struggling actor needed money way more than he needed a lecture on who to be hanging around. 

The former Chicago sports nut never saw his life taking this drastic of a turn. Just a decade earlier, Gabriel was majoring in broadcast journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia, with the vision of being an anchor for the evening news. Far removed from the life of getting paid “under the table” to serve drinks in a shady bar. Trips to Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and Comiskey Park filled his childhood, but Gabriel’s desired career path didn’t begin with the intent on covering the athletes he grew up watching. In Gabriel’s eyes, the sports business just didn’t seem have the same draw as being a news anchor.

Fate seems to work in mysterious ways. Gabriel would learn that early on at Temple. While hosting his college radio show, a loud commotion came from the theatre office next door, totally throwing off what he had planned to deliver over the air waves that day. In a rage to see what had derailed his show, Gabriel stormed into the theatre office to confront whoever was responsible. What he found, was a woman behind the desk suggesting he would be perfect for the one of the roles in an upcoming show. After initially being caught by surprise, Gabriel agreed to an audition where he showed instant talent. The rest was history.

Gabriel’s change of fate would land him from Philadelphia all the way to Los Angeles to chase his newly found passion of being a theatre major at USC. By the summer of his last semester, he was back on the east coast in New York City where his acting career took flight. From there, Gabriel began to get casted in commercials as well as receiving Under-5 work, meaning he was given five lines or less on soap operas, including a recurring role on the hit show All My Children. A project known as the 1983 Commercial Olympics became Gabriel’s big break as he and the four other actors involved all signed with agents. Soon after, he would be performing in places such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland and working on stage with esteemed talent such as James Earl Jones and Julie Harris. 

Though he experienced the highs of working as both an actor and in theatre, he also suffered the lows. Trying constantly to make ends meet during his 20-year stint in New York City, Gabriel took jobs as a cook, caterer, bartender or anything else he could to make money. Every day was a grind and it was starting to take its toll.  

His escape wasn’t different than most males during the 90’s in New York City. While always keeping his passion for sports, Gabriel became enamored with Mike and The Mad Dog on WFAN. So much so, that the thought of doing sports radio crept into his mind for the first time in his life. A trip to Montreal for a Candiens playoff game would end with Gabriel stopping on the side of the road at 1:00 in the morning to call WFAN overnight host Steve Summers just to hear himself over the radio and to enjoy a few moments of sports talk. Sports on the radio had always been a big part of Gabriel’s life, but WFAN along with Mike and The Mad Dog would fuel a passion for the business that he never had before. 

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In Gabriel’s words, trying to make a living off being in theatre is truly a grind. The process of getting an audition in New York City would start as early as 5:30 in the morning without the guarantee of even getting an opportunity. After over 100 plays across the country, complete with thousands of hours of auditioning and rehearsing, Gabriel found himself burnt out and needing a fresh, new creative challenge. After a role in Tuesdays with Morrie, he met Mitch Albom, who later invited him to work on a production called “Duck Hunter Shoots Angel” at Jeff Daniels’ Purple Rose Theatre Company in Detroit. Over a cup of coffee, Gabriel voiced his frustrations about the grind of the theatre business with Albom. It’s then, when Gabriel found fate again. Albom suggested talk radio to Gabriel as a potential avenue to explore and even became a mentor to his success in the business. At the age of 47, Gabriel’s career in radio was finally about to begin. 

January 6th, 2006 became Gabriel’s first day as an intern at the formerly 100.3 KTLK in Minneapolis. At the time, the running joke across the station was that he was the oldest intern in radio. That may have been true. However, Gabriel immediately fell into a good situation by serving as a producer for the Pat Kessler Show. Pat opened up the whole world to Gabriel by letting him do a number of things within the show. His big break would come almost two months later on March 5th, as Minnesota mourned the passing of Twins legend Kirby Puckett. As the news broke, nobody was available at KTLK or its sister station KFAN to do a live hit from the Metrodome. That’s when KFAN program director Doug Westerman gave Gabriel his big chance by giving him the assignment on arguably the biggest sports figure in Minneapolis’ history. Not sure if he was ready or even capable, Gabriel was sweating nervously all the way to the Metrodome as he delivered an 8-minute report that turned out to be excellent. From there, more opportunities came along such as being selected by Andrew Zimmern, host of the TV show Bizarre Foods, to produce and contribute on-air for his show. 

Zimmern quickly took a liking to Gabriel’s work ethic and on-air talent. When it came time to travel the world to shoot new episodes of Bizarre Foods, the station wanted hosts such as Bobby Flay, Alton Brown or even Rachel Ray to host the show in Zimmern’s absence. But Zimmern fought for Gabiel to host while he was overseas. Management soon agreed and Gabriel now had the opportunity he was waiting on. There was just one problem. 

The on-air light flashed in front of Gabriel in studio as he set to host for the first time. The intro came to an end and…nothing. All was dead quiet. It was his time to shine, but Gabriel didn’t know what to say. He completely froze. That’s when his producer came over his ear and reminded Gabriel he now had to talk. Though he was 47 years old, he quickly experienced his ‘welcome to the business moment.’

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Gabriel would host every brokered show that was offered on KTLK. Gardening shows, shows for motivational speakers, he did it all. The drive and work ethic that landed him so many acting and theatre opportunities had carried over into radio. All Gabriel wanted to do was get in front of a mic, learn from his mistakes and get into the business. He was going to do whatever it took to make that happen. 

After hosting any and every kind of show imaginable, Gabriel finally had a reel he could send to other stations around the country. In his words, he sent his resume and reel to everyone he could think of, including stations in Guam. He didn’t care where he was sending it, as long as people were listening to it. 

One station that was willing to listen was 970 WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. On the air since 1922, WDAY was one of the first 35 stations in the United States. After several days of auditioning in May of 2009, Gabriel was offered a job on his birthday as an on-air host. Though it was a jump to another news talk station, Gabriel spent 6 years in Fargo as he dabbled, amongst many other topics, with North Dakota State athletics and Minneapolis pro sports on his show, which gave him the entry into sports radio.   

Gabriel’s time in Fargo came to an end after he was offered a job at a political station in Fresno, Calif., at Power Talk 96.7. However, the fit never matched and the two separated after 53 weeks. Though it was his first set back in the radio business, Gabriel considers it one of the best things that ever happened to him, because it allowed him to fill-in at numerous stations across the country. 

If you take anything away from this story, take away what last August proved to be for Gabriel. It’s never too late to chase what you truly love and are passionate about. When 940 ESPN in Fresno came calling, it was a dream realized. From being the kid that listened to every Chicago sports team on the radio to the 30-year-old that escaped his daily problems by listening to WFAN in New York City, Gabriel was now fulfilling a dream. Though it took him 59 years to make his dream possible, the long journey he took to the host seat at 940 ESPN is unlike any other in the business. Not only is Gabriel a success story, he’s an incredible story of perseverance that should be celebrated across the sports radio community. 

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Today, you can hear Gabriel living out his passion on weekdays from 3-6 p.m. on 940 ESPN in Fresno.

TM: Let’s say you were able to bump into the 28-year-old version of yourself that was bartending in Queens. What do you think he would say to you if you told him in just over 30 years he’d be doing a sports radio show? 

CG: He would say, you’re pretty cocky to think you’re ever going to be able to do that. But you better learn some skills on getting in front of a microphone, because it’s not going to be like it is on stage. That’s what he would say. However, I’ve found out there’s not a whole lot of difference. As a sports talk show host, my job is to engage people, to entertain and inform them. My job is to tell stories and that’s essentially what we do in theatre. The only difference, is that I always envision doing it to one person instead of standing in front 1,500 people. 

TM: Do you think hosting gardening shows, shows with motivational speakers and other unusual programming helped you out a lot as a show host, in the sense that, if I can do that, I can do anything? 

CG: I thought, sure, I can do this. If I can do these kind of shows, then piece of cake. But what I learned is it’s not easy or a piece of cake. I’ve always been big on prep and you have to be prepped for wherever a conversation might take you. When I was doing gardening shows and I was talking to motivational speakers, I thought I was going to get in there and make jokes and entertain…no. This was much more serious than I thought it was. We have a great time and have a lot of fun but it’s much more serious than I thought it was and much more difficult. My respect level for this industry and the people who do it well, it just went through the roof because it requires so much preparation and the ability to think on your feet. Just like on stage, when the other person screws up, you’re the one that has to pick things up and carry it on. 

TM: You speak to a lot of groups and classes about your journey. What’s the message you really want to get across? 

CG: I really feel strongly that you have to be a person of your own convictions. You have to follow your passions and you cannot let anyone else validate or invalidate what it is you’re doing and where it is you’re trying to go. Only you know the journey you’re on. Only you know the limits you have and how to burst through them. Early in my radio career, I had a person once tell me that I’d never get a daily hosting job, it’ll take at least 10 years. Well, it took 3 years, 5 months and 2 days. That number 352 is inside my head. What I tell young students is that you have to be focused and have a mentality that allows you to get to your desired destination. There’s off ramps but there’s also always on ramps.

Some people don’t, but I look at my age as a bonus. I’ve been able to live in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Fargo and now Fresno. With more age comes more experience and hopefully I’m able to apply that. 

TM: What’s the best advice you received during your journey in radio?

CG: It would be from a host that told me, “be selected in your savagery.” What he meant was, you better be careful if you’re the ranting host. If you do that too much, people aren’t going to pay attention. You need to find layers of depth and go further and further. Don’t take the easy way out, find the nuance of the story and really press something out. Ask the questions your guests aren’t expecting. When you feel like going off on every caller – don’t. Be selective on how you handle things. It’s been great advice for me. 

BSM Writers

Jason Barrett Podcast – Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt, BetRivers

Jason Barrett

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Sportsbooks are creating their own media now, and no company is doing that using more guys that have made their names on sports radio than BetRivers. Terry Dugan & Adam Delevitt talk about the strategy behind that decision for today and for the future.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3nTJC5K 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3z9hErM

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3oyi0U0

Google: https://buff.ly/3vh7Tqu

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3w9hqAh

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BSM Writers

Joe Rogan Betting Admission Reveals Gray Area

Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not.

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Joe Rogan

For nearly a decade, I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the football and basketball programs for the University of Kentucky in some form or fashion. Whether writing for blogs or working with ESPN Louisville as co-host of the post-game show, I’ve gotten to know people around the program I grew up supporting, and other individuals in the media doing the same. I’ve made some terrific friendships and cultivated quite a few relationships that provide me with “inside information” about the teams.

As an avid sports bettor, that information has sometimes put me into some difficult personal situations. There have been times when I’ve been alerted to player news that wasn’t public, such as a player dealing with an injury or suspension. It’s often been told to me off-the-record, and I’ve never put that information out publicly or given it to others.

I wish I could also say I’ve never placed a wager based on that information, but that would be a lie. While it’s been a long time since I’ve done so, I’ve ventured into that ethical gray area of betting on a team that I’m covering. I’ve long felt uncomfortable doing so, and I’d say it’s been a few years since I last did it.

At least I know I’m not alone. On his latest episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Rogan told guest Bert Kreischer that earlier in his UFC broadcasting career he regularly bet on fights. He claims to have won nearly 85% of the time (which I highly doubt but that’s another discussion for another time), either via bets he made or ones he gave to a business partner to place on his behalf.

From his comments, Rogan doesn’t seem to have been using sensitive information to gain an edge with the books, but he also didn’t state that he didn’t. He indicates that much of his success stemmed from knowing quite a bit more about fighters coming from overseas, and he said he “knew who they were and I would gamble on them.”

But Rogan undoubtedly has long been in a position where he knows which fighters might be dealing with a slight injury, or who are struggling in camp with a specific fighting style. It’s unavoidable for someone whose job puts him into contact with individuals who tell him things off-the-record and divulge details without perhaps even realizing it.

But let’s say Rogan did get that information, and did use it, and was still doing so today. The fact is…there’s nothing illegal about it, not in the United States at least. While it’s against the rules of some entities — the NFL, for example, has stated they could suspend or ban for life individuals who use inside information or provide it to others — it’s not against any established legal doctrine. Unlike playing the stock market, insider betting is not regulated by any central body or by the government.

However, Rogan’s admission raises a question as to just how ethical it is to place bets with insider information, and whether it should be legal or not. Many of the after-the-fact actions that have been taken in the realm of legalized sports betting in this country, or those being discussed currently (such as advertising limitations), fall in line with changes made in Great Britain following their legalization.

One of their big changes was making it illegal to utilize insider information, with very specific definitions about the “misuse of information” and what steps the Gambling Commission may take. It lays out what information can be used, the punishments that may be levied, and at what point it might venture into criminality.

Sportsbooks do have recourse in some instances to recoup money on insider betting, but not many. If they can prove that a wage was influenced, they can cancel the bet or sue for the money. The most well-known instance is the individual who bet $50,000 at +750 odds that someone would streak on the field during Super Bowl LV –which he did– and then was denied the payout when he bragged about his exploits. But unless someone foolishly tells the books that they’ve taken them with information that the public wasn’t privy to, they have little to no chance of doing anything about it.

There are ramifications to insider betting that raise truly ethical dilemmas. Just like stock trading, information can be immeasurably valuable to those with stakes large enough to change prices. If I’m placing a $20 prop bet with the knowledge that a team’s starting running back might be out for a game, or dealing with an ankle injury, I’m not going to harm anybody else playing that line. But if I give that information to a shark, who places a $20,000 wager on that same line, I’ve now enabled someone to move a line and impact other bettors.

Online sports betting in this country continues to grow, and every day we are reminded that there are still aspects of the space that can feel like the wild west. As individuals in the media, we have to decide personally what our ethical stances are in situations like this. We also have to keep in mind the impact that betting can have on our biases–especially if we’ve bet using inside information. A prime example is Kirk Herbstreit, who won’t even make a pick on College Gameday for games he is going to be doing color commentary for lest he possibly appears biased on the call.

At one end of the spectrum, you have someone like Herbstreit, and on the other end, you have folks like Rogan who, while he no longer does so, was more than happy to not only wager on fights himself but gave the information to others. And in the middle, you have hundreds of people in similar situations, who might lean one way or another or who, like me, may have found themselves on either side of that ethical line.

There is no black or white answer here, nor am I saying there’s necessarily a right or wrong stance for anybody in the sports media industry to take. I would say that each person has to take stock of what they’re comfortable doing, and how they feel about insider information being used. Rogan didn’t break any rules or laws by gambling on the UFC, but his admission to doing so might be the catalyst towards it no longer being accepted.

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BSM Writers

Grading How the Networks Handled the Tua Concussion Discussion

Rex Ryan, Rodney Harrison, and Boomer Esiason stood out with their commentary on the Tagovailoa story.

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The major story going into the bulk of Week 4’s NFL action on Sunday was the concussion suffered by Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in Thursday’s game versus the Cincinnati Bengals.

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football telecast, particularly its halftime show, faced heavy criticism for neglecting to mention that Tagovailoa had been tested for a concussion in his previous game just four days earlier. Additionally, the NFL Players Association called for an investigation into whether or not the league’s concussion protocols were followed properly in evaluating Tagovailoa.

In light of that, how would the Sunday NFL pregame shows address the Tagovailoa concussion situation? Would they better inform viewers by covering the full story, including the Week 3 controversy over whether or not proper protocols were followed?

We watched each of the four prominent pregame shows — ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown, Fox NFL Sunday, CBS’s The NFL Today, and NBC’s Football Night in America — to compare how the Tagovailoa story was covered. With the benefit of two extra days to research and report, did the Sunday shows do a better job of informing and engaging viewers?

Here’s how the pregame studio crews performed with what could be the most important NFL story of the year:

Sunday NFL Countdown – ESPN

ESPN’s pregame show is the first to hit the air each Sunday, broadcasting at 10 a.m. ET. So the Sunday NFL Countdown crew had the opportunity to lead the conversation for the day. With a longer, three-hour show and more resources to utilize in covering a story like this, ESPN took full advantage of its position.

The show did not lead off with the Tagovailoa story, opting to lay out Sunday’s schedule, which included an early game in London between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. But the Countdown crew eventually got to issue on everyone’s minds approximately 28 minutes into the program.

Insider Adam Schefter provided the latest on the NFL and NFLPA’s investigation into the matter, particularly the “gross motor instability” Tagovailoa displayed in stumbling on the field and how the Dolphins initially announced that the quarterback had suffered a head injury, but later changed his condition to a back injury.

Schefter added that the NFL and NFLPA were expected to interview Tagovailoa and pass new guidelines for concussion protocols, including that no player displaying “gross motor instability” will be allowed to play. Those new rules could go into effect as early as Week 5.

“This is an epic fail by the NFL,” said Matt Hasselbeck to begin the commentary. “This is an epic fail by the medical staff, epic fail by everybody! Let’s learn from it!”

Perhaps the strongest remarks came from Rex Ryan, who said coaches sometimes need to protect players from themselves.

“I had a simple philosophy as a coach: I treated every player like my son,” Ryan said. “Would you put your son back in that game after you saw that?

“Forget this ‘back and ankle’ BS that we heard about! This is clearly from head trauma! That’s it. I know what it looks like. We all know what it looks like.”

Where Sunday NFL Countdown‘s coverage may have stood out the most was by bringing injury analyst Stephania Bell into the discussion. Bell took a wider view of the story, explaining that concussions had to be treated in the long-term and short-term. Science needs to advance; a definitive diagnostic tool for brain injury doesn’t currently exist. Until then, a more conservative approach has to be taken, holding players out of action more often.

Grade: A. Countdown covered the story thoroughly. But to be fair, it had the most time.

The NFL Today – CBS

CBS’s pregame show led off with the Tagovailoa story, going right to insider Jonathan Jones to report. He cited the key phrase “gross motor instability” as a significant indication of a concussion.

Jones also clarified that the unaffiliated neurotrauma consultant who helped evaluate Tagovailoa made “several mistakes” in consulting with the Dolphins’ team doctor, leading to his dismissal by the NFL and NFLPA.

The most pointed remarks came from Boomer Esiason, who said any insinuation that the Dolphins, head coach Mike McDaniel, or the team medical staff put Tagovailoa back in the game in order to win was “off-base.” Phil Simms added that the concussion experts he spoke with indicated that Tagovailoa could miss four to six weeks with this injury.

Grade: B-. The opinions from the analysts were largely bland. Jones’s reporting stood out.

Fox NFL Sunday

The Fox NFL pregame show also led off with the Tagovailoa story, reviewing the questions surrounding how the quarterback was treated in Week 3 before recapping his injury during Week 4’s game.

Jay Glazer reported on the NFL’s investigation, focusing on whether or not Tagovailoa suffered a concussion in Week 3. And if he did, why was he allowed to play in Week 4? Glazer noted that Tagovailoa could seek a second, maybe a third medical opinion on his injury.

Jimmy Johnson provided the most compelling commentary, sharing his perspective from the coaching side of the situation. He pointed out that when an injured player comes off the field, the coach has no contact with him. The medical team provides an update on whether or not the player can return. In Johnson’s view, Mike McDaniel did nothing wrong in his handling of the matter. He has to trust his medical staff.

Grade: B. Each of the analysts shared stronger opinions, particularly in saying a player failing “the eyeball test” with concussion symptoms should be treated seriously.

Football Night in America – NBC

Sunday Night Football was in a different setting than the other pregame shows, with Maria Taylor, Tony Dungy, and Rodney Harrison broadcasting on-site from Tampa Bay. With that, the show led off by covering the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, its effects on the Tampa area, and how the Buccaneers dealt with the situation during the week.

But after 20 minutes, the show got into the Tagovailoa story with Mike Florio reporting what his peers told viewers earlier in the day regarding pending changes to the NFL’s concussion protocol and “gross motor instability” being used as a major indicator.

Florio emphasized that the NFLPA would ask how Tagovailoa was examined and treated. Was he actually examined for a back injury in Week 3? And if he indeed suffered a back injury, why was he still allowed to play?

When the conversation went back to the on-site crew, Dungy admitted that playing Thursday night games always concerned him when he was a coach. He disclosed that teams playing a Thursday game needed to have a bye the previous week so they didn’t have to deal with a quick, four-day turnaround. That scheduling needs to be addressed for player safety.

But Harrison had the most engaging reaction to the story, coming from his experience as a player. He admitted telling doctors that he was fine when suffering concussion symptoms because he wanted to get back in the game. Knowing that was wrong, Harrison pleaded with current players to stay on the sidelines when hurt because “CTE takes you to a dark place.”

“It’s not worth it. Please take care of yourself,” said Harrison. “Don’t depend on the NFL. Don’t depend on anybody. If something’s wrong with your head, report it.”

Grade: B+. Dungy and Harrison’s views of the matter from their perspective as a coach and player were very compelling.

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