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Ryan Ruocco Learned To Manufacture Energy

“If I go back to broadcasting three years ago, I should feel I am better than that.”

Ricky Keeler

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Chances are that if you are watching a sporting event whether it is the Yankees, Nets, the WNBA, or the Women’s Final Four, you will most likely hear the voice of Ryan Ruocco. 

Since starting as a statistician at YES back in 2007, Ruocco worked his way into becoming one of the voices of the Nets in 2011 and later the Yankees, filling in on games for Michael Kay beginning in 2015. In addition to YES, he has been at ESPN as the play-by-play announcer for NBA and WNBA games as well as the NCAA Women’s Tournament. 

One on One: Ryan Ruocco Interview | WFUV

So, how does Ruocco balance the schedule if he has to call different games during a particular week? He says the key is to treat each game as if it were a “final exam” and by taking the events in order: 

“If I have 4 games in 5 days and it’s 4 different networks or sports, I’m going to take care of the first thing first. I’ll do sort of peripheral, skeleton things with boards for games down the road, but I’m not going to let my mind fully dive into the next thing until I get there. Otherwise, it’s going to be cluttered in my head and it might mean that I’m cramming a little bit mentally, but I’m ok to do that. If I know I’ve gotten my skeleton boards done, now I know have 7 hours where I can fully dive in on a given game.

“If I can do that, then I can just kind of compartmentalize it and that’ll give me ample time to do what I need to do to be ready. Sometimes, it’s just looking at your schedule and saying when do I have to do what in order to be prepared on air.”

Ruocco does more regular work with the Nets than the Yankees. That means juggling preparations for MLB and NBA action is necessary. He says when trying to balance where to place his focus, he’ll spend more time on the Yankees’ opponent than he might prepping for a basketball game, simply because he’s around the NBA game more: 

“For the Nets, it’s not as hard for me. I see them all the time. Whereas, if I’m doing the Yankees vs. Mariners and I haven’t seen Seattle at all this year, I can’t just dive into the Mariners the morning of the game. That’s not going to work out. It’s kind of just being smart and honest about what you have to do for each assignment and applying things mentally to keep yourself clear on-air for each assignment.”

In addition to being on TV, Ruocco has spent time on the radio, working for ESPN Radio on shows with Stephen A. Smith, Dave Rothenberg, and being a co-host on The Michael Kay Show. He credits his first co-host, Robin Lundberg, with teaching him about the NBA and says live radio is a great advantage for preparing for any situation: 

“It makes it real easy to craft your words when you have a two-minute fill on a TV broadcast or all of a sudden, the booth isn’t level in Toronto (this actually happened) and they’re going to take 5-10 minutes to fix it. Some people don’t have that experience of talking extemporaneously without having any stimulation in front of them like you have on the radio, they might freak out.”

That preparation for the anything-can-happen on live radio or TV came from when Ruocco worked in college at WFUV Radio at Fordham University. His mentor and executive director, Bob Ahrens, gave him advice saying “when s**t flies, s**t happens.” Here is how Ruocco explained it: 

“That was a great way to calm me down in moments of chaos. When you are on live TV or live radio, inevitably, things are going to go differently than the way you thought they were going to go. The key to having success is not freaking out when it does because the reality is because it’s live, things are going to happen.”

While Ruocco does enjoy certain aspects of live radio, he is not a fan of how it can sometimes lead people into controversy. It’s why he prefers hosting the R2C2 podcast with former MLB pitcher CC Sabathia: 

“I think our podcast, we always wanted to be more about storytelling and people showing their personalities rather than having to drive any sort of controversy or opinion. While we certainly have those moments, that’s not the crux of it. We don’t look at a juicy story and say, oh, that’s for us. Whereas when you do daily radio, you do. No matter what your natural disposition is or even what your commitment is to trying to be more positive, when you do daily radio, it just sort of naturally drags you into controversy a little bit more. I didn’t love that part of daily radio.

“I think the podcast is great because it allows us the best parts of doing radio, which is the connectivity with the audience and sort of the free flowing medium without having to feel like we need to make mountains out of molehills like I think most people feel compelled to do with daily radio as you’re trying to come up with content.”

Ruocco and Sabathia have hosted the R2C2 podcast together over the last few years. As Sabathia has transitioned from being a player to a podcast host, Ruocco has seen his co-host grow in the industry and it has impressed him: 

“I think he has honed a lot of broadcast skills as well where I can see him segueing and pivoting topics and asking follow-ups and generating conversations and going places where I’m like, that’s where I wanted to go next. That’s really impressive stuff for someone who hasn’t been in a booth to learn and I think he continues to really improve on that front as well.” 

Ryan Ruocco Keeps It Candid on Podcast with Yankees Pitcher CC Sabathia

On Saturday, Ruocco was on the call for the Las Vegas Aces vs. Seattle Storm WNBA game as the league began its 25th season. Since he started calling games in 2013, he’s noticed that it is no longer cool to make jokes about the WNBA:  

“More and more people are understanding just how cool these women are and this league is and how great the basketball is… I think it was very in vogue to make a joke about it or act like it wasn’t as cool and now, nobody thinks it is funny anymore. No one thinks it’s cool to put down the WNBA, at least nobody who I would want to hang out with or respect would do that. It’s juvenile. I’m happy to see more and more people getting it.”

Ruocco was in Seattle for that game, something which a year earlier may have seemed impossible. The challenges created by the pandemic forced a lot of adjustments for broadcasters and networks, earning high praise from Ruocco for the work done by operators and technicians. Working without the usual tools and calling games during times of uncertainty helped Ryan learn just how important the energy he brings to any broadcast is: 

“Without having crowds and without having the action in front of you and calling games in more sterile environments like my living room or my kitchen, it’s even more important to be able to manufacture the energy that should go along with an audience watching a professional game. I think that I kind of just always thought that’s my style, that’s how I broadcast trying to have energy, but energy that makes sense too, which I’ve always prided myself on. This period of time actually gave me more of an appreciation for the significance of broadcasting with energy because you will hear people who are broadcasting from their home and it sounds like they are trying not to wake up their house. All of a sudden, that really changes the experience for the viewer and not in a good way.”

While Ruocco has had to call games from his living room and kitchen in the past year, he’s also had the opportunity to take part in cool experiences like ESPN’s Marvel-themed NBA broadcast of Warriors-Pelicans. As a big Marvel fan, he felt like he was walking onto a movie set when he went into the studio. He says he’s a fan of networks trying these type of new ideas: 

“It always makes me laugh when I see sort of the old guard traditionalist from Twitter ripping on these innovative broadcasts because creativity started all of this. Every single thing we see in sports and entertainment is the brainchild of someone taking a chance creatively. Maybe those things don’t end up having legs or maybe they don’t end up being long-term, but I will never, ever criticize any company or network for trying something because that’s how you get innovation.”

A few days ago, Mike Breen, a Fordham alum, was inducted into the National Basketball Hall Of Fame as the 2020 winner of the Curt Gowdy Award. When Ruocco was in college, he got great advice from Breen about listening back to past work and how to grow from it: 

“He [Breen] would go back once a year and listen back to an old game or two to continue to try and give yourself honest feedback and he said it’s funny even now, you have me listen to games from 2 years ago, and this was when he was already a well-established NBA voice and calling The NBA Finals. I would be like, oh, that’s not good or I can’t listen to that and I think that’s how you should feel.” 

“If I go back to broadcasting three years ago, I should feel I am better than that. The way you get there is from listening to that stuff. I did that extensively during the Final Four. I listened to several broadcasts and there were a couple of things I picked up on that I was like, I think I could do that better…I’m not just trying to be good at this, I’m driven to be great at this.”

One of the things I asked Ruocco at the start of our conversation was what would he tell himself if he could go back and chat with the 2007 version of himself. He mentioned that not one experience can ever be duplicated whether it’s calling games at Fordham with his friends or doing the Women’s NCAA Tournament, every experience is unique: 

“No matter what, there are things that end up having better audiences and represent progress in my career, but I think the key thing to realize is every single step has its own unique reward and can’t be duplicated.”

Ryan Ruocco on Twitter: "That was a blast. Thanks y'all for having some fun  with us. @Marvel @espn… "

When you listen to anything Ryan Ruocco does in TV, radio, or podcasts, he brings that same energy and enthusiasm to every medium. It goes a long way into making a great broadcast.  

BNM Writers

Should The News Be Minimized on The Holidays?

“I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.”

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This is not by any means a new topic of discussion but I do enjoy bringing it up and batting it around because I think it’s worthy of regular consideration and deliberation. Perhaps it deserves even just a fresh batch of whining and complaining by those of us stuck in a newsroom, in front of a camera or microphone or standing out somewhere in the cold.

There’s no debate that what we do has a level of importance that fluctuates from time to time. There are countless professions that we cannot do without for even a portion of a single day. That said, working the holidays is not unfamiliar or even a question for many people out there.

I, myself have spent most of my adult life in professions where working on Thanksgiving, Christmas, the High Holidays, Independence Day among others was just part of the job. It still amazes me how many people would react in astonishment when I declined an invitation or mentioned in conversation that I was working that day.

Like they couldn’t comprehend the possibility. Must be nice.

Now, let’s be clear about this; covering a parade or a holiday festival or religious services on a particular day is not what I’m focusing on here. Imagine the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or New Year’s Eve or the 4th of July fireworks without reporters and crew coverage.

More people would actually have to go to these things.

No, I’m talking about regularly scheduled newscasts and field reports on these mornings, afternoons and evenings.

Why?

I don’t see it.

More specifically, who is measuring the need for this programming? I cannot identify sitting behind a desk (probably inside an office…what’s that like?) and concluding that there must be 4:00pm-6:30pm newscasts on Thanksgiving Day.

5am news on New Year’s Day is out and out sadism.

“Good morning and Happy New Year…here’s what’s happened in the twenty-three minutes since you went to bed.”

Yes, by all means, let’s open our presents with the soothing tones of morning drive news in the background or lounge in the living room after the two-ton turkey dinner and watch the daily rundown of criminal activity lovingly framed in holiday graphics.

Do people want to drive to Grandma’s house while listening to the latest in Tuesday’s home invasion- assault investigation, this morning’s hit and run fatality or the city council vote on funding a halfway house near the elementary school?

Actually, the inspiration for this semi-rant comes from a conversation I had with a woman I was speaking with about holiday getaway travel. She very innocently asked me why there is news on the holidays. “Who is watching…who is listening on a day like that?” I told her I really couldn’t say. Of course, this was someone who told me she didn’t even pick up a newspaper or peruse social media for a news update on any given holiday.

“On Christmas”, she said, “no news is good news.”

To a significant degree, I’m on board with that. I do wonder who is watching or listening or reading and what the return on efforting news programming on holidays really is.

This is not about those having to work although employee consideration should be part of the equation. There will always be the need to have someone in the newsroom but minimizing that requirement could never be a bad thing.

Many operations do work with reduced staff during the holidays and that’s great. Twenty-years ago the radio station group I worked for dropped most programming during the year-end holidays, simulcasting holiday music across all the stations only cutting in with station IDs, tracked greetings from staff and news updates only if necessary.

I suppose one could argue that people need to know what’s going on all the time so we are providing a necessary service but really, everything we do is on-demand whether we like it or not. Nobody is listening or watching or reading unless they make a conscious effort to do so. They have to turn the TV on and hit the channel, dial the car radio and click on the website. We have no say.

For me, somebody somewhere has to show me that there’s a need and a want for what we do on those special days and at those special times. Convince me.

In the meantime, move the turkey and stuffing closer to my side of the table and keep the cranberry sauce and yams over on your end.

And I’ll be up bright and early talking to the Black Friday shopping crowd.

Don’t get me started.

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BNM Writers

Seth Leibsohn Expected to Move to Phoenix, Didn’t Expect Radio Show

“There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air.

Jim Cryns

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We’re all made up of a unique genetic recipe. Take a graduate student of political philosophy, add a pinch of love of contemporary politics, a dash of popular culture, maybe a trumpet, and you have Seth Leibsohn.

“I was a good trumpet player in high school,” Leibsohn said. Still, that alone wasn’t enough for him to pursue it as a career, even though his parents were fine with him chasing something he enjoyed, even supportive. “Some parents try to push you into a career, but my parents never did. I thought I might be able to play the trumpet as a career, but ultimately decided I wasn’t as good as my trumpet heroes. I’ve heard golfers have hung it up in a similar way.”

Quoting Del Griffith in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, ‘The finest line a man’ll walk is between success at work and success at home.’ To be truly happy you’ve got to have both. Seth Leibsohn couldn’t agree more.

“I don’t know many people who are thrilled with what they do for a living,” Leibsohn continued. “I believe you work to pay bills, not for life satisfaction. Billy Joel said there is no magic secret and everybody has happiness within themselves. If you’re truly happy with what you do, you have it all beat.”

The Seth Leibsohn Show airs live on KKNT 960 The Patriot in Phoenix from 3:00-6:00 PM weekdays. Then the show is replayed as a podcast. “The podcast is essentially the show I do,” Leibsohn said. “It’s fun. I never thought I’d be on the radio. I started in D.C. with a national show with Bill Bennett, The Bill Bennett Show, as co-host and guest host.”

You may recall Bennett was appointed the drug czar in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush.  Bennett still does a podcast and Leibsohn appears as a guest about once a month. He was Bennett’s chief of staff for many years.

Leibsohn decided to move back to Phoenix in 2011 to take care of his parents.

“After I arrived I was approached to host my own show,” he said. “I like that it doesn’t have to be relegated to a local audience. I get calls from Texas, Chicago, Ukraine. Leibsohn describes himself as a ‘different’ radio host, “I started in academia,” he explained. “There wasn’t a huge demand for a white male teaching Aristotle’s teachings. I kind of like the idea I can still teach on the air. The show is a vital seminar, with a bigger classroom.”

Leibsohn works hard on the show as he doesn’t have a producer. “I have to find my own guests, which I average about one each day. Television show hosts don’t have to track down and book their own guests. I start reading from the moment I wake up, searching for something interesting, a guest that can provide some insight to a topic.”

He’s long been a staunch advocate against the legalization of marijuana. He headed the group ‘Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy’, which was instrumental in preventing the legalization of marijuana in Arizona. He has co-authored several articles with Bennett regarding the dangers of marijuana, which was picked up by numerous newspapers including the Los Angeles Times and The Tampa Tribune.

Doing whatever he can to rid the streets of drugs and the pollution of our children is essentially what make’s Libsohn tick. It may be more accurate to say it drives him.

When talking about ridding streets of drugs throughout the country, I was impressed that Leibsohn wasn’t hypocritical. He said he wasn’t above having a good time with friends in college, but recognized there was a time to stop.

“I partied with the best of them,” he said. “Then I saw four of my best friends, who were both far smarter than me academically, ultimately fail in their lives. They just couldn’t give up the partying and substances and succumbed to a lot of drug use.”

Another bolt of realization about the destruction of drugs for Leibsohn stems from his sister struggling with substances her entire life. “I guess I had more of a vector about what it could do to you. Drugs cause so many problems in our society. It’s an ongoing battle to protect our children.”

Working on reducing substance abuse in America has long been a passion for Leibsohn. Working with Bennett helped fuel that desire. Leibsohn spent time working for the Higher America initiative with Jeane Kirkpatrick.

Never a fan of Hilary Clinton, Leibsohn said he agrees with the former First Lady on one thing.

“Hilary said Mexico is a problem regarding illegal drugs, but if the citizens of America didn’t want the drugs, it would be a problem. People want this crud. Since we lost the anti-drug messaging system in America, the problems have spiraled out of control.”

Remember the old ad, ‘This is your brains on drugs?’ That’s the messaging Leibsohn is talking about. Leibsohn said when Bennett was drug czar, 10,000 Americans were dying each year. Since then the death toll has increased 1,000 percent.

“We reduced drug use by 65 percent in 1992,” Leibsohn said. “I attribute that to the messaging. It was hugely important. We embedded the anti-drug message at the movies, in schools, there was a Hollywood sobriety chic. We did for drugs what mothers did for drunk driving.”

Leibsohn cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when he wrote, ‘Human desires increase with their means of gratification.’

“The narration in the television show Narco opens with the narrator talking about cocaine. He said they had a supply problem keeping up with the demand for the drug in Miami.”

Leibsohn intended to run for Congress in 2018, but his staff screwed-the-pooch.

“My campaign management didn’t get enough signatures,” Leibsohn said. “I made sure everyone who contributed to my campaign got their money back.” He said he has no biting need to run for office again.

Our conversation swerved into another contentious topic–immigration from Mexico. Leibsohn said our immigration problem is currently out of control.

“There are a lot of reasons for the problem,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one single answer or solution. I do know we’re giving billions of dollars annually to illegal immigrants. When the monthly numbers come out regarding the prison population in Arizona, the illegal immigrants count for a huge portion of those criminals.”

He said there have been good examples of cleaning up cities, like New York. “There are things that work,” Leibsohn explained. “We have to replicate those efforts and dump the things that don’t work. Indianapolis is another city that turned things around. There are theories that work when applied.”

Leibsohn spoke of disparate impact, when policies and rules have a disproportionate impact on a particular group.

“I think a lot of Left-wing prosecutors abhor statistics of racial minorities. In effect they turn a blind eye, a deaf ear when it comes to crime. I had hoped by now we could get beyond race, see policies enacted in my lifetime.”

We also talked about what constitutes American conservatism, which is delineated by low taxes, free markets, deregulation, privatization, and reduced government spending and government debt. Leibsohn thinks the definition of American Conservatism is more nebulous than that.

“I think American Conservatism has never had a good definition,” he said. “Perhaps the most prominent recent conservative was William F. Buckley Jr. He never wrote a book on American Conservatism as he said it was too diverse.”

Regarding pinpointing what American Conservatism actually is, Leibsohn said it’s really clay in the hands of those you ask. “Some say it’s a group that believes in limited government,” he explained. “There are some who will fold religious beliefs into that, some may add sociology.”

He said throughout his life, he’s always been in search of discovering the meaning.

“In Buckleys’ National Review Magazine, he debated this all the time,” Leibsohn explained. “He had always been in search of the meaning. In his magazine, Buckley debated this all the time. In my own view it should be a movement based on America’s founding fathers ethos–equity and liberty. There’s not a lot of agreement on these things today.”

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BNM Writers

Producers Podcast: Andrew Marsh, 101 ESPN

Brady Farkas

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Andrew Marsh of 101 ESPN in St. Louis details the unorthodox background that has helped him thrive in the producer’s chair for The Fast Lane.

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