WFAN Program Director Mark Chernoff retired last summer, completing a legendary career spanning over three decades at the forefront of the sports media world.
Throughout his time in the industry, Chernoff worked with prominent on-air talents, including Howard Stern, Steve Somers, Don Imus, Mike Francesca and Christopher Russo, and helped develop the sound of sports radio in New York City and across the country.
Additionally, he played an integral part in helping WFAN find his successor and new program director Spike Eskin, who has brought new voices to the station such as Keith McPherson, Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney. Despite being retired, Chernoff still follows the industry closely and looks for the next generation of talent set to take the airwaves.
In fact, Chernoff will be attending the 2022 Barrett Sports Media Summit in New York City at the start of next month (March 2-3) in order to continue to keep up with the pulse of radio as a communication medium and as a business, along with reconnecting with friends and colleagues.
At the 2020 Barrett Sports Media Summit, Chernoff was honored by Barrett Media founder and president Jason Barrett with the introduction of a new award, eponymously named the “Mark Chernoff Award,” to commemorate his career in sports radio. The award, given annually at each BSM Summit, is bestowed upon sports radio programmers possessing strong leadership, vision, creativity, success in ratings and multi-platform excellence. Mitch Rosen, program director of Chicago’s 670 The Score, was recognized as its first recipient. BSM president Jason Barrett is expected to announce this year’s recipient in the next week or two.
Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the media landscape was beginning to lean towards cross-platform integration, specifically within the digital space. The future of radio as a viable communications medium, concurrent with alterations in consumption trends, had indeed been questioned and remains as such to an extent today.
With early March right around the corner amid an unprecedented global pandemic and paradigm shift towards convergence, we felt there was no better time than the present moment to catch up with Mark Chernoff to discuss his career, gather his thoughts on the future of sports radio, and discuss the value of the forthcoming BSM Summit.
PART I: How it all started
Q1: How did you get your start in radio?
Chernoff: I started by working at my college radio station, which was WRSU in New Brunswick – I went to Rutgers. As a little kid, [I] would listen to radio all the time [on] a little transistor radio, if that world still exists, under my pillow. I just loved the idea of getting involved with radio. The first week of school at Rutgers, I went up to the radio station to a meeting and never looked back, basically.
Q2: What led to your transition from being a jock to being a program director?
Chernoff: My first real full-time job was at a little radio station in Sussex County in the Northwest corridor of New Jersey – WNNJ – and the FM station, WIXL. After doing about a year in a part-time role while I was going to graduate school, I took a job with an accounting firm, but that’s not what I wanted to do, so I took a full-time job at the radio station.
I loved being a jock, but people come and go so quickly [at these small radio stations] that within about a year-and-a-half, two different program directors got better jobs and it was kind of like, ‘Okay, you’re next, Mark Chernoff.’ I volunteered; I wanted to be the program director. Lo and behold, I was the program director of an AM/FM combo up in Newton, New Jersey, still on the air – doing a shift every day.
After Chernoff left WIXL, he took a part-time job at WDHA in Dover, New Jersey, something he called “a step up,” in terms of market size. Once he was hired full time at the station, he became the new program director and went on to serve as morning show host and music director with the PD role simultaneously. After seven-and-a-half years at WDHA, Chernoff got a job at WNEW in New York City, where he made the decision to focus his career towards management in the radio industry.
“I was a decent jock, and I liked being a jock,” said Chernoff, “but I really thought at that point, that was the turning point where I said, ‘I think management’s a better idea.’ I got the job as the music director. I still continued to do fill-in air shifts at WNEW, which was a big deal being in New York radio. When Charlie Kendall, the program director, left, I became the program director. That’s kind of how it evolved from being a jock to at least the programming end of the business.”
PART II: All things sports radio
Q3: How do you evaluate talent on sports radio?
Chernoff: [Sirius XM Vice President of Sports Programming] Eric Spitz and I worked together for many years. He kind of encapsulated the idea [of] the P.O.K.E. theory: Passion, Opinion, Knowledge, and Entertainment. Those were always the things we were looking for in our air talent, and those that had all four of those qualities really wound up being the best people on the air.
I just think that passion was really important because on sports radio, you need to be opinionated. If you’re not opinionated, I don’t believe you’re going to go far, nor have people gone far… It was important that talent had those qualities and that they knew how to entertain people, and particularly were very passionate and opinionated about what they were speaking about, and of course you wanted them to know the facts to go with whatever their opinions were, and how they spoke about topics and stuff like that.
Q4: How do you manage talent on sports radio?
Chernoff: I was pretty lucky at WFAN; I had Mike and the Mad Dog, who were the most unbelievable sports duo that has come about in sports radio. What I was able to discern from them and Don Imus, was how good they were and that my role as the program director was to do what they felt they needed. If they wanted me to help, I would be there to help.
I learned, especially from Howard Stern [at K-Rock], that those talents that are great talents don’t really need to be managed. These people knew what to do, so you didn’t have to fight and argue. We would discuss promotions and things like that because I wanted things done to help the radio station in general. But to me, I wanted to have good relationships with the air staff. I wanted them to know that I was there to be helpful and to work with them on an as-needed basis, but I didn’t want to sit in with hosts at every one of their meetings.
Q5: Was there a difference in your management style for those who are more difficult to work with?
Chernoff: I tried not to look at anybody as being difficult. You just have to manage people to what their style is, not what my style is. I hope most people – if you spoke to them – would say that I was a good manager in that I didn’t want to sit and get into arguments and fights. I didn’t think that was a good thing to do. I didn’t want to be managed like that when I was a jock or a host. I didn’t want to manage like that. If there were issues, then we spoke about them. I was lucky in that most people that worked with the radio station really got it [and] understood what the station was all about.
Q6: How important was it to you to stick to a specific format while on the air?
Chernoff: WFAN was a mature radio station when I got there. Whether it was Steve Somers, Don Imus, Mike and the Mad Dog. I just wanted to make sure that they knew that I was there to support them. There are all these rules – we break at such and such a time, the breaks are this long, make sure you promote things, make sure you give the call letters and so-on and so-forth.
What I also learned [is that] great talent can break the rules. Rule-breakers work. It’s not that I wanted everybody to be like that because sometimes you did want to teach people the rudiments of radio so that they knew how to tease and do some of that other stuff. If they had the innate talent, that was the most important thing to me. You could just hear it when people started.
Q7: What are your thoughts on sports radio hosts talking about topics not pertaining to sports?
Chernoff: At WFAN, we ran through a number of midday shows. We finally really, really clicked when Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts [were put] together and they did middays. [It was the] same thing with Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton doing the morning show – they clicked. With the morning show, and then even now with Evan and Craig, who we put together before I left this past summer, it was ‘Just make sure that everything emanates from the world of sports.
You can move along and talk about other things. But if sports isn’t your ‘bread and butter,’ then I think the expectation of a listener will be, ‘I’m not sure that’s what I want to listen to.’ You’re allowed to go off on tangents, you’re allowed to talk about other stuff, you’re allowed to do lifestyle, but if you don’t heavy up on knowing what’s going on in the world of sports and what ‘Topic A’ is, I think that’s a problem.
Q8: What impact did including regular callers on programming have on the station?
Chernoff: Whether people were right or wrong in what they said, our listeners wanted to be involved with the radio station. We had so many loyal listeners – and I never said [not to] take calls from the regulars – [instead], do take calls from the regulars because they are part of what’s making WFAN WFAN.
We’ve lost some through the years, but people knew who the listeners were. They knew Bruce from Bayside and Bruce from Flushing, and they knew Al from White Plains – so many of these people – Short Al, Doris – I can go through dozens of them – that meant a lot to them.
Q9: How was WFAN involved with the New York-Metropolitan area community?
Chernoff: The station was always involved in the community. Imus got behind the Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund [to help] kids with cancer. He literally, not with his bare hands because he didn’t get out and do the physical work, but the money he raised, and adding to that with Mike and the Mad Dog and their help in the afternoon, they built that whole wing over at… Hackensack University Medical Center… We’ve always been community-minded, which I think is so important for a radio station. There are many causes; we ran public service announcements just about every hour for charities.
Q10: Why do you feel WFAN has such a special connection to New York sports?
Chernoff: For so many years, we had the Mets on the radio station, then it became the Yankees. We had the Jets early on when I was there, and then we had the Jets and Giants, and then just the Giants. We had the Knicks and Rangers, and eventually we had the Devils and the Nets, and even the Islanders for a short while.
So we’ve been very much involved with the teams; we’ve always taken all of those teams to talk about and let our hosts [and callers] talk about them. I think just being wrapped up in New York sports, and again, being 24/7, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the station was able to grow and become part of the essence of New York, and those call letters – W-F-A-N – meant an awful lot. In the sports world, people know E-S-P-N; important in TV, and they’ve had radio and still have some radio. I believe that the voice of sports in New York has always been W-F-A-N, [and] that when people think of us, they think of us as the preeminent, predominant sports station as it continues to be after all these years.
PART III: Looking to the future
Q11: What would you like to see happen in the future for all brands to gain a stronger and more accurate measure of their performance?
Chernoff: We’re always going to do surveys. We’re never going to do a census – you can’t measure every single person out there. I know people dispute the accuracy of the numbers, but it’s what’s there. I’m not sure I know how to make it better. You can only survey so many people. I would hope that they would get better results.
I know the complaint always is one or two meters in a week that go awry negatively or even positively, you sometimes say ‘Oh, look at that. We got a 10-share, great! We sound wonderful,’ or ‘Oh, no — we had a two-share this week. We’re awful.’ I never wanted to look at it like that. It was more important about the consistency. Are we doing the right things? You’re at the mercy of the ratings, and I’m not sure that anybody is going to be able to make it better.
Q12: How does the Nielsen portable people meter (PPM) ratings method compare to the diary ratings method?
Chernoff: The [PPM method is] a better way [to measure ratings] than the old diary method because at least it’s people listening to radio whatever their device is at the moment – whether it’s a mobile phone, a smart speaker, computer, laptop, or the actual radio…. In the old diary world, people would get a diary, and then once a week they would try to remember what they listened to over the last week. To me, that was completely inaccurate. I know this system is not perfect; it will never be perfect.
Q13: Do you believe there can be a competitive ratings service to Nielsen?
Chernoff: People have come and gone — whether it was Accuratings way back when; there was Pulse and other things. They all went by the wayside, and Arbitron, now being Nielsen, is what we’ve got, and I think we’re going to have to keep using it.
One of the important things about spoken word and particularly sports is that it was a concept to people. We’ve liked that, and always done what is working for the client. If you get a 10-share or a two-share, but a client says ‘X amount of people came into my place of business, and they love your radio station and they’re buying my cars, buying my product, buying my service,’ then you know you’ve been successful.
Q14: Did WFAN ever consider selling advertising spots to clients based on the ratings alone?
Chernoff: We’ve never really done ‘Let’s just sell the ratings.’ I know many of the media buyers, that’s what they deal with. At WFAN in particular, we’ve had great salespeople who go directly to the clients and discuss with the talent. They endorse products, they get to know the service and the product. We’ve had all these great people who have done that through the years.
When that works for the client, that’s more important than what the ratings are at the moment because the ratings are going to go up and down. You’re at the mercy of a survey; it’s not a census. If there are 10 people in the room, and you get an opinion from one or two of them, but you tell people they’re representing all 10, it may be accurate or it may not be accurate.
Q15: What is the future of cross-platform integration in sports radio?
Chernoff: I think it’s important and I think so many are doing it now. At WFAN obviously, the morning show is being simulcast on CBS Sports Network. For many years, the afternoon show was on the YES Network; we worked with Fox for a while. Carton and Roberts right now are on SNY.
‘I think the TV integration is great; the streaming is extremely important. Some of the shows — Moose and Maggie, for example the last few years — the show was being video-streamed so people had the opportunity to watch it as well as listen. I think all of the elements are really important. It’s great to be able to say, ‘Hey, Alexa. Play WFAN,’ so it’s easy to stream on a smart speaker. On your phone, you have your apps and you go right to the app of what you want to listen to. I think the integration is just extremely important. Those that don’t integrate are going to be left behind.
Q16: How does cross-platform integration impact the Nielsen Audio ratings?
Chernoff: Last spring, I did a call with the sales department with the Audacy people. There must have been 45-50 people on the call. I could see all of them and I said, ‘How many of you have radios at home?’ Maybe three or four people raised their hand… It’s not like they didn’t listen, but they had other ways of listening. As long as the measurement can pick up all of those ways, I think that’s important too so people get a real idea.
When Audacy worked with Triton Digital, we were able to see in real time how many people were streaming the radio station. Sometimes you look and you say, ‘Wow, that’s a lot higher than what we actually see when Nielsen gives us a number.’ Those numbers are important because a client could know that 23,000 people were listening at 2:22 p.m. in the afternoon, or 180,000 people; whatever the number is listening. You can target people. I think that’s what all of the platforms are able to provide. More platforms for stations to show off their products, whether it’s just on the audio side or adding video as well, plus podcasting of shows, nevermind the original ones which is something separate.
PART IV: The return of the BSM Summit
Q17: What do you enjoy most about the Barrett Sports Media Summit?
Chernoff: I’ve missed it. I think it’s a good experience, for one — getting together with other programmers, and trading ideas, trading different thoughts, trading ideas about talents, trading ideas about programming; who’s doing what. People have good ideas. If there’s a good idea out there, it’s not a matter of stealing it, but it’s a matter of ‘Hey, let’s share. I have an idea; you have an idea.’ It’s a good way and a good place to meet people, and also just to find out what’s going on with everybody.
The panels were great. Sometimes you learn stuff, and sometimes you got to see people you haven’t seen and hear what they have to say; how they’re running their stations, what their thoughts are about sports, how they program locally, or mix-in national with local, and there’s a case that can be made in some ways for that as well.
I’m really looking forward to being able to see everybody in-person again. We all hope that the virus doesn’t take a bad turn in the next month so that we can all be together and just hang out, listen to what people have to say, get some new ideas and work on some old ideas and see old friends and make new acquaintances as well, and find out about up-and-coming talent.
Q18: What does it mean to you to be annually recognized with an award in your name at the BSM Summit?
Chernoff: I’m more than flattered. I know when Jason [Barrett] brought it up, I was sort of embarrassed like, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ I thought it was very nice. I know I’ve been in radio a long time, but I’m just truly honored and humbled by doing that. Even if there was an award that wasn’t in my name, but it was to honor somebody special every year, I think that’s great. But again, honored and humbled by him wanting to do that. I was just very flattered and it’s truly a nice honor. Sometimes, I scratch my head and I’m like ‘Really, somebody’s naming an award in my name?’ Again, I’m humbled, honored, flattered by it.
PART V: Chernoff’s future and advice to others
Q19: How have you adjusted to life not being inside a radio building each day?
Chernoff: It’s very different. I do hear from people. I’ve had a wonderful time being with family and kids and grandkids, but I can see myself wanting to get back and doing stuff again at some point. I do miss the action of being there, and I certainly miss the people.
To me, working at a radio station is all about the people, and that goes for not just the on-air people, but all of the support staff, all of management, sales, engineering. I just love the action of being there. Kind of retiring from that — it seemed like a good thing, but I think at some point, I would like to be back doing stuff — whether it’s full-time, part-time, project work.
I do get calls from people who ask for my opinion or my advice. I do that and I feel good about being able to help where I can. It’s not paid work; it’s just sometimes — all the acquaintances and friends I’ve made — it’s like ‘Hey, I don’t mind your opinion,’ or ‘I’d like to have your opinion’ I should say. When asked, I’m happy to give.
Q20: What is one piece of advice you have for upcoming programmers?
Chernoff: I say it’s to be a good listener. In life, I think that’s one of the most important things you can do as a human being. It’s not important to speak. It’s important to listen. You get so much out of listening. You find out so much about people.
When I listened to the radio station or radio stations, I tried to listen in two ways. I tried to listen as the program director, and I also tried to listen as a listener. I’d put on a different hat, and I’d be driving around, and if I put on, whether it’s my radio station or another radio station. If I’m listening as a listener, when something sucked or that I didn’t like, I would make a mental note of why and I would go turn to something else. If I’m sitting there trying to critique, that’s different. I want to listen and I want to say what’s good and what’s bad about that.
I think a lot of program directors don’t take the time to listen. They may sit in their office and calculate this and ‘When should we do the break?’ and topics to talk about and stuff like that. Listening to your radio station, and talking to your people every day, just even being friendly. Just talk to them.
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
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.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
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.