every day of my life. For anyone who remembers the expansion process and poor Herb Belgrad it doesn’t take much to view the Ravens as some sort of divine act of God for Baltimore, especially considering the slaughter of the baseball team here over the last 15 years.
But before the Ravens came, the first few years on the radio I would always hear the demons of the editors at The Sun telling me to “not be a fan.” They told me it would wreck my career telling people that I wanted the Orioles to win or “cheerleading” as they liked to call it.
And a lot of those people I worked with really didn’t love sports, which I thought was kind of sad.
When I left The Sun on Jan. 15, 1992, I turned to radio to feed my 7-year old son and learned the sales, marketing and promotional aspects of this business from Paul Kopelke, who still does a bunch of our sales and radio work here at WNST 18 years later. Kopelke is solely responsible for keeping me on the radio and giving me an opportunity to pursue my dream as a local sports aficionado and entrepreneur.
Even though I was as big of a sports fan and expert as you’d find in 1992 and I was honed with all of the old-world journalism skills taught by some incredible people, the only sports radio I had ever really listened to was an occasional Phil Wood 10 p.m. show on WCAO or WCBM in the 1980s. My Pop listened to Charley Eckman in the 1970s but I was too young to participate in sports radio listening at that point. I was far more likely to watch the TV news or read the newspaper than I was to listen to sports radio of any kind even though we listened to the games every night. I usually fell asleep before the post-game show, which my Pop fell asleep to most nights with his white transistor radio buzzing along with his wall-rattling snores.
The real reason I didn’t listen to local sports radio when I got older and was working at The Evening Sun in my teens? I thought the talent here sucked. Every once in a while when I was riding shotgun with Phil Jackman en route to the Capital Centre I’d tune into sports radio in both directions. Jackman was a junkie for it, hence the legend of the “TV Repairman.”
So, below, and for the rest of this five-part piece, think of me as a self-appointed “TV and Radio and Media repairman.” None of my observations or opinions are meant to be “low blows” or “cheap shots” or “personal attacks.” It strictly about what I know and what I see and hear and read when I consume the content provided buy the competitors in my industry.
Back in 1992 when I entered the “radio game” in Baltimore at WITH-AM 1230 with Kenny Albert as a sidekick, there were only two other shows in town. Stan Charles was on 10-1 on WCBM. And “Sportsline” was on WBAL from 6 to 8 p.m. with Jeff Rimer.
I thought Stan Charles was awful. I felt that Jeff Rimer was like a sick joke. He knew NOTHING about baseball and talked hockey in a market that didn’t like hockey. And Benny The Fan and the older guys sat around talking about boxers from the 1950’s who weren’t relevant or interesting. No offense to Rex Barney, who was a sweet old guy, but I never really enjoyed listening to his radio show. It made old-fashioned seem old-fashioned.
Phil Wood, who was the only sports talk host I ever listened to and really enjoyed in the late 1980s, was sort of on and off the radio in those days. Other than his geeky fascination with the Washington Senators, he was a pleasure to listen to and well-informed about baseball.
In early 1992, I got into this radio thing by sheer accident. I NEVER wanted to be a “radio host” or be associated with radio, really. To this day, I’m still not a sportstalk listener to anything beyond my own product because quite frankly I’m not that fascinated with anything I hear. I know how little most of the competitors know about sports and life and business and strategy and coaching because I’ve talked with them in private conversations for most of my adult life. The only guy I ever get into even reasonably interesting and heated conversations about these subjects with is Peter Schmuck, who I think is a great guy. I also think Mark Viviano is a great guy, if that matters?
As a sports talk show host, I always felt like I needed to know more about sports than anyone else. It was the sole job description and as a fan and a young reporter, I thought that just meant the game strategy, which is only a small part of the bigger picture in 2010. I’ve met a lot of “bartender” sports radio people over the years. They are what they are. They generally know nothing about the cap, the agents, the money, the TV/marketing deals, the lifestyle of the modern athlete, the philosophy of leadership, coaching, strategy, etc. And they certainly have no clue about the business aspects or the internal etiquette of how the game is played behind the scenes.
In general, they’re glorified bartenders. No offense, but I know a LOT more about sports and business and how this works than just about anyone in Baltimore, which is why you’re reading this right now. I’ve dedicated the last 26 years of my life to this business, career and Baltimore sports.
Here’s a mini-sampling of the topics that need to be fully understand to be a competent sports media “expert” in 2010:
Television. Revenue. Sponsorships. Old media. Multimedia. New media. Newspapers. Radio. Contracts. Unions. Drafts. Rules. Grudges. Drama. Law. Jurisprudence. Ticket sales. Suite sales. Players vs. Ownership reality. Owners meetings. Commissioners. Public relations. Egos and image. Wives and parents and families. Agents. Salary caps. Ettiquette. Scouts. Personnel directors. Coaches. Assistant coaches. Chaplains. Trainers. Strength coaches. Wealthy owners. Rival leagues. Cheerleaders. Business of sports.
Oh, and that doesn’t even include dealing with the most ignorant and abusive fans, most of whom know very little about how all of this works and rely on guys like me to educate them without insulting them.
You have to know about ALL of this at a high level for me to have any respect for you or to listen to you on the radio or to read your writing or observations on the web. To borrow a phrase from my Pop in Dundalk, “If you don’t know about these then you don’t know s&%t about sports.”
Oh, and then there’s the actual games themselves. And strategies and breaking down a 4-3 defense and explaining Cover 2. Or discussing the Hall of Fame merits of Roberto Alomar or Shannon Sharpe? Or why a manager is pulling a pitcher or pinch-hitting late in a game?
Doing sports radio or writing intelligently about these issues isn’t something you can fake. You either know it, or you don’t. Ask any of the contestants in any of the “So you wanna be a sports media expert” contests that I’ve held whether I’m coy about imparting the kind of wisdom necessary to do sports radio at a world-class level. I’ve handed some of our contestants a 20-question survey that has befuddled them and would still leave Anita Marks’ head in a swirl. It takes me roughly 5 minutes to find out whether you’re full of manure. And much like American Idol auditions, I instantly become the Simon Cowell and the contestants become quite irate when you tell them they’re not qualified to work at WNST because they can’t even name the defensive coordinator of the Ravens and they expect me to make them an overnight $100,000 a year radio star.
But this has evolved over the last 20 years as the medium has moved from bartenders with good recall doing sports radio to the entire knowledge of the sports world becoming available on a google or wikipedia search from a mobile device.
The days of doing “Stump The Schwab” or “Trivia Monday” are over. Before the internet, many sports talk show hosts could take the easy out on a slow day and do a “game show” format where the callers call in