Ian Beckles Has Crushed Many People
“Like I said if Stevie Wonder is going to teach me music, I’m going to listen. There’s times where I feel like saying just listen, because this is my thing.”
The most interesting people in radio typically have a lot of life experiences. Ian Beckles, an afternoon drive host on WDAE in Tampa, Florida, certainly qualifies as one of these people. The former offensive lineman had a nine-year NFL career — including seven with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He teamed up with Hall of Famers Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch. A native of Montreal, Beckles made his way from Canada to Bloomington where he graduated with a BS in business while playing his college ball at Indiana University. Beckles also opened Dignitary Cafe, which merges his passion of all things food with his growing knowledge of CBD products.
I feel like I practically need to rob a bank to compete with Ian’s life experiences.
Beckles drops by to discuss a wide range of topics. He touches on the retirement of Ron Diaz last December, his former partner who spent four decades on the Tampa airwaves. Beckles talks about his new on-air partner, Jay Recher, who moved from producer to co-host. The ambassador of all things tasty in Tampa Bay also speaks about fluffy radio, being yourself, Angelo Dundee, what fans know nothing about, and caps it off with an excellent Stevie Wonder comparison. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How did you get your start in sports radio after your playing days?
Ian Beckles: I never even knew sports radio existed. When I played, and even afterward, I never listened to sports radio, not one time. I was at a gym with a young lady, Jayne Portnoy, who used to work for the Bucs. She said to me you’d be great in sports radio and they’re looking for somebody at 620. Once again I didn’t know what was going on. I went to 620. They had about 10 people in there looking to get a Sunday job for pregame. I won, I guess, because I got the job. I started my Sunday show with Sandy Penner. That one might have been 20 years ago. That turned into a Monday night show on 620, which kind of turned into me filling in for Chris Thomas and ultimately me taking over for Chris Thomas with Ron Diaz.
BN: How do you think your style has changed over the last two decades, if it even did?
IB: I’d like to believe that my style didn’t change, because I think when you’re behind the mic, you’re just doing yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do anyway. If I was to give somebody advice, I would say just be yourself. Some people get behind the mic and they want to change and make it more professional. I just open the mic and just talk like I’d be talking to my buddies and we’re having a cocktail.
I don’t think my style has changed. I really don’t. I’ve learned a lot because we talk about a lot of different sports and one of the things that you learn is that if you don’t know a whole lot about something, you don’t want to elaborate too much on it. If we’re talking about NASCAR, I’ll joke around and say I don’t know much about NASCAR. The worst thing to do is try to be smart when you don’t know anything, so I guess I just learned a lot of little lessons throughout the years.
BN: What did you enjoy most about working with Ron before he retired?
IB: What I enjoy the most working with Ron was what I learned. What’s funny is I think Ron and I survived together because we’re both professionals. A lot of people will say hey man, you and Ron, you guys hang out all the time like you’re best friends. Although Ron and I were friends and we respected each other, we didn’t hang out afterwards. We just respected when that mic came on, we’re going to put on the best product. I think the reason why it succeeded so much is that we were so different. I always tell people if you have a show with Tucker Carlson and Hannity, it might be too much, but you put Tucker Carlson and Anderson Cooper together, it’d be a great show. I think that’s what Ron and I did.
There’s going to be people that don’t like me, and the people that don’t like me, would like Ron. I think vice versa as well. There are certain times when you get into an argument, I know there’s people on the other side of the radio saying, don’t let up Ian, or don’t let up Ron. Sometimes there are no right answers. I thought it worked because we hit the whole spectrum.
For me, working with somebody who’s been in radio that long and was a pioneer, I’m a sponge. I was like that in the locker room as well. When Anthony Muñoz came in the locker room or one of those old-school guys, I listened to everything they said. I understand you got there for a reason. I got a chance to grow up with Brooks and Sapp and those guys, so we all learned together. But I’ve always learned to listen. I watch too. I watched a lot of things Ron did and a lot of things Ron said, and the way he said them. I think I adopted a lot, and hopefully in my older age young, young cats like Jay Recher and some of the other kids coming up can hear it and adopt it and hopefully learn from me. I thought about the other day, I’m becoming one of the elder statesmen because I’ve been on the air for a while now.
BN: What has it been like getting used to Jay who was a producer and now is your co-host?
IB: I didn’t have to. When Ron was out, me and Jay did the show. That happened probably a half-dozen times and every time we did the show, we were like “Oh my God, that was cool. That was relaxing.”
We were chill. Jay and I like each other; we hang out. Jay comes over here to watch sporting events. We hang out more than Ron and I used to. Once again it doesn’t make it a better show. But I never at any time questioned whether Jay and I would have good synergy because like I said we like each other. We challenge each other because the worst crap is fluffy radio. Nobody wants that. I think Jay is so strong-minded that he won’t allow that to happen. When the bosses came to me and they go “Do you want it to be Jay Recher?” I said it has to be Jay Recher. I go it has to be. That was it. I didn’t give them a choice. I think we made the right choice for sure.
BN: As a former player, how often do you hear sports radio hosts that didn’t play professionally, say things that are incorrect?
IB: It happens a lot. I’ll give you an example, throughout the years there’s been a couple football players I’ve been very critical about, and they were Buccaneer players. Way back in the day it was Barrett Ruud. I was like you guys keep telling me this guy is good, but he’s running backwards to make tackles. Barrett Ruud would have 150 tackles in a season but we would be last at stopping the run and you’re a middle linebacker. They don’t go together. People were upset with me; “No, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.” And I go well, you know what, if you remember what I did for a living — do you know how much film I’ve watched? I feel like saying are you going to question Stevie Wonder on music because I don’t know very many people that have better credentials than I do to evaluate a middle linebacker. After that we had Gaines Adams. I go he can’t play. He just can’t play. He’s not strong enough. He’s not mean enough. He’s too nice. He’s just running around the edge and that didn’t work out. When Barrett Ruud left here, he never played good football. With Gaines Adams, may he rest in peace, he didn’t either.
The last one was Gerald McCoy. I go you guys keep on telling me how good this guy is. He doesn’t make any plays. He doesn’t get sacks. Our defense is last always and you guys keep on telling me he’s good. I go the second he leaves, Ndamukong Suh comes in here, I go see what happens. And what happens? Our defense got better immediately.
I don’t think, I know I see football different than everybody else because that’s all I did my whole life. Sometimes I want to stop people — it can sound pretentious at times — but I don’t care. Like I said if Stevie Wonder is going to teach me music, I’m going to listen. There’s times where I feel like saying just listen, because this is my thing. I wasn’t good in school. I wouldn’t cheat off me in school. But if we’re talking about football and inside line play, I’d be the one to cheat off of because I have a world of knowledge.
BN: Does the common fan and most of the media know the least about inside line play, which is your area of expertise?
IB: They know nothing actually. I’m starting to realize this with old age; football is a very complicated game. It’s way complicated because sometimes when I have people over here and we’re watching football — we may have Tony Mayberry here, a former teammate of mine, or Michael Clayton, or Shaun King, and we’re all talking football. I realize I don’t know what they’re talking about. I wasn’t in the wide receiver room. And God forbid I know anything about what a quarterback is doing.
When you hear the commentators speak sometimes, I realize even the commentators are speaking over the normal fans’ heads. Let me give you some common things, they’ll say he’s a 3-technique. I swear to God, ask the average person what a 3-technique is — and I’m talking about football fans — and they won’t know what it is.
They’ll say this is a two-gap defense. If you ask 10 football fans, one of them will know what the hell they’re talking about. But this is something they’ve been talking about forever, and they keep on hearing it, and they think they know what it is, but they have no idea. Football gets way more complicated than that. Inside play is not any more complicated than DB play or tight end play, it’s just different, that’s all. But football in general is very, very complicated.
BN: What’s good and bad about a lack of local competition for your radio station?
IB: Since I’ve been in radio there was another radio station that popped up 98-something The Fan, I believe it was. When they went away everybody was like, I bet you’re happy they went away. I go why would I be happy? Life is better when there’s competition. When people’s contracts are up in radio, your company has the ability to say, well where else are you going to go? There ain’t nowhere else to go. Obviously nobody wants to leave the Tampa Bay area, but everybody wants to get your going rate for what you’re worth. I wanted the other station to work. Listen we’ve crushed a lot of people throughout the time, so I don’t feel bad for everybody. We’ve been king for a while, and hopefully it stays that way.
BN: I love your Twitter profile, ‘Ambassador of all things tasty in Tampa Bay.’ What is it about food that interests you so much?
IB: When I talk about all things food, I mean from the ground up. I love restaurants. I love the experience of restaurants. I love just about every type of food. I love to cook. I love to get the best meats. It’s all important; just like everything else, if you want to be great at something, you’ve got to get great product. I’m cooking it with great pots. I’m searing meats and it’s just a passion of mine. I catch myself when I’m not watching sports, I’m watching YouTube videos of cooking, or grilling meats. Let me say the word foodie gets kicked around a lot. Whatever the hell that means, I’m substantially deeper than that. If some people go to restaurants once a week and they go to Bennigan’s and they say I’m a foodie, well okay, good for you. It’s just like this, the guy that thought he was a good football player until he came and hung out with us, and then you find out that maybe you’re not so good.
BN: How much do you talk about it on your show?
IB: Well, we actually have a segment now that we can do once a month called Flavor of Tampa Bay. This is something that I’ve created a long time ago and I’ve had different shows called Flavor of Tampa Bay. Ray Lampe was one of my co-hosts for a while, Dr. BBQ. We’re going to go out of our way to talk about food because people really enjoy that. If there’s one thing about food it’s, I don’t care where you’re from, if you say I don’t like to eat, or I don’t enjoy food, well then I’m going to move on. I don’t really understand that. I’m sorry to hear that, but when you start talking about great restaurants and great ways to prepare food and stuff like that, their ears perk up because it’s something everybody loves. Not everybody loves sports, but everybody loves to eat good food. We definitely try to implement as much food talk in our show as possible.
BN: What would you say is your highest high in sports radio during your career?
IB: Oh boy, the highest high I would say it happens probably once a year where I’ll come in and they’ll say we’re interviewing whoever it may be. I’ll give you an example; we talk to Phil Esposito every week. I grew up hating Phil Esposito because I was Montreal Canadiens fan, but I also respected the hell out of who Phil Esposito was. Being from Montreal I tell my buddies back home I’m good friends with Phil Esposito; they’re like get outta here.
It’s the exposure. A couple of years ago, we’re interviewing Scotty Bowman or we’re interviewing Jack Nicklaus. And I’m like “Wow! I never thought in my career I’d ever talk to Jack Nicklaus or Scotty Bowman would know who I am.” I ran into Scotty Bowman at a hockey game and I told him who I was, and he said, “Oh I remember that, it was a great interview.” That’s the best. We’re talking about the best of the best.
I got a chance to become friends with Angelo Dundee. His son hit me up one time and he goes hey I’m Angelo Dundee’s son. And I go, the trainer? He goes yeah, he’d like to meet you, he’s a big fan of your show. Oh my — I was like, okay. So he says well meet him at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza tomorrow. So I went to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. It’s the first I ever went there. I had a meeting with Angelo for about an hour — maybe the most likeable, personable, easygoing guy I’ve ever met. I came back on air the next day, talked about him, talked about Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, that became an endorsement for years, which is comical. But I became friends with Angelo Dundee.
Angelo Dundee is at my house on Sunday watching football and telling stories about hanging out with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and Frank Sinatra. Nobody’s watching football, they’re just listening to Angelo Dundee’s stories. Some of the relationships that I got a chance to develop where you never thought that would happen. To make a long story short Angelo Dundee passed and his son asked Ron and myself to speak at his funeral. Twenty feet in front of me was Muhammad Ali. He’s staring at me as I’m speaking at Angelo Dundee’s funeral. Weird things can come about through sports radio, but weird good things.
BN: Is there anything goals wise that you would like to accomplish over the years coming up?
IB: Goals wise, I think I’ve already exceeded anything I thought was even possible in radio. Really a lot of my goals stem away from radio. I’ve done football, I’ve done radio, television, I have a cafe I just opened here in South Tampa. I want to become a spokesperson and a face for CBD products. I have some different people that I represent in this area, New Balance Tampa, Curaleaf, and Master Purveyors. I’m not a sports radio guy; I’m somebody who’s a marketer. I do a lot of different things; photo shoots and real fun things. I’ve never really worked. I’ve never dreaded going to work. I’ve been very, very blessed. Any more goals, it wouldn’t be straight sports radio; it’d just be in general and just building my brand. My brand is Dignitary and hopefully a year from now you’ll be seeing Dignitary everywhere.
BN: The CBD stuff, as a former player, how much does it work for you?
IB: I literally take CBD every single day in the morning, during the day, and listen, I’m an overweight old offensive lineman, and I pop up in the morning. I feel good. I look around, I see people limping around and I’m blessed. I feel better than 95 percent of them. Do I say it’s because of CBD? I don’t know, but it seems to be working for me.
Whatever equation I’m doing right now works because my body feels good, my mind is good. Listen if my mind goes, everybody is going to know. It’s not like some guys you hear were on the couch for three weeks. I can’t do that. I’ve got to get up in the morning and I go. I’ve got to be on all the time. I’ve got radio shows and I’ve got television appearances. I’ve got interviews like this. I’ve got podcasts, so I’ve got to be on. If it ever hits the fan, everybody’s going to know real, real quick.
CBD has been a blessing for me and there’s a lot of different ways you can take it. I would just suggest it to anybody who has any issues with pain, focus, the whole nine yards. Read up on CBD. People are very ignorant to CBD. They’re still saying does it get me high? No, it doesn’t get you high. The stuff you get at Theraleaf gets you high, not the stuff that you get here at Dignitary Cafe. We sell it in a lot of different forms, so come check it out.
BN: Do people know less about CBD or interior offensive line play?
IB: Ooo, that’s a good question. That’s a toss-up. [Laughs]
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is There Still a Place for Baseball Talk on National Sports Shows?
“Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.”
Last week at the BSM Summit, I hosted a panel focused on air checks. I wish I could say we covered the topic thoroughly, but we got derailed a lot, and you know what? That is okay. It felt like real air checks that I have been on both sides of in my career.
Rob Parker of The Odd Couple on FOX Sports Radio was the talent. He heard thoughts on his show from his boss, Scott Shapiro, and from his former boss, legendary WFAN programmer Mark Chernoff.
Baseball was the topic that caused one of our derailments on the panel. If you know Rob, you know he is passionate about Major League Baseball. He cited download numbers that show The Odd Couple’s time-shifted audience responds to baseball talk. To him, that proves there is not just room for it on nationally syndicated shows, but that there is a sizable audience that wants it.
Chernoff disagrees. He says baseball is a regional sport. Sure, there are regions that love it and local sports talk stations will dedicate full hours to discussing their home team’s games and roster. National shows need to cast a wide net though, and baseball doesn’t do that.
Personally, I agree with Chernoff. I told Parker on stage that “I hear baseball talk and I am f***ing gone.” The reason for that, I think, is exactly what Chernoff said. I grew up in Alabama (no baseball team). I live in North Carolina (no baseball team). Where baseball is big, it is huge, but it isn’t big in most of the country.
Now, I will add this. I used to LOVE baseball. It is the sport I played in high school. The Yankees’ logo was on the groom’s cake at my wedding. Then I had kids.
Forget 162 games. Even five games didn’t fit into my lifestyle. Maybe somewhere deep down, I still have feelings for the sport, but they are buried by years of neglect and active shunning.
Its struggle has been the same since the beginning of television. There is too much baseball for any regular season baseball game or story to have national significance.
Me, and millions of sports talk listeners like me, look at baseball like a toddler looks at broccoli. You probably aren’t lying when you tell us how much you love it, but damn it! WE WANT CHICKEN FINGERS!
A new Major League Baseball season starts Thursday and I thought this topic was worth exploring. I asked three nationally syndicated hosts to weigh in. When is baseball right for their show and how do they use those conversations? Here is what they had to say.
FREDDIE COLEMAN (Freddie & Fitzsimmons on ESPN Radio) – “MLB can still be talked nationally IF there’s that one player like Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani can attract the casual fan. MLB has definitely become more local because of the absence of that SUPER player and/or villainous team. I wonder if the pace of play will help bring in the younger fans that they need, but the sport NEEDS that defining star that is must-see TV.”
JONAS KNOX (2 Pros & a Cup of Joe on FOX Sports Radio) – “While football is king for me in sports radio, I look at baseball like most other sports. I’m not opposed to talking about it, as long as I have an angle or opinion that I am confident I can deliver in an entertaining manner. A couple of times of any given year, there are stories in baseball that are big picture topics that are obvious national discussions.
“I think it’s my job to never close the door on any topic/discussion (except politics because I don’t know anything about it).
“But also, if I’m going to discuss a localized story in baseball or any other sport for that matter – I better have an entertaining/informed angle on it. Otherwise, I’ve let down the listener and that is unacceptable. If they give you their time, you better not waste it.”
MAGGIE GRAY (Maggie & Perloff on CBS Sports Radio) – “While I was on WFAN there was almost no amount of minutia that was too small when it came to the Mets and Yankees. On Maggie and Perloff, our baseball topics have to be more centered around issues that can be universal. For example, ’Is Shohei Ohtani the face of the sport? Is Ohtani pitching and hitting more impressive than two sport athletes like Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? Do you consider Aaron Judge the single-season homerun king or Barry Bonds?’ Any baseball fan or sports fan can have an opinion about those topics, so we find they get great engagement from our audience.”
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Who Can Sports Fans Trust Once Twitter Ditches Legacy Verified Blue Checks?
The potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
As of April 1, Twitter will finally make a dreaded change that many will view as an April Fools’ prank. Unfortunately, it won’t be a joke to any user who cares about legitimacy and truth.
Last week, Twitter officially announced that verified blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that have not signed up for a Twitter Blue subscription. Previously, accounts whose identity had been verified were allowed to keep their blue checks when Twitter Blue was implemented.
But shortly after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and became the social media company’s CEO, he stated his intention to use verification as a revenue source. Users would have to pay $8 per month (or $84 annually) for a Twitter Blue subscription and blue checkmark verification. Paying for blue checks immediately set off red flags among users who learned to depend on verified accounts for accredited identities and trusted information.
The entire concept of verification and blue checks was simple and effective. Users and accounts bearing the blue checkmark were legitimate. These people and organizations were who they said they were.
As an example, ESPN’s Adam Schefter has faced criticism for how he framed domestic violence and sexual misconduct involving star NFL players, and deservedly so. But fans and media know Schefter’s tweets are really coming from him because his account is verified.
Furthermore, Twitter took the additional step of clarifying that accounts such as Schefter’s were verified before Twitter Blue was implemented. He didn’t pay eight dollars for that blue checkmark.
The need for verification is never more vital than when fake accounts are created to deceive users. Such accounts will put “Adam Schefter” as their Twitter name, even if their handle is something like “@TuaNeedsHelp.” Or worse, some fake accounts will create a handle with letters that look similar. So “@AdarnSchefter” with an “rn” in place of the “m,” fools some people, especially at a quick glance when people are trying to push news out as fast as possible.
Plenty of baseball fans have been duped over the years by fake accounts using a zero instead of an “o” or a capital “I” instead of a lowercase “l” to resemble Fox Sports and The Athletic reporter Ken Rosenthal. That trick didn’t get me. But when I covered Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report 10 years ago, I did fall for a fake Jim Salisbury account that reported the Philadelphia Phillies traded Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. Capital “I,” not lowercase “l” in “Salisbury.” Pence was, in fact, traded to the Giants two days later, but that didn’t make my goof any less embarrassing. I should’ve looked for the blue checkmark!
But after April 1, that signifier won’t matter. Legacy blue checkmarks will be removed from accounts that haven’t paid for Twitter Blue. Some accounts that were previously verified might purchase a subscription to maintain that blue check. But those that were deemed legitimate prior to Musk taking over Twitter likely won’t. (There are also rumors that Twitter is considering a feature that would allow Twitter Blue subscribers to hide their blue check and avoid revealing that purchase.)
That could be even more true for media organizations, which are being told to pay $1000 per month for verification. Do you think ESPN, the New York Times, or the Washington Post will pay $12,000 for a blue check?
We’ve already seen the problems that paying for verification can cause. Shortly after Twitter Blue launched, accounts pretending to be legacy verified users could be created. A fake Adam Schefter account tweeted that the Las Vegas Raiders had fired head coach Josh McDaniels. Users who saw the “Adam Schefter” Twitter name went with the news without looking more closely at the “@AdamSchefterNOT” handle. But there was a blue checkmark next to the name this time!
The same thing occurred with a fake LeBron James account tweeting that the NBA superstar had requested a trade from the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a “@KINGJamez” handle, but a “LeBron James” Twitter name with a blue check next to it.
Whether it’s because fans and media have become more discerning or Twitter has done good work cracking down on such fake accounts, there haven’t been many outrageous examples of deliberate deception since last November. But the potential for Twitter chaos after April 1 is looming.
If that seems like an overstatement, it’s a very real possibility that there will be an erosion of trust among Twitter users. Media and fans may have to take a breath before quickly tweeting and retweeting news from accounts that may or may not be credible. False news and phony statements could spread quickly and go viral across social media.
Even worse, Musk has announced that only verified Twitter Blue accounts will be seen in your “For You” timeline as of April 15. (He can’t claim it’s an April Fools’ Day joke on that date.)
Obviously, that carries far more serious real-world implications beyond sports. Forget about a fake Shams Charania account tweeting that Luka Dončić wants to be traded to the Lakers. It’s not difficult to imagine a fake Joe Biden account declaring war on Russia and some people believing it’s true because of the blue checkmark.
We may be nearing the end of Twitter being a reliable news-gathering tool. If the accounts tweeting out news can’t be trusted, where’s the value? Reporters and newsmakers may end up going to other social media platforms to break stories and carry the viability of verification.
When Fox Sports’ website infamously pivoted to video in 2017, Ken Rosenthal posted his MLB reporting on Facebook prior to joining The Athletic. Hello, Instagram. Will someone take their following and reputation to a fledgling platform like Mastodon, Post, Spoutible, or BlueSky, even if it means a lesser outlet?
If and when that happens, Twitter could still be a community but not nearly as much fun. Not when it becomes a matter of trust that breaks up the party.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.
There’s a Lesson For Us All in Florida Atlantic’s Elite 8 Broadcast Struggle
“It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.”
Ken LaVicka and Kevin Harlan probably don’t have a ton in common. Both of them were announcing an Elite Eight game over the weekend, that is one thing tying them together, but their experiences were wildly different. Harlan is on CBS with a production crew numbering in the dozens making certain all goes smoothly. LaVicka, the voice of the Florida Atlantic Owls, is a production crew himself, making certain those listening in South Florida heard the Owls punch their Final Four ticket. At least, that was LaVicka’s plan.
The Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Men’s Final Four. Even while typing that sentence, it still seems odd to say. Do you know how many college basketball teams are thinking “how can Florida Atlantic make the Final Four and we can’t?” These are the types of stories that make the NCAA Tournament what it is. There is, literally, no barrier stopping any team from this tournament going on the run of their life and making it all the way.
Everyone listening in South Florida almost missed the moment it all became real for the Owls. With :18.6 to go in Florida Atlantic’s Elite Eight game against Kansas State, the Madison Square Garden Ethernet service to the front row of media seating went completely dark.
It was on that row that Ken LaVicka was painting the picture back to South Florida. Well, he was until the internet died on him.
Nobody does a single show away from their home studio anymore without trying to avoid the nightmare of Ethernet failure. Gone are the days of phone lines and ISDN connections, all the audio and video is now sent back to the studio over the technological miracle that is the internet. It is a ton of faith our industry has been forced to place in a single mode of delivery.
Take that anxiety and multiply it by 1,000 when that Ethernet line is connected to a Comrex unit for the most important moment of your career. LaVicka had the great fortune of a Kansas State timeout to try something, anything, to save the day. In his quick thinking, he spun around and grabbed an ethernet cable from row two which, as it turns out, still had internet access flowing through it’s cables. That cable, though, was the equivalent of an iPhone charging cord; never as long as you need it to be.
One of LaVicka’s co-workers from ESPN West Palm held the Comrex unit close enough to the second row for the cable to make a connection and the day was saved. LaVicka was able to call the last :15 of the Florida Atlantic win and, presumably, get in all the necessary sponsorship mentions.
It was an exciting end to the FAU v. Kansas State game, a great defensive stop by the Owls to seal the victory. LaVicka told the NCAA’s Andy Katz he tried to channel his inner Jim Nantz to relay that excitement. The NCAA Tournament excitement started early this year. In the very first TV window 13 Seed Furman upset 4 Seed Virginia with a late three pointer by JP Pegues, who had been 0-for-15 from beyond the arc leading up to that shot. It is the type of play the NCAA Tournament is built upon.
It was called in the manner Kevin Harlan’s career was built upon. Harlan, alongside Stan Van Gundy and Dan Bonner, called the Virginia turnover leading to the made Furman basket with his trademark excitement before laying out for the crowd reaction. After a few seconds of crowd excitement he asked his analysts, and the world, “Did we just see what I think we saw? Wow!” Vintage Kevin Harlan.
One reason we are so aware of what Harlan said, and that he signaled his analysts to lay out for the crowd reaction, was a CBS Sports tweet with video of Harlan, Van Gundy and Bonner in a split screen over the play. It gave us a rare look at a pro in the middle of his craft. We got to see that Harlan reacts just like he sounds. The video has more than six million views and has been retweeted more than 6,000 times, a lot of people seem to like it.
Kevin Harlan is not in that group. Harlan appeared on Richard Deitsch’s Sports Media podcast after the video went public and said he was embarrassed by it. Harlan added he “begged” CBS not send the tweet out but to no avail. Harlan told Deitsch “I don’t know that I’m glad that they caught our expression, but I’m glad the game was on the air. I think I join a chorus of other announcers who do not like the camera.”
There’s a valuable announcer lesson from Harlan there; the audience is almost always there for the game, not you. Harlan went on to describe the broadcast booth to Deitsch as somewhat of a sacred place. He would prefer to let his words accompany the video of the action to tell the story. Kevin Harlan is as good as they come at his craft, if he thinks that way, there’s probably great value in that line of thought.
We can learn from LaVicka, as well. You work in this business long enough and you come to accept technical difficulties are as much a part of it as anything. They always seem to strike at the worst times, it is just in their nature. Those who can find a way to deal with them without everything melting down are those who can give their audience what they showed up for. Those who lose their mind and spend time complaining about them during the production simply give the audience information they don’t really care about.
The Final Four is an unlikely collection of teams; Miami, San Diego State, Connecticut and Florida Atlantic. You all had that in your brackets, right? Yep, the Florida Atlantic Owls are going to the Final Four and Ken LaVicka will be there for it. Now, if the internet will just hold out.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.