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Mia O’Brien is Raising The Bar at 1010 XL

“I firmly believe if anyone wants to get into the media business, you have to know how to tell stories and you have to know how to work the gear,” said O’Brien. “You learn how to do that in local news. They throw you into the deep end nine times out of 10, and I was definitely prepared for my next step in my career and beyond.”

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Mia O'Brien

It all started during one summer at broadcasting camp. Indeed, that is where Mia O’Brien’s foray into sports media began, drawing inspiration from lead instructors and decorated New York sports broadcasters Ian Eagle and Bruce Beck early into her high school days.

While many aspiring media professionals attend seminars and participate in other modes of instruction before college, few get to learn in the number one media market in the country, let alone from two of its most prominent air talents. As a native of Freehold, New Jersey, O’Brien took advantage of every opportunity to familiarize herself with professional teams, most notably the New York Yankees, and find her own unique style to differentiate herself from her competition.

“I attended that camp every summer for the next three summers, building my way through the advanced and elite versions of the [program], and then I was a counselor for two summers at the camp,” said O’Brien. “….The camp has evolved over the years, but it was the most critical step for me into getting into the field and also having a blueprint of sorts of how I would attack this career.”

Energized by her innate will and determination, along with the experiences she had had in her first summer at the broadcasting camp, O’Brien began doing freelance media work as a high school student. Whether it was serving as a summer camp videographer, a broadcast and digital media intern with the New Jersey Jackals, or as a social media and communications intern for her local assemblywoman, O’Brien always remained open to any opportunities that would help her advance her career. From participating in the broadcasting camp, she also worked as a student reporter for MSG Networks on its MSG Varsity channel during her junior and senior years of high school, an anomaly in and of itself – no less in “The Big Apple.”

O’Brien began studying at Ithaca College in 2011 as a Park Scholar, and immediately began partaking in various extracurricular activities, including Ithaca College Television, WICB Radio and the Student Government Association. By her junior year, she was named the sideline reporter for the Ithaca College Bombers football team and hosted The Gridiron Report, a football magazine television show – doing it all as the only woman on-air at the entire school. One year later, she was voted as senior class president. During her free time, she volunteered as a coach at the Ithaca Youth Bureau and helped at a local school, all while maintaining a high grade-point average and freelancing as both a sports reporter for WENY-TV and college football columnist for AOL Sports.

While many of her college experiences were linked to media as a whole, some of them may not have had an obvious correlation to what was her career trajectory; however, all of her activities ultimately served as means to an end. An example of such – aside from her role in the media industry, O’Brien recently completed her first semester adjunct teaching at the University of North Florida within its leadership department.

“When you’re in college, when you’re early in your career, do everything,” said O’Brien. “You never know what random skill or random club you’re a part of then leads to a job down the line.”

Ithaca College is one of a handful of schools known for its communications program and success in placing graduates in favorable positions to land jobs thanks to its vast alumni network and state-of-the-art facilities. Yet one does not need to go to schools known for communications, according to O’Brien, so long as wherever they go not only has the necessary equipment and facilities – but also opportunities. At some larger and prominent communications schools, those can be especially tough to come by.

“You need to make sure at your school there are games you can call – whether that is live-streamed on the internet, radio broadcasts, TV, it doesn’t matter,” O’Brien emphasized. “[You need] the opportunity to get reps calling games or get reps reporting on games and turning packages.”

Upon her graduation from Ithaca College, O’Brien relocated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa to take her first full-time television job as a multimedia journalist and sports anchor at KGAN/KFXA, the locale’s CBS and FOX affiliates, respectively. While it may seem like a smaller market from the outside, Cedar Rapids is within driving distance of several sports hubs, including Chicago, St. Louis and Milwaukee, and has several NCAA Division I programs including the University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa and Iowa State University.

“To get to cover three major D-1 programs at 22 years old in the heart of Big 10 country is a rare, rare opportunity,” said O’Brien. “It’s obviously changed a little bit now with the evolving nature of local news. At the time, it was not easy to jump right there.”

O’Brien made a sacrifice going from Ithaca to Cedar Rapids in an effort to galvanize her career, and was the only woman reporting on sports in the state for quite some time. Even though it is not a major market in terms of size, the daily grind was enough to allow her to garner and refine the skills necessary to continue to move upwards in sports media. She would not have had it any other way though, and remains grateful for what it taught her to this day working in a different region of the country.

“I firmly believe if anyone wants to get into the media business, you have to know how to tell stories and you have to know how to work the gear,” said O’Brien. “You learn how to do that in local news. They throw you into the deep end nine times out of 10, and I was definitely prepared for my next step in my career and beyond.”

O’Brien’s reputation as an on-air talent from her early days in the industry was as someone who possessed great creativity, candor and congeniality; however, the first of those three “C’s” was suppressed during her time in Cedar Rapids. Upper management’s philosophy of local news and its purpose did not align with O’Brien’s long-term goals; therefore, she left Iowa after three years and moved to Jacksonville to take a job with First Coast News. Then, everything changed.

“It was [because of] the ownership group at First Coast News that I was truly able to embrace the creative person that I was at Ithaca [and] that I wanted to be in the field,” O’Brien stated. “….I can’t thank them enough for that opportunity to really tap back into that side of my brain and also giving me the opportunity to really attack any and every project I wanted to…. Whatever it was, they said ‘Here’s the trampoline – go jump on it.’”

For over two-and-a-half years on local news television in Jacksonville, O’Brien reported on the Jacksonville Jaguars and Florida Gators, along with other local high school and college sports teams.

She decided to make the move to work in radio on a full-time basis this past March. While the move may have seemed confusing to those on the outside, following a similar path to other women in the industry, including Vanessa Richardson of ESPN 97.5 Houston, made it less daunting for O’Brien.

After working as a co-host for the all-women sports show Helmets & Heels on 1010 XL/92.5 FM Jax Sports Radio for just over six months, O’Brien accepted her first Monday-to-Friday job at the station. In her new role, O’Brien has teamed up with Joe Cowart, Leon Searcy and Matt Hayes on XL Primetime, a midday trio that had fostered a working chemistry to create an entertaining and informative radio program. The co-hosts, along with show producer J.J. LaSelva, were welcoming and offered their assistance to O’Brien to help her assimilate into the show, and it was assistance that she certainly valued. Yet she knew through her previous experiences in media that chemistry is not fostered instantaneously and cannot usually be expedited. Thus, she studied the rhythm of the show and eventually found points where she could contribute.

“Getting used to the workflow; getting used to ‘Okay, this is where I step in [and] this is where I step out and I let everybody else talk.’ I knew it wasn’t going to be an overnight fix,” said O’Brien. “It’s still not completely 100% perfect and it never will be, but it definitely took a little bit of time.”

In terms of professional sports, Jacksonville, Fla. revolves around its NFL team, and the city also has franchises in the East Coast Hockey League and Indoor Arena League. Additionally, it is home to the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, the Triple-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins, and the PGA Tour’s PLAYERS Championship often takes place just outside of the city. Being able to talk about the local teams, along with national sports news, has been a welcome change for O’Brien, who had grown accustomed to stringent time limits on her reporting in local news.

“We can talk NBA; we can talk other sports on radio because we have three hours a day to fill,” O’Brien said. “That’s been really fun because in local television, we don’t necessarily have that because… you’re only getting a minute-thirty for a story [and] three minutes for your sportscast so you’re really hyper local-focused. In radio, we can talk about whatever we’re feeling; whatever the news of the day is, and that has been really exciting because I do have a lot of interests.”

Even so, much of the listening audience in Jacksonville craves content related to the Jaguars, whether it be during the season or the offseason. O’Brien does more than just co-host the station’s midday sports radio show, but also manages its multimedia content, meaning she must have even more of an awareness of what resonates with the audience and the alacrity to deliver it to them.

“You have to pick and choose how you are strategic in what you put out there in terms of the content,” said O’Brien. “It’s been a learning process; it has been a learning curve… but it’s exciting and the hope is obviously down the line we’ll have an even better idea of what our audience wants.”

One of the ways in which 1010 XL/92.5 FM Jax Sports Radio has penetrated into the digital age of radio is by making sure all of its shows are supported with video, to ensure fans have multiple means of consumption and engagement. The 1980 hit single Video Killed The Radio Star by The Buggles has been proven wrong, according to O’Brien, for video is now enhancing the brand of the radio star and the content and ratings of their radio station.

“By streaming, not only do you tap into more potential consumers, but for us on the digital/multimedia side, it’s so much easier for me to press inpoint, outpoint [and] crop that clip if there’s a great moment from a show and then stick it on Instagram… TikTok… or Twitter,” said O’Brien. “It promotes our posts [and] gives the consumers an idea of who [the hosts] are and what they look like.”

One of O’Brien’s ongoing projects is working on the documentary series The Book of Bo, a look into the career of former Jacksonville Jaguars’ tackle Tony Boselli. The series will be released in various chapters, and will be made available in video form on Facebook and YouTube for fans to watch. Additionally, O’Brien has been appearing across station programming to play clips from each upcoming episode to create buzz and promote the series as a whole.

“I think it’s really cool that the station has supported initiatives like that, and moreover my general manager Steve Griffin has been amazing in terms of whatever I need, they go get for me,” said O’Brien. “They are ready to tap into the future and step into what multimedia sports coverage is going to be 10-20 years down the line, and I don’t think a lot of terrestrial radio stations could say that.”

Terrestrial radio as a means of transmission and paradigm on which to base content is not being eliminated; rather, it is simply being modified to be part of a multi-platform approach to creation and subsequent dissemination. Through this modern approach, stations like 1010 XL/92.5 Jax Sports Radio are able to remain at the forefront of innovation and find new ways to expand their body of consumers.

“I think what’s really cool is that the terrestrial radio station is obviously the backbone to everything we do; that’s what gives us the ability to take risks like what we’re doing with this project and so many others,” O’Brien explained. “But at the same time, you can still utilize it; it’s not like it’s going away. We are keeping terrestrial radio – that’s not going anywhere – it’s how we generate so much of our content. We can use the multimedia channels to also generate content that we can then put on terrestrial radio as well.”

Throughout this story, a theme you may have noticed is how O’Brien was consistently one of, if not the only woman working in sports media from the time she attended broadcasting camp. Although she has occasionally worked with other women in the industry, including ESPN’s Emily Kaplan who just served as the network’s lead hockey reporter during the Stanley Cup Finals, she never saw her situation as unique. Rather, she accepted it as an aspect of the intrinsic meritocracy of sports media and was thankful for her other colleagues for viewing her as another member of the team.

As the conversation around diversity has been amplified though, it has shifted her perspective and opened her eyes to the disparities that regrettably exist in sports media. O’Brien hopes to serve as an inspiration to girls looking to work in sports media, and is always willing to extend a helping hand to those who need it.

“That’s something I think I would have done anyway, but I think a lot of the conversations around women in sports and encouraging women to reach out to each other and to have this bond and commiserate about some of the nuances that go on in the industry – I think that has encouraged me not to just dismiss it as: ‘Well, I’m just one of the guys.’”

O’Brien is currently the only woman on the Jaguars’ beat on a day-to-day basis, continuing to prove women can work in all facets of the industry. There are obvious implications of the imbalance ingrained within parts of the industry, yet by taking action, people – whether they are directly affected or not – can right these wrongs to foster an environment of inclusivity and equity. Nonetheless, O’Brien and other women working in sports say they are selective in terms of what complaints they choose to publicly voice.

“The more flexible and adaptable you can be and the more you can laugh and just move past and kind of pick and choose your battles, the better off you’re going to be,” O’Brien said, “and also knowing there’s other women out there going through similar situations.”

It is evident that O’Brien enjoys the spontaneous nature of her career, being able to work on multiple projects varying in size and scope to bring content to sports fans inside and outside of Jacksonville. Much like Samantha Ponder, the former host of College GameDay on ESPN, O’Brien values versatility in media, and likes being able to do multiple things such as sideline reporting, hosting and audiovisual post-production work. As long as she continues to find new ways to differentiate herself in today’s media landscape by utilizing and enhancing the repertoire of skills she has been cultivating since broadcasting camp, O’Brien will “Catch ya later,” on whatever platform you choose.

“I knew very early on that sitting at a desk wasn’t going to be my M.O., and it still isn’t,” said O’Brien. “I also enjoy changing it up – whether that’s working on a video project one day; working on a podcast project the next day; meeting with clients a third day. I feel very lucky that this is a very big step forward towards that ultimate career goal of being a Swiss-army knife. Not that I wasn’t before, but I especially am now.”

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In Defense Of Colin Cowherd

“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”

Demetri Ravanos

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I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.

Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.

Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.

Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?

A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.

That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.

The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.

Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!

This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).

“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.

On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.

Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.

You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?

It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.

Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?

I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.

School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.

Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.

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Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

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Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.

“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…

Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.

“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman.  “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”  

Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.

This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.

She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.

“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”

Waldman has also changed the industry.

She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.

Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.

“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”

Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.

For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.

“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”

There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.

Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.

It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.

“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”

Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.

And many of these people were co-workers.

“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman. 

It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.

She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.

“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t.  You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”

There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.

“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”

While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.

The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88.  I just wish he were here.” 

Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.

Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.

“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.

“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports.  You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming.  I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”

And made it she did.

And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.

“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman. 

Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.

“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.

She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.

“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer.  That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”  

And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.

But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.

Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.

“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women.  I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.” 

During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.

But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?

“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”

To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”

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No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words

“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “

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For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.

If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.

So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.

Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.

Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.

Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.

Keeping up?

As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.

Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.

When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.

On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.

You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.

Pot, meet kettle.

I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.

Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.

And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.

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