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There Is Only One Way to Fill-In For John Sterling: Be Yourself

With Sterling out of the booth for those games, opportunities to fill-in will present themselves to a few broadcasters. The opportunity is awesome, but so is the task of ‘sitting in’ for a legendary play-by-play announcer.

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John Sterling
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“It is high, it is far, it is…” not John Sterling on the call on Yankees Radio these days. No, he’s not “gone,” he’s just taking some time to, as he put  it, “to recharge my batteries,” Sterling told The Post. “I’ve been doing road games with teams for 52 years. I love this game, but I hate being on the road.”

“I’m completely healthy,’’ Sterling told The Record and NorthJersey.com by phone last week. Sterling also said, this move was “very much’’ by his choice. Sterling is cutting back on his travel this season and will do mainly home games. He will sit out around 30 games away from Yankee Stadium. Sterling will only travel to Boston, Baltimore and Queens for games. 

“Anyway, I felt it was just time,’’ said Sterling to The Record. “Nowadays, it’s a smart thing to do.’’ Sterling broke a 5,060 consecutive game streak during the 2019 season when he missed his first broadcast in 30 years.

Sterling said he’s spoken to other broadcasters that have cut back on their schedules. He spoke with Mets’ broadcasters Howie Rose and Gary Cohen, his former radio partner Michael Kay, and even Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. Scully decided to cut back his schedule a few years before retiring at the age of 88. He worked mostly home games with an occasional trip to San Diego and San Francisco mixed in. Scully retired after the 2016 season.

Love him or not, whatever, when you’re around for five decades, it’s only natural to become a household name. People around baseball imitate Sterling’s home run call. They’ll also mimic his shaking, gyrating “Yankees Win….the Yankees Win” exclamation after the Bronx Bombers are victorious. Sometimes those imitations are not intended to be the sincerest form of flattery. Nonetheless, people know the words, they come to expect them and will likely miss them, when he is not doing a game. 

With Sterling out of the booth for those games, opportunities to fill-in will present themselves to a few broadcasters. The opportunity is awesome, but so is the task of ‘sitting in’ for a legendary play-by-play announcer. I know Sterling has had his share of viral moments, including a couple of botched home run calls this season. But he’s still John Sterling. Filling the shoes, even for one game or series, of these types of broadcasters is not easy, no matter who the person filling in might be. 

I speak from personal experience. Very early in my career, I was asked by my sports director at WGN Radio, Dave Eanet, if I was interested in doing some fill-in play-by-play. The question was being asked at a local restaurant and I think I answered ‘yes’ before the full inquiry was made. I had done some baseball before, but I was a bit conflicted. Excited for sure, nervous as well. I would be stepping in during the game for Pat Hughes, the longtime Cubs radio announcer. 

Listening to Pat illustrated just how much further and harder I had to work to even make my calls listenable. I was extremely hard on myself, but eventually after many reps and a few years, I was feeling a bit more comfortable. The biggest thing to me was, don’t try and be Pat. Sounds easy right? But, when you’re in the booth with him for every game, or listening to him on the radio, some of his cadence and mannerisms sneak into your brain. He is so successful with his style, why can’t it work for me? Because I’m not him. 

Even knowing that, it was hard to fight the urge to try and be Hughes the first few times I went on the air. It was not working. 

Eventually after showing some visible frustration after one of my fill-in innings. Ron Santo gave me a look like he wanted to chat. He pulled me aside, because he heard it too. He didn’t have to say much. “Just be yourself,” he said with a smile. Things started to go a little better each time because I wasn’t trying to be what I’m not. With that lesson firmly implanted in me, I tell my broadcasting students now, “It’s hard enough being the first YOU, let alone the 2nd ___”, you can fill in the blank there with whatever name you are trying to imitate. 

Entering an established booth isn’t easy either. In San Diego I stepped into a booth that had veterans Ted Leitner and Jerry Coleman in it. They had been there a combined fifty-plus years. Listeners got extremely used to listening to the two of them and how they each uniquely called Padres baseball games. They had a chemistry, routines and were a part of fans’ summers for many, many seasons.

The same could be said when I stepped in for the late Ed Farmer with White Sox broadcasts, with his long-time partner Darrin Jackson. They had a following that was definitely used to the way things were done. Luckily for me in the case of the latter, I had been doing pre and postgame shows for the White Sox previous to my play-by-play stint. Fans got to know me a little and that was a big help. In both cases, it was very important to me to show respect for the booth that was intact.    

WFAN has its plan to use several different broadcasters on the road trips that Sterling will miss. Some of these folks are experienced Major League broadcasters and others have been around the game, but never in a full-time play-by-play role. The mix is good and should give Yankees fans a variety of styles and voices to fill those vacant games. It will be easy for some of these people to seamlessly move in because as I pointed out, their voices are familiar to Yankees fans. 

Justin Shackil who regularly serves as a digital reporter for the team, got the first crack at filling in, last weekend. Yankees Spanish radio voice Rickie Ricardo moved to the English-language booth in Tampa just a few days ago.

WFAN’s Carton and Roberts announced on their show the next two voices to fill-in for Sterling. Sweeny Murti will head to the booth when the Yankees play the Houston Astros on June 30. 

“I know it’s not going to be easy. I’m going to try and have some fun with it,” Murti said when asked by Craig Carton.  

“I would hope that maybe I do a good enough job that maybe he’ll ask me to do it a couple more times along the way,” Murti said. He also added, “I would really just like to do a good job so that I can pat myself on the back and say I did a good job and not too many flubs get played on the air the next day.”

The next fill-in was announced as Brendan Burke, who calls Islanders games on MSG Plus. He will take the series in Cleveland July 1-3 and Pittsburgh July 5-6. WFAN’s Carton and Roberts congratulated Burke on the air last week. 

“You guys need to understand, this is my great white buffalo, if you will. This is where I got the spark for being a broadcaster. When I was a kid, my dad was the Yankee beat writer and so I used to sit between Sterling and (Michael) Kay in the booth when they were together when I was a nine-year-old .” he told WFAN.  “To be able to bring this all the way around full-circle,” Burke continued, “is something that’s even more special than just broadcasting the crown jewel of Yankees radio.”

To me, these guys are taking the right approach to filling in. Have fun, after all this job is supposed to be fun. Make sure to take advantage of the opportunity, you never know if it will come again. Finally, be smart, be yourself and be true to the broadcast. 

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BSM Writers

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.

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WRONG BAD

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.

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BSM Writers

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.

Jeff Caves

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Radio Sales

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.  

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BSM Writers

Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table

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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.

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