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Brian Windhorst’s Incredible TV Was The Result of Awful Communication Execution

“Is your point that Danny Ainge might be following the same blueprint in Utah that he executed in Boston? Because that’s a really good point. And instead of letting everyone twist themselves dizzy try to get there, why don’t you, I don’t know, say what you mean in the fewest words possible. That’s kind of the whole idea of effective communication.”

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I’m going to be that guy. You know, the one who takes something totally harmless that everyone is enjoying and decides he should explain why this thing isn’t as great as everyone thinks. Invariably, this criticism will be prefaced with the word “actually.” Yeah, that guy.

So here goes: As entertaining as Brian Windhorst’s two minutes of theatrical conjecture was on First Take last Friday, it was actually a demonstration of things that hosts and analysts should avoid. It was self-indulgent. It came at the expense of the moderator, Christine Williamson, and co-panelists Freddie Coleman and Courtney Cronin. Most of all, it was a deliberately vague way to communicate what should have been a fairly straightforward analysis: there were signs that Danny Ainge would do in Utah what he did in Boston, which is why Rudy Gobert may be on the trade block.

Windhorst’s soliloquy spawned a thousand memes and entertained us all the Friday before a holiday weekend, but upon further review, I’ve decided it was like watching a man smell his own farts and describe them as if they were a wine.

Look, I gave you fair warning that I was going to be that guy. It doesn’t mean I’m wrong, though.

Windhorst’s theatrics were memorable. They were funny. I’ve screen-shotted a few of them myself. It is not something to be emulated, though, nor heralded as some sort of master class. The result may have been unforgettable, but the process that led to it had some serious issues. Let’s take a look.

Windhorst: “There was a trade yesterday between the Utah Jazz and the Brooklyn Nets. A very strange trade. A very strange trade. You’d really have to be a Jazz or a Nets fan to even know what I’m talking about right now.”

Freddie Coleman: “OK.”

Windhorst: “I don’t know even know if you guys know what I’m talking about.”

Christine Williamson: “I’m at the edge of my seat. I have Woj’s notifications turned on, but I don’t remember this.”

Pause.

Rhetorical questions are a terrible tool to use on a panel unless you’re actually seeking to minimize the expertise of your colleagues. Windhorst openly questions whether they even know about the transaction he’s talking about, which puts his colleagues in a no-win situation. If they answer him correctly, they appear like students responding to the teacher. If they answer it incorrectly, it shows they’re as clueless as he’s implying.

In either case, Windhorst isn’t really looking for the answer. He’s seeking to build suspense, but he’s doing it at the expense of his colleagues.

OK. Let’s resume.

Windhorst: “They traded Royce O’Neale, who is a role-playing 3-point, defensive shooter to Brooklyn for a future first-round draft pick. And so you’re going, ‘What do you care about Royce O’Neale? Why does that matter? Why would the Jazz do that?’

“Why would the Jazz – who have two stars on their roster – take a player who’s one of their starters and best defensive players and trade him in a salary-dumping move? Why would they do that?”

Courtney Cronin: “To open space to try to land Kevin?”

Windhorst: “No.”

Coleman: “Part of a three-team trade?”

These are totally reasonable suggestions from Cronin and Coleman given that the question on the First Take chyron is “Where is the best landing spot for Durant?” Windhorst is asking questions, and they’re trying to be good teammates by playing along. Their reward is to look like they’re being schooled by Windhorst’s X-ray vision into the significance of this move, which by the way, he has decided to make the centerpiece of a discussion that was supposed to be about Durant.

Let’s see where he goes next.

Windhorst: “You say, ‘Why did Quin Snyder walk away from that job?’”

Williamson: (Leans in) “OK?”

Windhorst: “And you say, ‘When Danny Ainge, the last time he hired a coach, it was Brad Stevens.’ “

Coleman: “Right.”

I’m sorry, but you’re the one saying those things, Brian. You’re the one who’s setting up this line of inquiry, and you’re leaving your colleagues to try and intuit where the hell you’re going while using this whole second-person construction.

Is your point that Danny Ainge might be following the same blueprint in Utah that he executed in Boston? Because that’s a really good point. And instead of letting everyone twist themselves dizzy try to get there, why don’t you, I don’t know, say what you mean in the fewest words possible. That’s kind of the whole idea of effective communication.

OK. Sorry. Getting carried away. Go ahead, resume, Brian.

Windhorst: “What happened that same year? What did he do, when he hired this young coach who had never coached in the NBA before, and he gave him a long contract. He gave Brad Stevens a six-year contract. Will Hardy – who they just hired, who could potentially be a great young coach – they gave him a 5-year contract. Very rare for a first-time head coach to get a 5-year contract. Why? What’s going on in Utah?”

Williamson: “What’s going on in …”

Windhorst: “And that’s what people in the league are watching right now.”

Coleman: “OK.”

Time for a rhetorical question of my own: Why in world would it be at all surprising the front-office executives who run the 28 other NBA teams are intensely interested in this trade? Isn’t that what these executives are paid to do? They’re supposed to be intensely interested in what their competitors are doing. In fact, I would think that an executive would have to be criminally negligent NOT to be wondering what this trade signified about the intentions and plans of this playoff team with a new general manager who has just traded a starter. Why is this noteworthy?

Windhorst: “What’s going on in Utah?”

OK. I’ll bite, Brian. What do you think is going on in Utah? I mean, I’m more interested in where Durant will wind up, and that was supposed to be this segment, but we’re an awful long way from home now, and I’ve invested enough time that I am legitimately curious as to what this Utah team with this new general manager and this new coach might be doing that would prompt them to deal Royce O’Neale.

Windhorst: “And so I think the Brooklyn Nets and the Phoenix Suns need to find out what’s going on in Utah as well. Because what else happened that first year that Brad Stevens got hired? Danny Ainge traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.”

Coleman: “To the Brooklyn Nets.”

God bless Freddie Coleman. Man is he trying. What a total pro. He’s listened to Windhorst wander through his thoughts for nearly two minutes now, and Coleman is trying, he’s really trying, to connect this back to the actual subject of this segment which is a potential destination for Durant. Alas, no.

Windhorst: “That trade, that Royce (O’Neale) trade, it was a very strange trade.”

Now, credit where it’s due: The O’Neale trade did in fact portend a sea change in Utah, which did end up unloading one of the two stars Windhorst mentioned, trading Rudy Gobert to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

It’s not the location of Windhorst’s soliloquy that’s my issue here, but his pitch selection. He clearly knew something was going on in Utah. He said as much later on an episode of his podcast, The Hoop Collective with Brian Windhorst.

Windhorst and Tim McMahaon were talking about the possibility of Gobert being traded the night before Windhorst’s First Take appearance. McMahon disclosed the actual details.

“It was pretty close to the trade that went down,” Windhorst said. “The biggest difference was that we thought Jaden McDaniels was going to be in that trade. The Jazz wanted Jaden McDaniels in that trade. The ‘Wolves refused, and that is reflected in the number of picks and the lack of protection on the picks.”

OK. So why didn’t Windhorst say that more directly? In part, because he wanted to avoid having that statement aggregated as Jordan Bondurant summarized at Barrett Sports Media on Thursday.

So instead of saying what he thought, Windhorst went through a two-minute journey of rhetorical questions and hand gestures, forcing his colleagues to follow along and try and guess what he was going on about. The end result was that a discussion about potential landing spots for Durant turned into a thorough examination of all the signs that pointed to the Jazz doing something big without ever saying something big despite the fact the man conducting this examination had a pretty good idea of what that something big was.

Was it good television? Sure. It was memorable and cut through on the Friday before a holiday weekend. It’s just not an approach anyone would be advised to repeat, including Windhorst.

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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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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