Deneroff Still Gets A Rush When The Red Light Goes On
“I still love being there. There’s nothing like going to the ballpark, stadium or arena for a big game. I’ll never take that for granted.”
Unless you work in the sports broadcast industry or consistently listen to radio credits, you might not be aware of the name Howard Deneroff.
As the Executive Producer of Westwood One Sports, Deneroff has been on hand for three decades worth of the world’s greatest sporting events, playing a vital role in how they sound to the listening audience. Not only has he hired some of the most recognizable voices in sports, but he’s in the booth himself, contributing to Super Bowls, the Olympics, Final Fours and other prestigious events.
Howard’s rarely in the spotlight, but he’s been near it for the last 30 years and that’s how he wants it to stay. He might not enjoy talking about himself, but Howard Deneroff loves discussing his job. Filled with great stories and insight from the inner workings of a sports broadcast, Deneroff exudes the passion that all diehard sports fans and audiences share.
Brandon Contes: Westwood One for 30 years, you’re the Executive Producer – give a quick scope of work because you’re well known within the industry, but when I tell my wife I’m interviewing Howard Deneroff today, she says who’s that?
Howard Deneroff: [Laughs] She doesn’t listen to the credits enough. It’s technically nine years with CBS Radio Sports (different from today’s CBS Sports Radio) and 21 years with Westwood One, but it’s the same entity. My role is in charge of the play-by-play division of Westwood One, all of our broadcasts for the NFL, NCAA, NHL. We also broadcast the Masters, the Triple Crown of Horse Racing, the Olympics – it’s a full schedule. I’m in charge of the overall sound, talent and production. I’m also part of the negotiation team for broadcast rights of all our events.
It’s my job to make sure all of our broadcasts sound up to network standards. We want people to hear a broadcast and know this is Westwood One. If you hear something wrong, it’s my fault, if you hear something right, everyone else gets the credit [Laughs], which is the way it should be, but hopefully you never hear anything wrong.
BC: Are you surprised about radio’s longevity as someone who’s been in the business for over 30 years? It’s outlasted CDs and iPods, it’s going to outlast newspapers, maybe even cable.
HD: We use the term audio more than radio now, because you can hear us online, on your phone and a lot of devices. We’re radio primarily, but people consume audio in a lot of ways, which is part of why the demise of radio has not occurred, despite many people predicting it. I entered into this business because I love sports and broadcasting and the combination of the two was my way to get into sporting events for free [Laughs]. There are plenty of people that still can’t watch games, for whatever reason, whether they’re at work, in the car or visually impaired.
There’s still an audience out there and we’re going to produce the best broadcast possible for them, even though we recognize the younger generation isn’t as glued to the radio as I was at their age.
BC: Did you ever have an interest in doing local radio?
HD: When I first started, my goal was to do live sports. I would have taken a job with any team or local broadcast, it just so happened that I got this network job out of college. Literally – graduated Sunday, drove Monday, started Tuesday. Not at the level I’m at now, but it was as a production assistant with CBS Radio Sports. They had broadcast rights to Major League Baseball and the NFL. At the time they just started the Spanish language division to broadcast the World Series and Super Bowl in Spanish. Spanish was my best subject in school and my grandmother lived in Cuba before coming to the United States, so I learned the language growing up. I don’t speak it fluently, but I’m conversant enough to produce a broadcast in Spanish.
BC: During those early years, were you trying to get on-air or did you quickly realize you liked being behind the scenes?
HD: I did some on-air work in college at Syracuse, but to be fair, I was in college at the same time as Mike Tirico, Ian Eagle and a bunch of talented broadcasters. Probably 12 to 15 people doing on-air work and I was 15th out of the 15. We had a great group of broadcasters and I recognized that I was the worst guy there. We didn’t know Mike Tirico and Ian Eagle were going to be two of the greatest broadcasters of all time. While I was the 15th best there, I may have been the 16th best in the country, [Laughs] we’ll never know.
Nobody wanted to lug equipment and produce. No one really knew what producing was. But I started to think I might not make it as an announcer, so I went behind the scenes more and from the first time I did a game as a producer – a women’s basketball game, I never wanted to go back on-air. I did on-air work throughout college, but it was never a priority anymore. Production was perfect for me. I’m organized, I know how it should sound and I can help people get there.
People like Ian didn’t need a ton of help, but I enjoyed the planning of, ‘let’s do this for four minutes, then take a break and we’ll place this interview here’. I could still help by knowing it was the first time something happened in a game since 1982 or who holds this statistical record, but producing just felt right for me from the start. I like making decisions, but I never needed to be the front-man. I never need credit, I just want a good broadcast and that’s my reward.
BC: How many announcers, analysts, reporters, on-air personalities do you hire in a given year?
HD: It’s about 12 broadcast teams for men’s and women’s NCAA basketball, six for the NFL, college football is two or three, and between everything we do with the NHL and all other sports, it’s about 50. Then in an Olympic year it’s another dozen. I get a lot of requests and audio demos sent to me that are good, but I can’t hire everybody. I love the NCAA tournament because I get to hire a lot of people, but I still might only be hiring 12 people in the entire country! I hate having to tell people no, that’s the bad part of the job. I love being able to hire people, to tell them yes and find new talent. Out of 365 days of the year, there is probably no more than 15 days in the year that I don’t get tape or an email sent to me inquiring about a position or asking me to listen.
BC: Do you enjoy critiquing audio?
HD: I love it, I wish I had more time for it. I remember when I was graduating college, there were no smartphones, email or links, so you would send out cassette or videotapes and it was very hard to get a response. When I was sending tapes, I didn’t like not getting responses, so I always try to respond, even if it’s just saying I might not get to this for six months or apologize because I don’t have an opening right now. But it’s important to me to at least send a note.
BC: How much of a tape do you like to listen to?
HD: People say you know quickly if someone is good and sometimes you will within a few minutes, but I listen to a full game or at least a half of a game. Somebody could be good for three or four minutes and then just go off the rails. If I’m considering hiring someone, I definitely listen to the full game, but even if a student sends me a tape, I’ll listen for at least a half. Too many things happen in a game where I like to listen to more than just a few minutes.
BC: Is it fun to find younger broadcasters and watch them grow? Just like a general manager of a team drafting and developing their own talent or even as a listener, I remember hearing Kevin Burkhardt on the FAN and then seeing him on SNY. Now he’s a top broadcaster in the country and I get excited when I see him because it was fun to hear and watch that progression.
HD: Yeah and there’s no question you never want to swing and miss. Have I done that? Yes, nobody’s perfect, but you recognize it quickly. You want to hit a homerun, you want broadcasters that will never have the listener thinking ‘how did this guy get on-air?’ I’d like to think our track record is pretty good and we’ve had very minimal complaints from affiliates regarding talent. Talent is still only one part of it. I’m a producer at heart and producers are very important, engineers are hugely important. Without the right equipment, it doesn’t matter who’s on-air. You can have Mike Tirico and the best analyst, but if the mic isn’t on, it won’t matter. A good broadcast encompasses everything. Having good talent helps to navigate through tough times. Look at the end of this year’s Kentucky Derby when they’re waiting to see the decision on the winner. There’s no road map for that delay, there’s no plan for a blackout in the Super Bowl.
BC: You were in the booth for that Super Bowl, Ravens and 49ers?
HD: Oh yeah.
BC: Did you think you hit the wrong button?
HD: [Laughs] The front row of the booth is Kevin Harlan, Boomer Esiason, a spotter, a statistician and me. The second row is our pregame and halftime show hosts, Jim Gray, Larry Fitzgerald and our producer for that and the third row is engineering and equipment.
I go to grab a cue card for Kevin, so I turn away from the field and my headphones go out which happens occasionally if I turn too far and the headphones get pulled out of the socket. That’s what I assumed happened. I turn back to plug them in and look at my box that has all my buttons to talk with everyone, it’s like a mini intercom system and it’s dark. “Oh Crap.”
Kevin starts hitting me and banging his headphones to signal he has nothing, I look down and see he’s dark and now it’s “oh s***”
Keep in mind this is all within three seconds! I turn around to yell for an engineer to see what’s going on and I see complete darkness and we have racks of equipment that should be lit up! Now the expletives get worse. Within those first few seconds, I’m thinking it’s us. Once I look out and see the whole stadium is out we realize, okay this is everyone.
My first year at CBS Radio was 1989, my first World Series was in the Bay Area, which of course had an earthquake during our pregame show. I was a rookie and let everyone tell me what to do, but I never thought 20, 25 years later I would go back to that experience. You’re not a sports broadcaster anymore, you’re now a news reporter, because at this point we don’t know if it’s the stadium, the whole city of New Orleans, terrorists or what. Thank God the stadium had one bank of lights on so everyone inside wasn’t in a panic.
We have an emergency phone that we actually call the “oh s*** phone.” I call the studio and they tell me we’re in a commercial break which is what we’re supposed to do. After the break, I hand the phone to Kevin Harlan so he can explain to our listeners what’s going on. Kevin then hands the phone to Boomer and they go back and forth on-air.
BC: So you’re now doing a broadcast during the Super Bowl through a landline telephone?
HD: Right, which is exactly what they did in 1989 (during the earthquake). First, they try to explain what happened, what they heard, what it looks like. One of our engineers worked at our radio affiliate in New Orleans, WWL. He called them to find out if the outage is the entire city. Once we find out its isolated to the stadium, we report that. We keep trying to find out information and report, because even the PA system was out and the 70,000 people in the stadium have a radio at their seat, so they’re learning what happened by listening to us. But those unusual things are the beauty of live broadcasting. That was probably a bigger adrenaline rush than anything I’ve ever done.
We probably received more positive feedback about those 36 minutes than all of the Super Bowls I’ve worked combined.
BC: There’s certainly a different rush with anything that’s live.
HD: I love it and that’s when I’ll know it’s time to stop doing this, unless they tell me first because you don’t control your own fate. But when that red light goes on, I still get an adrenaline rush and until I no longer get that rush, why would I want to stop doing this job?
BC: Were there other things from earlier in your career that you didn’t foresee being helpful, but later on you were able to look back on. Similarly to how the earthquake broadcast helped you know how to handle a Super Bowl power outage?
HD: When I first started at CBS, I used to walk upstairs to the television studios and watch how they would do the NFL Today because halftimes for games start at different times and they only have one studio show. How does one show do all of the different games when each halftime overlaps? I was fascinated to watch because it’s a jigsaw puzzle, but I never thought it would be relevant for me.
In 2003, we take over the NCAA Tournament and we have individual basketball games that start and break at different times and they all overlap. So 14 years later, I knew how to jump back and forth and arrange it. It’s the crux of how we do the tournament because we’re doing every game, and while fans of a specific team can hear the game in its entirety online, we have a RedZone style broadcast for terrestrial radio. You always need to watch and learn around you because you never know when something will come in handy.
BC: Who’s in charge of the RedZone style broadcast that you hear on WFAN and terrestrially around the country? Who decides what game to play and when to switch to a different game?
HD: That’s me and (WFAN afternoon host Mike) Francesa kills me every year on-air [Laughs].
I’m watching every game simultaneously and making those judgements and there’s a lot that goes into it. There could be a three point game where a 12 seed is beating the 5 seed and it’s at the 4 minute, 28 second mark. Fans might see the score and want me to switch to that broadcast, but I’m not going to that game when they have an automatic TV timeout at 4 minutes. You’ll hear 20 seconds of action and then a break. Why not stay with action (of the first game) and wait until after they have a timeout? If you’re just looking at the score, you want us to go to that game because it’s a 12 beating a 5 with less than 5 minutes to go. Trust me, I’m getting there, but there are a lot of factors with timeouts, commercials and live reads. You want to join cleanly. My goal is to give fans the most action possible, with the least amount of interruption.
There are times you pick wrong. We can have two close games and need to choose which one is going to have the better ending. There’s no question I’ve made mistakes in switching off a game. It’s an impossible task, but we joke every year – and guess what time we’ll start getting criticized for not switching to a different game.
BC: Where are you doing that from?
HD: Our New York studios, which is the CBS Broadcast Center. It’s in the same building, so we can have our eyes on everything TV does, which is great.
BC: How often are you at games and in the broadcast booth?
HD: I’m on the road 200 to 250 days a year, depending on if we have the Olympics or something like that. It’s less than I used to be, but it varies depending on what rights we have. I used to do more events, but we have very qualified people to do the job without me in the booth. I still love being there. There’s nothing like going to the ballpark, stadium or arena for a big game. I’ll never take that for granted.
BC: When you are in the booth, are you ever critiquing the announcers? Or is it mostly making sure everything sounds smooth and you’re hitting commercial breaks on time?
HD: Let’s be honest, the most important thing on any broadcast is that the commercials play properly, whether I want to admit it or not. Without commercials, none of us have jobs and I get that, but there’s more to it. What are you going to talk about, for how long and in what order during a broadcast.
BC: So you’re also developing topics for pregame and in-game conversations?
HD: Yes, and when you hire top talent we usually know what they’re going to talk about, but there are times you’ll have a great sound bite or highlight to incorporate that’s relevant to the game. Once the puck is dropped or kickoff happens, most of the time it’s left up to the announcer because we have the luxury of hiring the best of the best. There are times I’ll prompt the announcer or analyst. It could be as basic as saying in their ear ‘hey coach, would you go for it on 4th down or not?’
It could also be like Super Bowl XL – Marv Albert’s doing the game with Boomer Esiason and it was the second or third play from scrimmage in the second half. The Steelers have the ball and Willie Parker breaks through for what ends up being a touchdown run. It was clear from about 10 yards past the line of scrimmage he’s going to score, so I tell Boomer in his ear to ‘layout’ – don’t say a word, don’t jump on Marv. I rarely say that to an announcer, so if I do, they know it’s for a good reason.
I then yell out to my statistician ‘how long will this run be?’ He tells me 75 yards, and I ask if he’s sure, 100% sure? He said ‘yeah, why?’ Because the record is 74 yards, Marcus Allen. So right after Marv says touchdown Willie Parker, I’m in his ear saying ‘longest run in Super Bowl history.’
Marv then regurgitates, “The longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.” (Howard said this doing a decent Marv Albert impression)
I tell the studio to cue up the Marcus Allen highlight from Super Bowl XVIII, which we have ready to go just in case and I want that coming out of the commercial break. Next, I tell Jim Gray, Marcus Allen is in the MVP suite because he was honored at the game as a previous Super Bowl MVP, go ask him about his record being broken.
Sometimes you need the stars to align, but there’s also the preparation of having that Super Bowl XVIII highlight ready to go. You want the broadcast to be entertaining. If you don’t have it, is anybody listening saying, ‘why don’t they have that highlight?’ No, but I think people like hearing those old highlights that pertain to and enhance the broadcast.
BC: Have you ever gotten a tape that someone sends and you don’t think they’re ready yet and then years later you hear them with another company and now they are ready for network?
HD: I can give you a specific example. We like to have different calls from NCAA Conference Tournaments for potential Cinderella teams. We already have a lot of the larger schools because some of those tournaments are on our network, but we don’t do all of the smaller conference tournaments. In 2008, we wanted a play-by-play highlight from the University of Evansville and with smaller schools, they don’t have a producer or anything, we have to contact the announcer directly. We get a copy of a game winning call from their play-by-play voice, Brandon Gaudin.
It was a nice call, nothing earth-shattering. After the tournament he sends a thank you note and asks if I would listen to and critique some of his tape. I gave him a list of probably 10 notes, comments such as you didn’t give me the shot clock here, I’d like to know the free-throw percentage or this was too much information with the starting lineups, simple concrete items like that.
A couple years later Brandon gets the Butler job. He reaches out again and asks for another critique. Then Butler gets to the Final Four and now he introduces himself in person and asks, ‘Can you listen again? I think I’ve really improved.’ I give him a few more pointers and he asks if I’m closer to working for Westwood? I said ‘you’re getting closer, but still need a couple more things.’
Then he gets the Georgia Tech job. After a year, he asks me to listen again and now he’s really close, he needed one more year. He worked on a couple of things that year and then I hired him. It was a progression of around six years. I liked his persistence, he never just said, ‘I’m good I should work for you.’ He just wanted to get better. I’m happy to listen, I like listening. I find it funny that people trust me on it, but I think I hear things differently than people. I can’t call games the way others can, but I know how it should sound.
BC: You mentioned things like not giving the shot clock or free throw percentage, but when you listen to a broadcaster from a small school, how much do you factor in that they might not have a producer, statistician or someone in the booth helping them give the right statistic at the right time?
HD: In 2003, I was in Omaha for the College World Series and Kevin Kugler, who worked there locally at the time, asked me to listen to a tape. I forget the exact game in the tape, but it was a football game between two teams you never heard of, Division II or III. The quality of the tape was HORRIBLE. It was distorted, it was windy, it was terrible and my first question was ‘who’s your engineer?’ He said, ‘I’m the engineer’ – so I told him, ‘well I’m never hiring you for that.’ [Laughs]
But in the tape, he says, ‘That’s a 17-yard gain. He now has 4 catches for 78 yards. They’re 3 for 7 on third down.’ He gave instant numbers like that throughout the entire game, so I asked ‘who’s your stat guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t have a stat guy,’ so I asked ‘well who’s your spotter?’ Again, ‘spotter? I don’t have a spotter.’ I was so impressed that he could handle all of that. We hired him for the network within a year after that and he’s been a great addition ever since.
The answer is yes, I recognize the resources are different. I tell people NFL games are easy compared to Division II games, because you have a statistician, spotter, all the press notes you want, all the information and video you want. If you can do a high school football game well, you can do an NFL game. That doesn’t mean I’m giving someone from high school an NFL gig, but I don’t want anyone to ever be discouraged in saying ‘I know I’m only doing high school or Division III games,’ because it’s not that far of a leap.
BC: I compare sports talk radio in the way it’s changed to Major League Baseball because it used to be, put the mic on and take calls; baseball used to be throw the ball, hit the ball. Baseball has gotten so specialized with analytics and everything in radio is now analyzed and debated – should we take calls, should we use guests or radio bits, how much audio and music beds should there be. Both have modernized. Similarly, how have play-by-play broadcasts changed?
HD: Great question. I don’t know that it’s changed as much, but if you listen back to old broadcasts; World Series, NBA, Super Bowls – the game ends, they give the final score and throw it right to a break. The Super Bowl ends and they would just go right to a commercial! What I would say changed the most is the pre and post-game shows being longer. We get everybody we can to talk about the game. If you’re a fan, you want to hear from the players to know what happened, what did it feel like? And you want that from the losing side too, which never would have been done in the old days.
Part of the reason for longer pre and post-game shows is bigger rights fees. In order to pay for those, you need a certain number of commercials. But when I first started, we would go on-air for the Super Bowl at six o’clock for a 6:18 kickoff – we had an 18 minute pregame show. Then we expanded it to start at 5:45 – a half hour pregame show!
Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego – the story is John Elway’s last chance at winning. We talked to him at the hotel and he gave us 14 minutes. To this day, I think it was the best interview we’ve ever done, but I couldn’t air more than six minutes of it! We had to air the parts talking about how can they beat the Packers and the road to the Super Bowl. I will tell you, the half of the interview that did not air was better than the half that did, but we needed to prioritize specific quotes. I was so frustrated by that, so I went to our bosses and told them they need to give us more time. They have to be able to sell the Super Bowl and let us do a longer show. So for Super Bowl XXXIII, we added a one-hour optional pregame show called Super Sunday to see if affiliates would take it and it was awesome, but we still didn’t have enough time! Super Bowl XL, we added another hour and then XLV, we added another hour, XLVIII we added another. Now we have six hours of pregame, but as little as 21 years ago, we had less than 20 minutes, which is crazy.
The fans are also smarter because of the access to information they have. They know the game better, so you can be more technical on the broadcast. When we do a broadcast, we’re blacked out in the cities of the game, so if we’re doing a Jacksonville-Tennessee game Thursday night in December and you’re listening in Seattle, you’re a diehard fan. You’re not a casual fan. We can be more in depth and technical. We can say “Cover 2” or the “A-gap.” It’s still important to teach, but the audience is smarter than they used to be with the information they have.
There are also many more former players and coaches on the broadcast than there used to be. They give a different perspective and take the audience into the huddle. Also, audio technology has changed – you can hear the puck hit the post, a thunderous dunk or the swoosh of the net at the buzzer, and we incorporate that into our broadcast. It’s all part of today’s audio experience.
BC: You mentioned that Seattle fan listening to the Titans and Jaguars game in December, they might be a diehard fan, but they also might have money on the game. What’s the thought on bringing sports wagering into a broadcast?
HD: For the first 29 years that I’ve done this, gambling was completely off limits for every sport. It was never a discussion. Now the NHL has a team in Vegas and the NFL is going to Vegas. The NFL just sent us revised guidelines for advertising because for years, we weren’t able to take advertising dollars from casinos and now all of a sudden we’re allowed to. I don’t think we’re at the point where on the broadcast we’re going to talk about the line or the over/under. At some point, it looks like there will be in-stadium betting and once the NFL opens it up, we’ll open it up. There’s an audience that cares about it, but they’re not tuning into us to hear the spread. They tune in to hear what’s happening. They want to know the score, but they don’t need us to tell them the betting line is 4.5. At some point? Maybe, but not yet. We might eventually decide we could sell a show specifically to gambling, but in terms of within the play-by-play, I don’t think we’re there yet.
BC: Do you do mock broadcasts when trying to pair an announcer and analyst?
HD: Very rarely. It’s difficult budget wise, but generally because we’re the network and we can be more selective, everyone who I will consider hiring already has a tape. It’s very rare that we hire someone who hasn’t already done the job somewhere. Occasionally, television will do a mock broadcast and let me see it, but to see how two people will work together, I’ll put them on a less important game to start. I won’t put a pair on the NCAA Tournament together if they haven’t worked in the regular season together. We’ll take a Tuesday night regular season game in February to see how a pair will mesh, but I have the advantage of choosing from the cream of the crop.
BC: Can you tell after one game? Do you need to hear a full season to see how broadcasters will develop together?
HD: If I don’t think they mesh together after one game, it’s unlikely they’ll have a second game together. Chemistry can develop, but if it’s bad, I don’t think it’s going to get fixed and there’s no need to try when I know they’re each good enough to work with someone else. There’s really not a lot of that because we have the luxury of hiring from some of the best in the country. They don’t need a lot of coaching. Some guidance, but the critiques I give to the people I’m hiring is different from the critiques I give the people I’m not hiring.
BC: How important is it to have a play-by-play announcer with personality? Ian Eagle, Kevin Harlan – they’re funny, they have personality, is that something generally you look for?
HD: Personality is more important on TV than radio. Description is more important for radio than personality. Relay the information, describe what’s happening, get excited about what’s happening. Passion is more important than personality. Personality can help and can make you better, but we don’t need a comedian. The analyst needs to have personality more so than the play-by-play voice because the play-by-play announcer is there to describe what’s happening, while the analyst needs to relay the information with an entertaining delivery. A play-by-play announcer can have all the personality in the world, but if I don’t know where the ball is, it’s irrelevant for radio.
It needs to sound fun because at the end of the day, it’s sports. If we’re not having fun, the listener knows. We’re at a football game, basketball, hockey game. We take this seriously and dead air is terrible. A commercial doesn’t play, that’s terrible [Laughs]. But big picture, sports is a release and putting it into perspective, the worst day at our job is better than the best day for a lot of people at their job. It’s an awesome job. I like talking about the job, I don’t like talking about me [Laughs]. I think I have a very good ear, but it’s not a skill like a heart surgeon, so I get uncomfortable talking about myself because someone else can do this job well.
BC: But you do influence what millions of people hear on the radio in a given year, so there is an interest in how you go about the job.
HD: I never thought about it that way. That’s interesting, but I consider myself part of that target audience. I’m a diehard sports fan, so when I’m working on a broadcast, I just try to think about what is it that I would like to know.
Brandon Contes is a freelance writer for BSM. He can be found on Twitter @BrandonContes. To reach him by email click here.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
Ian Rapoport Is Competing Against Everyone
“When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive.”
The 2023 NFL Draft was a weekend filled with speculation, intrigue and musing among football fans and experts alike. After two quarterbacks were selected with the first two picks – C.J. Stroud by the Jacksonville Jaguars; and Bryce Young by the Houston Texans – Ian Rapoport had the inclination that something was about to break at the event in Kansas City.
The third pick of the night was held by the Arizona Cardinals, but through previous intel, Rapoport knew there was a chance the team would trade it. His phone then lit up with a text message from a source that simply read, “Texans trading.” Receiving a message of this magnitude takes years of networking, credibility and immense trust from the people you cover. Rapoport has worked hard to attain all of them.
He replied by asking, “Did the Texans trade up to three?,” as the team was not set to pick again until No. 12 overall. Once he got confirmation of the scenario, he began to visibly shake in excitement and captured the attention of the NFL Network team.
“I sit there with a camera in front of me that’s not always on air – this is during the Draft – and the producer gets in my ear and he goes, ‘Can you go on air with whatever you have?,’ and I just say, ‘Yes.’” Rapoport recalled. “And then I hear Rich Eisen go, ‘Ian, you have news,’ and I was able to break that the Texans have traded up to three to go get Will Anderson.”
This is the craft through which Rapoport has cultivated a successful journalism career, ultimately distinguishing him as NFL Network’s goto insider. He hardly ever separates himself from the job, equipped with an unparalleled work ethic to ensure he can communicate messages accurately and in a timely manner. While some people may argue that he is in direct competition with others in his position, such as Adam Schefter of ESPN, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports, the reality of the situation is that it is Rapoport vs. the world.
“It’s such a small world now and everyone is interconnected – and with Twitter, literally anyone could break a story and have it go viral,” Rapoport said. “Obviously, you want everything first, but really you’re competing against everyone that exists because anyone could get the story at any moment.”
Work-life balance in such a role is usually quite insurmountable in today’s dynamic, interminable breaking news environment. Rapoport strives to find some level of normalcy in his life by playing golf and attending his sons’ sporting events. In the end though, he knows the world of football never sleeps, and it is up to him to remain in the know at all hours of the day, essentially always on standby to break the next big story.
“I do not turn my phone off because that’s actually way more stressful,” Rapoport said. “At least now when my phone’s on and near me, if something crazy happens, I can react rather than having a fake relaxation moment and then being caught off guard with something.”
Rapoport recognized that journalism was the field for him almost immediately after stepping onto the Columbia University campus. He worked his way up at The Dial to ultimately become its associate sports editor. In the summer preceding his senior year, he landed a coveted internship with ESPN where he gained invaluable experience in the world of television production.
By the time he graduated, Rapoport envisioned himself becoming a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, but he knew it was going to require he start small. Three hundred eleven job applications and two interviews later, he landed a part-time role with The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y. covering high school sports. It gave him a start in the highly-competitive business – and kept him close to home while trying many new things.
Two years later, he found himself moving from the bright lights of New York City to the quaint town of Starkville, Mississippi for a notable opportunity. He had landed a job covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs for The Clarion-Ledger in the nearby capital city of Jackson and was under the direction of sports editor Rusty Hampton.
“I knew how to write, but I really didn’t know how to report,” Rapoport said. “He was probably the best [at] showing me, ‘This is all about reporting. It’s all about telling people something they don’t know rather than how well you can pen a sentence.’ To be really valuable to society or your newspaper, you really need to inform rather than entertain. I think he was probably the first and best person to teach me that.”
After spending two years in Mississippi, Rapoport became a beat reporter for The Birmingham News tasked with following the Alabama Crimson Tide. Just months into his new role, the program made a coaching change and hired Nick Saban, who has since led the program to six national titles.
Rapoport learned the thoroughness necessary to cover the Southeastern Conference as he rapidly watched the program become a perennial contender. In turn, he became an eminent college football reporter and his work began to be consumed nationally.
Simultaneously, Bill Belichick, another accomplished football head coach in his own right, was in the process of trying to lead the New England Patriots back to championship glory. Known to be stoic and restrained in his press conferences, reporters asking him questions knew extrapolating answers was not the easiest of tasks.
When Rapoport saw a job opening to cover the team with the Boston Herald that required NFL experience, he knew that he was not qualified verbatim per se. Yet he figured the experience he had in covering Saban and Alabama would serve him well in the role, and articulated such in a protracted email to the newspaper’s editors. His strategy worked, proving why Rapoport is considered one of the industry’s best communicators at the micro and macro levels.
“You don’t see a lot of sources within the Patriots or sources within Alabama – there’s not a lot of that,” Rapoport said. “So I learned to report despite that and kind of work the edges and get the information I needed, despite head coaches who weren’t always the most forthcoming with information.”
NFL Network oftentimes has local beat reporters on the air to interact with studio talent and give their perspectives about teams, and it was something Rapoport did while at the Boston Herald. He had no television experience outside of other appearances he made on Comcast New England and certainly no intention to pursue the medium as a career.
In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants overcame the New England Patriots, who were undefeated for the year entering the game. Rapoport was on hand for the proceedings, and shortly afterwards was called into a meeting with NFL Network executives.
He didn’t know he was interviewing for a job until he asked just why he had been summoned. He expressed his lack of television experience to the executives, who said the network would teach him everything he needed to know.
Once the meeting concluded, Rapoport called his wife, who he had met while living in Starkville, Mississippi, and told her what had just happened. She tempered his expectations, warning him not to get his hopes up as he remained optimistic. One month later, Rapoport received a job offer and found himself moving once again – this time to the Lone Star State.
“I hired an agent and moved to Dallas and basically spent the next year reporting on the Cowboys and some other things being very, very bad at TV, but learning and eventually figuring it out,” Rapoport said. “At the time, this guy, Eric Weinberger, who was our boss, kind of mentioned to me the possibility of transitioning [me] from reporter to insider.”
Rapoport acknowledged that he did not have the contacts necessary to effectively work as a league insider for a national outlet, but through his years of experience, he knew how to network and he was ready and willing to take the challenge.
Once he began the new position, Rapoport, along with reporter Michael Silver, was on the road for Thursday Night Football and contributed to its pregame and halftime coverage. While his television skills improved, Rapoport was hard at work bolstering his contacts and took somewhat of a geographical approach.
Every time he arrived in a new city, he would contact anyone and everyone he could conjure up, including general managers, scouts and head coaches. If he could not schedule a meeting time with them, he would introduce himself by roaming the sidelines at practices and before games. He engaged in a similar practice before the NFL Draft Combine, training camps and the Super Bowl along with other premier events, always staying focused on the task at hand.
“It probably took me five or six years to get a baseline of sources where if something happened, I had someone to call,” Rapoport said. “And then it took me a couple more years to get to the point where I would know before a lot of people when something was about to happen. It’s all a multi-step process, and just [the] layering and layering and layering of sources is really the sort of engine that drives this thing.”
Ian Rapoport always attempts to triangulate his sources to verify information before he releases it publicly. There is no guarantee sources are always truthful or acting in a professional manner. Therefore, it is incumbent on a journalist to ensure the validity of content before publishing it themselves.
“If you’re only right some of the time, then none of it is really worth it,” Rapoport expressed, “because then you say something and they’re like, ‘Well, wow, that’s a big story if this is true.’ The whole point of doing this is when I pop up on TV or when people see my Twitter alerts or whatever, they have to know that it’s true – they have to know.”
One day, Rapoport was having a conversation with a source and discovered through their conversation that Rob Gronkowski had informed the New England Patriots that he would return to the game of football under the stipulation he be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reunite with quarterback Tom Brady. There had been much speculation pertaining to Gronkowski’s future after he had worked as an NFL analyst with FOX Sports, and now Rapoport realized he had a monumental scoop – that is, if it was true. Within six minutes, Rapoport verified the story with three sources, contacted his editor and reported to the world Gronkowski’s intentions. The story was picked up virtually everywhere.
“I just think about the job all the time, and I make little lists for myself of things that I need to track down, and I just make a lot of phone calls for it,” Rapoport said. “When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive. It ends up just a brain full of football thoughts, and then I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what I can learn from it.”
Working for a league-owned entity can sometimes epitomize an inherent conflict of interest. For Rapoport however, he has found working at NFL Network to be hassle-free. He knows, however, the nature of his job means he will not be universally liked.
“Whatever you do, you’re going to report and the people you report on are going to be happy or upset or neutral – or whatever it is,” Rapoport said. “I’m never going to criticize a referee, for instance, because that’s a nuanced thing and people might say, ‘NFL criticizes referees.’ I’m never going to do that, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Rapoport continues to appear on a variety of external media outlets, perhaps most notably The Pat McAfee Show, which recently concluded its “Up to Something Season.” The grand conclusion of the proceedings was McAfee announcing he would be bringing his show to ESPN’s linear and digital platforms starting in the fall.
While McAfee is retaining creative control and has expressed on multiple occasions that his show will not be changing, many have wondered whether insiders employed by other networks will be able to continue making appearances. It is an answer Rapoport himself does not know, nor has he asked about.
“When the news broke, my phone blew up with all sorts of people saying all sorts of different things,” Rapoport said. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
Even so, Rapoport is elated for McAfee and his team taking the next step in their show’s journey and is genuinely glad to see them succeed. He does not think McAfee’s goal was to reshape sports media, but rather to cultivate a distinctive sports talk program built for fans and today’s generation of consumers.
“You get to know someone and you think they’re a good person and you respect the way they work. Some people have success and some people have a little success and some people don’t. It’s really rare to see someone who has every bit of success that’s essentially possible and deserves every bit of it, and that’s kind of how I thought about Pat. It’s really cool, honestly. He’s built it himself.”
It was on McAfee’s show where another prominent football insider – Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports – said it would be a matter of “when,” not “if” the NFL would have games seven days per week. While devoted football fans like Rapoport are open to such a proposition, he is not sure the league would ever go that far.
“I don’t even know that it would affect my schedule that much,” he said. “It sort of doesn’t matter. I’ll report all year round anyway.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Face-to-Face Sales Meetings Have Never Been More Valuable
“With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F.”
When did you last attend a face-to-face (F2F) in-person sales call? Let’s imagine for a second.
In New York, Sarah, a determined sports radio salesperson, got tired of chasing a major client for months. Despite her calls, emails, and text, she couldn’t break through to get a meeting.
Throwing caution to the wind, Sarah decided to go for it. She loaded her deck and took her burning desire via airplane to Florida to make the pitch. She showed up unannounced at the client’s office and startled the decision-maker. She was given the meeting and won over the client, getting a substantial annual contract and a movie deal in Hollywood.
We have all seen that storyline. F2F meetings used to be the obvious choice over a phone call, and most buyers were open to that idea. We even conducted market trips to meet our buyers in person and create better relationships.
With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F. Lots of us work and listen from home.
Gartner Research points out that live, in person selling is superior to virtual selling in financial services or, as I think, in radio sales. Now, prospecting new clients F2F is much more difficult. You have never met them, you don’t know who you are looking for, and gatekeepers and remote decision-makers make walk-ins more challenging.
How about getting out and seeing your current or former clients F2F? 65% of outside account executives attain quota, 10% more often than inside reps. Here are some simple strategies to get outside and F2F:
STAY IN TOUCH
Turn the sales faucet on ‘drip’ and contact your current clients with whatever works: phone calls, emails, or texts. Tell them you are checking in to see if anything has changed, give them a local business lead, or share your latest insight on their favorite team. When doing so, tell them you want to meet F2F and go deep into the next quarter’s ad plan or a new idea to get them back on the air. They may start looking forward to your communication.
Schedule an annual review ahead of their busiest time of year to review the upcoming messaging in ads. Go over what worked or didn’t last year. Share a success story of a similar advertiser in another market or show them a new opportunity that fits.
Be upfront that with F2F, we can get more specific, work with better feedback, and partner on hitting their goals. Be the person who looks ahead and helps keep your client focused.
Organize workshops for your current clients. Teach that about streaming, OTT, or Google ads. Get your digital person involved. Let them know you are bringing in other local businesspeople they may want to know or network with and meet F2F! A Mortgage broker may want to meet a realtor who wants to meet a wealthy local businessperson interested in meeting the local head coach. Stand out as a leader in the industry and watch clients brag about working with you.
HIT A TRADE SHOW
Attend trade shows where your current clients will be. This will show you are serious about their business and want to stay current so you can learn and earn. Set up a meeting over coffee or a drink. Share what you learned.
Client Appreciation Events held at your town’s most meaningful events or places. Do whatever it takes to get hospitality tents at big games and concert suites to show appreciation and bond with your current clients. Host a luncheon at the hottest new local restaurant. Focus on providing an atmosphere or experience everyone wants, but not many can attend. Be the exclusive person in town.
GET PERSONAL REFERRALS
Leverage your existing client relationships to seek referrals. Do it in person. Tell them you want to see them and ask for help and advice. Ask for introductions to potential new clients they know, and you will be surprised how much they like working with you.
Bring your Digital manager to them and do a free review of their SEO, PPC, whatever. Working off your client’s pc and bringing them an expert at no charge or obligation is much easier. Watch your partnership grow by providing so much expertise at no extra expense.
Don’t forget the value of F2F meetings. It’s a great way to build trust, connect, and unlock new opportunities. We are in a people business doing business with tons of local directs who still make most of their money serving retail customers F2F. Let’s get out and sell!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
All Jason Timpf Needed Was A Moment of Clarity
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this.”
There was once a time when Jason Timpf always included Colin Cowherd in his commute to work. As he made his morning drive to a sales job at Verizon, The Herd was appointment listening each morning for Timpf. The ex-college basketball player would marvel at Cowherd’s ability to make relatable references and break down all of the same basketball games he would watch the night before.
One of the unique things Timpf can remember from listening to The Herd during that time was Cowherd saying if FOX ever put someone in front of him, he could tell in five seconds if that individual had the skills to be a host. It was far from a hot take on the Lakers, but still a distinct moment that stuck with Timpf for many years. Little did he know at the time but Cowherd would soon give a five-second evaluation of Timpf’s career.
Jason Timpf was a late-bloomer in basketball. He played college hoops at an NAIA school in Utah, but not until his third year, after being a regular student the first two. After graduating, he pursued a basketball career overseas in India. However, after the league folded, he left the game for a normal job in the States.
There was a real desire for Timpf to get into the sports media business, but he was having difficulties finding the right fit. He wanted advice on the best way to start, but the tips he received just didn’t feel like the right initial path.
“I’d hear, hey, go bang on a radio station’s door and ask if you can work the soundboard,” said Timpf. “Or, try to go to a journalism school. Another big one that everyone was doing was the SB Nation blogs and FanSided blogs. I briefly tried to do that a little bit. But none of it was materializing the way that I had hoped.”
But then the lightbulb went off for Timpf and it happened during the middle of a podcast interview. In October of 2020, Jason Maples of Blue Wire reached out to Timpf to talk hoops on his podcast. It was in the middle of that interview when it all made sense. It felt exactly like the camaraderie he enjoyed with his old teammates and friends talking basketball. It was relaxed, fun and what he used to do for enjoyment. The perfect fit had just found Timpf organically.
“It was, ‘this is it,’” said Timpf. “‘This is how I want to do it.’ It was like a moment of clarity. Like, this is the way I want to talk about the game. Fortunately, I was working in real estate at the time, so I was super flexible, so I literally was just trying to fake it until I made it.”
While Timpf was grinding away on his new platform choice, he was constantly putting out his content on social media. For a handful of years, he had used Twitter as an outlet for basketball talk – not because he was trying to build his brand, but because it was his preferred method of sharing his takes during and after basketball games.
“My wife actually played basketball in college but she, like a lot of people, got out of it and was like, ‘actually I’m so sick of basketball, since it’s all I did growing up, that I’d rather not talk about it,’” laughed Timpf.
As Timpf had built up years of basketball takes on Twitter, he also built up followers. Not a crazy amount, but enough to have regular interactions with several basketball fans. He had no idea at the time, though he remembers occasionally interacting with him, but one of his followers in the beginning was Logan Swaim, who just happens to be Head of Content at The Volume.
Being such a huge fan of Cowherd, Timpf was absolutely familiar with The Volume, a company started by the FOX Sports Radio host. In fact, during his first plunge into podcasts, he quickly took note of how much success The Volume was having with instant reaction and video content. He wanted to emulate what they were doing and would host a Twitter Space after each Lakers game.
Swaim kept up with Timpf’s journey and continued to be impressed with what he saw. He was so impressed, in fact, that a video eventually made it in front of Cowherd’s eyes. It was the moment Timpf had always heard about while driving to his job at Verizon. Cowherd was about to make a declaration on Timpf’s abilities.
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this,” Timpf said. “That was a huge boost of confidence for me, because it meant somebody I deeply respected believed I could work in this business.”
Timpf made his dream come true. He was offered a job by The Volume hosting Hoops Tonight. As much of a dream as it was when he was initially hired, the experience since has been nothing but ideal for Timpf. He gets to cover his favorite sport the way he wants to cover it.
“When I first started and Logan and I were structuring out the show, he kinda viewed it as my show would be the slower, more methodical pace, where I work through my thought process of a game. And also that I’d be a guest on other Volume shows for more conversational podcasts. I really wanted to break down pick and roll coverage. It’s just going to take me a while, so trying to do that in a debate show format or conversational format can get hard. It’s a place where I can let more of my crazy depth out. And I can also have a side format where it’s more conversational.”
Timpf has learned prep for podcasts is one of the biggest elements to being successful. As Hoops Tonight continues to draw impressive numbers over audio and YouTube, he’s figured out the best method to prepare for a long-form podcast where he’s hosting solo.
“I digest the game from the simple concept of how the game was won,” said Timpf. “Where was it won? There’s 100-something possessions in this game, there’s seven different storylines and several runs and sequences and sways in momentum, but what’s the one? Usually I’ll target that first in the opening segment of the show.
“While I’m watching the game I’ll take ancillary notes. About five minutes before I record, I sift through everything I’ve written down and limit it down to the things I think are most important. But generally the flow of the show is how the game was won.”
The whole experience has been gratifying and a full-circle moment in many ways for Timpf. Not only has it been vindicating to do things his way and see it become a success, but he’s gotten to do it with someone who he considers an idol.
Sure, Timpf always envisioned growing up he would be talking to Cowherd as a pro athlete, but talking to him as a colleague is certainly the next best thing. So when he got the call to talk with Cowherd during last year’s West Conference Finals, he didn’t hesitate.
“I was so incredibly nervous, as you could imagine,” laughed Timpf. “But I immediately remember him making me feel comfortable and confident. It immediately calmed me down.
“This is probably my favorite part of the entire experience, I think a lot of people think that these networks try to shove people in certain directions and The Volume has given me such freedom to cover the game exactly the way I want to and nobody is telling me to say crazy stuff. Nobody is pushing me in certain directions, it’s like total creative freedom. The way that Logan and Colin have been letting me do me, so to speak, has been so cool. To see my version of what I want it to look like makes me feel vindicated for talking about it the way I want to.”
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.