It’s easy to like Greg Hill. The Boston sports radio host is not a me guy. Hill just won a Marconi Award for Major Market Personality of the Year, but he’s more eager to talk about his WEEI cast members than himself. He prefers to highlight Jermaine Wiggins, Courtney Cox and Chris Curtis. Hill is like a star quarterback that would rather talk about his teammates during the postgame interview.
It goes beyond his current cast as well. Hill has roots in rock radio and attributes a lot of his current success to the people that once surrounded him at WAAF. People like Lyndon Byers, Danielle Murr, Mike Hsu and Spaz all played major roles in his achievements. Hill is like a humble MVP that says he couldn’t have won the award without his teammates, the training staff, the secretary or the custodian.
At the risk of making Hill sound like a modern-day prophet, the greatest example of being team-oriented is Hill’s foundation. At the end of the year, “The Greg Hill Foundation” will have donated $25 million to help people in need.
It’s an interesting blend; a major part of Hill’s success is to make people laugh and do zany things. Then Hill turns around, puts his grown-up pants on and thinks about how he can assist others. He isn’t worried about his stardom or how many Twitter followers he can accumulate as much as he’s focused on using his platform to help other people. Again, Greg Hill is easy to like.
We chat about the single greatest thing about the Boston area and waking up before the crack of dawn for 33 years. We also talk about developing chemistry, blatant disregard for traffic laws, and possibly the greatest Bill Belichick catchphrase of all time. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: I don’t know if I should call you Greg Hill or Mr. Marconi. What do you think?
Greg Hill: [Laughs] I think Greg is fine.
BN: [Laughs] Okay, that works. Have you been tempted to tell your crew, it’s Mr. Marconi from now on?
GH: [Laughs] No, because I hear it every day from Chris Curtis and Wiggy and everybody else who has no problem taking a shot at me on the show about it. I hear it an awful lot during the day.
BN: That’s a major deal to win that award. What does it mean to you?
GH: Yeah, it’s amazing and it’s a really cool thing. It’s something that I never thought would happen to me in this business. When you go to that event and there’s so many talented people in this business and so many talented people that are in these categories, it’s a really cool thing.
BN: How would you describe what it felt like to be there? Did it feel cool, or kind of stuffy and ritzy? How did it feel to be there?
GH: We all work in radio so when they do these dinners some of us just show up for the free chicken or whatever. It was a really cool group of people and it was a lot of people. It was great to reconnect with some people that I haven’t seen in a long time that I worked together with in the past. Nick Cannon was there and I don’t think he got anybody pregnant during the ceremony. It was a really cool thing to be a part of and a really amazing night.
BN: You’ve talked about how much your old show cast at AAF has meant to your success at EEI. What conversations have you had with your former co-workers since winning a Marconi?
GH: Yeah, it was really cool. I worked with Lyndon Byers and with Danielle and with Mike Hsu and with Spaz for — in a lot of cases — well over 20 years. They all immediately sent me a text about it. I was so happy for them too because the way I look at it, every single person that I’ve ever worked with has in most cases been more talented than I am, so for all of those people and everybody who has — and that’s not only on air — like everybody that we get to work with traffic-wise, marketing-wise, promotions-wise, all those people, without them there’d be no finished product. To me, it’s their award. No bullshit, it belongs to everybody that I ever worked with.
BN: If you hear a sports radio host, can you tell that they once did rock radio? Is there something in their approach or the way they sound that lets you know they’ve done more than just sports talk?
GH: I don’t know. I think radio people are radio people. I think in sports radio, there’s a lot of former athletes, and they know their sport and other sports really well. Then I think there’s radio people who are really great at being on the radio and know radio well. I don’t know if I could hear the difference based on somebody who’s been in rock radio. You mean like, do they sound stoned or something?
BN: [Laughs] Yeah, like they start talking about the Patriots and then say here’s some Depeche Mode or something. No, just kind of like their delivery. Is there a different vibe? Can you tell if someone had more than just a strictly sports hosting background?
GH: Yeah, I think you can because I think maybe the nuances. They’re less numbers and stats and more trying to find some unique way of talking about it.
BN: What have you been able to grab from your rock background that has helped you flourish as a sports radio host?
GH: Well, for a long time I did a talk show on a rock station. For the last, whatever it was, 15 years or 12 years that I was there, we didn’t play music. I think music appeals to everybody universally, so we still found a way to work music and other things into a discussion. I guess from my perspective, that’s what I try to do here is to find ways to approach talking sports differently at times in a way that sometimes appeals to everybody.
BN: Are you happy you made the transition over to sports radio?
GH: Yeah, I love it. I never would’ve thought going into this that we would end up with a similar group of people who have great chemistry together as on the AAF show. I’m just so lucky that we have that same or better chemistry, me and Wiggy and Curtis and Courtney. Anytime you make the change, you’re nervous about it and you wonder what it’s going to be like, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s gone for almost four years now believe it or not.
BN: Do you think there’s anything that you can do to strengthen chemistry, or is it just one of those it’s there or it’s not type things?
GH: I think doing things together as a group away from the radio show can somewhat help strengthen it, but I think it’s something that is either there or not. And if it’s not there, then it’s glaring when you listen on the radio, or when you see it elsewhere.
BN: What’s something that Jermaine does well, as an ex-athlete, that would work well for other ex-athletes who are now hosting shows?
GH: I think he’s fearless. I think he’ll say anything without thinking before he says it. [Laughs] I think he’s really good at talking sports, talking Patriots. He’s really good at breaking it down so that everybody understands it. I think he’s great at doing that with everything. There’s no topic that you can’t bring up with him that he doesn’t have immediate input on every single day.
BN: How about Courtney, what would you say is her biggest strength?
GH: I think one thing that Courtney really brings to the show is that she’s way, way younger than all of us. She brings a different perspective from kind of where she is in life. A lot of the listeners are there, so I think that’s really important. She also loves this business. This is her first radio job, but loves the business, and has a really unique perspective when it comes to the way she looks at sports in this city.
BN: How does Curtis fit in with you guys and what does he provide that gives you the most value?
GH: He’s the most cynical and normally spot-on-with-his-cynicism person that I’ve ever worked with. He probably is arguably the wittiest person that I’ve ever worked with and that we have on the show. There’s probably nobody who’s better at making fun of me and having a lot of laughs at my expense than he is. He’s indispensable.
BN: What would you say to hosts that don’t want to be the butt of the joke and can’t laugh at themselves?
GH: I would say this would not be the business for you. I think you should do the laughing at yourself, and then you should be encouraging everybody else to laugh at you because it’s the greatest common denominator that there is.
BN: With the interviews you do with Bill Belichick, when it’s the commercial break right before the interview begins, what’s going through your mind and how are you feeling about the upcoming interview?
GH: [Laughs] I am always wondering which question that we’re going to ask will elicit the longest pause. I kind of have a little bit of internal fun with myself in trying to come up with the most ridiculous question for him, the one that will finally send him into a complete tailspin and make him leave radio for good. We’ve actually been able to, I don’t know, a handful of times get a legitimate laugh out of him, which I think is probably a victory for us.
BN: What’s your favorite memory or story from all of the interviews you’ve done with him?
GH: Just because it’s so Bill, I think that we asked him a dumb question about Thanksgiving sides last year. There was no pause and his immediate answer was basically a 20-second run-through on every kind of way in which potatoes could be prepared. Then at the end of it, he said, starch me up, which is like the least Bill Belichick thing I think Bill Belichick has ever said. And again, I’m on a sports station and that was my favorite Bill Belichick moment, so that explains me in a nutshell.
BN: Aww man, I love that story. How would you describe what it’s like doing radio in Boston to someone who doesn’t do radio in Boston?
GH: I’ve never done radio anywhere else, so I don’t know; I would imagine that it’s not that different. There’s so much passion for sports here, and I’m sure it’s like other cities where the fan base is passionate, Philadelphia, New York, those cities where people are so into it that you literally can get 10 calls on a preseason game for the Bruins because people are so into sports here. They also can turn on a dime. They can be miserable one minute, Patriots lose and that’s it, the season’s done. Then you turn around and Bailey Zappe’s going to save the franchise. It’s a great city to do radio in general, having not been anywhere else.
BN: For the longest time, I always thought Boston was just so hardcore about sports, they didn’t want to be bothered with anything that wasn’t sports. But now I don’t think that’s the case. Is it more that they’re open-minded to have a laugh and talk about something non-sports for a little while, as long as you get back to sports eventually?
GH: Yeah, I think we basically want to bitch about sports and then bitch about the weather. In the winter, it’s too cold and miserable. Then in the summer, it’s too hot. Then everybody wants to bitch about traffic and bitch about why the politicians are doing what they’re doing. It’s kind of like a non-stop thing. The topic that people are complaining about just changes every day.
BN: Is there anything like politics or something else that you have a big interest in, that you really don’t spend a whole lot of time on during your show?
GH: No, I mean I think we try to talk about everything. My intent is that what we’re going to talk about on any given day is what is on the mind of 65% of the people that might listen. It doesn’t matter to me what the topic is as long as people are interested in it, and we can try to find a way to laugh about it.
BN: It says on the WEEI website that “The Greg Hill Foundation” has donated over $10 million since 2010. That’s amazing, man. What does that mean to you considering everybody that you’ve been able to help through the foundation?
GH: We will actually, at the end of this year, we will have donated $25 million. That, to me, is like — all kidding aside about people here, complaining and being Massholes — that, to me, is the single greatest thing about this region, where I grew up and where I get to live, is how generous people are. Not only our foundation, but so many incredible charities that are here, whether it’s the Jimmy Fund. The listeners of this radio station come out every year and without fail, donate over $3 million to the Jimmy Fund during our radio telethon. It’s amazing to me how much people give here, how they do it over and over again, and how important it is to them to give within the community. It’s an amazing thing.
BN: That’s awesome. It’s a random comparison, but it makes me think of my girlfriend. She’s from Mexico City. How things are shown on TV, you might have this image in your mind that the cartel is on every block there. It’s not like that. If you apply that to Boston, the way that it’s portrayed is that everybody’s crotchety. Would generosity be the thing that exists but most people don’t see?
GH: Yeah, for sure. And zero respect for any kind of traffic laws whatsoever. I think those are the two things.
BN: [Laughs] So they do have respect for the traffic laws?
GH: [Laughs] No, absolutely not. There’s blatant disregard. It’s everybody for themselves when you hit the roads around here. But I think people here, they don’t waste a lot of time walking down the street, pleasantries. I think people are on their way to do something and busy, and maybe that’s the impression that you get from the outside. But we are the most generous people; I’d put us up against anybody in the country when it comes to how much we care about other people.
BN: I’m not jinxing it, but if today ended up being your last radio show, what would you miss most about it?
GH: Probably the opportunity to be able to use the radio audience to help other people. We’re given this incredible platform. It’s a privilege to be able to be on the radio or beyond, the social media platform or whatever, it’s a privilege to be able to have people who are interested in what you do. For me, if I wasn’t on the radio anymore, I’d missed the opportunity to be able to help other people through the foundation or just in talking about things that people need, things that people are doing to change what’s going on around us. That, to me, would be the biggest thing I think I’d miss.
BN: What do you think you wouldn’t miss?
GH: Did you think I was gonna say free food?
BN: [Laughs] No, it’s a blank canvas for me. I have no preconceived, ohh, he’s probably gonna say this. Wherever it goes, it goes, man. It’s radio. What would you miss the least about it?
GH: Definitely the hours I think.
BN: What’s the alarm clock set on?
GH: 4:30. And only for like the last 33 years. So I wouldn’t mind sleeping in at some point in my life.
BN: Can you sleep in on the weekends?
GH: Yeah, if you call like 8:30 sleeping in. Yes, I guess.
BN: In terms of the future, let’s say over the next five years, what would you want it to look like?
GH: Radio is my passion. I can’t see not working in this business probably ever. I think the place that I’m at now, where the radio station is, is really exciting. The fact that we have the chemistry that we have on the show, and that we all like going to work with each other, like being in there for 20 hours a week, and whatever we do afterwards. I think it’s a place that I’d like to be at for a while. There’s a lot of cool stuff that we are doing, and that we can do, and that we should keep doing.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.