We often hear about athletes that maximize their talent and ability. Not only has sports broadcaster Steve Hartman gotten everything out of his talent and ability, he has also maximized his time. For the past 20 years, he’s been working seven days a week. Let that wash over you for a minute. Over a 20-year span, Bill Belichick’s “no days off” chant would be a great description for the bulk of Steve’s career.
Take a deep breath and try not to feel fatigued just by reading about Steve Hartman’s workload. Each Monday through Friday from 3-6pm, Steve hosts the Loose Cannons on XTRA 1360 FOX Sports San Diego along with Rich Ohrnberger and John Schaeffer. Steve hosts national shows for FOX Sports Radio from 10am-1pm PT on Saturdays and from 10am-2pm each Sunday. But wait there’s more — Steve also serves as a television sports anchor each Saturday and Sunday evening for KTLA Channel 5 in Los Angeles. I could at least use a power nap after typing up that massive schedule.
Steve shares some of his insightful philosophies in the interview below. His thoughts about amplifying radio partners and making sure they shine the brightest is brilliant. He also talks about his most valuable asset, which would benefit mostly everybody reading this piece. Steve shares some radio stories that are legitimately outstanding. The story about a $24,000 check is funny, but the absolutely crazy tale of Steve channeling his inner Andrew Dice Clay on the air in full f-bomb mode is legendary. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: Working the amount that you do — legendary might be going too far, but it’s well known within the business — why do you feel the need to have such a heavy workload?
Steve Hartman: Well I tell you what, Brian, originally when I expanded in 1998 — I was just doing my normal Monday through Friday radio show — I got offered an opportunity to do weekend television. I was in San Diego and was offered a weekend television job in L.A. I had two young boys at the time. I was doing the economics. I could make more money doing two days of weekend television than my wife with two babies at home could probably make on a full-time job. That’s how it started.
As time has gone on basically trying to explain this to people my first thought is what we do — at least from my standpoint, everyone has a different opinion — is not exactly working. I don’t want to completely downplay it because obviously I’ve been doing radio for 30 years and television for over 20 years. There is a certain skill set that obviously is acquired over time. But we’re really doing — or at least I’m doing — my vocation is my avocation.
On the weekends for instance, I’m sitting there watching football games, which I’d probably be doing sitting at home anyway, except I’m getting paid to do it and talk about the games. It’s more of having something to do every day, being accountable every day. I’m 61 now. It defies logic. My father retired at 63 and passed away a year ago at age 89. My grandfather — my dad’s dad — retired at 62 and lived to be 97. They had the long retirements. But I don’t really look at it that way. I feel like working every day keeps me sharp, keeps me focused, and gives me something to do every single day. At this point in my career, that’s pretty much why I do it.
Noe: What do you think you would do if the same situation at The Mighty 1090 happened at your station and they were like, “Hey man, sorry, no station. You’ve got no weekday show.” Would you look for another gig, or just say that’s that?
Steve: That’s a good question. My general attitude now is that my current situation with my San Diego show, my network radio, and my television work, they’re really three separate entities. If any one of them should stop — again depending on the finances and everything else — I don’t know at this point if I would actually seek to replace. I say that now, but as you know in this business, Brian, my most valuable asset in my career has been saying yes. I just say yes.
Even going beyond yes, for instance, on the Sunday national show I requested to Scott Shapiro to take the shift. Originally he was hesitant, but the one thing he said — well two things, he was complimentary of my work — but more importantly he goes, “I know you’re going to be there every Sunday. You just don’t take any days off.” What do they say? The best ability is your availability. I’ve used that as sort of a motto throughout my career that if you hire me and I’m going to be there. Period.
It was very funny, when I got let go by the network at the end of 2013, when they blew up my show with Pat O’Brien and they pretty much cleaned house and sort of redid the national shows, it was the first time I’d ever been let go, ever, in my entire career. It was funny because my contract had two months left through the end of February 2014 and Annie Zidarevich called me and said that your last check is going to be a hard check. It’s going to include unused vacation pay.
I didn’t say anything because that didn’t sound right to me. I used to think it was like if you don’t use it, you lose it. I didn’t say anything. I just thought a couple extra $1,000 would be good. I got the check. I had over $24,000 in unused vacation. It was like wow, okay, maybe I should have taken a few more days off along the way. I don’t know if it’s so much about a work ethic as it is something that I just personally sort of need to keep me focused and stimulated to do something every day.
Noe: Take a baseball player that’s in the major leagues and then he gets designated for assignment and he’s in the minor leagues. You know how fans look at that, it’s like, “Aww man, you’re not in the majors anymore.” When you go from a weekday national show to a weekday local show, there are people in the business that look at it the same way. How do you look at it?
Steve: I think that my situation in broadcasting is different than a lot of guys in the business, and that is I never sought to be in the business. I went to UCLA. I was sports editor of my college paper 40 years ago. When I got out of college you really had two choices. Newspapers were very prominent in those days, but I wanted to work in sports PR. I wanted to work for a team. I interviewed with the Dodgers, the Angels, the Rams, and got hired by the Los Angeles Raiders. They had just won the Super Bowl in 1984. I was 26 years old and I worked for the Raiders for four and a half years.
I hastily quit my Raider job because it was the ‘80s. I had seen the movie Wall Street one too many times. This guy convinced me that he was Gordon Gekko and I was going to be his Bud Fox and we were going to make a lot of money. I was 30 years old. I had asked for a raise from Mr. Davis. He said we were 5-10 this year. I’m thinking we were 5-10? I wasn’t the one that thought that Rusty Hilger was the second coming of Joe Namath. I got out of sports for exactly four months and quit that job because I realized I was a fish out of water.
I was looking for another PR job. In the meantime just to kill time, I was working as a sidekick on a radio show with a man named Bud Furillo, who is a mentor of mine, a longtime L.A. newspaper and radio guy. He was the one that got the call from John Lynch in San Diego about the idea of creating an all sports station after WFAN had launched in New York. Long story short, instead of hiring Bud because he wanted more money, they hired me instead. The rest was history.
My attitude about my whole career is — people have had visions of my career that are different than my own visions. When 690 hit big in the mid ‘90s, I’m getting calls from everywhere. When ESPN launched their radio network Len Weiner called me. I knew Len from WFAN. He said I want you on national. I’m like, I’m not interested in national. I live in Southern California. I’m an L.A. guy. I live in San Diego. I go back and forth. So I turned down everything. I had no interest in doing national radio. I was forced into national radio.
When 690 blew open, they moved us up to L.A. I had a very successful L.A. show with Mychel Thompson and Vic the Brick. Without me even knowing, they dropped the bomb that we were going to switch to a national show. I didn’t want to do national. Eventually with Pat [O’Brien], even though I love Pat personally, it was an awful show. We were getting Talkers putting us as the #11 show and I’m thinking this is the worst show I’ve ever done.
I was honestly relieved when we got the plug pulled on the national show. When they came back to me and said, look Steve, we’ve been trying desperately to get this FOX affiliate in San Diego off the ground. I said I’m there. Simple as that. Certainly at this point, I know people look at San Diego like it’s got to be the worst sports city in America. They have a baseball team few people care about. Obviously we lost the NFL team. But it really allows me to do very much an open forum show because I know we have a lot of transplants, which makes Southern California always unique.
Honestly I’ve never really cared what other people thought about my career because from the very get-go — look, Jim Rome was my update guy. He was fiercely ambitious. I give him all the credit for the career that he created and the millions of dollars that he made. That just wasn’t me. I wasn’t that ambitious. People were more ambitious for me than I was for myself because the whole time I kept thinking are they really paying me to do this? Even 30 years in the business I’m sort of like let me get this straight, I get paid to talk sports. That to me just still blows my mind.
Noe: Keeping in mind that you think the show with Pat O’Brien is one of the worst shows you’ve ever done, what in your opinion are the ingredients of a good sports radio show and the ingredients of a bad one?
Steve: Well Brian — you can call it old school — I’m a sports guy. I talk sports. I’m not into popular culture. I mean I’ll go to the movies once in a while. That’s not why I’m there. My attitude is if you’re turning into a sports talk show, I want to hear sports. Even when I first broke into this business and I saw people creating shows, like creating characters on the air, I’m thinking to myself I can’t do that. Either this is going to work with me just talking sports or I’m just going to have to find another line of work. I just talk sports.
My frustration — Pat was a popular culture guy. Pat knew people. I love Pat dearly, but the problem was the network decided to put Pat in the lead seat. That I thought was a bad idea for Pat and it made it a very difficult show because I’m a sports guy. If I’m not sitting next to someone that I can talk sports with, that creates a problem for me. I want to be able to converse in sports.
I can guarantee you this, Brian; no one has sat next to more people in the history of sports talk radio than I have. It is not even close. I’ve counted at least 80 people that I have co-hosted a show with over the course of my career. Some long-term, some not, but my ability to work with somebody else has always been based on — I want to know what they know, and then I will steer the conversation to what they’re comfortable talking about.
Dahntay Jones was a prime example. Dahntay only wanted to talk NBA, and more than that, he wanted to sort of be a de facto NBA general manager. The seven or eight shows we did together that’s all I did was let’s make a deal. Let’s work these deals and he was into it. He was breaking it down, making calls, and everything else. I try to play to the strength of my partners. If I can’t talk sports with the person I’m talking to, then why are we there? In my opinion it’s sports, talk, radio. The rest of it is just crap.
Noe: Who was the most talented co-host that you worked with?
Steve: Wow. That’s a really hard thing. My first Loose Cannon partner was Chet Forte. Chet was of course the legendary director/producer of Monday Night Football. Here I was trying to launch my career — and this guy was a novice in radio — but he was also a guy that when ABC got Monday Night Football in 1970, Roone Arledge told Chet, look, this game cannot sound or look like any other game. Ever.
Chet was so creative. It took me a while because we used to scream at each other on air. I literally thought this is a train wreck. Then the Union Tribune in San Diego wrote this glowing review of our show and I’m like are they listening to the same show I’m doing? It also gave me a sense that — basically what I try to do with my partners is just amplify who they are, then adjust myself to whatever their personality is.
As far as talent is concerned, I think there are insanely talented people throughout the business. I think you’re extremely talented. I love Ben [Maller]. I think Ben is a very talented guy at night. Some guys fit their slots really well. Then there are other people in the business that I think are just faking it. I can tell instantly who the real sports guy is and who the non-sports guy is. I won’t mention any names but there are some obviously very prominent people in our business that have a lot of notoriety and a lot of attention. I know they’re not really sports people. That’s okay. I don’t care. I prefer to be able to sit down and really talk to people that live it and breathe it. That’s just my personal preference.
Noe: Critiquing a co-host can be a delicate thing. You don’t really coach them up as if you’re a program director and give evaluations. You might have subtle ways of saying, “Hey, do more of that.” Do you ever find yourself nudging your co-hosts in subtle ways to help the show or help them improve?
Steve: Well going back to the beginning with Chet, I tried seriously to manipulate. We all try to do this to people in general to work into our world, and it just didn’t work. I don’t. I really don’t. I’m going to do a quick evaluation on who they are. My feeling is I’m going to make them feel like they’re the star of the show. Even if I am essentially the star of the show, I’m going to make them feel like they’re the star of the show. I’ve done this with every, single, person that I’ve ever worked with.
What happens is I think you build a trust. If you work long enough with someone, then you can push that trust. You can get personal. You can challenge them. But that comes with time. It’s like anyone else in your life. Sometimes I pushed it really to the max. I’ve had partners that were not comfortable with the back and forth and maybe conceded to me a little too easily. There are times when I sometimes will back off because I want to get more out of them.
You’re on a team. I’ve always said this to people; the easiest thing to do is a show by yourself. There’s no easier thing than sitting in there by yourself and talking — because there’s no challenge. You can say whatever you want to say. There’s no one challenging you. People say, “Oh well, it must be hard when you’re alone.” It’s just the opposite. When you’re by yourself it’s the easiest thing ever. What do you talk about? You can talk about whatever you want. But when you’re sitting with somebody and you’re in a team situation, you’re only as good as the team. If you think you’re doing great, but your partner isn’t doing well, guess what? The show’s not doing well. I always play to my partner. Always. And I will always do that.
Noe: That’s a great philosophy. Is there a regret that you have in your career? If there’s any one thing you could change, would you change something in particular?
Steve: You know it’s interesting because there are times when I thought that maybe I made a wrong decision, but I don’t know if I have a shining light on me or whatever, but everything seems to turn out okay. I have zero regrets and again I have zero regrets because I went into the business with no expectations. I’ve never been a goal-oriented person. I never had any goals. I have just lived life. I don’t wake up thinking, all right where am I going to be a year from now, two years from now? I don’t ever think of those things.
When I work every day I’m just thinking about that day. I get up and I’m like, all right what do I have to do today? Let’s get it done. I turn the page, sleep well, and get ready for another day. So no, I think that ultimately I’m not talking about destiny — I’m not a huge believer in that — but it just seems like talking about my career, not my life, but just in my career that everything has just worked out the way I guess it was supposed to work out.
If I’m on Twitter — I rarely tweet — but occasionally if I tweet something that’s bringing up a negative situation in the L.A. market, there will be people saying, oh are you still alive? You know all this stuff. I don’t block anybody. I sort of laugh at the whole thing, but no, I really have no regrets. Honestly in my current situation if I could just maintain these three jobs for an indefinite period, I’d be the happiest guy around.
Noe: Do you think that goals can sometimes be a bad thing — that if you’re striving for something and not getting there that it can mess with your head?
Steve: Well it’s interesting now. I have three kids. My sons are 23, 21, and my daughter is 18. Obviously as a parent I think you want to make sure that they have a general idea of where they want to go. I was a stats kid. Everyone knows that I’m like this trivia guy — it’s not so much trivia — I’m a numbers guy. When I got my first pack of baseball cards when I was seven years old it was by accident. It said baseball bubble gum five cents. It looked like a big piece of gum and there were these cards. I didn’t know who the players were, but when I flipped the card over and saw all these columns of numbers, it was love at first sight. This is how my career went. Then I just started building, building, building on this.
When you talk about goals — I like to accomplish things. I’m more of a guy that has that to-do list and crossing things off. That’s more satisfying to me than setting a goal down the road. I think my goal has simply been this; if I can continue having a career in the world of sports in whatever manner — whether as a broadcaster, working for a team or anything — that was the only goal I had. Can I make a living in the world of sports? I’m not a former athlete. I’m just some dorky kid out of the Valley. Can I actually make a career in the sports world?
Fortunately for me to sort of be part of the ground floor of sports talk radio in the early ‘90s, it was fortune that I could never have imagined. Just a quirk, it was just a chance that I ever actually got into the business. I think that goals can work for certain people. I think people are motivated by them. But personally it’s not my deal. My only goal from a career standpoint is to work in sports as long as I can.
Noe: What’s your opinion about The Mighty 1090 in San Diego going away?
Steve: I’m never happy about people losing jobs. Let’s make that clear. People talk about competition and everything else — I wish there were 20 sports radio stations in L.A. and San Diego — the more opportunities for everyone else. There are so many people that want jobs. I thought it was terrible, but it was also something I saw coming. When I got let go by the network and I was sort of just taking a look at the landscape before I ended up at FOX San Diego. 1090 was there, but I knew they were a house of cards. I knew they hadn’t paid their bills for years.
They have the same dilemma we had with the old 690. We had that blowtorch signal out of Mexico, which made us the super powerhouse. The difference was 690 had a huge number in L.A. and Orange County. We owned Orange County. 710 had tried to launch sports against us and we just crushed them. We owned the whole Southern California market. 1090 despite having a same signal that we had at 690 never showed a blip in L.A. and Orange County. Their focus was purely San Diego. The cost of that stick — when they lost the Padres I knew they were dead. They didn’t have any revenue streams to pay the bills.
That’s the other thing; you have to be smart. I know this, 1360, when you’re with iHeartMedia, 90 percent of our listeners — we have a 5,000-watt signal, 1360 is not a big signal — but we also know that about 90 percent of our audience is listening to us on iHeartRadio. They can get a clear signal wherever they’re going and that’s how people listen to it.
Now, do we get credit for all those people? No, but I also know that I’m part of a major conglomerate. We have a lot of successful FM stations, AM stations, news stations in San Diego, so we’re protected. It doesn’t mean they can’t pull the plug on us. It just means that your chances for survival are better than it would be if you were an independent, which essentially 1090 was.
It was the same thing with The Beast in L.A. They started this new station The Beast in L.A. on a station, 980, that I knew was up for sale. My old producer at FOX Radio, Erik Peterson, was working over there. He called me about leaving San Diego to come over to do the midday show. I said I’ll tell you what, Erik, if you guys are still on the air in six months, call me. Less than two minutes later, they were off the air. They just hired Chris Myers to do that midday show. So I think you do have to have a pretty good sense of actually what’s going on out there to survive in this business. You know how they always say big fish, small pond? Sometimes it’s better to be a small fish in a big pond if you’re looking for longevity. I’ll put it that way.
Noe: What’s the craziest story you could tell me about a show you did, or a segment you were on, where you sat back and said this wild right now?
Steve: All right well there is no question the craziest show I ever did this was back in 1997. We are at 690 and what had happened was that John Lynch, our original owner, had sold out to Jacor, which eventually got gobbled up by Clear Channel. We had a new PD. I had a new partner. Chet Forte had died in 1996. I was working with Bill Werndl. This guy was putting a lot of pressure — because we were just sports guys — and he wanted us to do segments that were joke segments, like people calling in with jokes and everything. It was just ridiculous.
We also got in trouble with this guy because he had encouraged us to interview a guy who did Harry Caray imitations, insisting he did a Dan Dierdorf imitation. This made national news. We brought a guy on doing a Dan Dierdorf imitation on a night when the Chargers were hosting a Monday night game. Dan Dierdorf blasted our station and filed a lawsuit against us because they claimed the Dierdorf guy sounded like he was drunk.
We got to the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 1997 the first day. It just so happens this guy was out of town. So on that first day — you know 16 games on a Thursday — I went to our producer and I said this is the way we’re going to do our three-hour show today. Now understand this, we could get away with it because we had a Mexican transmitter. All right? Only because we had a Mexican transmitter. I want you to go on the air and say that Steve and Bill think they have the day off because we’re carrying NCAA tournament games, (but in reality we’re not). We have set up a secret microphone in Steve’s house to listen in on him and Billy watching the games. So I called Jim Laslavic who was the main sports anchor at the NBC affiliate in San Diego and Brad Holland, my former UCLA cohort, who was then the basketball coach at the University of San Diego to join us in studio.
Even though our producer was saying they had a secret mic at my house, in reality we were actually in the studio. We purposefully sat off mic. We turned on the games. We cranked out some beer, pork rinds, chips, and everything else, and proceeded to watch the games as if we were sitting in my living room dropping f-bombs, shit, screaming — this was on the air for three hours. They would go to commercial break. The producer would come on saying if you’re wondering what we’re listening to we have a secret mic at Steve Hartman’s house. It just so happens Jim Laslavic and Brad Holland have stopped on by. And I’m like, “Billy what f***? God dammit, man. You’re stinking up my f***in’ bathroom, man. Can’t you get you’re shit” — this is going out on the air. Our board op is trying to dump, again we’re sort of off mic, but f***s and shits are going on the air all over the place for three hours.
The next day all hell broke loose. This is back in the days — the phone lines were lighting up all over the building. At the end of it the L.A. Times called. The producer came on the next day saying that he apologized, that Steve didn’t know anything about it, blah blah blah blah blah. I mean this whole thing — we created this thing. To this day people still think it was real. We never came clean that it was staged. We just apologized for it. Eventually when this guy got back, he didn’t fire me. He was like what the f***?! I said you told me to be outrageous. I gave you outrageous.
My whole purpose of doing that was back off and let me do my f***in’ sports show. We went back to sports talk. I think in the next book we were like top three in the city in men 25-54, and that was the end of it. It is a show that people that heard it to this day — I mean this is over 20 years ago — still claimed they heard. It’s like all the people that claim they were there when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. I think there were 1,500 people in Hershey. I’ve had so many people say they heard that show. I wish I had a tape of it. I was trying to make a point that day of just — forget the crazy shit. If you want crazy, I’ll give you the craziest shit you ever heard, but let me do sports talk. I guarantee you there’s never been a show like that. Ever. Ev-er. The only reason I knew that we weren’t going to get our license pulled is because we had the Mexican transmitter. We weren’t under the FCC regulations because of that.
Noe: (laughs) Wow. That’s amazing, man.
Steve: It’s sort of a dream show for every guy that really wants to just cut loose before there were podcasts and everything else. That was the ultimate podcast before they actually existed.
Noe: For someone who rarely ever takes time off, what’s something you have done instead of working on those occasions?
Steve: To show you how weird I am, like two weeks ago I took three days off midweek to fly to Atlanta, Georgia to sit in the archives of the College Football Hall of Fame and research statistics on college football players. Now no one in the world understands this — only the curator of the College Football Hall of Fame; I love college football.
Baseball stats have been exhausted, but I’ve taken on the biggest beast of all and that’s the history of college football. I’m talking about game-by-game statistics for kick returns, punt returns, punts — not just rushing records — of prominent players in history. I literally took three days, flew to Atlanta, sat in an archive room for about 10 hours a day, and dug through old media guides. That’s like my dream day off. That’s one of my things.
It gets back to my original obsession with sports stats. That has never changed. That is still what drives me in sports. My career in broadcasting is a way for me to pay my bills and do something I have interest in, but it’s not really who I am.
What I am is the same guy I was when I was seven years old. I’m a guy that’s obsessed with sports numbers, stats and stuff like that. While some guys have dedicated their lives to baseball reference, I can make more money broadcasting. Of course with three children now all in college, I have bills to pay and everything else. That’s how I do it. I never take weeks off. I would take a day — I did take my daughter for a couple of days to New York as she was visiting NYU — but that’s it. I never take a weekend off. Ever. I do my double shifts every Saturday and Sunday. I cannot remember the last time I took a day off ever on the weekends.
Noe: Before we end, if you circle back — it’s kind of like Cal Ripken’s streak — what were the years and what was the span where you hadn’t taken a day off?
Steve: There was a 14-year span. From 1998, when I started working television in L.A., until 2012 when KTLA took me off the weekends and put me on the morning show. That was pretty much my endless streak. If I took any days off, honestly it was a handful. So basically in a 14-year span from ‘98 the 2012 when in July they pulled me off the weekends to put me on the morning news. I took advantage of those weekends. I remember taking my kids to football games. I took advantage of that, but that was my big streak there from ‘98 to 2012 where I literally — any days off you can count them on one hand.
Noe: Do you remember what you did on that day off in 2012?
Steve: I do remember this. I will tell you this. Not so much 2012, but when I got taken off the national show. Bruce [Gilbert] had asked me to work a couple of weeks after Pat just walked out. That first Monday — this was the first Monday where I had not been employed — so this is January of 2014. This is the first time technically I had not been employed as a Monday through Friday radio guy since 1989. I thought this will be good. I have time.
That first Monday I think I went to a Jersey Mike’s to eat a casual lunch. That one day literally felt like it was a week. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I really did not know. In the back of your mind when you work all the time — because there’s always going to be a day when you’re like, man I could use a day. I think about those things, but that was the harsh reality to me that that’s not the way I was programmed. I realized that day that I’ve got to get back to working all the time. It’s just the way I’m programmed, and here I am. I’m back to what I love to do. I’m doing nine shifts.
Really February of this year was the first time I ever actually signed on to do seven days a week of radio. I had done six days a week of radio, I worked television obviously on the weekends working seven days a week, but since February this is the first time in my career I’ve done radio seven days a week. We’re rolling and I couldn’t be happier. It’s great. I don’t know people in our business that are like, “Ahh man, I can’t wait till I retire.” Why? Retire to what? If they’re going to continue the pay you to talk sports, why would you not sort of do that forever?
790 The Ticket Was Something Special And Stugotz Knows It
“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen, that they’ve ever heard.”
When I was making the transition from the rock world to talk radio, there was one show I looked at as a guide. I got laid off from 96 Rock in Raleigh, NC in the summer of 2011. That was the beginning of my flirtations with streaming and podcasts, which is how I stumbled onto The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz on 790 The Ticket out of Miami.
Coming from a format that I felt out of place in at times, I instantly latched onto a show that reveled in pointing out how out of place it was in its own format. It became a daily listen for me, which opened me up to hearing other voices on the station like Jonathan Zaslow, Joy Taylor, Brian London, Brendan Tobin, Brett Romberg and others.
There were unique thinkers and passionate sports fans in every day part on 790 The Ticket. What set the station apart though is that I never heard anyone that sounded uncomfortable when the conversation turned to something that wasn’t a Dolphins’ loss or LeBron’s stat line. They talked sports the way normal human beings talk about sports. It was part of their lives, not the only thing they paid attention to.
Look at the outpouring of love for the station on Thursday. Hosts, producers and programmers from across the country took to social media to eulogize the station when the news broke that it would cease to exist the following week.
I can’t say for sure that all of those people felt the same way I did about the station and I cannot say whether or not it was for the same reasons. What I can say is 790 The Ticket had an influence that stretched far beyond South Florida.
Jon Weiner, better known as “Stugotz” to fans of the The Dan Le Batard Show, helped start the station in 2004. He told me that it didn’t take long for him to learn just how much The Ticket’s approach was making an impression on everyone in sports radio.
“I had programmers calling me saying this is the best local lineup that they’ve ever seen or heard,” he said in a phone call on Sunday. “I had people from out of market who had secure jobs at places that weren’t startups sending resumes and tapes because they wanted to be part of it. So yeah, we were aware and it is what we were going for. We got there pretty quickly and we were aware of the impact, not just in South Florida, but throughout the country.”
Last week, Brian “The Beast” London said his internal alarm bells first went off when he heard the Miami Heat were giving up their relationship with 790 the Ticket. The station and the team had been partners since 2008. He said in a YouTube video that it was hard to imagine the team’s games being heard anywhere else.
I asked Stugotz if he had the same feeling when he heard that news. He said in hindsight, he realized it was the beginning of the end, but he didn’t really get a sense something was up until Jonathan Zaslow was let go.
“[Zaslow] had been there since basically day one with us. And so I just kind of figured, yeah, between the Heat and then that I felt, okay, you don’t make a move like that unless there’s going to be some sort of seismic change. Otherwise, there’d be no reason to let him go. That was the moment I was like ‘okay, 790 is likely going away.'”
His feelings are no secret. He took to social media immediately on Thursday and said that the news that 790 The Ticket would soon be going away filled him with both sadness and pride. What Stugotz told me in our phone call was that he realizes that the station lasted about 15 years longer than it should have.
When the station was sold to Lincoln Financial Media, he was not expecting that company to want to keep a sports station. Senior Vice President Dennis Collins surprised him.
“The company saw so much potential in what we had built, both from a lineup and a sales perspective that they kept it going and that’s why it lasted all the way to 2022. We got it up and going and were responsible for the first three or four years, but Dennis saw the growth potential with the lineup we put together. That made me feel great because I had a pit in my stomach like ‘Oh, man, this thing we started is going to go away. It’s going to be three, four years and gone.’ And he said, ‘No, we love it. We want to keep it going’. So that was a huge compliment to everyone.”
Stugotz described the original owner of 790 The Ticket as a “young, good looking real estate mogul driving around in Lamborghinis.” That certainly helped the image of the station when it launched, but it is also a phenomenon that was very of the moment. It’s not 2004 anymore. Lamborghini-owning real estate moguls aren’t chomping at the bit to pour money into radio stations.
The conditions may be similar to what Stugotz and his partners saw in 2004. You could look at the radio landscape in Miami and see a way that a new challenger could fit in the sports radio scene. But what are the chances it actually happens?
“It’s a great question,” Stugotz said. “So just to go back to that time, two sports radio stations were popping up in every market. I’m not certain if that’s still the case anymore just because of podcasting and the way the way younger people are consuming media through Tik Tok, Snapchat, and other things that aren’t AM radio.”
He is quick to commend Audacy, the current owners of the 790 AM frequency. Dan Le Batard and Jorge Sedano were part of his early lineups at 790 The Ticket because Stugotz recognized the Cuban-American community in Miami was not being served in the sports space in 2004, just like it isn’t being properly served in the news/talk space right now. That’s why there’s room for the conservative-leaning brand Radio Libre in Miami and other markets are likely paying attention.
“It seems like a good plan, and I know it’s something that the Spanish population should have and deserves to have and probably was not being catered to correctly. So, yeah, I could see there’s a warning sign to some other sports radio stations or news stations in other markets where the Hispanic population is great. Absolutely!”
It is a shame that 790 The Ticket is no more and it is concerning that a station with its legacy and influence can simply disappear. But if we are being real, it isn’t the first station of its kind to suffer that fate and it won’t be the last.
As the media business changes and leaves sports stations vulnerable to something cheaper and with broader appeal, 790 The Ticket and stations like it should be touted as examples of how to rise above the noise and make an impact. Stugotz and his partners looked around in 2004 and said “we can be different and we can do this better” and that’s exactly what they did.
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.
Chris Simms And His Self-Professed ‘Big Mouth’ Enjoying Life At NBC
“One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”
To be a good football analyst, one certainly has to know and love the sport but you also can’t be afraid to use the most important tool that you have to do the job. Chris Simms has all of those attributes and NBC lets him use them to the best of his abilities.
“I love football and I love X’s and O’s and I got a big mouth so it’s a great combination,” said Simms. “Between my podcast, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Sunday Night Football, I get plenty of time to talk and get my studies out there.”
There’s no doubt that Chris inherited that self-professed big mouth from his father, former NFL quarterback and longtime NFL on CBS analyst, Phil Simms.
So, the question had to be asked…does Chris have a bigger mouth than his father?
“Yeah, I probably do,” admitted the younger Simms. “That’s a big mouth to overcome, but I think I probably got him beat in that department.”
Chris Simms set out to follow in his father’s footsteps on the field and played quarterback for Ramapo High School in New Jersey where he earned a pair of All-State honors. After graduating high school in 1999, Simms moved on to play quarterback at the University of Texas where he posted a 26-6 career record as a starter and was the team MVP during his senior season in 2002.
Simms was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft and he would guide the Bucs to a playoff berth in 2005. He would also go on to play for the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos completing a seven-year NFL playing career. He spent one season as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots before taking his talents to the world of broadcasting.
He started with FOX Sports as a college football announcer in 2013 and then joined Bleacher Report in 2014 while also serving as a color commentator for the NFL on CBS.
And then in 2017, Simms joined NBC Sports where he has certainly found a home.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Simms. “It’s a great company to work for. Just good people all around. They’ve given me the platform to be me. One of the things that I worried about was that I came from Bleacher Report and is NBC going to try to curtail my personality a little bit…sometimes I like to swear on my podcast and do stuff like that and they’ve really allowed me to be me which I really appreciate.”
Simms wears many different suits at NBC Sports, most notably his role as a studio analyst on Football Night in America leading into Sunday Night Football. He’s also a part of the SNF post-game show Sunday Night Football Final on Peacock, Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio, and Chris Simms Unbuttoned, a streaming/digital show that is also a podcast multiple days a week.
But the most eyeballs are on him during Football Night in America, the most watched studio show in sports.
“I grew up wanting to play in these games more than be the guy in the studio but this is like the second-best thing,” said Simms. “I was kind of that kid at 4 or 5 (years old) who could tell you every player in the NFL, their number and all that type of stuff. It’s the NFL on the biggest stage. It’s such a well-done show. I get to be there with Maria Taylor along with Tony Dungy, and Jason Garrett, and Mike Florio, and Matthew Berry. We got a great team and it makes Sunday fun.”
From the “it takes one to know one” category, Simms has also made a name for himself with his ranking of NFL quarterbacks. He’s very diligent when it comes to watching the live action and also in his film study and his top-40 rankings have become a hot topic within the business and around the office coolers.
Simms is well aware that his rankings have become a lightning rod of discussion.
“It all kind of started organically just because I would make statements,” said Simms. “People were like ‘Why don’t you start making a list?’ It’s a really hard thing to do. It offends a lot of people and I hate that. I root for all of these guys and I say on my podcast all the time I hope this guy proves me wrong. I hope he shits on me and shows me that I was wrong. It’s certainly not personal. One of the things I pride myself on is studying and immersing myself in the game all of the time.”
Simms became a full-time employee of NBC Sports in 2019, but his first role with the network came in 2017 when he became a studio analyst for Notre Dame Football.
Here’s a kid that grew up in North Jersey where there’s a ton of Notre Dame alumni and he’s standing on the sidelines at South Bend as part of Fighting Irish telecasts.
“Another special entity,” said Simms. “I used to get chills being out on the field every Saturday there. It gave me great experience in a different way with the halftime show and the pre-game show. One of the years I was kind of the third man in the booth but I was on the sideline. It gave me some reps on in-game stuff as well. I think most importantly what that did for me more than anything is that it opened up more eyes at NBC about me.”
And now Simms’ work has him in the discussion for a new potential opportunity down the road.
NBC, alongside FOX and CBS, has secured a seven-year media rights deal with the Big Ten Conference that will commence next season. NBC will air Big Ten Saturday Night, the first time that Big Ten Football will have a dedicated primetime broadcast on a national broadcast network. Peacock will stream an additional eight Big Ten games each season and NBC/Peacock will air the 2026 Big Ten Championship Game.
There have been rumblings that Simms could be involved in the coverage. Is he interested?
“I’m intrigued by it,” admitted Simms. “I’m very all NFL right now but broadcasting game is fun. It’s definitely something on my radar for sure. I do have some producers here in the building that are like ‘I’m going to tell the boss I want you to do some of the Big 10 games this year and what do you think about announcing?’ I’ve already had some people in my ear talking about it. It’s awesome for the company regardless. It just expands our football world. As far as me being involved, we’ll see.”
In a relatively short amount of time, Chris Simms has built up quite the broadcasting portfolio. From FOX to Bleacher Report and CBS to his current expanded role with NBC, Simms has established himself as one of the premier NFL analysts in the business and his podcast has given him the freedom to do something that he loves to do. Including putting his money where his mouth is.
Peter Schwartz has been involved in New York sports media for over three decades. Along the way he has worked for notable brands such as WFAN, CBS Sports Radio, WCBS 880, ESPN New York, and FOX News Radio. He has also worked as a play by play announcer for the New Yok Riptide, New York Dragons, New York Hitmen, Varsity Media and the Long Island Sports Network. You can find him on Twitter @SchwartzSports or email him at DragonsRadio@aol.com.
The Pat McAfee Alternate Broadcast Presents Unique Challenges
Alternate broadcasts are all the rage these days, and ESPN, in conjunction with Omaha Productions, debuted a new one this weekend as The Pat McAfee Show aired an alternate broadcast of the Clemson and North Carolina State game Saturday evening.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that Manningcast copy-cats were destined for failure. And while I don’t believe McAfee’s debut was a failure by any stretch of the imagination, I couldn’t help but notice it brings its own set of challenges.
First and foremost, College Football Primetime with The Pat McAfee Show — the world’s most convoluted way to say “The McAfeecast” — doesn’t really resemble the Manningcast. And rightfully so. I’m not sure there are two more polar opposite sports media brands than the Mannings and McAfee. The Mannings are funny, but not too funny and never “blue”, while often concerned about how finely quaffed their hair looks and whether the button-down shirt color matches with the Nordstrom quarter-zip they’ve donned. Meanwhile, McAfee wears his black tank-top, like usual, and put his best Pittsburgh-ese foot forward.
Even though the Mannings and McAfee are opposites doesn’t mean they can’t work together, however. The alternate broadcast was a win for Manning, a win for McAfee, a win for ESPN, and a win for viewers.
People love Pat McAfee. Plain and simple. For a multitude of reasons that we can get into in a later story, but let’s focus on that for a moment. It was a big portion of my column a few weeks ago. The Manningcast works because people like Peyton and Eli. The KayRodcast doesn’t work because people hate Michael Kay and Alex Rodriguez. It’s honestly, truly, that simple.
I think it benefitted the McAfeecast to debut with a smaller game, which seems counterintuitive because it was a matchup of top ten teams in primetime. But let’s be realistic, a number five versus number ten ACC game doesn’t hold the same weight as a number five versus number ten Big Ten or SEC game. And it helped McAfee and crew, because there are obvious kinks to work out.
Firstly, there are entirely too many people on the screen. I’m going to have nice words to say about BostonConnr than the eight-and-a-half-year-old that went viral earlier this summer, but god love ya, your time to shine likely isn’t on primetime on ESPN. In my opinion, for the McAfeecast to really work in the future, a similar setup to the Manningcast with McAfee and A.J. Hawk being the prominent figures on screen is the best solution to the problem. I know McAfee believes in his boys. It’s one of his more endearing qualities, and is frankly part of the reason his show is so successful. But you’re reaching a different audience on ESPN2 on Saturday nights, and the reason the either tuned in or will stay is because of McAfee’s presence.
I didn’t get a great feel for McAfee’s thoughts or reactions on the game simply because you didn’t get a closeup of his face. The best moments of the Manningcast, outside of Eli flipping the double birds or Peyton saying “I can’t hear shit”, have been when the pair have been absolutely disgusted by a decision made by a coach or player and their face shows it without any words following up their reactions. And McAfee definitely holds that ability, and I wish I would have gotten a better sense of his facial reactions on-screen.
Also, and I know this is something McAfee can’t actually control, he had to be a bit more reserved on cable television. Part of the allure of The Pat McAfee Show is the — let’s call it extreme candor — with which he speaks. I believe that’s the scholarly way to write “he says f*** frequently”. And believe me, I subscribe to the theory that the FCC should allow hosts the ability to say obscenities 15 times per week, so I’m down for McAfee’s swearing. But you’re just simply never going to get that on ESPN2. You’re likely never going to get that if the broadcast aired on ESPN+, either. For a “family friendly” company Disney, those cards are just flat out never going to be on the table for McAfee.
One of the things McAfee is known for is his boundless energy, which felt lacking at times on Saturday, but it’s understandable. The man was on College GameDay earlier in the day, flew back to the studio to do the alternate broadcast after travelling the day before to get to Clemson to be on GameDay. I’m sure that takes a toll. On top of that, you’re doing something new for the first time, while trying to, essentially, heard cats on the screen, and you can be a little wiped out by the end of the night.
However, the goodwill McAfee has bought with fans over his extreme generosity was on display as the alternate broadcast donated more than $100,000 to Dabo Swinney’s charity, The Jimmy V Foundation, and the American Red Cross. It was a brilliant move for a debut broadcast, because it acts as a slight shield for criticism. How can you complain about something that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity?
The alternate broadcast, for the most part, avoided the biggest problem I have with the Manningcast. The interviews. I’ve never been watching Monday Night Football, or the Manningcast for that matter, and thought “Man, I wish they were talking to Tracy Morgan right now!” McAfee brought on Peyton Manning, for obvious reasons, and former NC State quarterback Phillip Rivers. That’s it. They didn’t rely on guests to carry them through down periods. The eight folks on screen did most of the heavy lifting, and for that, I thank them.
The McAfeecast was certainly different than any other alternate broadcast I’ve consumed. The crew shooting hoops for extra donations to charity during stoppages of play definitely kept things light and interesting. I couldn’t help but be invested in whether or not someone would bury three out of five threes during an injury timeout for more money for charity.
Speaking of injury timeouts, McAfee planned a giveaway and told fans to use a certain hashtag and when to screenshot or take a picture of their TV. Immediately following him saying “now!”, an injured player appeared on the screen, and he instantly shouted “No! Not now! No! We don’t want that, and we hope he’s ok”. It was a light-hearted, nearly hilarious moment that brought levity to the situation.
The highlight of the cast, however, was — in true McAfee style — picking up on things other broadcasters wouldn’t, like an angry fan. The entire crew shouting at the same time in this specific moment was spectacular television.
Overall, I thought the McAfeecast got off on the right foot. There is undeniably a market for an alternate broadcast based around the former NFL punter’s personality, and I look forward to seeing where the show goes from here.
Garrett Searight is the Editor of Barrett Sports Media and Barrett News Media. He previously was the Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH. He is also a play-by-play announcer for TV and Radio broadcasts in Western Ohio.