“I knew when I was 7 years old what I wanted to be when I grew up with all the specificity of I wanted to be the announcer for the Dodgers.” Steiner continues, “The big thing, more than anything else, was hearing this disembodied voice coming out of the speaker and beneath the voice you could hear the crowd cheering, you could hear the guy selling, ‘Peanuts! Popcorn!’ and I’m just sitting there like a dopey little kid listening and listening and listening. I think it was my Mom who said, ‘You know that’s his job.’ And I said, ‘You’re kidding me!’”
This season marks Steiner’s seventh in the Los Angeles Dodgers radio booth, which he will share again this season with Vin Scully, who is entering his 62nd season behind the microphone.
Paul Keels grew up in Cincinnati in the late-60’s listening to Jim Mcintyre call Reds games alongside the then-recently retired Reds lefty Joe Nuxhall. He also recalls Dom Valentino describing the action for the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals games and Marv Holman providing play-by-play for Ohio State football.
“Just being able to listen to the games on radio, keep up and learn about the sport, learn about athletes and keep track of what was going on kind of gave me a great feeling of how wonderful it was to have something provided to you almost as if you were at the event. It gave me the feeling: wouldn’t that be nice to be able to be the go-between for other people like others had been for myself and my brothers while we growing up listening?”
Keels is in his 32nd year of broadcasting including stints with the Reds, Bearcats, Bengals, Pistons and he is in his 12th season as the voice of the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Spero Dedes was a huge Knicks fan as a kid and used to tune into Mike Breen’s call of the games.
“I recall at some point I stopped paying attention to what was happening in the game and started paying more attention to what the announcers were saying. My passion for play-by-play started there and just grew.”
I talked to Steiner, Keels and Dedes for the Larry Gifford Media “Let’s Talk About It” newsletter to get a better idea of what it takes to be a successful play-by-play announcer. The entire interviews are available as podcast downloads at the conclusion of this story.
GIFFORD: All three men were inspired to be play by play announcers when they were young fans and listeners. So, I asked them what their obligation to the fan is going into each game.
STEINER: Tell the story as truthfully and accurately and photogenically as you can on the radio. You have to paint the picture, because there is someone stuck on the freeway, there’s someone working in a kitchen and (that person) doesn’t have access to television. I have to “A” paint a picture and “B” be as accurate and precise as I can be.
KEELS: When you’re describing a game, it’s about what’s going on, on the field. It’s not about you; it’s about the listeners, players and coaches on the field. Be mindful of those people who are listening. They can’t see what you.re seeing and you need to describe it as best as possible so they can.
DEDES: The obligation is to give as much information as we can and present it in a way that is unique. With the access we have to the coaches and players every day, we can go into the locker room, talk to the guys, we.re on the airplanes with them, we travel with them on the road; I think our obligation is to give them that behind the scenes look and take advantage of the access that we have.
GIFF: All three guys talked about how important preparation is. They all read newspapers, websites, blogs, stat sheets, and media guides. They all talk to players, coaches and other announcers to get information. So, what are they looking for?
DEDES: Just stuff that stands out. I’ve never been a numbers-driven play-by-play guy. I think numbers work better on TV than they do on radio. I try to look for story ideas, little nuggets we can play into the broadcast in a conversational way. Throwing numbers out there on radio…it doesn’t translate as much.
KEELS: It starts with trying to get as much biographical information (on the opposing team) and organize that in a way that’s suitable. Try and, as much as possible, view the opposing team on TV at least once or twice. DVR has been a great thing because you save some of these games and watch them over and over to get more familiar with people. And as much as possible talk with the other team’s radio announcers, sports information directors and pick up what you can and read sports pages and newspapers that cover the teams on the Internet. And have all of that as best you can at your disposal while the game’s going on.
STEINER: (Listen: Charley Steiner No Sh-t Philosophy) I have a “no sh-t” philosophy. Well, what’s that? “A” I don’t want to put any sh-t on the air. And “B” any stuff I put on the air I want to get a reaction from the fans, “no sh-t?” That’s it. You want to be relevant. You don’t want to beat folks over the head with inane statistics and inane chatter; make it interesting, make it entertaining. At the end of the day – especially broadcasting a baseball game – make it fun.
GIFF: What advice do the these three pros have for aspiring play-by-play broadcasters?
KEELS: Be mindful of the people you work with. Try not to burn bridges, but do the best at the job you have. Don’t always be putting more effort into the job you want that’s not there in the moment than the job you have in the present time.
DEDES: Try to figure out what your strength is early and try to develop that talent or skill as best you can. And then, once you establish that, you want to become versatile. Writing is imperative, I think, to anything in this field that you want to do; even as a play-by-play guy. I like to sometimes write something that I’m going to say…one of our game opens. You always have to be able to write. During the course of a game you want to cap a call with one phrase or one line of commentary and those are writing skills. Maybe not pen to paper writing skills, but skills with words. You have to convey through the spoken word during play-by-play.
STEINER: Our business is one of the very few on Earth where it is a prerequisite that you must have fun. If you don’t have fun, sure as hell your audience won’t. Leave your issues at home if you have any. Leave your ego at the door if you have some. Go out and a call a game. If you can go home at the end of the day, look at yourself in the mirror and say I told them the best story I could today and go again tomorrow. Mission accomplished. It’s been a good day.
The podcasts of my interviews with Paul Keels, Charley Steiner and Spero Dedes are available for download and include more details on how they prepare for each game. Plus, Charley talks about eating dinner each night with Vin Scully and what it was like to create an iconic “This is SportsCenter” commercial. Spero discusses the most intimidating moment of his career — taking over the legendary Lakers announcer Chick Hearn.
Dodgers radio play-by-play announcer Charley Steiner was seven years old when he first heard Vin Scully calling Brooklyn Dodgers baseball games while growing up in New York. Today, he is friends and colleagues with Scully and has dinner with him before every Dodgers home game.
“I pinch myself. It can’t be much cooler than this.”
In an interview with Larry Gifford Media, Steiner’s voice is filled with all the excitement of the same little boy who huddled around an over-sized Zenith radio in his Mom’s kitchen to listen to Scully’s poetic description of the Dodgers all those years ago. And at times, Steiner finds it hard to put what it means to him into words.
“It’s one of those things where I can’t tell you how lucky I am to have done what I’ve done, to end up where I have been and to have dinner with whom I have dinner. It’s…it’s…it’s….it’s Alice in Wonderland.”
“I freely admit I get to play pepper with Babe Ruth every day. It ain’t bad.”
Every Dodgers home game, Steiner, Scully, Rick Monday and Billy Delury sit down at the same table, in the same seats at the same time (“5:30, like clockwork”) at Dodgers Stadium. For 45 minutes, the four men talk about the issues of the day.
“Vin reads every section of the newspaper every day. So we will spend as much time talking before a game about life, about a political issue or whatever, as well as how well ‘he’ hung the curve ball in the sixth inning last night.”
Spending so much time with Scully has helped Steiner develop a wicked good impersonation of the Hall of Fame announcer. His voice jumps from the depths of his belly to the top of his nose and dances out of his mouth like ice cream cone dripping down your hand on a hot summer day. Imitation is the finest form of flattery and Steiner doesn’t hold back.
Steiner continues, “You know that old sports cliché: the game speeds up for young guys and slows up for veterans? The game comes slow to him. I mean that in the highest regard. His brain is working a mile a minute. It’s like Keanu Reeves’ character in Matrix, deflecting bullets in slow motion, that’s Vin!”
The lessons learned from Scully for Steiner reach far beyond the broadcast booth.
“I’ve learned as much off the air and how he conducts himself as I have on the air. There’s a sense of composure both on and off the air. There is a separation between the on-air persona and who you are and being able to leave that other stuff at the door when the game begins.”
On March 31st, Steiner will be in the booth as Scully opens his 62nd season as the voice of the Dodgers. Scully will call the first three and last three innings on Talk Radio 790, KABC radio in Los Angeles, with Steiner and Monday doing the middle three innings.
Charley Steiner on Vin Scully - Listen to Steiner’s comments on Scully
Charley Steiner Interview Podcast-40 minutes - Listen to complete interview with Steiner
We are more than 20 months away from the next Presidential election, yet yesterday there was Rush Limbaugh on the radio calming down panicked callers about a week-old story that Donald Trump may throw his hat into the ring as a Republican.
With all the assurance of a parent consoling a scared child, Rush’s words hugged his listeners, “Folks, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He hasn’t announced he’s running.”
Though you couldn’t see it, there’s little doubt Rush had a delightful glint in his eye and was wearing a cat-ate-the-canary smile. Rush knows the Presidential election will feed his show for years and he embraces it like a long-lost friend.
On the flip-side, before the Carmelo Anthony trade with the Knicks went down, speculation on sports talk radio was hot and heavy. As the trade talks lingered, the hosts got bored. I heard multiple hosts, locally and nationally, complaining that it was taking too long for it to happen.
One host said, “Can we put the Carmelo contract talk behind us. Just let me know where he’s going and when.”
Imagine if Rush Limbaugh took that attitude with politics;
“Folks, I don’t care who MIGHT be President. Wake me up when the election is over.” Said a Bizarro-World’s Rush Limbaugh.
A good rule of thumb is that once you start getting bored with a story, your audience is just getting interested in it. When the station is getting complaint calls, the P1s (heaviest listeners) are ready to move on, but the casual and new listeners are just starting to pay attention. Keep talking about it, exploring new angles, finding different discussion points, interesting guests and keep fanning the flames of speculation.
Never apologize for talking about a story so much. Never refer to it as “beating a dead horse.” Never stop playing the hit, because you’re bored with it. These lingering stories are the life blood of sports talk. The potential labor lockouts in the NFL and NBA are going to be stories that need to be talked about for months to come. These types of stories are sports radio gifts not albatrosses.
Talkers Magazine is out with its HEAVY 100 talk show hosts for 2011. The criteria are subjective, but they use a combination of hard and soft factors for evaluating candidates including; courage, effort, impact, longevity, potential, ratings, recognition, revenue, service, talent and unique-ness. Here’s the breakdown for sports hosts.
#36 Jim Rome (Premiere)
#38 Mike Francesa (WFAN)
#49 Mike & Mike (ESPN)
#67 Glen Ordway (WEEI)
#88 The Sports Junkies (WJFK)
Determining a list like this is hard. It’s subjective. There are no “right” answers. But, based on this list, I believe the definition of what makes a sports talk radio host and show great is too narrow. The list leans awfully far to the East coast and half the list feels like a lifetime achievement award instead of a true representation of what is good sports talk radio in 2011. Yes, I’m looking at you Jim Rome.
I don’t believe Jim Rome deserves such a high ranking. Yes, I know he was a trail-blazer, he created a unique style and has longevity. Great, put him in the hall of fame. Sports talk has evolved behind his schtick and as far as I can tell he’s doing the same show he did in 1997. He’s the second best show in our format?
Here is another question. Are there really only six sports radio hosts worthy of the Talkers 100? There are nearly 700 sports talk stations nationwide and three major sports radio networks that crank out programming 24/7. Yes, not every sports radio host is of the caliber of Rush Limbaugh or Phil Hendrie, but sports hosts are entertaining and relevant enough to be worthy of more than 6% of the list. By my math, if there are 2200 talk stations and 700 sports stations, sports talkers should make up about 24% of the list.
It’s mind-numbing to me that Colin Cowherd, Dan Patrick, and Angelo Cataldi are also-ran on this list. And where are Mitch Levy from Seattle, Gambo & Ash in Phoenix, Herbstreit, Spielman & Hooley in Columbus, Walddle & Silvy, Mike North or the Afternoon Saloon in Chicago and others? These shows are great.
There are a lot of great sports radio talent omitted from this list that deserve recognition. Who would you add and how would rank ‘em?
Thanks to Perry Simon at AllAccess.com for some of the stats cited.
OTHERS (in alphabetical order) Who made the Talkers 250
- Ralph Barbieri & Tom Tolbert (KNBR)
- Joe Benigno & Evan Roberts (WFAN)
- Angelo Cataldi (WIP)
- Colin Cowherd (ESPN)
- Dennis & Callahan (WEEI)
- George Dunham & Craig Miller (KTCK)
- Howard Eskin (WIP)
- JT The Brick ( Fox Sports Radio)
- Dan LeBatard (WAXY)
- Mason & Ireland (KSPN)
- Loose Cannons (Fox Sports Radio)
- Petros & Money (Fox Sports Radio)
- Dan Patrick (Premiere)
- George Plaster (WGFX)
- Sid Rosenberg (WQAM)
- Steve Somers (WFAN0
- Two Live Stews (WQXI)
- Dan Sileo (WDAE)
- Mike Valenti & Terry Foster (WXYT)
- Scott Van Pelt & Ryen Russillo (ESPN)
The Life is good Company – known for t-shirts and hats that spread the power of optimism – is extending its brand through radio. Unfortunately, Life is good is not buying radio advertising, but instead creating its’ own radio station.
Life is good radio can be found on the Life is good homepage (www.lifeisgood.com) and heard in Life is good company-owned retail locations. The programming will be eclectic, stemming from a variety of genres and era and specifically selected to reflect the company’s positive outlook. Users will also be able to download tracks from the Life is good playlist directly from Amazon and iTunes.
So why can’t your radio station create a unique stream of content exclusively for one of your advertisers reflecting the advertisers brand and values? It can. Think of the promotional opportunities, the in-store exposure, and the client satisfaction.
Why is Life is good doing this?
“Our mission has always been to spread the power of optimism,” said Bert Jacobs, Chief Executive Optimist of Life is good. “Nothing does that like great music. Life is good Radio is another way for us to bring good people together.”
The company also discovered it had a huge following of music lovers who were willing to rally behind a cause when it held a two-day, live music festival last summer; it brought 25,000 fans together in Boston with acts like Jason Mraz, Ben Harper and Ziggy Marley and raised over $724,000 for The Life is good Kids Foundation. Organizers are already planning the 2011 Life is good festival, where live performances will be recorded and played exclusively on Life is good radio.
So I ask again, do you see Life is good radio as a threat or an opportunity?
By now you’ve seen the coverage of Charlie Sheen on the Dan Patrick Show. It was on CNN, Fox News, Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, Entertainment Tonight, USA Today, New York Post, LA Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Times of India to name a few. Not bad exposure for The Dan Patrick Show on one guest.
So how’d they book him? They asked.
My sources say the Danettes had Charlie’s number from a previous appearance, gave him a ring, and asked if he’d come on the show. He said yes.
So what are the lessons to be learned from Charlie Sheen?
- Ask for what you want. Sometimes the biggest obstacle in front of your success is just asking for what you want; asking a guest to be on your show, asking your boss for a promotion, asking anyone for help of some kind, etc. In this case, asking Charlie Sheen to join the DP Show for a few minutes. Just make the call, ask the question – the worst thing that can happen is that you’re told “No.”
- Keep records. Hosts and producers need to keep every number of every guest, regardless of how important you deem them in the moment. You never know when you may need it again.
- Spread the word. When a guest makes news on your show, in this case Charlie Sheen saying he’s ready to go back to work, tell everyone about it. Don’t assume everyone who cares about it heard it on your show. Immediately, the audio and a news story about the interview appeared on www.danpatrick.com, the producers were twittering about the interview, and undoubtedly a press release was quickly written and released. This is cheapest, most impactful promotion you may ever have for your show.
So you may ask how this guest was appropriate for the Dan Patrick show. Charlie is a big sports fan, resonates with the core demo with his movie and TV roles, and recently talked with the UCLA baseball team (a.k.a. the timely hook.)
When it comes to winning a championship Kobe Bryant knows a thing or two or five. And after listening to him today, on 710 ESPN’s Mason & Ireland Show in Los Angeles, I believe Kobe can help talk show hosts be better too.
Kobe talked about how the basketball season is an evolution.
“It’s about getting better,” said Kobe.
“It’s a gauge; what areas have we improved and what areas have we slipped? It’s always a gauge. You have to check your compass everyone once in a while.”
Kobe is also constantly thinking about the little details. When asked what one thing the team needed to improve on between now and the playoffs, Kobe couldn’t narrow it down.
“There’s like 20 things. All of them are important; defensive rotations, offensive execution, rebounding patterns, the list goes on and on in my head. There are three things; defending, field goal percentage and not turn the ball over. Whoever does that best will be champion.”
What sticks out to me is that at the highest levels of pro sports, players and teams continue to challenge themselves to be great. Kobe Bryant is regularly analyzing his play, focusing on the details and looking to improve every game.
How many radio hosts do this? Are you?
- When was the last time you gauged your progress or checked your compass?
- Are you getting critical feedback or conducting critical self evaluations following each show?
- Are you regularly applying new strategy, skills or techniques when hosting?
- Do you consider your show a static element or an evolution?
- Do you recognize and address the details of your show?
I know from experience on both sides of the mic that these things don’t happen nearly as much as they could or should. Kobe is a proven winner; a champion and future hall-of-famer. And he still wants to be better, still gauges his performance from game to game to game, and still sweats the small stuff.
Seems like a good game plan whether you’re on the court or behind the microphone.
This is one of the times of the year when sports radio hosts like to go on the air and tell listeners that there’s nothing much going on in the sports world. I hear hosts calling this a “dead time;” right after the Super Bowl and before March Madness. When hosts do this they are not only turning off listeners and advertisers, they are telling them to go away.
Listeners are tuning into radio, in part, to escape the realities of their everyday life. No one wants to tune in to hear someone whine about how slow their day is going and babble on about nothing in particular. Strange as it is, this idea of a “slow time” only happens in the sports format. You never tune into a talk format and hear Rush Limbaugh droning on about how slow it is in Washington. I’ve never heard a rock DJ say, “boy this is a dead time for music, I really don’t have anything worth playing today.” Think about it this way, if you turned on CNN and they announced, “No real news today to report.” You would turn to another channel. Same goes listeners of sports talk.
Not only will announcing to the listeners that is a slow time for sports make your radio station more of seasonal listen than it already it is, it could also lead to less revenue. Advertisers are looking for the biggest bang for the buck. If I was an advertiser on a station and I heard a host lamenting about how it’s a slow time and there’s nothing to talk about, I would have to reconsider how I invested my ad dollars. I likely would cancel my order and place my commercials on a station that is excited about its content and is compelling fans to listen.
These are the days that hosts earn their money. This is when they prove their worth to a station and company. It’s a host’s job to make fans care about something. Regardless of what’s going on they have a responsibility to be creative, passionate and compelling. It may be a slower sports day than they like, but that is a YOU problem. Hosts need to work harder to find great story lines, tease them, develop them and pay them off.
Programmers, GMs and sales teams need to hold the hosts accountable to help drive ratings and revenue, not drive it away.