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Around the Diamond With Kevin McAlpin

Tyler McComas

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Have you ever attempted to plan out an ultimate baseball trip? A cross-country journey that takes you to various cities and ballparks in America? It’s the ultimate dream for any hardcore baseball fan to experience all the nuances each stadium from Safeco Field to Fenway Park has to offer. For most, that’s a dream that will remain a fantasy. However, for Kevin McAlpin, it’s a daily job.

But to know how McAlpin is traveling the country with the Atlanta Braves Radio Network, you first have to know about his journey. A Temple University grad, McAlpin’s road started at a small AM station north of Philadelphia owned by Eagles play-by-play voice Merrill Reese. 

He was told he would do a little bit of everything, which was meant literally. McAlpin would serve multiple roles, ranging from news and sports updates, to play-by-play for high school football and basketball, to over-night shifts at the station, even when he felt his parents and girlfriend were only ones listening. It was invaluable experience to a young kid that was fresh off an internship with the Philadelphia Phillies in ballpark operations. 

From there, an opportunity with an ESPN station in Philadelphia came about, but it wasn’t the role he was looking for. Strictly dealing with promotions, McAlpin wanted to find a way, whatever the cost, to get back in front of the mic. He did so by approaching his program director and expressing the desire to fill any opening the station had. 

That’s valuable experience to any young person in the business. If you want a larger role in the station, sit down with your PD and show you’re willing to work any shift to make it happen. That’s exactly what McAlpin did, as at the age of 25, he was pulling a Friday night un-paid 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was certainly a start in the right direction.

While most of his friends were probably out and enjoying the Philadelphia nightlife, McAlpin was balancing 90-second updates every 20 minutes, with Boston Market dinner dates alongside his girlfriend in a back room of the station. Now his wife, McAlpin calls Melissa the ‘Real MVP’ of the family, as she not only stuck by his side during the tough times, but essentially becomes a single mom during baseball season. 

Wives of successful personalities in the business don’t get the recognition they deserve, but show me someone who’s had a decent run in radio and I’ll show you someone who’s likely had a woman by his side throughout the entire journey. McAlpin is no different. 

Shortly after proving his worth as an over-night update anchor, McAlpin finally got the big break he was waiting for. Meredith Marakovits, who’s now a reporter for YES Network covering the Yankees, left the station, which opened up a position covering the Phillies as a beat reporter. Once again, McAlpin approached his PD and expressed his desire for the position. And once again, he received the new opportunity by showing ambition. 

Though the station didn’t have much money in the budget, McAlpin offered the station a deal. He’d do the first home stand to show his capabilities and a decision would be made following the series. As fate would have it, the station loved what he brought and put him on the beat for the following two seasons. McAlpin didn’t get to travel with the team in either season, but did all 81 home games for a Phillies squad that eventually became one of the best teams in the National League.

In his new role, McAlpin had a chance to meet a lot of the visiting teams, including the Atlanta Braves, who used him as a stringer for 50 bucks per game. The job included obtaining post-game audio from the Braves’ clubhouse and sending it to their post game show. It may have seemed insignificant at the time, but it would turn out to be a major connection. 

After the 2011 season, McAlpin noticed a job posted online for the Braves Radio Network. Wanting to expand its coverage, the network was looking for a full-time radio reporter to travel with the team and be there from the first day of spring training until the last game of the season.

McAlpin then reached out to a few people he had already communicated with at the Braves Radio Network and asked what they knew about the position. After being one of a couple hundred applicants, his previous working relationship paid off, when he was offered the reporter position for the 2012 season. 

For McAlpin, the 2018 season marks year No. 7 with the Braves Radio Network. His career has allowed him opportunities such as meeting Vin Scully, signing his name inside the Green Monster at Fenway Park and even the opportunity to cover the farewell season for Chipper Jones. When it comes to baseball, he’s experienced almost everything the game has to offer. 

If you take away anything from McAlpin’s experience, let it be these two lessons: First, if you’re looking for a new role at your station, make it known to your PD. Amazing things can happen in your career if you simply ask and show the desire to work. Secondly, make as many contacts as possible. Whether it’s at a press conference, game, wherever, make sure you’re meeting new contacts not only from people in your market, but others as well. 

TM: When was the very first time you got in a radio station? 

KM: I always knew I wanted to do radio or TV since I was in middle school. My high school outside of Philadelphia actually had a radio station. I was able to get my feet wet and get on the air by the time I was a freshman in high school, which was pretty awesome because there’s not a lot of high schools that have those type of opportunities. A cool fact about it, It’s actually the oldest high school radio station in the country. I was mostly a music DJ and other little things. I was just trying to get a feel of how the business works. 

TM: What’s a normal game day like for you? 

KM: Typically, I’m in the clubhouse about four hours before the game starts. I’m there gathering sound we use for the pre game show, as well as one-on-one interviews we use for our weekly show. After that, I go upstairs to edit all the sound and send it in to the studio so those guys can have it for the pre-game show. Once the game starts, I’m covering it and doing updates on social media, stuff like that. 

After the game, I’m getting all the audio for the post game show from the manager, starting pitcher and usually a couple of players. We do a lot of different Braves content, here in Atlanta. So, my day actually starts at 7:45 in the morning when I do about a 10-minute segment with our morning show, called Atlanta Braves Today. We do that every week day from the final week of spring training to the end of the season. 

Basically, I get to the ball park around 3:30 most days, if I’m lucky we’ll get a three-hour game and I’ll get home around midnight or 12:30. 

TM: Since you’re in the clubhouse for every single game of the year, how important is it for you to build really good relationships with the players and coaching staff? 

KM: That’s everything. It takes a long time to establish trust with guys, fortunately I’ve been able to do that with basically everyone I’ve dealt with over the years. The one thing, is that it only takes one screw up to de-rail that relationship you spent so much time building up. 

I think a lot of it is just earning their trust and with traveling with the team, some things happen away from the field that you’ll see and hear but keep to yourself, if you know what I mean. I always respect the guys and never run with things I see off the field. I know where our time is and where our place is, I’m lucky enough to go on the team plane and stay in the team hotel, so I just respect that guy’s privacy as much as possible. It takes one stupid tweet to mess up a relationship and it’s really hard to do your job when you do that. 

TM: With that being said, since you’re with the Braves Radio Network, is it your role to ask tough questions to a guy that’s in a slump or not playing well? 

KM: Yeah, I think you have to because the listeners aren’t idiots. There’s only so much you can try and put a positive spin on. That’s always been my personality, it’s always been how I was raised, to be a happy, look at the bright side kind of guy. But look, if a guy is struggling, you have to point that out. 

I think there’s a way you do that without crushing a guy. You can say, look, this guy is 1 for his last 20, but he had a similar stretch last year and still had 200 hits. I think you have to be honest with the fans and people that are listening, but I don’t think you have to go out of your way to bury a guy either. 

It’s easy to say Freddie Freeman is on pace to win the MVP, but it’s not as easy to question what’s going on with Ozzie Albies lately. You’ve just got to find a balance and the players understand we have a job to do. I don’t think many of the players read or listen to what we put out, some do and they’ll tell you about it, but I think you owe it to the listener to be honest and open. 

TM: Is it hard to find a story line for all 162 games during the season? 

KM: It’s hard. Even when things are going well for the team. It’s just so different from any other sport, because it is every day and you’re always trying to come up with new storylines. I think the one area we’ve been lucky with, is all the storylines that have rolled through since there’s been so many new faces on the roster the last four years. 

It can be challenging when the team has won 8 in a row, because even though that’s good, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to create a story line from. That probably sounds weird, but it’s just another reason why baseball is so different. There’s some days where there’s not a whole lot going on, so you have to dig and find something worth talking about. 

TM: I’m guessing you have to be really up to speed on every team in the National League? 

KM: Yeah, and with Interleague play, you have to an eye on the American League. We go to Toronto this week, we’ll be in Canada about 40 hours after we play a night game and then we’ll turn around and play the next afternoon and fly out after. 

We played Boston in Fenway Park a couple weeks ago, which was easy because they’ve been killing everyone so you didn’t have to dig too deep for stuff on them. It’s not so easy when you play the Tampa Bay Rays. We played down there a couple weeks ago. 

So yeah, I try to do my homework on those teams a couple of days in advance, so when I go into a clubhouse of a team that we don’t see a lot, I’m ready and having an idea on what’s going on with them. I’ll reach out to guys that cover the other teams to see who’s accessible and best to talk to, as well as who to stay away from. But yeah, it’s not just the NL, it’s everybody. 

Fortunately, all the info you could need is at your fingertips, but you have to do keep an eye and ear on what everyone in the game is doing. To me, that’s the fun part. 

TM: How tough is it having a family and having to leave so much during the season? Is that the toughest part of your job?

KM: I would say yes, it’s tough. I have a three-year-old and for 7 months I’m part-time dad. I think the thing people don’t realize, is even when I’m home, I’ll see him for 45 minutes before he goes to daycare and then on FaceTime after he gets home. 

There’s a misconception, because when we’re home, we’re not really home. I do the best I can when we have an off day. I’ll spend the whole day with my son, turn my phone off and try to disconnect for a while, but it’s just so hard because there’s always something happening. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m so lucky to be able to travel. I went to more cities in my first year covering the Braves than my parents have went to in their whole lives. I put in perspective the fact I’m traveling to places I never thought I’d go. We now know where the best places are to get lunch, or where the best bartender in town is, it’s just cool to be able to go to Los Angeles and have spots that you always hit. 

At the end of the day, I just take the positives with the negatives. I get to be home for the offseason that lasts 4 and a half months. There’s not a lot of people that can say they work every day for 7 and a half months but get 4 and half months off. I’m home for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, all the fun holidays. I would sacrifice a 4th of July barbecue to be with my family for those holidays. There’s sacrifices in every job, mine are just a little different. 

BSM Writers

Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes

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Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3xYq3Oe 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3JVYgDp   

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3JWPFQS 

Google: https://buff.ly/3w9RBzX 

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3psPDGZ  

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Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game

“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

Tyler McComas

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If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without thought and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up. 

In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. That’s one of the benefits of being part of the Member Directory. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.

“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”

Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.

“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ‘ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic’,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kind of learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”

But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?

“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ‘ok, what the hell have you done’? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”

Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible. 

“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”

Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk. 

“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ‘ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from’. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”

To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, ‘wow, this is a PD I would love to work for’. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts. He’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him. 

“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”

I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?

“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”

Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show. 

“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”

So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun 

“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt

He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster, Kevin Burkhardt

It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated. 

Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY. 

A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him. 

He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”

Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed. 

ROAD TO FOX

After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season. 

Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw. 

According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”

He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen. 

Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.

GOOD CHOICE

When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers. 

If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision. 

Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons. 

WHY IS HE SO GOOD?

Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.

While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.  

The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst.  It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York. 

I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised. 

DID YOU KNOW?

In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.

In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.

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