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What Went Wrong And What Went Right For Baseball On Apple TV+?

“If Apple and MLB leave these crews together, it will get much better as time goes on.”

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Major League Baseball made its much-anticipated debut on Apple TV Plus last week. To say fans hated it would be an understatement. They seemed to miss their hometown announcers, a smooth stream of the game, and well, just being able to see the game without a glitch.

I did not watch either of the doubleheader games live but did go back and watch a good portion of both via replay. I left with a mixed bag of feelings about the production, audio, camera shots, announcing teams, and the value of these broadcasts. Fans had many opinions for sure. 

From checking out social media, I gathered many complaints from the audience that was watching the opening Apple doubleheader. They hit on a few central themes, one being the actual broadcast stream. 

It’s never a good thing when the broadcast crashes midway through the game. That was the case with the Mets/Nationals game for many, if not all viewers. Fans were critical of a company like Apple not being able to provide perfect streaming of this game.

For me, the replay of the game didn’t have these glitches and the actual quality of the stream looked very good, if not excellent at all times. But, when you’re Apple, the tech giant, and you’re trying to convince fans of these teams to watch the game on Apple TV Plus, glitches, drops and audio problems are not acceptable. When the stream cut out, viewers got an error message that read: “There’s a problem loading this video. If this continues, check your internet connection.” 

The free service went out shortly before 5 PM Pacific time for some viewers watching the Washington Nationals and New York Mets game. DownDetector.com reported a sudden spike in complaints of outages and inability to log in. Players that make errors like that are usually sent to the minors.

This should be an area of concern for those in Cupertino, California. Evan Roberts, the afternoon co-host on WFAN in New York, is one that is not on board with what Apple is doing here. He summed up what a lot of Mets fans were thinking and feeling last Friday. 

It was reported that those viewing the game on their phone were able to see the action. 

There were other reported technology issues. Fans were unable to use the normal playback controls afforded by an Apple TV stream. They couldn’t pause, rewind or fast-forward during the game.

Now, to the defense of Apple, the company did say that these controls were not supported during the Friday Night Baseball games on its site. Still, after reading many of the comments, this might be something Apple should look into. I’m not sure if there are MLB rules that prohibit this. To me this is a “would really love to have” rather than an “I’m not watching because of” situation. 

The other major complaint was the announce teams. Some described using the mute button because of distracting, off-topic commentary. Instead of focusing on the game, viewers said the announcers talked about squirrels, Japanese restaurants, and even Apple Products. There were viewers that didn’t feel like the announce teams had baseball experience.

The main play-by-play people surely do have experience in MLB. Melanie Newman is one of the radio broadcasters for the Orioles. She’ll be adding some MLB Network duties this year as well. Stephen Nelson works for MLB and NHL Networks. So that should dispel the notion. 

I think it’s hard for these broadcasters to live up to the mark that the local broadcasters make on their respective fan bases. A lot of comments on Twitter read something to the effect of “these guys aren’t Gary, Keith and Ron” (SNY’s New York Mets local crew).

No, they aren’t, but they never pretended to be either. I’ve always thought it was unfair to compare a national broadcast to a local one. The hometown announcers are around that team all year and in a lot of cases, for many years. Who knows how much access the Apple announcers had with each team?

I didn’t have the same opinion about the banter during the game. In all fairness, they were all working together for the first time as a team. Chemistry in that case doesn’t always come together quickly. It takes some time to feel things out and to see what everyone’s strengths are.

The only thing I will say about the broadcasters is that there was a little too much talk for a television broadcast. At times the games sounded as though they were being done on the radio. The action didn’t have a chance to breathe. In all fairness to the Mets/Nationals crew, the night got off to a rocky start at the stadium. At Nationals Park, the lights took forever to turn on and it caused a long delay. There was a lot of air to cover.

If Apple and MLB leave these crews together, it will get much better as time goes on. 

A couple of other minor things that seemed to irk viewers included a constant graphic in the bottom right corner of the screen. The graphic had real-time probabilities, like for a player reaching base or a pitcher recording a strikeout. The graphics also included betting odds.

It was a little distracting to me. The graphics were very plain and at some points, they seemed to mix into the action and almost disappear. That information wasn’t needed for the entire game and might have been better served appearing on a ‘crawl’ at the bottom of the screen. 

During the Mets/Nationals game, there was an ugly incident when Nats reliever Steve Cishek hit Mets infielder, Francisco Lindor, in the helmet with a pitch. The benches cleared and there were some heated exchanges. After Cishek was ejected, the announce team brought in rules analyst, former MLB umpire Brian Gorman for his thoughts.

I’m not sure where Gorman was coming to us from, but he looked like someone that had never used Zoom or anything like it before. He was looking down at the camera and there was a distractingly large amount of headroom in the shot. The info was good, but come on! The camera angle and presentation at that moment were very amateurish. 

Speaking of cameras, the use of “the megalodon” is always very cool, but the use of the depth of field camera in Anaheim was jarring. Especially during Heidi Watney’s on-field report early in the broadcast. The camera kept circling her and circling her and circling her. I was getting nauseous.

Ok, Apple’s first foray into baseball wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t all bad. Aesthetically the game looked great from the Big A in Anaheim. The picture was crisp, the audio was clean for the most part and the cameras they used seemed to be extra-high def. The entire presentation was so clear that I forgot for a moment I was streaming this game. 

One of the first things I noticed was just the plainness of the score bug. It looked primitive. At first, it looked out of place and I kept thinking, Apple paid how much again for these rights and this is what they’re giving me? As the game went on, I didn’t mind it all that much. It wasn’t too obtrusive or ‘loud’, so it was fine. It wasn’t constantly bombarding me with information, like the horribly obtrusive Bally’s bug that never stops.

It’s a lesson in, simple can be good and enjoyable. It was pointed out by some experts on Twitter, including Brandon Costa of Sports Video Group, that the graphics were very on brand with Apple. He indicated that the font used was one frequently displayed by Apple.

Staying with the positives, it was cool to hear and see Nationals superstar Juan Soto mic’d up for the game against the Mets. His personality is one that is needed in the game and he didn’t disappoint. The infectious smile and youthful exuberance can be something to attract younger fans without forcing things down people’s throats. He was interviewed during the light delay and pleaded with Apple to provide his teammates and coaches with Apple TV, iPads, iPhones and AirPods. Pretty funny stuff. 

To many the first impression wasn’t great and as that old dandruff shampoo commercial says, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But in this case, there is always another game, or in the case of Apple, games, to broadcast. It will get better, it has to, Apple has too much invested in the product. MLB needs this to work as well to keep the cash cow producing its milk. 

There will have to be some changes to the Apple telecast. Give people what they want. Give them the ‘pause and rewind’ features they are used to having. Make sure that the glitches are taken care of and make it easy for fans of all ages and technological expertise to see the broadcasts. 

All that’s left to wonder now? Will baseball fans give Apple TV Plus a legitimate chance to be one of the main carriers of Major League Baseball?

Right now it doesn’t appear its trending in that direction. 

BSM Writers

Sports Talkers Podcast – Carl Dukes

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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.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3xYq3Oe 

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3JVYgDp   

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3JWPFQS 

Google: https://buff.ly/3w9RBzX 

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3psPDGZ  

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BSM Writers

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.”

Tyler McComas

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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.”

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BSM Writers

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.

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Anatomy of a Broadcaster, Kevin Burkhardt

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.

GOOD CHOICE

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.

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