One of the great things about the sports radio business is that everyone seems to have a different story to how they ultimately achieved success in the host seat. Some, such as Darren McKee of 104.3 The Fan in Denver, had the privilege of a diploma from a high-profile school such as Syracuse attached to his resume in his early 20’s. Others, such as Christopher Gabriel of 940 ESPN in Fresno, bounced around with odd jobs and an acting career before finally pursuing his passion of sports radio.
Jeremie “Pop” Poplin is another that has his own unique story in sports radio. However, he may be one of the few that’s done it via a broadcasting school. In college at Tulsa Community College, Poplin will honestly tell you he was interested most days with the afternoon sports talk in town, rather than his upcoming classes for the day.
“I got bit by the radio bug early,” said Poplin. “Like, I can remember Chris Plank wasn’t in radio for very long and doing his afternoon show here at The Buzz in Tulsa. I would make it a point to listen to that non-stop. I was a huge Art Bell fan at night and Jim Rome during the day. Man, I would skip class, would skip algebra to listen to Rome in the parking lot. I was just fascinated by it. I was young and got to the point where I was done with school and saw a commercial on television for American Broadcasting School. I was like, you know, let’s just go for it and see what happens.”
There’s not just one particular avenue an individual must take to get into sports radio. That’s the beauty of it. Poplin is a living example that you don’t have to go to Syracuse, Missouri, Northwestern, or any other major 4-year institution to achieve success in the field. His rise to show host and PD at The Buzz in Tulsa shows that attending a broadcast school can certainly get you into the business. But with that being said, does it mean it’s still the right way to go?
Maybe you’re 34 years old and have a family but want to finally explore the sports radio format. Or, you could be an early college student like Poplin was when he decided to attend a broadcast school. No matter your situation, this article is intended for the ones that have thought about going with the alternative option of a local broadcast school. Is it worth your time? Can you get a job out of it? Will you learn the necessary tools to be successful? To learn all those answers I asked Poplin himself how much the school serves its students.
TM: Why do you think going to a broadcasting school was the best for you at that time?
JP: At the time? Man, that’s a good question. It’s tough, because I felt that’s what was consuming me. I had this want and this desire…maybe it was ill-sided because I wanted this fast track, you know what I mean?
I wanted it so bad and I knew that once I got involved with it that I was going to be all the way in. I wanted that to encompass everything I was doing. I just wanted a fast track at the time, I was always a talk radio guy and the thought of being on the air on living that life was a magical thing to me. Even when I was in school, I thought that even the music route would be okay, but I always wanted to be in the talk format, specifically sports.
TM: How hands-on was the broadcasting school early on? Did you have to wait long to be doing the things you wanted?
JP: At first, it was a lot of technical stuff, like you’re trying to learn FCC rules and regulations. But then, they basically put you in a production room and you would pretend you were coming out of a song, do a stop set and then throw it back to music. Obviously, for the first week you’re going to be terrible, but you were in front of a mic before a couple of days. To get completed and done didn’t even take an entire year, in a lot of ways it was like a vo-tech.
One thing they did say is that they would help you with job placement, which they never really did at all. The thing is, I figured out once you got in there that the curriculum is driven by all music stuff. You basically had to go and create a scenario to where you would do anything other than music, so I would go in and basically fake like I was in a sports talk produced commercial. I would write my own copy for commercials like that and it’s what got me more comfortable in the talk format. But yeah, everything was pointed towards music.
TM: Did they have quality equipment and professors on hand?
JP: They had equipment, it was pretty basic though because I was learning on CD’s and carts. They would give you a cassette and you would record on it for your air checks. It was very basic at the time, but keep in mind that right before I turned 21, that’s when internet radio was just starting and they had one studio that would broadcast 24 hours a day over the internet and that was it, because that was on the very forefront of that. That kind of gives you an idea.
I was learning on carts and everything else, and that was older technology. When I got my first job, I quickly realized nobody used carts anymore at all. It was just very basic. They had seven studios you could go in, you had a curriculum throughout the day where you did have instructors. But there was just so many people there, that it was hard for the instructors to give anyone individualized instructions. From what I remember, there seemed to be only one instructor that really put time and the effort to make you feel comfortable with the progress you were making. You were really kind of on your own. They left you to your own and would air check you once a week.
TM: So, the idea behind going to a broadcast school at that time was to be able to skip all the entry level classes at a college and move right into hands-on work?
JP: Yeah, it was. Don’t get me wrong, I made the most important relationship of my life at the school when I met my wife there. She was in radio, too. I don’t want to skip over that process, because that changed my life in meeting her there. But, at the time, yeah that was exactly it.
I would go to a regular class in college and think, what am I doing? This isn’t fun and I was just burned out. I saw the commercials for the broadcast school and it just felt right.
Now, revisionist history. Clearly now I regret not going the other route, but yeah at the time, it was definitely the thought. It was, I’ve already had enough history, I took speech classes at the time that intrigued me, but I wanted to get to it and do it right away.
TM: Do you know of any other successful people in sports radio that were either in class with you at the same time, or went to the Tulsa branch at some point?
JP: No, I mean I know other people in radio that went there, but sports talk wise, no I don’t of any at all.
TM: For instance, let’s say you’re 34 years old, have a family, and wanting to finally pursue sports radio for the first time. Would a broadcast school be the perfect route to go?
JP: I think it’s different, I mean I know there’s the Ohio School of Broadcasting and the Connecticut School of Broadcasting. But I don’t know what the experiences are like at those two places and how different the curriculum is. I’m just going off what my experience was and I feel like it would be okay to get your foot in the door for more of a music format, if you want to go that way. But if you’re just looking a talk format, man, I learned probably more in my first year working at a real radio station than I did my entire time at the broadcast school. Because, quite frankly, I walked into a great situation as an entry level board op, learning and watching guys that have the reputation of being incredible on-air performers.
Guys like Michael DelGiorno who made his name in Tulsa and is in Nashville currently. I still say today that Chris Plank on the air is one of the more incredible talking talents and interviewers that I’ve ever been around. I had a chance to sit back and learn from incredibly talented hosts and really learn the talk format. I learned more as a board op and paying attention than I did at the broadcasting school.
TM: You’ve risen to become a show host and PD at The Buzz, so let’s say you have a position open with two younger candidates. One went to a 4-year college and the other went to a broadcast school. Under this scenario, their talent level seems very similar on an air check. Do you favor hiring the 4-year graduate in that case?
JP: Honestly, I think it comes down to their personality and how they do face-to-face. I’ll you this, I’m not going to sit there and say I’d lean one way or the other if their air checks are similar. I do feel like now there’s no more advantages of coming out of a 4-year university with all the resources they have. What we have in our state with what Oklahoma State and Oklahoma does with their programs, I mean, you get a pretty incredible leg up, in my opinion, now, much more than ever.
I think it’s changed so much in the past 10-15 years. I do feel those kids have a leg up, but by no means anyway geared in favoritism towards someone who comes out of a 4-year. A lot of it for me is still going to depend on worth ethic, drive and personality.
TM: Let’s go back to the kid that wanted to go to the car in the school parking lot and listen to Jim Rome instead of going to class. What would you tell him now? Would you tell him to do it all over again? Yes, your wife was involved, but just in terms of a career aspect.
JP: There are two ways to look at it in my opinion. Obviously not changing anything because I met my wife, but I think now that I have a daughter, and my wife and I have talked about this before, I would tell him to go back into class at TCC. There’s plenty of time for that and there’s some unbelievable things coming down the road, as far as the platform itself. So yeah, I would absolutely tell that person to go back in class and pay attention. Just because you feel like that in the short-term, I think you would benefit much more in the longer run from doing that.
I will always carry it with me that I didn’t finish a 4-year and it’s a chip on my shoulder that fuels me to work harder, but it’s kind of a double-edged sword that’s helped me in so many ways. But yet, I still feel like I carry this giant hindrance that I didn’t do it.
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.