Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers. If you’re a fan of Garth Brooks, you instantly recognize those lyrics from the song that hit No. 1 on the country music charts in 1991. The saying can mean different things for different people, but to Greg McElroy it signifies one of the best things that’s ever happened in his life.
It’s funny to think how much that saying can resonate with someone who won a state championship in high school at Southlake Carroll in north Texas, an SEC and National Championship at Alabama and then enjoyed a multi-year career in the NFL, where he left the league on his own accord. But if you knew how much he wanted the after his final season at Alabama in 2010, you’d understand.
The Campbell Trophy is essentially the academic Heisman in college football. It probably wouldn’t do much for his legacy as a quarterback at Alabama, but McElroy worked hard and really wanted to win the award. But his prayers weren’t unanswered. Instead, the trophy went to Sam Acho of Texas.
“I was very upset about it,” McElroy said. “But it led to me attending a cocktail hour after the ceremony where I spent time with Lee Fitting, Michael Fountain, Kirk Herbstreit and Chris Fowler.”
Greg McElory was surrounded by four ESPN college football brains who shared a great idea. Since Auburn and Oregon were set to play for the national championship in just a matter of days, they’d have McElroy on for a day. He had just played in an epic game against the Tigers in the Iron Bowl. Granted, McElroy was training for his upcoming NFL career in California, but he agreed to travel to Phoenix for a day to assist with college football coverage. He had no idea what it would turn into.
That day, you could see McElroy’s natural abilities as a broadcaster. So much so, that ESPN made sure that he wanted to pursue an NFL career instead of a path in broadcasting. McElroy was sure about his decision. The opportunity to pursue a career in the NFL was too good to pass up.
“I said, yeah, I want to pursue the NFL to at least scratch that itch,” McElroy said. “But it was at that moment where I thought to myself, wow, that was really fun talking about football. I’m talking about teams that I’m familiar with and I really enjoyed it. That was the moment I said, man, this might be something I would consider.”
It was the first time Greg McElroy had ever considered a career in broadcasting. But it wouldn’t be the last.
Fast forward to early 2014 and McElroy had just finished his third year in the NFL. He played his first two seasons with the New York Jets and just completed a season with the Cincinnati Bengals as a member of the practice squad. He still loved playing quarterback but a big decision loomed for him that would significantly impact his future.
The SEC Network was set to launch and McElroy was offered a chance to be a part of it. It was three years since he first realized sports media was an avenue he wanted to pursue, and being a part of a network launch was a tempting enough opportunity to leave football for. Ultimately he decided to retire from the NFL.
“Once I got my pension, I said all right, I’m done,” McElroy said. “I can grind out three or four more years or I can go do something and get started on a career that I can do for the next 30. It was a pretty easy choice for me, especially knowing that the SEC Network was getting ready to launch.”
So there he was walking away from football, with the exclusive reason of chasing an opportunity in sports media. But it wasn’t a quick or an easy decision for McElroy. In fact, it meant phone calls to Mike Slive, who was the SEC commissioner at the time, to discuss the network’s launch.
“It really came down to a conversation I had with Mike Slive,” McElroy said. “There had been other conference networks but I wasn’t sure. It was kind of a leap of faith. It was March of 2014 and he was at the SEC Basketball Tournament. I called him and I told him what I was thinking and really was asking him if the SEC Network was going to be successful. He said, ‘Greg, I promise you we’re going to do everything in our power from a conference office standpoint to make sure that this is not just successful, but the most successful launch in the history of network launches.’ And my goodness he was right. It was the best decision I ever made. I haven’t second-guessed it for a second. I’m so grateful to him for being so honest with me.”
It didn’t take long for McElroy’s career to take off. Almost instantaneously, the SEC Network was a success and he was a part of it. If you look at the talent that began at the network, it’s no surprise as to why. McElroy was surrounded by talent, with faces such as Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Marcus Spears, Tim Tebow and Maria Taylor.
“We had a really good group,” McElroy said. “One person I give a lot of credit to is Stephanie Druley, because of her eye for talent. What’s really great about it is everyone brought each other along. We were all very supportive, everyone was new in the industry so we were all about learning and attacking it to make it awesome. We had resources and unbelievable producers behind the scenes and it just made our lives really easy. I was told, at least by people in the industry, where you start is really what’s going to determine how you end up doing. If you’re surrounded by really good people in the beginning, you learn good habits and you learn what you’re doing, you’re likely going to have a lot of success. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have been surrounded by the people I was around.”
McElroy quickly excelled at the SEC Network and showed what everyone already knew: He was made for the business. Soon after, he was dipping into sports radio as a host on SiriusXM. Now, McElroy is an analyst for ABC/ESPN college football games on Saturday. He’s also the co-host of McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning on WJOX 94.5 in Birmingham.
Initially, McElroy may have believed his path in sports media was going to be exclusively on the TV side. But he found out he’s equally as talented as a radio host. So when it came time for JOX to replace their morning show, McElroy’s history at Alabama, combined with his abilities in sports radio made him an obvious match. It was a job he loved in a city he loved. He couldn’t turn it down for many reasons, but one important factor made the move a no-brainer.
“The biggest factor was the co-host,” McElroy said. “Cole Cubelic is a guy I have so much respect for. We almost get to the point where we compete as to who watches more tape and who’s more prepared. That’s what you want, at least, that’s what I want, a partner that I know I can’t just roll out of bed and do a show. I’m going to have to be prepared. Because if I don’t I could get embarrassed. That makes me better, that makes him better and that makes the show better.”
The second thing that made morning drive on JOX attractive was the ability to be nation-wide. McElroy quickly realized the reach the station has with the apps that bring content to football fans all over the globe. Third, was the opportunity to be a part of an extremely well-resourced team with a track record of success.
“College football is my biggest passion,” McElroy said. “I still think that the college football audience is really underserved. I’ve always felt that. I feel like there’s a thirst for college football that’s unquenchable and you’re not going to get it very many places. I feel like Cole and I can deliver a show that will be appetizing, not to just the SEC football fan, or for the Alabama or Auburn fan, but for a football fan that’s passionate about Michigan State, or a football fan who is passionate about South Carolina or even West Coast football. It doesn’t really matter, we’re going to hit at all.”
It makes sense that the guy who played quarterback at the dominant program in college football would want an opportunity to do radio at arguably the most dominant station in the Southeast. McElroy and Cubelic bring the former player side of things to the radio, but are also extremely polished in how they carry a radio show. It works. And it will continue to work for a long time.
“When I worked at SiriusXM I had great partners, like Taylor Zarzour who was awesome and I loved Danny Kannell. But when those guys were out, I’d always tell my program director to get Cole Cubelic or Tom Luginbill. It’s good because we see the game so differently. That’s what’s been so fun for me, because I’m learning something every day. When we watch film all he’s watching is the offensive line. I never watch the offensive line. My eyes gravitate to the secondary and the wide receivers and the quarterback, etc. I see it all-22 big picture and he really lives in the trenches. That’s a really good balance for us. While some people will naturally look at our allegiance with Alabama and Auburn and say, oh, that’s where they disagree, no, the way we disagree is actually literally on everything. The way we see the game is totally opposite.”
If not for the unanswered prayer of winning the Campbell Trophy, would McElroy be the media star he is today? Who knows. But there’s no doubt it put him in a position to have success after the contacts he made that evening. JOX knocked it out of the park with the pairing in the morning, but their minds are set on even bigger things in the future.
“I love the growth potential here,” said McElroy. “There’s no secret, we’re proud of where we’re at right now, but Cole and I both, and our program director Ryan Haney, we fully expect this to be the start not the end. We’re just getting started. At some point we want this to be a visual platform and we want to be accessible to people all throughout the country and that’s my plan for the show. I feel like this is the best place to try and take it to the next level.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes
Carl Dukes went from DJing clubs to holding every job there is in a radio building. Now he is dominating 92.9 The Game in Atlanta. Check out his conversation with Stephen Strom.
Stephen Strom can be heard hosting ‘The Sports Talkers Podcast’ for Barrett Sports Media. In addition to hosting here, Stephen works as a broadcasting assistant for the Miami Heat and color analyst for Nova Southeastern. Additional career experiences include working for SiriusXM, performing analyst duties for Princeton basketball, and hosting shows for TalkNorth.com. You can find him on Twitter @SStrom_.
Terry Ford Couldn’t Say No To 107.5 The Game
“In Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”
If he had to put a number on the big decision he made last year it would be 150 percent. Sure, leaving Lexington, KY and 96.1 WZNN didn’t happen without long thoughts and consideration for Terry Ford, but the opportunity to work for one of the most respected names in the business was too much to pass up.
In late November of 2021, Ford was named the new program director and host at 107.5 The Game in Columbia, SC. The opportunity originally came about during a conversation between Ford and Jason Barrett. Ford had always wanted to work with Bruce Gilbert. Barrett knew this, so when the position under the Cumulus umbrella opened, he urged Ford to consider the position.
“I’ve always wanted to work for Bruce,” Ford said. “Jason told me there was an opportunity to work with Bruce and I talked to the market manager Tammy O’Dell. She was fantastic. Everything was just too good. It was 150 percent the right decision. This has been nothing but a phenomenal experience.”
Columbia is the exact market you think it is. Situated in a college town, which breeds incredible passion for Gamecock athletics. South Carolina has had success in basketball and baseball, but to its core, it’s like most other SEC markets in that college football rules the day. To an outsider, that can sometimes be a challenge to immediately grasp and understand. But Ford is no outsider when it comes to the SEC. His previous stop was in Lexington and he even did a stint in Atlanta at 790 The Zone. He knows the landscape of the SEC.
“When I was at 790 The Zone, I’ll never forget the PD Bob Richards was like, ok, you have to understand, we might have pro sports here but the Georgia Bulldogs are gigantic,” Ford said. “This is SEC country. I kinda learned then and there that if Georgia was sniffing around some 9th grader that runs a 4.2 40-yard dash, that’s a story. When you’re in SEC country, everything is a story that matters to the local program. Atlanta gave me my first taste of the passion of the SEC football fan. Lexington was different because it’s a basketball school. And in Columbia, South Carolina Gamecock fans are in 150 percent. These people love football. The Atlanta experience, the taste of it in Lexington really gave me a good foundation for what we have here in Columbia.”
But there was much more to his new gig than just understanding how much passion there is in Columbia for Gamecock football. His biggest challenge was going to be to earn the respect and trust of his on-air staff as their new PD, as well as blend into the three-man show he was going to be a part of. So how did he do that?
“It’s kind of a tightrope,” Ford said. “You’re the PD, but you’re also in the octagon with them. I really think talking with hosts in ‘hosts talk’ is the best way to connect with them when you go to another market. We hosts are different. When you can sit and talk like hosts together I think it builds a connection. I think all hosts, when you get a new PD, you’re like, ok, what the hell have you done? You’re going to be in charge of me as a host, have you hosted? I think that’s natural for a host, whether it’s outward or internal. I’ve done the same thing.”
Ford has more than 20 years of experience in sports radio. That will garner him some respect in the building, but not as much as his continued eagerness to learn from others. That could very well be one of the best traits for any PD, no matter their age or experience. If you’re always eager to learn, you’ll undoubtedly be better. Ford is just that. He wants to learn from as many people as possible.
“I’ve always wanted to learn from guys like Scott Masteller or Bruce Gilbert or Jason Barrett,” Ford said. “People who have done this successfully at a high level. And learning from guys who’ve done it in different size markets. You can’t take things from Philadelphia and apply them to Oklahoma City. It’s a different level. I wanted to learn how different guys in different markets program their brands. I wanted to learn all aspects of the business.”
Ford’s eagerness to learn isn’t where his characteristics of being a good PD ends. In the eyes of a host, it can be appreciated that the PD in the building has also seen things from their side. Ford has done exactly that. In a closed-door meeting, he’s now the one delivering the news, good or bad, to a host. But it wasn’t long ago when he was the one sitting on the opposite side of the desk.
“I never want to forget when I went into programming, what it’s like to sit on the other side of the desk in that other chair,” Ford said. “Because it can suck. I’ve sat in that chair and gotten good news and I’ve sat in that chair and got some crappy news. I just never want to forget what it’s like to be the guy sitting there getting news. I want to take all those experiences and all that knowledge and you come in and deal with a Heath Cline, or a Jay Phillips, or Bill Gunter, or a Pearson Fowler, who’s under 30, or Patrick Perret, who’s under 30. I want to be able to relate to them and talk to them in their host language, where they say, ok, this dude speaks the language. He gets where I’m coming from. It’s just about finding a way to relate to everyone.”
To be completely transparent, the phone call I had with Ford only lasted 20 minutes. But even in that short time, I found myself saying, wow, this is a PD I would love to work for. He’s intelligent and passionate about the business, he’s incredibly skilled and genuinely cares about relating to his hosts, but he’s also really funny. Each question he answered was well-thought-out and insightful, but it wasn’t said without a short joke until he broke out with a serious answer. He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing but isn’t the dreadful guy that sucks the life out of the building. Columbia seems lucky to have him.
“Sometimes you get good fortune from the radio gods and other times you feel like you can’t get any luck they’re taking a dump on you,” Ford said. “They smiled on me through circumstance and with the help of a guy like Jason Barrett I ended up with a good opportunity in Columbia. It was too good to turn down. It was one of the moments where, if I turn this down, I’m a dope. I’ve been a dope in my life and this time I decided not to be one.”
I’ve always been interested in the daily life of someone who’s both a host and a PD. I don’t envy it because you have to perfectly delegate your time to fulfill both duties. So how does Ford go about it?
“Massive chaos at high speed while blindfolded,” joked Ford. “I get up around 6:30 in the morning and away from the office, I try to put in a couple hours of prep. That way people aren’t asking me about stuff and I’m not doing PD things. All I’m doing is trying to prep like a host. I try to give myself a couple hours of that before I come into the office. I’ll be honest, prepping as a PD and prepping as a host, good luck. I tell the guys here, I’m probably about 75 percent of a host right now, in terms of effectiveness. I just can’t prep like I want to. I’m a prepping dork. I jump down all sorts of rabbit holes and I’m deep-diving into stuff. As a PD you don’t have that time to dive.”
Ford started his radio career outside of sports talk. But he was always captivated by the business and spent many nights debating sports with his friends. It was a passion, even though he wasn’t yet hosting a show.
“I always was captivated by sports talk, but when I was growing up it was a certain way,” Ford said. “It really wasn’t the way that I wanted to do it. I said, man, if it ever becomes where you can be opinionated, compelling but you can also have some fun, I’m all in. I always had an eyeball on sports while doing music radio. Around 2000, I said, I love sports, talking sports, you know what, screw it, I’m going to start looking for sports talk openings.”
So he did, but while searching for openings, Ford had to refine his craft, while also building a demo. He did it in a way that perfectly sums up who he is as both a talent and a person. He made it fun
“I was doing rock radio at the time, and you talk to dudes, and what I would do is start sports conversations with them and record it. I would save those and put a riff in front of it like a monologue and I would take these calls and I built a demo by talking to drunk guys at a rock station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I got the gig off of that for Sporting News magazine in Seattle.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Anatomy of a Broadcaster: Kevin Burkhardt
He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast.
It wasn’t all that long ago, that Kevin Burkhardt was selling cars in New Jersey. Now that’s all in his rearview mirror and Burkhardt is getting ready to enter his first season as the main play-by-play voice of the NFL on Fox. You could say he could be the definition of ‘perseverance’, doing whatever it took to chase a dream. That focus has certainly paid off nicely for Burkhardt. The leap he made in two decades time is amazing and not often duplicated.
Growing up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Burkhardt, would do play-by-play for his Nintendo games back in his Junior High days. He loved Gary Cohen and tried to emulate him as best he could. Strangely enough, he would end up working with Cohen on Mets broadcasts on SNY.
A 1997 graduate of William Paterson University, Burkhardt earned a degree in broadcasting. He took that degree to radio station WGHT in Northern New Jersey, spending eight years working for the station. It was a 1,000-watt, daytime only AM station. Burkhardt delivered local news and called high school football. While at WGHT he also worked at Jukebox Radio, broadcasting New Jersey Jackals minor league games for WJUX. To make ends meet while doing freelance work, Burkhardt began working as a sales associate at Pine Belt Chevrolet in Eatontown, New Jersey. Over the next six-plus years Burkhardt could not find a larger station willing to take a chance on him.
He recalled the frustrated feeling he had back then, when he spoke with Sports Illustrated in 2013. . “I thought I was good enough to make it [in broadcasting], but after so many years of busting my tail, I was making $18,000 a year and working all kinds of odd hours,” says Burkhardt. “It just wasn’t happening for me.”
Finally, Burkhardt got a part-time job working at WCBS-AM in New York, which in turn put him on the radar of the all sports station, WFAN. He began to work there part-time, then eventually became the station’s full-time New York Jets reporter. He got the break he needed.
ROAD TO FOX
After his stint at WFAN, Burkhardt joined the Mets broadcast team starting the 2007 season for SNY. He appeared on shows such as Mets Hot Stove, Mets Pregame Live, Mets Postgame Live and Mets Year in Review. His main duties though were as the field reporter during Mets telecasts. He would also call select games during both Spring Training and the regular season.
Also, while employed at SNY, he called Dallas Cowboys games on Compass Media Networks from 2011 until 2013. That’s when he left for Fox. But, sandwiched in between was an opportunity to be seen by Fox execs. He called a Mets/Braves game with SI’s Tom Verducci on their network. The Fox brass liked what they saw.
According to that 2013 SI article, Burkhardt’s agent initially had discussions with the network about his client calling college football this season but those talks morphed into an NFL opportunity. “When my agent called me with that, I was floored,” Burkhardt says. “I’m sure you hear people say ‘this is my dream job’ all the time, but I literally dropped to one knee on the floor. I could not believe what he was saying on the other end.”
He started with the #4 broadcast team and of course has worked his way up from there. Now, some 9 years later he’s on the top crew. After Joe Buck left for ESPN earlier this year, Burkhardt was promoted to the #1 broadcast team for the NFL on Fox, alongside Greg Olsen.
Football isn’t the only thing Burkhardt has exceled in at the network. He is the lead studio host for Major League Baseball coverage on Fox and FS1 during the regular season, for the MLB All-Star Game and throughout the entire MLB Postseason.
When Buck left for ESPN, in my opinion Burkhardt was the obvious choice to replace him. Buck leaves some big shoes to fill, but Burkhardt has the ability to make this work. It’s never easy to replace a well-known commodity like Buck, but Burkhardt himself has been featured prominently on the network. As mentioned, his other high-profile assignments have made him visible and appreciated by viewers.
If social media is a good judge, I almost got that out without a chuckle, the choice was a good one. Even the outgoing play-by-play man was on board with the decision.
Burkhardt will do a great job and will become a fixture on Sunday afternoons.
WHY IS HE SO GOOD?
Maybe we’re finding out that he was a great car salesman through his work on television. I mean there’s a friendliness and something reassuring about the way he calls a game. It’s positive, almost downright cheerful in his delivery. You know what you’re going to get from a Burkhardt broadcast. He is always upbeat, but never over the top. No screaming, but his energy remains consistent and smooth throughout a broadcast. I really enjoy watching everything he does.
While the style may be more lighthearted in nature, the information and description are right on the mark. The presentation seems much more relaxed than some announcers that can be a little ‘in your face’ at times. I say relaxed as a compliment, because as much as you want, a broadcaster can’t be ‘hyped up’ all the time. That would be disconcerting to say the least to the viewer.
The fact that he has such a diverse background in the business really helps. Having done radio, he can understand the importance of brevity. That comes in handy when calling a game on television, especially when you want your analyst to feel free to make points. The reporting and studio hosting on his resume allow him to be very conversational and at ease. Those assignments also tune up your listening skills, which helps when calling action and working with your analyst. It didn’t hurt either that he had so much experience on the big stage of New York.
I know I’ve said this a million times, but he genuinely sounds like he’s having the time of his life every time he works a game or hosts a show. Considering where he came from, I’m not surprised.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 2019, he called select games for FOX Sports Sun, the television home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Since getting his break, Burkhardt has appeared as the celebrity endorser of Pine Belt Chevrolet, his former employer, in Eatontown, N.J.
In 2019, Burkhardt and his wife established the Kevin and Rachel Burkhardt Scholarship at William Paterson University in New Jersey, their alma mater, for a fulltime student majoring in Communications and preparing for a career in broadcast journalism.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.