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Gary Parrish Walked Away From 92.9 ESPN With No Regrets

“I don’t walk away easily, because I wasn’t looking to leave. I was just presented with an opportunity where I felt like I needed to go.”

Tyler McComas

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It’s Friday night December 23rd in the 92.9 ESPN studios in Memphis and the clock is just seconds away from turning to 6:00, which will signal the end of the local shows for the day on the station. Gary Parrish is behind the mic, just like he’s been for the 13 previous years. It’s time for his final send off of the night before the holiday break. But this send off isn’t like any of the others over the previous 13 years. That’s because it’s his final send off on 92.9 ESPN.

“Everybody enjoy the holiday and the rest of 2022,” Parrish says. “I’m going to try and do the same. I’ll catch up with you down the road. Until then, be careful, be kind, be good.”

And just like that, The Gary Parrish Show is no more on 92.9 ESPN. An incredibly successful 13-year run has come to an end on a station he helped build. Sure, he’s sad about it. Parrish wasn’t looking to leave the station, and 92.9 ESPN wasn’t looking to get rid of him. He just finally got an offer he couldn’t turn down. Starting in 2023, The Gary Parrish Show will be on Grind City Media in Memphis. 

“I had talked to Grind City Media previously and I’m friends with most of the people over there,” said Parrish. “John Pugliese who sort of runs the whole thing over there, he and I have been friends for a while. Chris Vernon is one of my closest friends forever and they approached me previously when my contact with 92.9 was about to expire, and this was maybe three years ago. I thought the right thing to do at that time was to stay at 92.9.

“I respectfully passed on the opportunity then, but when my contract was about to come up again, I was approached again, and this time, and I hope it makes sense, I can still feel like it was right to pass last time, but felt like it would have been wrong to pass this time. The timing just felt right.”

Being at 92.9 ESPN for 13 years, there were multiple times when Parrish’s contract was up for renewal. Every time his contract was up, he had options to do other things or take the radio show to a bigger market. An opportunity to do a national show was even an offer he received. Every time that happened, Parrish would sit down with his wife and discuss the options on the table. But everytime they came to the same conclusion. They wanted to stay in Memphis at 92.9 ESPN and continue The Gary Parrish Show. That’s because he and his family loved the station and the city of Memphis. 

Those feelings haven’t changed, the Parrish family just finally decided it was time to make the move to Grind City Media. It was the right time. 

“This is nothing about 92.9,” said Parrish. “I hope it’s clear I was happy there, felt appreciated there, felt wanted there, and they did everything they could responsibly do to try to convince me to stay. Because I think everyone understands the score, we depart from one another on the greatest of terms. There’s no animosity. Everybody just understands it was probably time for me to move on to something new.

“I’m excited to do this, while also recognizing I’m walking away from something that we built basically from nothing into one of the more successful sports radio stations in the country. Walking away from that, there’s feelings connected to that.

“I don’t walk away easily, because I wasn’t looking to leave. I was just presented with an opportunity where I felt like I needed to go.”

What was it about Grind City Media that Parrish felt he couldn’t pass up? He was presented with multiple other opportunities before and turned them down, including one with Grind City Media in the past. What was the thing that made him want to chase a new venture? 

“There are a lot of things that factored into me making this move now,” said Parrish. “None of which are an indictment of 92.9. I loved working there through the very last day. I wasn’t looking to leave. I was happy doing what I was doing. I felt appreciated and I was flattered by every attempt 92.9 made to keep me. But the truth is that, in 13 years, I had done just about all you can do in that role and pretty much stretched it as far as it can be stretched.

“So my family and I just felt like it was the right time to make this move and try something new, in part because this was the second time the Grizzlies approached me, and, frankly, I wasn’t comfortable passing again and possibly missing out on a career-changing opportunity because who knows if they’d ever ask a third time?

“Sometimes in life you have to give up something you love to pursue something that seems like the next step, and that’s more or less what I’ve done here. I will miss being at 92.9, miss being on a big FM signal in my hometown. I’m proud of what I accomplished there. It wasn’t an easy thing to walk away from. But the Grizzlies presented an incredible opportunity that, like I’ve previously said, was just too good and intriguing for me and my family to pass on, and now I’m super-excited to attack this new challenge and see how far we can take it.”

Again, this wasn’t an easy decision for Parrish. He knows what he’s leaving behind at 92.9 ESPN. Simply put, he’s leaving a drive time show on an FM station in a city he loves, where his ratings — and every other show on the station — does really well. That’s not easy to leave, especially when you’ve been a huge part of that success, which has included a couple of Marconi nominations for the station. Parrish is leaving the station on the best of terms. During his last show he admitted he didn’t shed tears as much as he laughed and smiled. 

His last radio show was Friday, so he’s had close to a week to reflect on his time at 92.9 ESPN. As he’s done that, he’s figured out what he’s most proud of. 

“I am proud that Dan Barron was willing to take a chance on me even though I wasn’t an established or successful solo radio host,” Parrish said. “I had literally never hosted my own radio show. I had done two years of radio with a co-host, Geoff Calkins. When we decided to launch this show, Jeff could not do afternoons. Just for life reasons, he couldn’t. Dan Barron wanted the first show on 92.9 to be an afternoon show, because he had just flipped it from a rock station.”

“Initially they were just running national ESPN shows and when we convinced Dan to take a shot on us, Jeff couldn’t do afternoons and Dan wanted afternoons, so that meant the only real option was to let Gary host afternoons by himself. I decided to do it, with Brad Carson as my producer. Not only did Brad and I not know each other, we didn’t even know of each other. We start from that place, with no idea if it would work.

“I remember Dan Barron sitting down with me and saying ‘Hey, we have this strong FM signal, I believe in you’. I asked what the expectations were and we set some goals. If we can ever get a 4 share in this time slot from 4-6, wow, that would really be unprecedented in the Memphis market and evident that this is going to work.

“I don’t say this for any other reason than to tell the story, but we had got to a point where we had 19, 20, 21 shares. We consistently lived in the high teens and got into the 20’s, every now and then. And that was just my show from 4:00-6:00 PM, everything else was national. And then we started adding shows and now 92.9 is local from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

“I believe if you pull the numbers it’s one of the most consistently highly rated sports talk stations in the entire country. And I’m proud of that. Whatever role I’ve played in that, I’m proud. I’ll still be a listener of the station.”

The time and building of The Gary Parrish Show might be changing in 2023, but his daily grind won’t be. That’s because he’ll still be commuting back and forth to New York on a regular basis for his college basketball duties with CBS Sports. That’s also one of the reasons why the new show on Grind City Media won’t officially air until April. He wants to let the college basketball season pass, before he fully dives in to five weekday shows on his new platform

“That’s one of the priorities,” said Parrish. “If you employ me, you have to know CBS is the priority. I want to really give 92.9 a lot of credit for that. I am traveling a lot and my schedule is hectic, particularly in January, February, and March. You have to deal with a lot to have me employed. They always did it with a smile, enthusiasm, never with a complaint. Grind City Media understands that my primary job is covering college basketball for CBS Sports. That is among the reasons, not the single reason, but we’re going to launch the show April 10th. That is the Monday after the National Championship Game.

“The reason is to give us time to build it, plan it and hire the people. But also to get me through this part of my schedule so that when we start, I am in studio inside FedExForum everyday. So it looks and feels the same everyday. And then going forward, we will adjust and I will be doing shows from a hotel or studio in New York City, but we didn’t want to start with me not being in studio. When we’re trying to get people to latch on, it’s consistent and sounds the same every time.”

Parrish is a broadcasting pro that’s consistently registered strong ratings, but moving the show to Grind City Media is going to be a lot different than hosting a radio show. For starters, there’s a video component to his new show, which will make things drastically different. The good thing is Parrish isn’t approaching the new venture with arrogance. Quite the opposite, actually.

He knows he needs to talk to others that have been in this space, to identify how to handle it. Needless to say, The Gary Parrish Show will be different. But how different? Parrish doesn’t know the answer to that yet. 

“Well for one, I’m kind of a weirdo, and since I do the show by myself, I don’t like lights,” laughed Parrish. “I like darkness and working in the dark. First and foremost I’m going to have to turn the lights on because there’s a video component to this. It’ll be a well-lit Gary Parrish Show which is not something I’ve done in years. And then, beyond that, If I’m being completely honest, I don’t know. There’s no urgency to figure it out today, so I haven’t thought about it much.”

“I think I need to be smart enough to know this is something different. I’ll still be me and tell the same kind of stories and do a lot of the same things, but I think this type of show is different from radio, in that most people may listen after the fact and not see or hear it live. I’ll talk to people who have been successful with the video component, such as Chris Vernon and Jessica Benson and other people who’ve done audio and video shows that live on apps and the internet.

“I want to talk to people who are more successful than I and figure it out. I’m operating with the understanding that I need to do some things differently, but exactly what those things are, I’m not entirely sure.”

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BSM Writers

NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs

Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?

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Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.

Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.

The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.

Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.

Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.

So how did NBC get here?

Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.

Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.

Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.

But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.

As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.

Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.

NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.

Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.

But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?

Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)

The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.

Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?

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BSM Writers

Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice

“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”

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I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.

Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.

On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.

All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.

It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.

Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.

How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.

On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night. 

Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night. 

To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.

Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.

Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not. 

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BSM Writers

Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore

“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”

Demetri Ravanos

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One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.

The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.

Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.

But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.

I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.

Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.

How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.

Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.

This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.

Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.

On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.

At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.

Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.

Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?

I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.

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