On October 6th, 1995, 10-year-old Conor McGahey was at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver attending the first Colorado Avalanche home game with his father. That night, the Avalanche beat the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 as Denver celebrated the return of NHL hockey thirteen years after the Colorado Rockies relocated to New Jersey.
Fast-forward exactly 27 years and 8 months later and McGahey enjoyed yet another out of body experience…
“Held back for Makar…lets it go…tipped on…rebound…score! It’s Artturi Lehkonen and you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here because this party is over!”
Those were the words of 37-year-old Colorado Avalanche radio play-by-play voice Conor McGahey. Last Monday June 6th Artturi Lehkonen scored in overtime to give Colorado a 6-5 overtime win in game four of the Western Conference Final against the Edmonton Oilers. With that four-game sweep, the Avalanche punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2001.
The Avalanche will meet the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning starting on Wednesday night in Denver.
McGahey, a native of Breckenridge, Colorado, is set for his first Stanley Cup Final as the radio play-by-play announcer for the team he rooted for as a child.
“It was a blast,” said McGahey of his opportunity to describe the moment that the Avalanche were advancing to the Stanley Cup Final.
“The Stanley Cup Final is a special and emotional time really. It’s a great honor to be a part of it. To be here is one thing but to win it is another and I hope that we’re lucky enough to win because that would make it even more special. It’s fun to soak it in and say hey you’re going to a (Stanley) Cup Final for the first time in 21 years. In that moment, it was super special.”
McGahey, a graduate of the University of Denver, spent more than ten years in the organization as in-game host while also calling play-by-play for Colorado Rapids soccer and Colorado Mammoth lacrosse. He joined the Vegas Golden Knights as a television pregame and postgame host for their inaugural season in 2017-18 before returning to Colorado when he was named the Avalanche’s new radio play-by-play voice prior to the 2018-19 season.
Now in his fourth season as voice of the Avs, McGahey is living out a dream. Not just because he’s getting ready for his first Stanley Cup Final, but because this is the type of job that he has coveted since he was a fan in the stands.
“I’m very grateful for the blessing and the opportunity to be here and do this job no matter who it was with. If it was with the Carolina Hurricanes or L-A Kings, it wouldn’t matter to me. It’s a job that I love but it makes it even more special that it’s in my home state with the team that basically made me fall in love with hockey.”
Before the Quebec Nordiques relocated to Denver for the 1995-96 season becoming the Colorado Avalanche, McGahey did have a taste of the sport. As a youngster he followed college hockey as well as the Denver Grizzlies, the International Hockey League affiliate of the New York Islanders. When the Avalanche arrived, hockey fans in Denver were getting a team that was already good and just needed a few tweaks to become a Stanley Cup contender.
Those tweaks, including the acquisition of goalie Patrick Roy from the Montreal Canadiens, would help the Avalanche win the Stanley Cup during their first season in town sweeping the Florida Panthers in the Stanley Cup Final.
McGahey, who already liked hockey, fell in love with it.
“I think it was the sport itself because there are so many sights and sounds and the speed,” said McGahey. “It’s the old cliché that hockey is the best sport live. You can watch it on TV and people will always say ‘hey I can’t find the puck’ or ‘I have no idea what’s going on’ but when you show up and watch a game, your senses just become ten times more acute.”
McGahey delivers a high-energy and entertaining play-by-play call of Avalanche games that includes some unique descriptions of Avalanche goals.
There’s “The moose is loose!” for forward Miko Rantanen.
“The Mac attack is back Jack” for forward Nathan MacKinnon.
“Oh captain my captain” for… you guessed it… Avalanche Captain Gabriel Landeskog.
And there’s “All hail Cale” for defenseman Cale Makar.
“I just think that it should be fun no matter what,” said McGahey. “I don’t take myself too seriously. Everyone, for the most part, loves sports. Everybody knows pop culture references whether it would be television or movies or music.”
With pop culture in mind, McGahey had another stroke of brilliance during game four against Edmonton.
“Ladies and Gentlemen… boys and girls of all ages …this is a tie hockey game”
“I always joked that my brother and I could communicate solely on movie quotes so that leaks over into how I call games whether that be rhymes or alliteration,” said McGahey.
How does he come up with these lines? Most of his calls are simply him, in the moment, saying things that come up organically. Generally, he comes up with the lines on his own but he is always open to suggestions from fans. There was time when a fan sent him a tweet that when Andrew Cogliano scored a goal that McGahey should work in “Hey Mambo, Mambo Cogliano”.
Channeling his inner Dean Martin, McGahey jumped at the idea.
“I thought it was genius.”
McGahey also drew inspiration a couple of years ago when he was watching the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. When he heard the song Candyman, he immediately thought of forward Nazem Kadri.
“Sometimes it’s just in the spur of the moment and sometimes you run across something,” said McGahey. “I was like candy and Kadri… it’s really close… the Kadri-Man can!”
Another entertaining aspect of McGahey calling Avalanche games has been setting the scene at the top of the broadcasts by using actual descriptions of the team nicknames. The idea was actually the creation of Studio Host Mark Bertagnolli who came up with “Force of Nature” for the Avalanche. He used that line for a couple of teams including when the Avs played the San Jose Sharks so the matchup would be…
“Force of Nature” vs “Fish”
“He’s been doing it for a long long time,” said McGahey. (Bertagnolli) would only do it for a couple. I said that’s a brilliant concept. Can we bring it into the top of the actual broadcast?”
And the rest is history as McGahey and company have come up with a few more…
“Force of Nature vs Petroleum Procurers (Oilers)”
“Force of Nature vs Plural Primary Color (Blues)”
“Force of Nature vs Adjective (Wild)”
“Force of Nature vs Fiddle Contestant (Devils)”
If you didn’t get the Devils reference, McGahey is referring to the Charlie Daniels Band song The Devil Went Down To Georgia.
And what about the Stanley Cup Final matchup?
“Force of Nature vs Atmospheric Electrical Discharge (Lightning)”
“It’s turned into a fun tradition,” said McGahey.
NHL radio play-by-play jobs are not easy to come by. There are only 32 of them. Getting one of those opportunities is a major accomplishment. Many announcers have come and gone without ever getting an opportunity to call a Stanley Cup Final. Not only is McGahey getting that chance to call the battle for Lord Stanley, but he’s doing it for his hometown team, the team that he cheered for as a child and throughout the existence of the Avalanche.
“I’m very lucky just to be in this position,” said McGahey.
“It doesn’t happen to a lot of guys. I understand the gravity and the scope and that’s not lost on me for one second. My overwhelming emotion every single gameday and every single day period is simply just gratitude.”
To steal a bit of Conor McGahey’s style of broadcasting…
“What an honor for Conor!”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.