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Steve Hartman Loves Sports. The Rest Is Just Crap

“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.”

Brian Noe

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

BSM Writers

Beyond The Mask: Henrik Lundqvist Embraced 2nd Career in Sports Media

“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal.”

Derek Futterman

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Plucking the strings of an acoustic guitar, Henrik Lundqvist found himself beneath the bright lights once again, poised to put on a worthy performance. Just as he aimed to stop pucks from going in the net as the star goaltender of the New York Rangers for 15 seasons, Lundqvist sought to captivate viewers as half of a musical duo featuring former NHL forward Paul Bissonnette.

Their performance of “Good Riddance” by Green Day was in tribute to Rick Tocchet, a former NHL on TNT studio analyst who recently departed the network to serve as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Lundqvist serves as a studio analyst for TNT’s coverage of the NHL, breaking down players and teams throughout the broadcast and bringing his own unique style to the set. His pursuit of a post-playing career in sports media was no guarantee from the moment he retired in August 2021; in fact, he never intended to stop playing the game and competing for a Stanley Cup championship at that time.

During the 2019-20 season, Lundqvist had lost playing time to young goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, and by the year’s end, his deal was bought out by the team. In an effort to continue playing, Lundqvist signed a contract with the Washington Capitals – marking the first time in his NHL career that he would not step between the pipes for the Rangers.

Lundqvist never played a game for the team though, as it was discovered in a medical exam that he would need open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve while also having an aortic root and ascending aortic replacement. Less than two months after the successful five-hour operation, he was back on the ice rehabbing and attempting to make a full recovery – but a few months in, he began to feel unexpected chest pain. Following a medical checkup, Lundqvist was told he had inflammation around his heart. It was a significant setback that required him to step off the ice, take off his goaltender equipment and rest for several months.

After discussions with his family and friends, Lundqvist determined that the risk of taking the ice outweighed the rewards and officially stepped away from the game. Rather than conjuring hypothetical scenarios wherein he did not experience the misfortune and played for the Capitals, Lundqvist looked to the future amid the ongoing global pandemic and thought about how he could best enjoy his retirement.

“I was just mentally in a very good place,” Lundqvist said. “I didn’t have a choice; I guess that makes it easier sometimes when the decision is made because you can’t go back-and-forth – ‘Should I?’ ‘Should I not?’ Yeah, I wanted to play but it was just not meant to be for me.”

Before any definitive resolution on his future endeavors was made though, the Rangers announced that the team would retire Lundqvist’s No. 30 in a pregame ceremony during the 2021-22 season, making him just the 11th player bestowed that honor in franchise history. As a five-time NHL All-Star selection, 2011 Vezina Trophy winner, and holder of numerous franchise records, Lundqvist had the accolades to merit this profound distinction.

Moreover, he was an important component in growing the game of hockey and contributing to the greater community, serving as the official spokesperson for the Garden of Dreams Foundation and founder of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation. He also was a two-time recipient of the organization’s prestigious Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, honoring the player “who goes above and beyond the call of duty.”

Throughout the night, attendees regaled Lundqvist with chants of “Hen-rik!” and were treated to flashbacks of some of his memorable career moments. The night was of monumental importance for Lundqvist, during which he expressed his gratitude to the Rangers’ organization, former teammates and fans. Then, Lundqvist — referred to as “The King” — promptly took his place among team legends beneath the concave ceiling of “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

“When I look back at my career, I know, to me, it was all about preparation; how I practiced and how I prepared for each game at practice,” Lundqvist said. “There’s no regrets, and I hope people, when they think about how I played, [know] that it was 100% heart and commitment to the game.”

Before this ceremony though, Lundqvist and Rangers owner James Dolan had held several meetings with one another. The purpose of these conversations was to determine the best way for Lundqvist to remain involved with the team, its fans, and the community. In the end, he was named as a lead studio analyst on MSG Networks’ broadcasts of New York Rangers hockey before the start of the 2021-22 season: the start of his foray in sports media.

This past summer, Lundqvist negotiated a new deal with Madison Square Garden Sports and Madison Square Garden Entertainment in which he maintained his in-studio responsibilities while increasing involvement in other areas of its sports and entertainment ventures. In this new role, Lundqvist supports the business operations for both companies, assisting in digital content development, alumni relations, and partner and sponsor activities.

When Lundqvist is not in the studio or the office, he can often be found at Madison Square Garden taking in New York Rangers hockey, New York Knicks basketball, or one of the arena’s renowned musical performances. Usually, when he is in attendance, he is shown on the arena’s center-hung video board as an “NYC Celebrity” and receives a thunderous ovation from the crowd.

“The network is just part of it, but it feels great to come there,” Lundqvist said of Madison Square Garden. “Every time I go there – to see the people that I’ve known for so long – but also I love that place; I love The Garden. I think the energy [and] the variety of things that happen there is something I really appreciate. It feels really good to be a part of that.”

Sitting alongside former teammate and studio analyst Steve Valiqutte and sportscaster John Giannone, Lundqvist appears in the MSG Networks studios, located across the street from the arena, for select New York Rangers games. From the onset, he brought his allure and expertise to the set and appealed to viewers – so much so that national networks quickly began to take notice.

“I enjoy watching hockey [and] talking hockey, but the main thing to me is the team; the people that you work with,” Lundqvist said. “The guys on the panel [and the] crew behind. I really enjoy that part of it and having a lot of fun off-camera.”

One month later, Lundqvist was on his first national broadcast for the NHL on TNT where he and Bissonnette famously performed a cover of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica that went viral on social media. It had been known that Lundqvist was a musician, famously performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in his Rangers uniform to celebrate the end of the 2012-13 NHL lockout.

In fact, during his retirement ceremony, the Rangers gifted him with a custom-made guitar painted by David Gunnarsson, the same artist who used to paint Lundqvist’s goalie masks.

Aside from occasional music performances, Lundqvist brings an esoteric base of knowledge to the NHL on TNT panel as its only goaltender. Whether it be through player breakdowns, interviews, or dialogue with other analysts, Lundqvist has a perspective to which few professional hockey players can relate. There are various goaltenders among local studio panels surrounding live hockey game broadcasts, and Lundqvist is in a unique situation with MSG Networks in that he and Valiquette are both former goaltenders. Yet on Turner Sports’ national coverage, he is the only voice speaking to this different part of the game.

“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal,” Lundqvist explained. “Yes, you need to stop the puck, but a huge part of being a goalie is analyzing what’s going on. We can never really dictate the play so you need to analyze what’s happening right in front of you.”

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In broadcasting at both the local and national level, Lundqvist is cognizant of the differences in each network’s studio programs. Lundqvist says appearing on the MSG Networks studio panel is more about being direct with the viewer, whereas the NHL on TNT views its panel as being conversational in nature. With Turner Sports, Lundqvist also asks his colleagues about the different teams around the league since he is most familiar with the Rangers both as a former player and studio analyst.

“I’m closer to the Rangers; I see more of what’s going on,” Lundqvist stated. “When you work [national] games, maybe you focus in on teams on the West Coast or [part] of the league you don’t see as often. You try to talk to the other guys on the panel and the crew and figure out things that are interesting about those teams.”

Hockey is a team sport, and Lundqvist felt grateful to play with his teammates and face his competitors over the years. Now as an analyst though, it is his job to analyze their games and critique them when necessary; however, he does not try to be excessively critical.

Lundqvist knows the trials and tribulations associated with the sport and can relate to scenarios many players face on a nightly basis. Therefore, he thinks about his own experience before giving an opinion, especially a critique, instantiating it with comprehensible, recondite knowledge and/or by recounting a similar situation.

“I’d much rather give them positive feedback obviously because I know it is a tough game,” Lundqvist said, “and sometimes it might look like an easy mistake, but if you can give the viewer a better explanation of why he did that, they might have a different view of that mistake.”

Now metaphorically being beyond the goalie mask, Lundqvist’s vision of the game has evidently shifted. He discerns just how intense the schedule is and the rapid pace of the game, axioms he was aware of while playing but inherently avoided thinking about. He has implemented his refined viewpoint of the game accordingly into his analysis, simultaneously utilizing the mindset and savvy he cultivated on the ice. It is, quite simply, a balancing act.

“I think people can be pretty quick to jump on guys and critique them,” Lundqvist said. “That’s where maybe you take an extra look and try to understand why it happened and give those reasons. I think that’s where it helps if you played the game [for] a long time and just love the game [because] you have a pretty good understanding of why guys react a certain way.”

The challenge tacitly embedded in the jobs of most studio analysts – Lundqvist’s included – is in presenting the information to the audience in a manner through which it learns without being confused. It is a delicate craft that takes time and genuine understanding to master, especially related to promulgating hockey analytics as Valiquette does on MSG Networks and within his company, Clear Sight Analytics.

“There’s a lot of educated viewers out there, but there’s also a lot of people that maybe don’t watch as much hockey,” Lundqvist said, “so you want to find that middle ground where you kind of educate both sides.”

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By broadcasting both locally and nationally in addition to working in a specially-designed business operations role, Lundqvist is staying around the rink in his retirement while facilitating the growth of hockey. Despite the profusion of young talent, dynamic action and jaw-dropping plays, viewership of the sport on ESPN and TNT’s linear channels has dropped 22% from last season, according to a report by Sports Business Journal.

For Lundqvist though, he does not feel much has changed from playing regarding his responsibility to advance the reach and appeal of the sport. He played professionally for 20 years, beginning his career in his home country of Sweden, primarily in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). In the 2004-05 season, his final campaign before arriving in New York City, Lundqvist had won the award for most valuable player. Furthermore, he was recognized as the best goalie and best player, leading Frölunda HC to its second Elitserien championship in three seasons.

His NHL debut came five years after he was selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers but unlike many rookies over the years, he came polished and prepared to embrace the lights of Broadway. Following an injury to starting goaltender Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist was inserted into the starting lineup and, from that moment on, virtually never came out.

By the end of his first year, he had been named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was a Vezina Trophy finalist for best goaltender. Additionally, he remains the only goaltender to begin his NHL career with seven consecutive 30-plus win seasons.

“I think the league is doing a great job of growing the game,” Lundqvist said. “In the end, it comes down to the product and right now, it’s a great product. I feel really good about, the best way I can, to promote the game [by] talking about it, but… it feels like I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”

One means through which Lundqvist attempts to grow the game is within the studio demos he performs with the NHL on TNT, displaying different facets of the game in a technical manner. The show also embraces the characteristics of their analysts and implements them in lighthearted segments, such as zamboni races, putting competitions, Swedish lessons and, of course, musical performances.

“I’m huge on mindset and the pressure,” Lundqvist said. “I love to talk about that type of stuff and give the viewer a better understanding of what goes through their heads. In terms of personality, I don’t know if I can say [that] I’m a serious guy because I love to have fun and laugh and do fun things.”

Lundqvist thoroughly enjoys what he is doing both locally and nationally, and he ensures he surrounds himself with people he wants to be around. There are plenty of other broadcast opportunities for former hockey players, such as moving into the booth as a color commentator or between the benches as a rinkside reporter. At this moment though, he is more focused on being immersed in his current roles, performing them to the best of his ability while ensuring he allocates time to spend with friends and family.

“I see myself more as an analyst in the studio more than traveling around and being in the rink,” he said. “I think that’s another thing with the schedule; it works really well with my schedule to have one or two commitments with the networks, but then I have other things going on in my life that I commit to.”

Plenty of comparisons can be drawn between playing professional hockey and covering the sport from the studio in terms of preparation and synergy. Yet the end result is not as clearly defined since “winning” in television is quantifiably defined as generating ratings and revenue. Undoubtedly, Lundqvist is focused on doing what he can to bolster hockey’s popularity; however, he also wants to enjoy this new phase of his career being around the game he loves.

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“In sports, you win or you lose,” Lundqvist explained. “With TV, you want to be yourself [and] you want to get your point out – but at the same time, if you do it at the same time you’re having a good time, I feel like that’s good TV.”

Once their careers conclude, many athletes think about pursuing a post-playing career and oftentimes end up taking on a role in sports broadcasting. On MSG Networks alone, there are plenty of former players who take part in studio coverage on live game broadcasts, such as Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres, Bryce Salvador of the New Jersey Devils, and Matt Martin of the New York Islanders. At the national level, Turner Sports employs Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Wayne Gretzky for its studio broadcasts, while ESPN’s top studio crew includes Mark Messier and Chris Chelios.

All of these former professional hockey players had an obligation to regularly speak with media members, answering questions about games and the season at large. Lundqvist maintained a professional relationship with journalists and beat reporters, and he most enjoyed taking questions when the team was doing well. Regardless of what the end result of a game was though, he had a responsibility to divulge his thoughts and, in turn, be subject to criticism and/or negative feedback.

His stellar career and persona all came from emanating a passion for the game – and it continues to manifest itself beyond the television screen. Listening to those passionate about the game discuss it usually engenders euphony and lucidity to viewers, analogous to the sound of the puck hitting the pads or entering the glove. It is a timbre Lundqvist created 27,076 times throughout his NHL career (regular season and playoffs) in preventing goals, and one he now aims to explain en masse.

“The reason why I kept going to the rink and put all the hours in was because I really enjoyed it,” Lundqvist said. “If you decide to go into media or whatever it might be, I think the bottom line is [that] you have to enjoy it and make sure you have good people around you.”

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Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?

The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.

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Diamond Sports has been anything but a diamond in the sports world. As subscribers leave cable and satellite for streaming services, companies are dropping RSNs nationwide because they are too expensive to carry. This has caused an impending bankruptcy for the company, which owns the local rights to dozens of sports teams nationwide. It is also putting the NBA, NHL, and MLB at major financial risk. 

In the short term, it is known that teams will still broadcast on their RSNs even if they aren’t getting the paychecks they were promised in previous rights deals. This will affect teams’ ability to pay players and could even create an unfair advantage among the haves of the sports world like the Yankees and Lakers and the have-nots. The NFL doesn’t face the same problems that the other leagues are facing because its rights have been nationalized.

With the NFL’s continued television dominance, college conferences also bundling up games together for more money, and the MLS guaranteeing themselves television revenue after packaging local and national rights together, could we see the other leagues follow suit? It is an option that is much easier said than done but it seems like we are moving closer to it becoming reality. 

The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.

The biggest problem the NBA and other leagues would face are that the local rights to all of its teams don’t expire at the same time. If the league were to sign a deal that included giving all local rights to a streamer, the amount which the league was getting paid would be very unique year after year. It would be crazy for a streamer to pay a huge chunk of money to the NBA all at once if the number of teams they have local rights to changes every year.

It would also be insane to pay an astronomical amount if the streamer is only getting the local rights to small-market teams like the Cavs and the Pistons. A major market team like the Lakers doesn’t renew their local rights until 2032. We’re still in 2023. How does that affect the league’s operating costs? 

The NBA would also have to figure out whether teams whose rights don’t expire yet deserve to be included in the pot of money garnered from selling local rights to a streamer. Whether they are or they aren’t, does it put each team at different competitive advantages and/or disadvantages when trying to acquire free agents or front-office personnel?

One of the most interesting puzzles to figure out is what influence a league owner like Washington’s Ted Leonsis has in this potential measure when all is said and done. Leonsis just acquired complete control of the regional sports network — currently named NBC Sports Washington — that broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games for millions of dollars, although the exact amount remains undisclosed.

What does Leonsis do with his network if his team’s games can no longer air there? Can his team opt out of participating in a potential league offering? Or if the games continue to air on his network but are simulcasted locally on the streamer that wins local rights on a national scale, does the streamer have the ability to pay less money for rights?

If so, does that make the deal as lucrative for the NBA? And what does that mean for retransmission fees that cable companies like Comcast pay to Leonsis and other RSNs they’re still carrying?

The league will face a similar problem with the Lakers, Bulls, Knicks and other franchises that either wholly own or partially own a part of the RSNs where they broadcast their games. 

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions which is why they are written here in this column. Unfortunately for the leagues, they don’t have the answers either. But if the NBA figures out a way to nationalize their product even more and make streaming games more appealing by ending local blackouts, it’ll benefit the game more than it hurts the game. 

NBA, NHL, and MLB games are still some of the highest-rated programs locally in many markets when you look at how they rate vs. other cable and broadcast offerings. But at this point, the ability to charge everyone for a program that only ten percent of subscribers are watching is a losing business proponent.

The leagues should start from scratch and sell a mass package of games for maximum profit. It gives fans a more centralized location to watch their favorite teams and puts the leagues on a much more steady path than where they could be headed sooner rather than later.

Diamond in the rough to sparkling jewel of light? Only time will tell.

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Do You Have Affirmations Of Gratitude?

“We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right?”

Jeff Caves

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Having gratitude for your life is all the rage. If you, like me, have trouble starting your day with positive affirmations and maintaining a positive outlook about your job, read on! 

We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right? Here is another version. Try a few affirmations of gratitude instead.

“I HAVE A JOB.”

With interest rates rising, inflation increasing, and spending down; corporations are laying people off. PayPal laid off 7% of its entire workforce. Amazon let 18,000 go. Alphabet (Google) said goodbye to 12,000 jobs. Radio sales managers need to hire people like you – experienced sellers with a track record of bringing home the bacon. 

I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER.”

You solve a problem for your company when it comes to revenue. You know people, and you sell advertising better than anything they can come up with…so far. 

Yes, they are trying to replace you, but Zoom Info reports iHeart’s self-serve spot buying service,  AdBuilder, is doing under 5 million in business. You have time to solidify your value. Be happy you are the rainmaker. 

I WORK IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS.”

Sports talk radio is the ultimate companion to millions of listeners. They aren’t robots, and your stations improve their lives by talking about what they care about 24/7. Celebrate selling access to callers, Twitter followers and FANS who go to games. You also get to work with local celebrities that everybody knows but you know best. We all need a connection to other people and want to be seen and heard. 

“I GET TO CHANGE HOW I FEEL ABOUT MYSELF.”

In this job, you determine your value, feelings about your work, and who you work with. You get to set a strategy and talk to the businesspeople you want to help and do business with. It’s like running your own business with a tremendous support staff. Try to do it independently, and you will appreciate accounting, traffic, production, and sales assistance. Those wins produce deposits in your bank account.  

I HAVE COMPETITION!”

That format competitor across the street does things differently and sometimes better than you or tries to imitate you and looks terrible. They motivate you to beat them to a new account or put a moat around your best clients so they can’t be touched. They keep you sharp and willing to try new things. Good competition schemes to take money from your station, and your management needs you to protect them. And they also provide a place for you to work one day. The FTC wants to eliminate non-competes so you can walk across the street this year.  

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