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Let The Games Begin…And The Chaos Continue

“Brady busts, Belichick smirks, LeBron smells glory, and L.A. launches a spaceship — but as Covid rattles college football and MLB, why is Fox downplaying the national anthem protests so paramount to NFL peace?”

Jay Mariotti

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It’s almost amusing now, the way sports is smothering us with sensory overload. America’s archivists are occupied by more pressing matters, but as they record the gnarly story of 2020, they’ll marvel at how this collective blur — football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, golf, soccer, cornhole — has done what this country still hasn’t done: Figure it all out and make something palatable from the abnormal.

We saw Tom Brady lose to Drew Brees AND Cam Newton on the same Sunday, as Bill Belichick grinned and hawked Subway sandwiches. We saw Aaron Rodgers flip the script and Cleveland flip the bird at Baker Mayfield, while Lamar Jackson and Russell Wilson carried on. We saw LeBron James reach another conference final and the Clippers again clutch their throats. We saw Joe Burrow’s heartbreaking debut and the opening of a futuristic but barren $6-billion palace in Los Angeles, down the street from homeless encampments amid unbreathable air choked with wildfire ash.

We saw Alec Mills pitch a no-hitter weeks after Lucas Giolito did the same, which must be a sign of what could happen only during a pandemic: a Cubs-White Sox World Series. We saw Dodgers fans gather on Vin Scully Avenue and greet the Astros’ buses with trash cans, Joe Kelly pouty faces and other references to the electronic sign-stealing scandal. We saw two grown men ejected from the NBA Bubble, one the trash-talking brother of Rajon Rondo and the other for inviting a female COVID-19 tester to his hotel room. We saw Naomi Osaka take over women’s tennis while wearing names of Black shooting victims on her face masks.

And we saw almost no fans in the endless slabs of empty seats, hearing nothing but echoes and canned noise that only reminded us of the force-fed greed and frivolousness of it all.

They want us to think this is sports utopia, a heavenly convergence of seasons and events unprecedented on Planet Earth. In truth, it’s part of our ongoing dystopia. And there was no more glaring example Sunday than how the leagues and certain TV networks, with a collective conscience of zero, tried to pretend that two persistent viruses don’t exist.

Racial injustice? The NFL already is facing protest-related upheaval, a division between teams that don’t buy into the league’s sudden embrace of social reform and others that dutifully line up on the sideline and stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ A pattern is developing — some teams boycott the national anthem by remaining in the locker room; some teams are split between players who kneel, stand or sit on the sideline; some teams stand united with no one kneeling; and some teams link arms and stand together, not just for the national anthem but the traditional Black anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing.’’ It’s a potential powder keg when the Patriots, coached by military man Belichick, have no players kneeling while the Dolphins, led by Black head coach Brian Flores, are in the locker room. Or when the Packers stay in the locker room while the Vikings are split — some standing, some kneeling — as nine members of George Floyd’s family watch from a stadium concourse in Minneapolis. Or when the Texans remain in the locker room while Patrick Mahomes, Face of the League, stands with the Chiefs as only one teammate kneels.

This divergence happened throughout the league and won’t be ending soon. I am not an advocate of keeping score on how people protest, but I know a sitting President who does just that, sadly making this a story. And I know an unemployed quarterback already disgusted by it all, with Colin Kaepernick tweeting Sunday that “the NFL runs propaganda about how they care about Black Life.’’

So why wouldn’t we notice every display? The Jaguars remained in their locker room while Colts head coach Frank Reich was the lone man kneeling on his sideline, as all his players stood. Mayfield, who had vowed to kneel, decided to stand, while Myles Garrett joined two other Browns players in kneeling. The Bills and Jets both stayed in their locker rooms in Buffalo, while the Falcons and Seahawks took a collective knee for the opening kick in Atlanta. The Cardinals stayed inside while the 49ers mostly stood. In Baltimore, Jackson kneeled while coach John Harbaugh stood. Carolina’s Teddy Bridgewater kneeled. All of which were powerful scenes that feed directly into America’s noxious pre-election climate, creating the disunity desired by President Trump and no doubt causing heightened tensions in a league in which 70 percent of the players are Black. I’d like to think each player would respect the decisions of others, but once Trump gleefully weighs in about the small percentage of kneelers — and early TV ratings declines — yes, there will be Players Association backlash and hard feelings that lead to … God, who knows what?

“We don’t need another publicity parade, so we’ll just stay inside until it’s time to play the game,’’ Dolphins players said.

“Our intent is to bring attention to the issue of systemic racism and the injustice therein. We wanted to demonstrate a symbolic gesture of how we believe meaningful change happens,’’ the Colts said of Reich’s solo display. “(Kneeling) is not a posture of defiance but rather one of humility — taken by the White community — to acknowledge the injustice and inequality that is present and to find courage and resolve to make the changes needed.’’

“I have been showed that a gesture such as kneeling will only create more division or discussion about the gesture,’’ tweeted Mayfield, “rather than be a solution toward our country’s problems at hand.’’

The differing approaches were as complicated as racism itself. Not that you’d have known if depending on the Week 1 TV coverage. For a historic matchup of all-time quarterbacks, on what Fox Sports called “America’s Game of the Week,’’ the network didn’t bother showing the live anthem scenes in New Orleans. Wasn’t it important to see if Brees — who drew a firestorm of offseason criticism when he condemned sideline kneeling as a form of “disrespecting the flag’’ — chose to stand or kneel? And what would Brady do as a Trump associate? The only way of knowing was via news reports: Buccaneers and Saints players all stood during the anthem, and Malcolm Jenkins the only New Orleans player not on the field.

Where was Fox? The network showed the Vikings during the national anthem — and responded with broadcast-booth silence, saying nothing about the Vikings or Packers. Given the presence of Floyd’s family, wasn’t the scene worth commentary from Chris Myers and the crew at U.S. Bank Stadium? Or is this a hint that Fox — and, by extension, the NFL — will cowardly stick to football after NBC’s Cris Collinsworth at least addressed the racial tension before kickoff Thursday night? CBS was responsible in showing the Dolphins’ no-show and how the Bengals and Chargers linked arms for the anthem, with requisite booth and sideline commentary. And NBC got it right Sunday night, showing about a dozen Rams kneeling as quarterback Jared Goff stood, and, with owner Jerry Jones placing a hand over his heart, Dallas players standing at attention except for nose tackle Dontari Poe, who kept his vow to kneel. But naturally, the NFL Network loaded up the day with game highlights and little protest footage.

I bring this up not because Americans should be inundated by activism, but because players demanded that the league and TV partners cover the Black Lives Matter movement consistently — and not quickly turn away when audience segments are offended, as seen late in the Kaepernick movement. If players don’t trust the motives of commissioner Roger Goodell, the first evidence is how the networks handle the story. So far, the coverage is erratic.

And the coronavirus? What coronavirus? College football and Major League Baseball resumed shameless money grabs, despite a relentless flurry of positive tests that ignore health risks and already have turned seasons into mayhem. In a disturbing contradiction, Big Ten presidents were meeting to discuss a return to football as Michigan State, a member institution, was asking the entire student body to self-quarantine for 14 days. All while Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley was making a mockery of Covid, saying he wouldn’t be forthright about positive tests heading into a game. “Just like we would with an injury, we made the decision not to broadcast that,’’ Riley actually said. “You don’t want to give your team a competitive disadvantage.’’ So let’s just conceal an infectious disease in the name of winning a football game! Boomer Sooner!

After a thrashing of Missouri State, Riley said the game nearly was postponed because, yep, his team was hit with a torrent of Covid cases, sidelining the starting running back and All-America kicker and leaving his offensive line in disarray. “It hung in the balance for a little bit, but we were able to do it,” Riley said after the 48-0 win. “Thankfully, we were able to.’’

Thankfully? Anyone concerned about the players, their families, their grandparents? How positive tests will contribute to more virus spreads on campuses, the current scourge of American academia? Across the sport, teams have Covid issues: Clemson was without three starters in beating Wake Forest … five Auburn starters have the virus … several games were postponed … and the ACC said it will scrap the season if at least eight of its 15 teams aren’t available to play, which likely would cause the SEC and Big 12 to fall into lockstep and shut down the College Football Playoff. Why are they even playing football when campuses are the nation’s hottest virus spots? “This is not a time when you can state with any sort of veracity that you’re going to play all your games,’’ Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby admitted. “We could find ourselves in the same situation that the Big Ten and the Pac-12 are in later in the season. I’m not prepared to have any bravado about it whatsoever.”

Baseball never should have attempted a season. The Covid interruptions have made the games unwatchable, stripping an already dawdling sport of all continuity and interest. MLB Is in a shameful race to claim $1 billion in TV revenue if a postseason somehow is completed. But now players are balking at commissioner Rob Manfred’s proposal to utilize Bubbles in the playoffs, in Texas and southern California, wondering why qualifying teams would have to quarantine for a week and force players to separate from their families. The answer is as obvious as a swab up the nose: The NBA and NHL have succeeded in keeping Covid out of restrictive environments; baseball has failed miserably so far outside a Bubble. Yet the pushback is considerable, especially from teams that have been Covid-free. “You’re asking us to choose between our families and the playoffs?” Justin Turner, the Dodgers’ union rep, told The Athletic. “That’s a stupid question, especially when we’ve played however many successful games this season. Obviously, there were two blips early on (Marlins and Cardinals), but it was out of poor choices by individuals. Other than that, it has been a pretty successful season. Why change all the protocols now?’’

Is he really asking that question? Unlike a regular season in which a team’s games could be paused for days or weeks after an outbreak, one positive test makes a mess of a postseason that can’t afford hiccups. 

Still, from Saturday morning through Sunday night, America managed to feel awake again, if not close to completely alive. This is the September buffet we’d heard about but never thought would happen, the full-blown resumption of sports that I railed against all summer. There’s still nothing remotely prudent about it, and if athletes who dare to play amid Covid are fighting significant medical effects years from now, please remember how I damned the leagues and networks that prioritized wealth over health. Billions of dollars breed corruption, and as we absorb Riley’s comments, tell me: Do you trust any people in power to be transparent when they can hide behind privacy laws or just openly lie? `As the NBA and NHL approach final rounds and MLB stumbles toward October, beware of such fakery.

It’s impossible to ignore the swirling convergence of crazy activity. The games are on TV around the clock, which gives the industry a chance to remind us “why we love sports,’’ as ESPN says. The surreal events of 2020 also mean people might not care about sports as much as they once did. They can watch, as a diversion, but can you really pull on a replica jersey when you’re trying to stay employed, pay a mortgage, educate your kids online and avoid the virus? I’ll be anxious to monitor the ratings. More sports are live in a single timeframe than ever before, yet even with a lack of original programming choices, who’s to say people will flock back to sports? The Jaguars, the only NFL team to allow fans Sunday, made 16,800 tickets available.

Only 14,100 showed up.

The games and individual performances still need to move and inspire us. Front and center were Brady and James, as they’ve been since the start of the millennium, creating new chapters in epic careers. James and the Lakers become the favorites to win the NBA title, resting as the hallway-rival Clippers crack as usual under pressure. Giannis is gone. Kawhi might be next. After all this time in confinement, think LeBron isn’t smelling the weirdest championship of his or any other lifetime?

“I understand the Laker faithful and what they felt or were going through over the last decade of not being in the postseason, or not competing for championships,” James said. “I took that responsibility as well. I’m happy I’m able to do a little bit and be a part of it.’’ Notice his humility when he’s in control.

Brady will be happy to survive his 44th year on Earth in one piece. He threw two interceptions, fumbled once and was sacked three times in a 34-23 loss to the Saints, and already, we hear Camp Belichick declaring victory — Brady was the product of the New England system and needed Belichick more than vice versa. It’s too early for all that, but so far, Newton — mobility! — owns one more victory in 2020 than the toast of Tompa Bay.

One of Brady’s picks went for a touchdown. The Bucs could have kept James Winston to do that. And if Brady thought Belichick was gruff at times, his new coach, Bruce Arians, blamed him for both interceptions.

“Poor execution. I made some bad, terrible turnovers,’’ Brady said. “I’ve obviously got to do a lot better job.  There’s no excuses. We’ve got to clean that up for next week.’’

And we’ll see him, at home against Carolina, on Fox.

The same can’t be said for the anthem, which, at the moment, is much more important to the national condition than Tom Brady’s arm strength.

BSM Writers

Jac Collinsworth Has Learned From The Best

“The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else.”

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Jac Collinsworth got his first taste of Notre Dame football while watching his brother Austin play for the Fighting Irish. There was his brother playing on special teams and getting a chance to return kicks.

“I remember sitting in the stands for his first football game inside Notre Dame Stadium thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve been a part of,” said Collinsworth. “The history of this building and my brother is out there in a Notre Dame jersey.”

Not only did Jac eventually go to Notre Dame as well, but he just completed his first season as the play-by-play voice for Notre Dame Football on NBC. As a student, Jac was part of the NBC sideline production team during his four-year education at South Bend from 2013 to 2017 and he was the sideline reporter for the NBC broadcast of the Blue/Gold spring game in 2016 and 2017.

“To work on the broadcasts for four years — as an intern really — with Alex Flanagan and then with Kathryn Tappen for three years down there on the sideline and being in all those production meetings, it was such an invaluable piece of the journey for me.”

And now, the 27-year-old is the television voice of the Fighting Irish.

“To see it all come full circle and be up there in the booth, it was really a special experience every single game,” said Collinsworth.

After graduating from Notre Dame, Collinsworth joined ESPN where he was a correspondent for NFL Live and Sunday NFL Countdown while also hosting the ESPN-owned ACC Network’s football show The Huddle.

Jac then returned to NBC in 2020 and was part of the Notre Dame telecasts during the pregame show and halftime show for two seasons. Collinsworth had the opportunity to learn under veteran play-by-play voice Mike Tirico, especially during the production meetings.

Tirico became a mentor to Collinsworth.

“I felt like I was getting a graduate degree watching him handle those meetings,” said Collinsworth. “The way he would take all of the young people, myself included, under his wings. You couldn’t get this anywhere else. To be able to do that for two years and still have him as a close friend and somebody I can text…I text with him before every single game.”

Another huge mentor to Collinsworth has been the legendary Al Michaels, the former play-by-play voice for Sunday Night Football who is now calling the Thursday night package for Amazon.

“I talk to him all the time,” said Collinsworth. “I’ve had dinner with him. He invites me out to play golf. We just get on the phone and spent 45 minutes just breaking down everything.  Every time that phone rings I don’t care what I’m in the middle of, I walk outside and I take that call.”

Collinsworth, the son of former Bengals wide receiver and current NFL Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth, first felt the broadcasting itch growing up in Ft. Thomas, Kentucky.  It goes without saying that his father was a huge influence, but Jac remembers when Highlands High School was being renovated when he was in 7th and 8th grade.

The first part of the renovation was a brand-new broadcast facility.

“It was a studio that had these amazing cameras, a desk, lights and two sets,” recalled Collinsworth. “To this day, I’ve never seen a high school setup…I mean this is better than most college setups…a state of-the-art facility.”

The class was called “Introduction to Filmmaking” and Collinsworth started out wanted to be a cameraman. 

“I became obsessed with running around the school and filming all this stuff whatever students were doing,” said Collinsworth. 

From there, Jac gained experience in editing and producing but deep down inside he thought he wanted to be a cameraman…that was until his first taste of on-air experience.

“They started a rotation where everybody in the class had to try hosting the announcements live right before the final period of the day,” said Collinsworth.

And the rest is history.

An important part of Jac’s growth as a play-by-play announcer came last spring working NBC’s coverage of the United States Football League. Paired with Jason Garrett, Collinsworth was able to continue the learning process before taking over the Notre Dame duties. He appreciated the fact that these were really good football players that were among the best players on their college teams and could very well be in the NFL.

And just like for the players, the USFL was an opportunity for Jac to get better at his craft. 

“Just continuing to learn the art form of calling a game,” said Collinsworth. “The timing and getting out of the way sometimes and letting the broadcast breathe and rising for those big moments.” 

An incredibly big moment for Jack would be if the opportunity to work a game with his father ever presented himself. It’s something that he’s thought about and would love to see come to fruition somewhere down the road.

But if that happens, there could be a problem for the viewers.

“Would anybody be able to tell who is talking?” joked Jac.  

Jac and his father sound so much alike it’s scary. In fact, during our twenty-minute phone conversation, I really had to pay attention to listen for any discernable difference between Jac and his dad and it was very hard to find any.

But it would still be fascinating to hear them work together.

“I think it would be a very cool experience,” said Jac. “We would have so much chemistry that it would be a crazy experience. I would love to do it. I’d be getting out of his way and let him make points and I wouldn’t be afraid to take a couple of shots at him. I think it would be damn entertaining.” 

While their on-air roles are different, Jac has been able to learn a lot about broadcasting from his father. While he does — for the most part — give his son some space when it comes to work, Cris leaves Jac a note prior to each broadcast, mainly has it pertains to a specific aspect of a telecast like coming back from a break or the flow of a telecast.

But there’s one valuable lesson that Jac learned from his dad years ago that he has adopted for himself.

“Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is, he is a worker man,” said Collinsworth.  “He just works at this stuff.” 

Jac would constantly see his father going through film at various hours during the day, but Cris would still pay close attention to his son’s studies at school and would let Jac know about it if he saw something wasn’t right.

Like when Jac would be having some difficulty with a math assignment.

“I’m like ‘Dad, this is calculus, I can’t figure out how to do this equation’,” said Jac. “He would put that clicker down and come up and he would be deep in the math book going through the chapters learning all this calculus that he hasn’t done in 40 years.  I’d come down at six in the morning and he’d still be flipping through the math book while I’m eating breakfast and he’s teaching me the lesson to make sure I got it for the quiz.

“That’s how he was…just the work element is the biggest thing that I still use every day and I definitely got it from him.”

Aside from his football duties, Collinsworth has also been a NASCAR studio analyst for NBC and he’s also been the voice of Atlantic Ten Men’s Basketball and the Atlantic Ten Tournament. There’s something to be said for getting experience in multiple sports because each sport has its own pace and its own flow.

Some play-by-play voices specialize in one sport and some can handle multiple assignments.  In Jac’s case, there’s one sport that stand above all the others.

“The rhythm, feel and flow of a football game is my favorite,” said Collinsworth. “Football has always been my first love and grew up around it. Basketball happens fast not to mention you’re on the court and you’re right there in the middle of it. I’ve called baseball games too and that’s a very slow game.” 

Jac Collinsworth is still very early in his broadcasting career but he has great talent and he’s been rewarded with some amazing opportunities like Notre Dame Football and being part of NBC’s NFL coverage.

But he knows that he’s had some help along the way and he’s very grateful for it.

“I feel like I’m living out a dream and I feel like I’m standing on a lot of people’s shoulders that helped me get there,” said Collinsworth. “I think about a lot of people who didn’t need to but chose to help me when I was a kid. I feel like I have a great responsibility to take that advice and take it as far as I can and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

And it all started with a high school television studio and his willingness to try all different aspects of the business.   

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Chris Kinard Has 106.7 The Fan, The Team 980 Primed For Continued Success

“Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

Derek Futterman

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When Jim Riggleman resigned as manager of the Washington Nationals in June 2011, it was the first time Chris Kinard thought the fanbase cared about the team.

Riggleman wanted the Nationals to pick up the option on his contract and effectively remove the “interim” tag from his job description, and once they declined to do so, he essentially packed up and left.

From the time he was young, Chris Kinard was interested in media, and he had early exposure in the industry since his uncle Lee worked as a television news anchor in Greensboro, N.C. The elder Kinard was the pioneer of the Good Morning Show on WFMY News 2 and was honored with the dedication of the main studio in his honor from where he worked since 1956.

By the time he was in fifth grade, Chris Kinard began listening to radio and realizing it may be a viable career path for him to pursue. He shadowed his uncle in 1996 to learn about news media and television broadcasting; however, he gravitated towards working in radio in part because of WJFK-FM, and had an affinity towards professional sports.

“A local morning show here in D.C. on a top 40 station was kind of my entry point,” Kinard said. “I listened to that show actually when it moved over to WJFK for years in middle school and high school.”

At the time, WJFK-FM was broadcasting in the talk format and was among the network of stations syndicating The Howard Stern Show and other programming targeted towards the male 25-54 demographic. Kinard was an avid listener of the station, tuning in to its programming for several hours a day over the course of many years.

Today, it is known as 106.7 The Fan and it is managed, along with Audacy’s cluster of radio stations by Kinard himself. He was responsible for flipping the station’s format from talk to sports in 2009 and has helped cement the brand as dominant in the ratings.

“Flipping the station to sports will always be a bittersweet thing for me,” Kinard said. “I grew up with the station [in] the previous format and I took a lot of pride in what we were doing at the time, but I think we launched with great success. Coming right out of the books and beating our direct competitor in the first month will always be something I’m proud of.”

During his freshman year at American University, he got word that The Sports Junkies were making a public appearance a few minutes away from his childhood home. Additionally, he found out the show was looking for people to volunteer to serve as interns, an opportunity he knew was simply too good to pass up.

Inherently shy, Kinard introduced himself with the hopes of landing an internship at WJFK-FM. A few weeks later, he received a phone call informing him that he was selected to work as an intern, a surreal opportunity for him to begin working in sports media. Little did he know he would still be working at the station, albeit in a more substantial role, 25 years later.

“When it started and when I was actually in the building and seeing the behind the scenes, I was kind of in awe,” Kinard said. “….I had no idea what I was doing really except that I really wanted to be there and couldn’t believe that I was and wanted to soak it all in.”

Three months later, one of the show’s producers who largely acted as a call screener left the station to pursue another opportunity in media. As a result, there was a gap to be filled, and since Kinard had been diligent and responsible as an intern, he was hired part-time to take over the role. At the conclusion of his sophomore year in college, he was hired full-time as the producer of The Sports Junkies – a development in his career he calls “fortuitous” initially difficult to foresee balancing with two years remaining to earn his undergraduate degree.

“It was a really kind of interesting conversation with my parents about whether to do it or not and how it would impact my schoolwork and that kind of thing,” Kinard said. “I just was determined to take that opportunity; I knew how scarce they were I guess just by seeing people who had been at the station and working part-time [for] several years who had left because they couldn’t get a full-time position.”

By the time he was in his junior and senior years, Kinard had valuable professional experience from working at WJFK-FM and also interning at the local ABC affiliate station. Although he participated in some of the student-run media outlets at the school, his mindset was to prioritize what he was doing off campus.

“I’m not sure that I actually got a lot out of college to be honest with you because I was doing it outside of school already just by kind of virtue of connections,” Kinard said. “Being in Washington, D.C. and all the opportunities that are available here, [that was] really… my focus more than anything else.”

During his first year as show producer, The Sports Junkies became nationally syndicated on Westwood One Radio and was achieving notoriety and high ratings within the marketplace. The show is hosted by four childhood best friends – John Auville, Eric Bickel, Jason Bishop, and John-Paul Flaim – who began the program on public access television in Bowie, Maryland before joining WJFK-FM as evening hosts in 1996. None of them had any formal broadcast training, instead utilizing their indelible chemistry and local background to auspiciously impact sports media.

“They’re very authentic,” Kinard expressed. “I think when people hear them, they can relate to them. They sound like every guy’s group of friends sound when you get together. I think they sound like our city; they sound like sports fans in Washington over the last 30 years.”

All four co-hosts recently inked four-year contract extensions to keep The Sports Junkies on 106.7 The Fan, officially putting pen to paper together in studio earlier this month.

Since 2016, The Sports Junkies has been simulcast on NBC Sports Washington, and although listeners now have the ability to add a visual component to their experience, it did not change how any of the co-hosts approach the job. From the beginning, there was a mutual understanding that the show would still operate in the same way with the cameras serving the purpose of pulling back the metaphorical curtain.

“It is really a fast-paced show in terms of the camera switching and the direction of it because there’s four guys, so I think this show translates really well,” Kinard said. “There’s a lot going on because there are four hosts, not just two talking heads. There’s also two producers that chime in a lot. There’s a lot of movement, I think, within the show because of just how dynamic of a cast it is.”

Since its official shift to the sports talk format in 2009, 106.7 The Fan had primarily competed with The Team 980 to try to win in the ratings. In November 2020, Audacy, officially agreed to acquire various stations across the United States owned by Urban One, including The Team 980, effectively ending that competition. Part of Kinard’s job is to oversee both sports talk stations, which now compete with ESPN 630 DC.

“We have some really talented staff,” Kinard said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had more talent under one roof than we have now. Having two stations in my market allows me to groom new people and give people opportunities quicker than I could with just one station.”

Moreover, he helped launch 1580 The Bet, a radio station broadcasting in the growing sports gambling format in partnership with the BetQL Audio Network and CBS Sports Radio. Its creation coincided with a nationwide effort by Audacy to better utilize certain signals to their full potential, and with the proliferation and legalization of sports betting in select states across the country, many of them flipped to this format.

“I think it was important to have the BetQL Network represented in Washington at a high level because of the proximity to the MGM National Harbor, which is just kind of 15 minutes away from the radio station,” Kinard said. “[It is] on a signal that, in the past, had not been a big ratings play, so that was a great opportunity to just kind of own sports in Washington – to have 106.7 The Fan; The Team 980; and 1580 The Bet all under one umbrella.”

A compelling draw to sports radio is live game broadcasts, and as brand manager of Audacy DC, Kinard is responsible for maintaining 106.7 The Fan’s relationship with the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals. When the teams are doing well, it usually results in better metrics for the station.

“There’s a huge correlation between winning and listenership and also advertiser interest,” Kinard said. “There’s a segment of the fanbase, I think, that thinks that local sports radio roots against the teams. It’s not that we root for the teams necessarily, but if you ask any host probably on any radio station in America whether it’s better for their individual show’s success and their overall station success if the teams are successful, I think everyone’s going to say it’s way better.”

Prior to the start of this NFL season, Audacy DC parted ways with the Washington Commanders due to a disagreement regarding “the value of the broadcasts.” The Team 980 was previously owned by the Washington Commanders franchise itself and had been the flagship station of the team for several years through its sale to Urban One in 2019. The Fan had not had the radio broadcast rights to the Commanders since 2006 before it was broadcasting in the sports talk format, hence why The Sports Junkies co-host Eric Bickel stated that the station had had no relationship with the team for two decades.

Since the Commanders officially entered into a new partnership with iHeartRadio, its flagship station has been BIG 100, which airs a classic rock format. Consequently, The Team 980 had the opportunity to change its on-air strategy, airing five hours of pregame coverage every week followed by extensive postgame coverage. During the games themselves, the station has broadcast Burgundy & Gold Gameday Live, a show that has had stellar listenership thus far.

“I think play-by-play rights are really important and do have a ton of value, but only if it’s done in a way where there’s partnership on both sides but also an understanding on both sides that the team has a job to do and the radio station has a job to do,” Kinard expressed. “Our focus is just to continue to provide great talk and coverage of the teams.”

As media continues to evolve with changes in technology and consumption habits, Kinard remains optimistic about the future because of the influx of new talent and the leadership at Audacy.

“We have just a wealth of talent and content, and I think that content will cut through no matter what’s going on with technology,” he said. “I think that we will continue to push to make sure that we are on the platforms that we need to be on and that we own that content and can monetize it for the future. I don’t know how anyone could compete with that, so I’m really excited about it.”

Kinard’s vertical movement in the industry might not have been possible without finding a mentor in Michael Hughes, the station’s general manager. Over the years working in the industry, Kinard grasped that managers are often not thinking about the needs and wants of individuals because of the myriad of responsibilities they are juggling related to the entity as a whole over any given period of time.

As a result, it is essential for subordinates to communicate with their superiors, as they are “at the mercy of the communication [they] receive,” according to Kinard.

“I had a conversation with him about… wanting to be a program director,” Kinard said of Hughes. “I think he took that seriously and took that to heart and he said, ‘Well, let me help you be prepared for that when the time might come.’ It just so happened that it came less than a year later.”

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Pete Thamel Was ESPN’s College Football Missing Link

His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

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For a network often accused of “running” college football, it always seemed odd to me that ESPN never had that true news-breaking reporter it had for other sports. That is, until it hired Pete Thamel in January of this year.

ESPN poured resources into “insiders” like Adam Schefter, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Jeff Passan while it poured rights fees into the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, and the College Football Playoff, but from the outside, it looked as if the network just wasn’t interested in having that same type of reporting for college football, which is truly puzzling.

When the entire postseason of the country’s arguably second favorite sport is centered around what is best for your television channel, you would think supplementing it with high level, national reporting would be a priority.

Maybe the right deals never came to fruition or maybe the value just wasn’t seen by the network until Thamel became available, but his contributions to ESPN’s college football coverage have been immeasurable.

In a day and age where reporters break news on Twitter and get around to eventually writing a story for their outlet’s website, Thamel flexed his reporting chops in a major way on Sunday. While the rest of the college football world was still pondering whether Ohio State should consider firing Ryan Day, Thamel dropped a bomb on the sport’s landscape by revealing Wisconsin had hired Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell to run their program. His initial tweet was accompanied by a link to ESPN’s website with further details about the move.

Pete Thamel was so convinced he was the first and potentially only person working on that ever-changing breaking news story, that he took the time to write the story, submit it through ESPN’s editorial staff, and then release the news before anyone else. In 2022, that’s the equivalent of mailing his story from side of the country to the other in order to break news. And yet, he was so far ahead of the game that he was able to take his time, gather his facts, and report an accurate, succinct story that would be of value to him and his network. What a novel concept.

One of Thamel’s best qualities as an “insider” is he — thus far — hasn’t been plagued by questions that have been a factor in the perception like his ESPN counterparts. Schefter, Wojnarowski, and Passan have each faced their own incidents during their time as the lead reporters for ESPN but Thamel, in my opinion, is unlikely to be pulled into those scenarios. It seems clear Thamel doesn’t release things for the benefit of anyone other than himself and the outlet he works for.

He doesn’t seem to be swayed by agents, athletic directors, coaches, boosters, or anyone else with skin in the game. His no-frills approach is refreshing in a time when many “insiders” view being as famous as the athletes they cover as a quasi-goal for their futures.

Last week, College GameDay host Rece Davis noted on the show’s podcast that Thamel brought “something to GameDay that GameDay’s desperately needed for years”, and he’s right. Not only did ESPN need a news breaker for it’s digital outlets, but it needed that presence on its pregame show.

And when you think about it, nearly ever other pregame show has that role filled. Schefter and Chris Mortensen hold that role for ESPN’s NFL coverage, FOX Sports has Jay Glazer in its NFL pregame show and Bruce Feldman for Big Noon Kickoff. It’s just an area ESPN lacked.

But they made a fantastic hire by bringing Thamel aboard, and his reporting will serve the worldwide leader well over the course of the following weeks as the college coaching carousel heats up.

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Barrett Media Writers

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