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What Does It Take To Go From Producer To Host?

“If you’re a producer starting out, sometimes looking at how a host does a show can be a mystery that only the talent knows. So immerse yourself with every facet of a show.”

Chrissy Paradis

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As Jon Goulet, FS1 producer for The Herd with Colin Cowherd shared with me in the first volume of the Producer’s Playbook, “Don’t be afraid to push back on your host. If you aren’t getting into arguments or disputes somewhat regularly with the host then you aren’t doing your job right. Hosts don’t like producers that agree with everything that they say. They respect producers that make them and their shows better.”

A particularly unique vantage point for host’s needs come from those who have sat in the producers chair at some point in their career. I spoke with three producers turned hosts about what the necessary ingredients for success are when it comes to balancing the producer/host dynamic.

ABC Radio Producer multitasking - NSW/Canberra Evenings sh… | Flickr

Host of Pritch and Clay on Raider Nation Radio 920 and longtime executive producer & co-host alongside Ed Graney on ESPN Las Vegas, Clay Baker weighed in on the most valuable lesson he learned and how it can help others as they begin to form and develop relationships with their talent.

“If you’re a producer starting out, sometimes looking at how a host does a show can be a mystery that only the talent knows. So immerse yourself with every facet of a show. Take pride in doing all the little things that help hosts stay informed and entertaining; whether it’s show prep or using audio to aid the host’s narrative. Over time, your contributions will add up and you’ll figure out the mystery for yourself. And when it comes your turn to lead, you’ll know what needs to get done in order to do good radio.”

Baker also says the most vita quality for the producer in the producer/host dynamic is enthusiasm. Nothing is as important as actually wanting to do the job.

“Being a producer, it can be a thankless job, and if you come in there looking for daily adulation, get another job. But I believe there is an unspoken energy of someone who wants to be there despite not getting the credit. 

“The host’s job can be grinding and whether they realize it or not, they need a creative environment to be successful and as the dynamic gets smaller, the producer’s spirit becomes essential. In addition, enthusiasm keeps you following up on guests, doing production, social media with a purpose. So, if you’re one of those people who produce, while all the time thinking you can do a better job as a host, you’re not only doing a disservice to the host and audience, but you’ll miss out on all the little things you need to learn to be successful, as well.”

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Pritch & Clay airs weekdays 7-10am PST / 10am-1pm EST on Raider Nation Radio 920 (@RNR920AM). Follow Clay Baker on Twitter @claybakerradio, his co-host @mipritchard and longtime host @EdGraney on Twitter.

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Travis ’T-Bone’ Hancock, co-host for WFNZ’s The Mac Attack, started his career as the executive producer of the show. Producing for over a decade before moving into the co-host chair gave T-Bone a wealth of knowledge about how to navigate his new role on the show.

“The most valuable lesson I learned is patience and be ready for the opportunity whenever it comes time to be called up to host. It’s the radio equivalent of being a backup QB and staying ready daily. Once you get the chance you are in such better spot than most because a host personality with a producer mindset is a tremendous advantage not everyone has. There are few situations you haven’t experienced on air or off air that you can’t handle,”  Hancock explained.

T-Bone weighed in on what he believes the key is to developing a strong producer/host dynamic. 

“Constant communication is the key between the host and producer. I also learned day one with Mac (now my co host) that in order for me to succeed, and the show as well, that I needed to attempt to match the host’s work ethic as much as possible to create a bond that each day we are a team and in it together.”

WFNZ's T-Bone | News 1110am 99.3fm WBT - Charlotte

The Mac Attack airs Monday-Friday 6-10am EST on WFNZ in Charlotte. Follow @MacAttackWFNZ co-host @TBoneWFNZ and host Chris McClain @MacWFNZ on Twitter.

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Jonathan Von Tobel, host of The Edge on VSiN and former Cofield & Company on ESPN Las Vegas producer, shares his experience and the lesson that has resonated the most in his career.

“I would say the most important lesson that I learned in my career was to be aggressive. Usually aggression is viewed as a negative attribute, but it certainly helped move me along my career path. As an intern I asked for opportunities to learn new skills and techniques. As a producer, not only did I make sure my show was always ready to go, but I also volunteered for many opportunities. Going to press conferences to grab sound, running the board for local games and eventually asking to be included on pregame broadcasts. When I was hired as a producer at VSiN, there was an opening for an emergency host. I volunteered, and that was the best decision I’ve ever made, as I’ve been a full time host since that moment,” Von Tobel shared.

“It helps to be aggressive, but with my aggression in my career came a strong work ethic. I always strive to be the best at what I do. Whether it was as a barista while going through school, or as a host right now. With an aggressive mindset, and a willingness to work, I got to where I am today.“

Von Tobel also breaks down the dynamic between producers/hosts and what element is the most crucial to fostering open-communication and success.

“To me, the most important quality to a positive dynamic between a host and producer is the personal relationship. Once the two get to know each other on that level the show can really reach new heights. When I started as Steve Cofield’s producer at ESPN Las Vegas the show was just a show. But as I got to know Cofield, and his co-host Adam Hill, our show improved exponentially. I knew what their personal interests were, what they found funny and what they were looking for in content. It just helped the show find a new level of cohesion,” says Von Tobel.

“As a host, I can speak even more to this, as my current producer, Jacob Roach, and I really get along. Since we’ve come together for our show The Edge, we have improved almost every day. To me, that personal relationship between host and producer is priceless.”

Jonathan Von Tobel on Twitter: "Planning on going to restaurant for the  first time on Friday. Any recommendations that are open #LasVegas?"

The Edge airs on VSIN weekdays from 1-3pm EST on SiriusXM you can follow Jon Von Tobel on social media at @mejvt. Folow Von Tobel’s former hosts @stevecofield & @AdamHillLVRJ and his current producer @Roach_97 as well.

BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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