Following a tumultuous offseason in sports media that resulted in the movement of several established National Football League broadcasters, Mike Tirico found himself promoted to become the lead play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Football on NBC.
Tirico entered this role following Al Michaels, who called Sunday Night Football for 16 seasons with Cris Collinsworth and the late-John Madden before signing with Amazon Prime Video this offseason. The broadcast, which also features Collinsworth as a color commentator and Melissa Stark reporting from the sidelines, has been the number one show in primetime television for a record 11 consecutive seasons.
As a native of Queens, N.Y., Tirico attended Bayside High School where he realized that his dream of playing sports professionally was impractical and began thinking of ways to remain involved in the industry. Tirico considers himself to have been an avid sports fan when he was younger and always enjoyed listening to game broadcasts. He identified that by announcing the games, he would be able to build a viable career for himself and remain involved in sports as a media member.
Consequently, he began conducting research on how to achieve his goal of becoming a professional in a highly-competitive field.
“[I] found out at the time that some of my favorites – Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Len Berman – very popular and widely-respected broadcasters in New York were all Syracuse alums,” Tirico said. “I did some more digging and found out that Dick Stockton and Marty Glickman – and even Dick Clark in the American Bandstand-days and Ted Koppel are all Syracuse alums. I got very focused on trying to [go] to school there and was lucky enough to do that.”
While attending Syracuse University, Tirico made it a point to gain as much experience as he could, starting by broadcasting basketball, football, lacrosse, volleyball and other sports on WAER, the university’s student-run radio station. It was important for Tirico to attend a university with prominent alumni and a history of success – but sports broadcasting is not the only thing he studied as a student.
In addition to his broadcast journalism major within the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Tirico also studied political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Although he has a penchant for sports broadcasting, having previous experience and an understanding of news and current events serves to make media professionals more versatile.
“I think the collection of talented people there at the station gave you a good idea of who the best in your generation or class were going to be because a lot of the best were right there with you,” Tirico said. “I think we all made each other better along the way. That was a real influence for me – and a lot of the individuals there were an influence [on] me.”
At the end of his junior year, Tirico was hired by WTVH-5, a local CBS-affiliated television station in Syracuse, to deliver the weekend 6:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. sportscasts, effectively beginning his television career. Once he graduated Syracuse University in 1988, he remained in the area with WTVH-5 and was subsequently promoted as the outlet’s sports director, giving him early professional management experience outside the walls of the university.
“The experience and peers at Syracuse gave me the opportunity to test myself early on amongst the best in the industry,” Tirico said. “At that point, [it also] allowed me a chance to get on-air far earlier than I would have if I had gone to school somewhere else.”
In 1991, Tirico joined ESPN as a studio anchor where he contributed across its coverage of professional and collegiate sports. Additionally, he hosted an edition of SportsCenter with Jimmy Roberts where the duo updated viewers on the latest scores and news around the world of sports.
ESPN was the first national television station Tirico was ever employed by, and making the jump from working at a local station in Syracuse was initially challenging and brought him awareness of what skills he needed to improve on to ensure he would last and make a name for himself in the industry.
“There’s a lot of getting yourself up to speed for that and fortunately it was a great time at ESPN where we had the rights to so many different sports,” Tirico said. “[During the time I was there, SportsCenter] went from three half-hour shows a day to a constant presence [being] almost the wallpaper of the network; it was always around. That, I’m sure, was a big onus for me to be around that time of growth for ESPN and the SportsCenter franchise specifically.”
Two years later, Tirico hosted NFL Prime Monday, a new pregame show leading up to the network’s broadcast of Monday Night Football. Due to space limitations at ESPN’s studios, the show was broadcast out of a garage yet it transformed studio coverage of professional sports.
By introducing elements such as interviews with star players (conducted by former MTV VJ and SiriusXM DJ “Downtown” Julie Brown), utilizing an on-site field reporter for live stadium coverage and implementing debates between on-air talent and guests regarding the game, the way studio coverage leading up to live game broadcasts was forever changed. Additionally, the show had regular analysts including Craig James, Phil Simms and Joe Theissman, along with writers Mitch Albom, Skip Bayless and Michael Wilbon, all of whom would contribute their opinion and expertise to viewers.
The show led to the development of Monday Night Countdown which still airs on the network before Monday Night Football broadcasts featuring Buck and Troy Aikman, along with Peyton and Eli Manning in select weeks.
“We had in that show – 30 years ago – a variety of elements that were not in all the other pregame shows,” Tirico said. “….I’m really proud of the way that show got on the air. That was kind of a template for where pregame shows have evolved today.”
The evolution of technology and media consumption have engendered changes to the ways in which sports broadcasters prepare for a typical day at work. For example, when Mike Tirico and Sunday Night Football are covering the Green Bay Packers, Tirico recognizes the value in watching Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ weekly appearance on The Pat McAfee Show.
Additionally when Tirico covered the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles matchup in late October, Tirico listened to New Heights, a podcast featuring Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and his brother, Eagles center Jason Kelce.
“There’s so much out there right now that by the time you get to Sunday – really that hour before the games [during] those pregame shows, I want to know, ‘What have you learned from the broadcasters who are on-site there?,’” Tirico said.
“What are the opinions from the guys in the studio who over the years you’ve come to appreciate their views on what’s going to happen. It’s really become a preview [of] the games that are about to come up as opposed to, ‘Here are some stories from around the league from during the week.’”
As a host at ESPN, Tirico was given various opportunities to display his versatility as a play-by-play announcer across multiple sports calling games on both the professional and, when applicable, collegiate level on various platforms of dissemination. This included working as a play-by-play announcer for the NBA Finals on ESPN Radio with color commentators Hubie Brown and Dr. Jack Ramsey; hosting professional golf coverage on ABC Sports with analyst Curtis Strange; and anchoring College Football Scoreboard starting in 1993.
“The only things I really call now are football and golf,” Tirico said. “I miss the days when I called a variety of sports. I loved jumping into new sports and getting a chance to do them.”
Whether it be the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, FIFA World Cup, Daytona 500, Rose Bowl, NCAA Final Four, or U.S. Open Golf Championship, Tirico has had the chance to anchor coverage of long-established and historic sports traditions. Having worked in many different areas of professional sports demonstrates the chance he has been afforded to reach new audiences and bring viewers insightful and fascinating converge of these and other heralded realms of competition.
“Tiger Woods winning the career Grand Slam at St. Andrews,” Tirico said when asked of one of his most memorable moments working in sports media. “That had not happened but once before on live television and hasn’t happened since 2000. That was a remarkable moment to be there and see the fifth golfer win all four golf majors and to do it at the home of golf.”
In 2006 when Monday Night Football moved from being broadcast to ABC to being exclusively on ESPN, he became the fourth person to serve as the voice of the weekly program. Just as Tirico did leading up to this football season, he succeeded Al Michaels in the play-by-play role, as Michaels joined NBC Sports to call the inaugural season Sunday Night Football with Madden.
From the first Monday night broadcast on ESPN, Tirico was joined by Jon Gruden for live primetime NFL games and broke cable television viewership records in the process. It was during this time when Tirico experienced a powerful moment on the football field that transformed his view on sports broadcasting and remains carved in his memory.
“Our third regular season game was the New Orleans Saints against the Atlanta Falcons,” Tirico recalled. “That was the return to the Superdome post-Hurricane Katrina for the Saints and it was the day that reminds me forever that sports is not just a game; it’s not just a toy shop. It has incredible meaning and connection to the cities that host these teams over the years.”
After he anchored the 2016 UEFA European Football Championship, Tirico made the decision to leave ESPN and join NBC Sports. He first appeared on the NBC Golf Channel calling play-by-play during the 2016 U.S. Open Golf Championship and concluded the tournament by hosting studio coverage.
A few months later, he was behind the desk working as a daytime host for coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a worldwide sporting tournament and cultural phenomenon that takes place once every four years.
Tirico always looked up to NBC primetime Olympics host Bob Costas throughout his journey in sports broadcasting. As a venerable graduate of Syracuse University, Costas worked with NBC Sports beginning in 1980 as a host and play-by-play announcer for football, basketball and baseball coverage.
In 1988, he was selected as the primetime host for the broadcast of the Olympic Games, a job he performed for 12 iterations of the event before retiring from the role in 2017. Tirico was chosen to step into the position – something he affirms is one of the most significant roles in his career.
Ironically enough, he had previously received the inaugural “Bob Costas Scholarship” at Syracuse University in 1987 which continues to be awarded annually to one of its acclaimed broadcast journalism students.
“There are a lot of people who host shows; there are a lot of people who do… play-by-play. There’s only been one person that has hosted the Olympics in primetime since the 90s and it’s Bob,” Tirico said. “I’ve had plenty of experience in this and I think it becomes easier as you go along because I have an established style.”
Hosting the Olympics expands upon the traditional role of a sports broadcaster since it involves many of the countries across the globe. Tirico’s previous experience at WTVH-5 in Syracuse in addition to his steady consumption of news media and college major of political science keeps him prepared for the event and able to cover it on a global scale for the viewing audience, primarily based in the United States.
“It’s far closer in the host role to news than sports because there’s so much geopolitics involved in the entire process of the Olympics no matter how much we continue to hope that it’s about competition,” Tirico said. “That’s the root and that’s the foundation, but politics always seems to find a way to come into play with the different organizing committees, national governing bodies and, of course, each nation’s delegation.”
Tirico is grateful for the leadership of both NBC Olympics Executive Producer and President Molly Solomon and Primetime Producer Rob Hyland in how they have elevated the coverage of the event. Moreover, he is excited to cover the games taking place in Paris, France starting in July 2024 and continue being part of the evolution of the broadcast in the years to follow.
“There’s not a better studio hosting job in our industry than being able to host the Olympics in primetime,” Tirico expressed. “It requires a lot of talented people behind the scenes [and] a lot of help in preparation, but that opening ceremony when more nations and delegations come [in]… than you have when the U.N. General Assembly gathers every fall shows you that nothing, nothing, nothing brings the world together like the Olympic games.
“To be the person who has this unique role of 17 straight nights hosting multiple hours of primetime TV to present the competition of the athletes of the world – it’s pretty cool.”
In the latter half of 2016, NBC announced that Tirico had been added as a play-by-play announcer for some of its professional football broadcasts, including three Sunday Night Football games and one Thursday Night Football game when the network had the rights.
One year later, Tirico was named the play-by-play voice of the Thursday Night Football franchise where he worked with analyst Cris Collinsworth on live game broadcasts. Now working regularly with Collinsworth on a week-by-week basis doing Sunday Night Football, the familiarity has lent itself to a broadcast where the commentators play off of each other’s strengths to bring viewers the best coverage possible.
“The good part was there was no real adjustment,” Tirico said on acclimating himself to the broadcasts this season. “….We were lucky enough to do about 20 games together – preseason and regular season… from Thursday nights to Sundays; different games along the way. Getting to know Cris and his family and all of that made it so easy to start from the beginning here this year.”
While the network lost the Thursday night rights to Fox the following season, Tirico was still busy as the play-by-play announcer for Notre Dame college football games, host of Triple Crown horse racing coverage along with the Indianapolis 500, a brief stint doing play-by-play for National Hockey League games, and the studio host for Football Night in America, which is the most-watched studio show in sports.
In an era where studio coverage is changing amid consumers being afforded more control over the content with which they engage, progression with the dynamism of the current time is fundamental for sustained growth. In some cases, the coverage is being eliminated entirely due to a lack of consumer interest concerning those working in that environment.
“I think there’s always going to be a future for shoulder programming before and after a game,” Tirico expressed. “I personally would like to see more of an emphasis on quality postgame programming. I think we spend so much time talking about what’s going to happen in a game and not an equal amount of time talking about why things happen within a game.”
Following Al Michaels as the full-time play-by-play announcer on Sunday Night Football was always the plan since he joined NBC Sports, according to a statement made to Deadline by NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua.
Developing his own style on the show was not something he was preoccupied with though, as his previous experience in other play-by-play roles had already given him the chance he needed to hone his craft.
While he respects the previous work Michaels did on the broadcasts, he seeks to make it his own and bring his own style to the broadcast. An example of such is the elimination of the infamous “Collinsworth Slide” at the start of broadcasts, which resulted from an opening visual containing solely then-play-by-play announcer Michaels talking to the audience about the game and the shot zooming out shortly thereafter when it was time to include the analyst.
Now, the broadcast begins with both the play-by-play announcer and color commentator on-screen, resulting in more air time for Collinsworth and the ability to quickly have a back-and-forth discussion.
“I’m not thinking, ‘Okay, I have to do this [in] this way because the person who was here before did it,’” Tirico said. “I don’t know why NBC hired me but I do know that they hired me for my skill set, not to mimic the person who came before me in any of the other jobs. Once you’re authentic in how you do a job, I think that’s the best way to approach following some of the great people in the history of our business no matter what their roles were.”
The program continues to put up stellar ratings with the new broadcast production team in place, posting season-high numbers in last week’s matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Buffalo Bills. In fact, it was the most watched Week 8 edition of the show since 2015 with a 10.6 rating and viewership of 19.62 million people, according to Nielsen.
Additionally, Tirico made history earlier in the season when he called his 200th NFL game, a notable career milestone and a testament to his hard work and alacrity towards taking chances fostered from the moment he first recalled becoming interested in sports media.
Overall, the entirety of the NFL broadcast landscape is doing well under new media rights agreements and commentary teams, an ideal time for the industry to meet and exceed expectations as football continues to sustain its popularity.
“The industry has never been better,” Tirico said. “There are so many good production people working behind the scenes. The quality of the broadcasts in terms of information has never been higher – I don’t think many broadcasts overindulge in analytics and stats but find the key ones. I think the fans are served pretty well in terms of entertainment and options too, things like a Manningcast or something like that. Those things are good.”
As time progresses, it remains imperative for sports media to remain at the forefront of innovation and continually possess a willingness and ability to change when necessary. In anticipating shifts in media notwithstanding their impact, the industry figures to more effectively serve the fan; that is, rather than reacting to changes after they occur.
“I would say that we continue to all use information technology to push the envelope and I think the result has been some really good television production,” Tirico said. “If you look back 15 years ago and look now, the depth and quality of what you see is really, really good. I think the state of covering football is in great shape and as another generation of announcers and producers and executives and leaders come in here, they’ve grown up around people pushing the envelope for better football broadcasts. I think you’re going to continue to see that going forward.”
In the days leading up to February 13, 2022 – which was dubbed by NBC as “Super Gold Sunday” since the network was broadcasting both the Olympics and the Super Bowl on the same day – Tirico pulled off an unprecedented broadcast feat.
For the two weeks leading up to “The Big Game,” he woke up in Beijing, China where he hosted primetime Winter Olympics coverage. Later in the week, he took a flight from Beijing to Los Angeles to host pregame and postgame coverage of Super Bowl LVI between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams.
On that same day, he hosted primetime Olympics coverage from outside of SoFi Stadium, giving him the feat of contributing to coverage of both major sporting events within the same 24-hour period. Once the Rams hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy, Tirico was on the way to the NBC Sports studios in Stamford, CT to complete his primetime Olympics hosting – meaning he traveled over 12,000 miles in a week and adjusted to a 13-hour time difference.
“That’s never happened before because there’s never been that confluence in the calendar with the Super Bowl and the Olympics on the same network on the same day,” Tirico said. “I don’t know how often it’s going to happen again but the chance to be the host for both of those was [a] once-in-a-lifetime day that I’ll cherish forever.”
As Tirico embarks on the second half of his 17th consecutive season calling primetime NFL games – now as the lead play-by-play announcer for Sunday Night Football – he looks back on his journey throughout sports media, grateful for the opportunities he has had and excited for what to come. One of those future endeavors, he hopes, is another chance to call basketball, the sport he originally began broadcasting while attending Syracuse University.
“I miss doing hoops games and basketball is the one I’ve never done that I’d love to do at some point,” Tirico expressed. “You’re at the point now where my career is so complete… and just to dabble in those and have the opportunity to do them would be cool for me.”
For aspiring professionals looking to work in sports media, Tirico advises them to be well-rounded and find niches in the industry that they are able to grow in and have a passion towards. Throughout his journey, Tirico was flexible and did not limit himself in what he was or was not able to do – a contributing reason as to why he has covered most professional sports in some capacity.
The reason broadcasters are ultimately chosen to be on-air not only pertains to their individual ability behind a microphone, but also in how they collaborate with their colleagues and work as a member of a team. Mastering those latter skills are just as essential to genuinely stand out from others vying for opportunities that can only be bestowed on one person.
“I think one of the most important things is being a good listener,” Tirico articulated. “I think our job is based on talking, but I think some of the most valuable things we need to do are listen. Listen to other broadcasts and hear what works; hear what you deem to be entertaining and informative…. If you’re lucky enough to not just like sports but love it, then this is as great a business as you could ever ask to be a part of.”
Derek Futterman is a features reporter for Barrett Sports Media. In addition, he serves as the production manager for the New York Islanders Radio Network and lead sports producer at NY2C. He has also worked on live game broadcasts for the Long Island Nets and New York Riptide. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks and wrote for The Long Island Herald. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
John Mamola Didn’t Overthink New WDAE Lineup
“I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things.”
Just over one month ago, WDAE in Tampa Bay reshuffled its daily line-up. The iHeartMedia station, programmed by John Mamola, moved the Ronnie and TKras program from mornings to afternoons and moved the midday Pat and Aaron show into mornings, while creating a new midday show centered around Jay Recher and producer-turned-host Zac Blobner.
The station let previous host Ian Beckles go as part of the reshuffling.
Barrett Sports Media caught up with Mamola this week to talk about the new line-up, the Tampa Bay market, the importance of developing from within and much more.
(Some of the answers have been edited for brevity and clarity)
BSM: It’s been just over a month since these changes took hold, what would you say is the overall response to them?
JM: Overall, really positive. We lost a really important piece and a pillar of the station in Ian Beckles, but with the moves that we did make, it was overall a pretty positive response from the listeners.
BSM: This wasn’t just creating one new show and calling it a day, this was moving multiple shows into new dayparts. How do you as a programmer get multiple hosts on board with re-arranging their schedules in that manner?
JM: My morning show went into afternoons so they didn’t have to wake up early, so they were very open and welcome to that. As for the original midday show, I knew they were early risers, so moving to mornings didn’t really affect their sleep schedules. And then my midday show, which is the new one, putting those two together is just a combination of some very young, hungry guys that always want new opportunity and are always looking to capitalize on opportunity.
So I wouldn’t say necessarily the convincing was the hard part because it just made a lot of sense for the people involved. The guys in the morning didn’t have to wake up early. The guys in the mornings are early risers anyway, and you get two young, hungry guys to take care of that opportunity so the convincing part was quite easy.
BSM: I got to know Zac Blobner a little bit on the Producers Podcast. He was highlighted a few episodes back and I thought really highly of him. Why was this the right time to get him into a full-time on-air role?
JM: Zac’s been doing some on-air stuff for on the weekends for a number of years. He had his own show and then we tried him out with a couple people on staff on Saturday mornings. That just didn’t necessarily work out but he has hosted a fantasy football show, which we actually air Orlando and in Miami as well as Tampa, live for the last five years.
So his on-air persona – he was a huge part of the morning show and the success of the Ronnie and TKras Show for their run in mornings. So if we were to elevate someone from inside, it just seemed like he was the right guy to elevate, and to pair with Jay Recher. It’s two young, hungry guys and they play well off each other. Some of the best highlights of my day are just sitting in their pre-show meetings with them and their producer Jon Dugas and just listening to how they collaborate together as a threesome on how to attack content, what sound to use, and what guests to book.
Really, it’s three producers in one room all talking about how to collaborate and do a show. Zac has earned the opportunity, just like Pat Donovan who was a producer first. Aaron Jacobson was a producer at first. It was Zac’s time and he’s done a tremendous job with it so far, albeit it’s only a month, but I totally expect it to be a very high ceiling for that show and for Zac in particular.
BSM: Some programmers believe on developing and promoting from within and some programmers believe in always looking for a splashy hire from the outside. Why is developing talent and promoting from within important to you and WDAE?
JM: I think it’s vital for every brand to have a good bench and to continue to find different ways to utilize that bench. Maybe not on the Monday through Friday, but definitely on the weekends in some capacity. And if not there, then on the digital product. You bring in certain guys to push everyone else. Zac was one of those guys. Jay Recher was one of those guys. Pat Donovan was one of those guys. Ronnie and TKras were two of those guys. I like to bring in guys that have a goal and want to push everyone to be better, not just themselves, but push everyone to be better. We have a tremendous team atmosphere on WDAE and we’ve had it for a number of years.
And when you do a lot of change, like we did about a month ago, you don’t want to keep it too foreign. You want to keep it with somebody that the audience knows and the audience has grown to know. Because the minute you start bringing in out of town people that nobody’s ever heard of or you start going to syndication instead of staying live and local, you start to lose your cume, and you start to lose that branding.
We like to put out as much as we can with whatever we have and I think having good, driven people in the hiring process, albeit I’ve hired a little young over my time here, it’s continued to push the narrative that we are continually growing from within and this was just the latest step of that. I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.
BSM: When you have new shows and shows in different dayparts, are you mentioning things like ratings and revenue to them? Or do you just tell them to build the shows and worry about it later?
JM: I don’t go book-to-book my talent, I just don’t. I think the more and more you dive into ratings, the more and more you overthink things. It’s important, but it’s not the biggest thing. For me, it’s the sound of the show. If the show sounds like it’s got energy, if it sounds like it’s progressing, if it sounds like we’re creating more attention by what we’re saying and we’re developing as talents and as a station, you feel it. You don’t need to see the numbers. The numbers are the numbers.
The system is great when it’s great but when it’s terrible, it’s still flawed. You know? I mean, Neilson ratings only get you so far but If I start seeing stream numbers go up, which I’ve seen, that’s a positive. If I see digital traffic or social media growth or something like that, that’s a metric I can track. Today I went to the gas station and they had our sports station on. If I can hear that, that means we’re doing something right. I don’t look book-to-book. I think PDs that dive into numbers and analytics and, and clocks…. Look, if you put out entertaining stuff, they’ll stick with you. And it starts with giving that confidence to your talent. And that’s how I program.
Brady Farkas is a sports radio professional with 5+ years of experience as a Program Director, On-Air Personality, Assistant Program Director and Producer in Burlington, VT and Albany, NY. He’s well versed in content creation, developing ideas to generate ratings and revenue, working in a team environment, and improving and growing digital content thru the use of social media, audio/video, and station websites. His primary goal is to host a daily sports talk program for a company/station that is dedicated to serving sports fans. You can find him on Twitter @WDEVRadioBrady and reach him by email at email@example.com.
Brock Huard Believes The Third Time’s The Charm For Brock and Salk
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity.”
It just felt right for Brock Huard when he stepped back behind the mic at Seattle Sports 710. On September 6th, he returned to the airwaves with longtime partner Mike Salk in morning drive. It’s been almost three months since Huard returned to radio, but it still feels as right as it did that early September morning. That’s because the business is in his blood.
“Once radio is in your blood, it doesn’t leave,” said Huard.
If you talk sports radio with Huard for any length of time, you won’t question his love or intelligence about the industry. He truly loves and understands the business. When you have a former player that has an incredible amount of passion for sports radio, you really have something. Seattle Sports 710 really has something with Huard and his return to the airwaves made locals in the Pacific Northwest very happy.
Brock & Salk haven’t had to deal with the challenges that new shows experience in the first few months. They’re not trying to establish a chemistry and flow together. They’ve had it after doing a show together twice before, plus a podcast the two hosted together.
“He and I had still done the podcast together for the last couple of years, and had a number of conversations over that time about how fun that hour and a half was, each and every week,” said Huard. “We never really missed a podcast and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Had we not done that podcast for two years, I don’t know if we would have come back for a third iteration. The third time has been the charm on this iteration.”
What makes the show isn’t just Huard being a former athlete or Salk being a very dynamic and experienced host. The two share an incredible chemistry that shines through on the air. However, Huard thinks there’s one reason in particular that the two mesh so well on air.
“Because we listen,” said Huard. “That’s number one. I will listen to so many radio shows when I’m on the road and I’m like, this is bad radio. And you can tell hosts aren’t listening to one another, they’re just waiting for their time to talk and they fill and it’s terrible.
“If I was a radio consultant, there’s two muscles you have to build constantly. A is listening and B is curiosity. I think for 14 years he’s still genuinely curious about me and how my mind works, world views, ideology and sports views. After 14 years, I’m equally interested in how he thinks and it’s very different than me.
“It was hard to be able to listen and respect one another, because we come from two totally different world views, in many ways. But at the same time, when you do, and you’re curious to listen to the other side and what they have to say, you create unique content.
“He and I used to have to build these big show sheets when we started and we still have structure and everyday there’s still show sheets, but a consultant by the name of Rick Scott told me this early on, he said you know your show will be good, when you don’t get to half of the stuff on your show sheet. And he was absolutely right 14 years ago.”
Co-hosting morning drive at Seattle Sports 710 isn’t the only gig Huard has in sports media. He’s also a college football analyst for FOX. He’ll be on the call Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game between USC and Utah. But everything ties back to radio for Huard and a recent experience on an airplane made him realize it again.
“I was sitting next to this very smart gentleman the other day on my trip home from college football, and he was crushing crossword puzzles like I’ve never seen before,” said Huard. “He’s a very successful attorney and you could see for him, that was such a tool to keep his mind sharp. For me, radio is the same thing. It’s been the best training ground for everything I do with media, especially television.
“If you can do live radio and equip your mind to listen and strengthen that listening muscle, while also creating content, it’s a pretty good active tool. It keeps my mind sharp and plays to my mind’s strengths, I think, with just how wackado I can be between my ears at times. If you have a tremendous partner that helps shape you, like Salk is to me, then it’s just addictive and gets in your blood and doesn’t leave.”
As it relates to radio, being a college football analyst has its perks, because of the access it gives Huard. Every week before calling a game, he gets production meetings with head coaches, which gives him insight that others may not have. It also awards Huard the opportunity to create relationships with coaches. But how much of what’s said does he feel like he can use on the game broadcast or his radio show?
“99.9 percent is used on the air, on the show and sometimes I gain insight and share it with coaches that I know to encourage them,” said Huard. “It baffles me how many times I will hear from my peers, oh, I hate these coaches meetings. I don’t get anything out of them. And I’m like, God bless you. I will have a career for the rest of my life if that’s the way you approach it. It’s the most valuable real estate we have. It’s a forum that nobody else has.
“Yeah, they have press conferences, but if you build true trust and relationship and confidence, they want to tell you their story. They want to share their team. I can’t tell you how many times content from those meetings comes to life in my sit downs with Pete Carroll or Jerry Dipoto, GM of the Mariners or Scott Servais, or on the air or off the air.”
Huard has an insight to college football that few in the Pacific Northwest has, but that doesn’t mean he and Salk will jam pack content from that sport into the show. The duo knows that Seattle cares about. Sure, there’s an interest for college football, but not anywhere near the hunger from Seahawks and Mariners content.
For example, Huard called the TCU vs. Baylor game two weeks ago, which featured one of the best endings in college football this year, when the Horned Frogs nailed a field goal as time expired. The call of the moment was spectacular and could be the shining moment of the season for a TCU team that looks destined for the College Football Playoff. On the Monday after, Huard and Salk made it a part of the show, but never had the intention of making it the majority of the show.
“Our audience is dominated by the Seahawks and Mariners,” said Huard. “That dominates 80 to 90 percent of our conversation. I would say lifestyle is probably the rest. For example, we played that highlight today four times over the course of the show. We rank things at the end of every show and it was my Top 5 games of my broadcast life in 14 years on the road and that was number 1.
“I often use conversations and things I learned from those games and players and relate them to the Seahawks and Mariners. Dave Aranda talked about living with expectations and how hard that is in our meeting on Friday. He said, you watch, TCU is going to have to live in an entirely different world, where you’re on the mountain top instead of climbing it. And then you relate that toward the Seahawks or the Rams this year.
“Inevitably, yes, those moments create content, either emotionally or football 101. Radio is all encompassing in that way. I never understand radio hosts who try to play it straight. I just don’t. I think it’s bad radio. You have to be willing to live your life and put your life out there, whether it’s good, bad or ugly. The more you do that, the more you attach yourself and connect with your audience.”
It feels like the third time is truly the charm for Huard and Salk. They listen, they have chemistry and the content is a refreshing mix of sports and lifestyle.
“He and I are not comedians,” said Huard. “We don’t play fake laugh tracks like others do. He and I will land way more on the analytical information side than maybe a consultant would tell us what morning radio people want. But I think where it cuts through is he and I put our lives out there. Our parenting success and failures. Relationship struggles, kids, sports, youth sports, that’s probably where we connect in a way that’s more lifestyle. That’s the word I would use.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
Chuck Swirsky Embodies ‘Always A Pleasure’
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV.”
It’s hard to imagine there are any more positive thinking people in the world than Chuck Swirsky. If you don’t believe me, just check out his daily tweets. Swirsky has a lot to be upbeat about, he’s doing what he’s always wanted to, and now he’s written a book.
“Always a Pleasure” is his creation, putting thoughts on paper, or iPad or whatever, about stories and people he’s encountered over the more than 40-years he’s been in the business.
The title is aptly accurate. Chuck is always a pleasure to be around and is one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met. He encourages those that need it. Swirsky always has time for people in the business and those trying to get into this crazy racket. I’ve seen and experienced it for myself, so trust me when I tell you, it’s the truth.
There are those that have worked multiple decades in play-by-play, and I’ll bet each and every one of them has been asked at some point, ‘hey, why don’t you write a book?’. Sounds easy enough, I’m sure. But when you really think about it, how can a person be expected to fit 40 plus years of work into a book that wouldn’t be the size of a dictionary?
More on that in a moment. I was wondering what makes someone in Swirsky’s position to write a book. So, I asked him. He outlined the main reason he decided to put pen to paper and tell some of his favorite stories and recall good memories.
“Over the past several years I was approached by several publishers and writers who were interested in detailing my journey in sports broadcasting, featuring my stops calling major college athletics and NBA basketball in addition to sports talk.” Swirsky told me. “I was reluctant to do so but a year ago I had a change of heart knowing 2022-23 Bulls season would be my 25th in the NBA, including my 2-thousandth NBA play-by-play game.”
Swirsky didn’t use a sportswriter or an author to tell his tale. “For years I have saved notes and decided to write the book myself, in my own words. I love my job. I have no desire to retire. I want to continue broadcasting Bulls game for many more years as long as my health and clarity allow me to do so.” he said.
“I love working with Bill Wennington and each and every day I have the same enthusiasm of calling a Bulls game like I did as a five-year-old child calling games off a TV. I have the utmost respect for the Reinsdorf family and our entire organization. I just felt this was the right time to write a book.”
I have followed Swirsky’s career closely and gotten to know him over the years. Growing up in Chicago, I was fortunate enough to hear him in his early days here, at the old WCFL (now ESPN 1000), where he became one of the pioneers of sports talk radio. He’s called games on radio and television.
For DePaul, Michigan, select White Sox games, the Raptors and now over the last nearly 2 decades, the Bulls. That’s a lot of experience and a lot of experiences for one person. It made ‘editing’ the book a little difficult.
“I could have easily written another 100 pages featuring additional sports personalities and stories.” Swirsky said. “But I elected to highlight specifics of a timeline allowing the reader to understand that my quest to reach a childhood goal of broadcasting NBA basketball was met with challenges, setbacks and ultimately persevering through hard work, focus, passion and positivity.”
Writing books can be a way to look back on a career. Swirsky if far from done. He never really reflected on things, because he was always looking forward. But the retrospective allowed him to realize a few things along the way.
“I would say this. I am my own worst critic. I very seldom look back on my career. While I was writing “Always A Pleasure” I had to stop and truly reflect how blessed I am to be in the position where I am today. I never take it for granted. Never have. Never will.” Swirsky said. “Nothing is easy. It’s hard. This business can be exhilarating yet so difficult. I never get too high nor too low although I’m very sensitive and my insecurities get the best of me which is probably not a good thing , especially in radio-television.”
In looking back there’s bound to be a few lessons learned from the past. Swirsky did find a few things in writing the book that he remembered, educated him along the way. “I learned that anyone who applies themselves, making a commitment to work on their skill set, and their weaknesses through hard work, dedication, passion and purpose, can be successful.” he said.
“For example, not every professional athlete is going to hit .330. Let’s say another player is hitting .240. What is keeping him in the big leagues? Is it his glove, his ability to play multiple positions? His character in the locker-room? The same principle is in effect in our industry. Maximize your strengths and do it with a great attitude, humility and kindness.”
Swirsky’s book details his interactions with some very familiar people in the business and the sports world. “I have plenty of stories featuring some of the biggest names in sports ranging from Hall of Fame baseball star Willie Mays who many consider perhaps the greatest player of all time to Kobe Bryant who left our world way too soon.” he says. “When you’ve been a professional broadcaster for 46 years, one meets many, many players, coaches, executives, media and sports personalities along the way.”
The one thing you can say about Swrisky, is he is real. There’s no pretense or facade. A genuine human being that is interested in what people have to say. Athletes, coaches, broadcasters and yes, even fans. His book has been reviewed by some of the greats. Mike Breen, Chris Bosh and even Steph Curry. Here’s the 2-time NBA MVP’s take on Swirsky and the book.
Having known Chuck since my days as a still-developing youth player in Toronto, where my dad was a member of the Raptors, I can attest to the fact that his passion for people and basketball is deep and sincere.
Chuck’s unique desire to mentor young people, especially minorities and those of different cultures and backgrounds, will help inspire those who share the same dreams, dreams that enabled him to persevere to the top of his profession.
I’m proud of Chuck, and excited that others can become enlightened by his exciting broadcasting journey, which includes nearly 25 years in the NBA and, of course, a trio of Curry family members shooting from the stars, just like him.
A book written by someone as accomplished in this industry as Swirsky draws interest because of who he is. But the Bulls’ play-by-play man is always thinking of others and trying to help where he can, just like Curry said. Along with stories, he lends his knowledge and relates it to those who are already in broadcasting and those trying to get in.
“I’m hoping those in our industry who read the book even those outside the radio-tv, new media field will come away knowing that perseverance is a powerful resource to help withstand the emotional heartache of rejection, disappointment and loneliness.” said Swirsky. He adds, “I have experienced everything. The good. The bad. The ugly. I’m talking all levels. My message is to stay true to your core values. In this case, my foundation is built on respect, kindness, honesty, sincerity and selflessness.”
Given the opportunity to beam about the finished product, Swirsky in typical fashion, deflected any praise. Simply saying, “I am very humbled and appreciative of the professionalism of the book’s publisher, Eckhartz Press. They allowed me to be me. That’s all I wanted. Mission accomplished. I am grateful.”
The entire industry should be grateful for people like Swirsky. There are so few in the business who are as kind and caring as he is. There are just as few people that take interest in others, and help mentor the next generation like Chuck. Inspiring stories, a career chronicle and life lessons, “Always a Pleasure” is going to be on my must-read list for the holidays. Congrats “Swirsk” keep up the great work.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.