For the better part of 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with big voice guy Jim Cutler (ESPN Radio Network, E!, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The CW, and gobs of radio and TV stations across the country including 97.3 KIRO FM and 710 ESPN Seattle). Jim and his awesome wife Dawn are on vacation and stopped by the Bonneville Seattle studios yesterday. If Jim wasn’t blessed with a big voice and the talent to use it, he’d likely be a professional photographer. He takes his Nikon everywhere he goes. Last night he brought it to the Mariners v. A’s game and has posted photos on his blog…
Here he is taking some of the pictures…
In a previous blog I interviewed Jim about how what he has learned from photography relates to radio. It’s worth a read if you missed it before…
The other thing that struck me after meeting with Jim and Dawn yesterday is a great reminder that the more often you can work with and talk with people in this industry whose opinions and talents you trust, respect and challenge your own complacency – do it.
“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
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.
Two hours and fifteen minutes. That’s how long ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd says it takes him to actively prep for his show. “I go into a show ready with eight different ways to approach four topics.”
Cowherd talked exclusively with LarryGifford.com about how he prepares each day for his show “The Herd.” His active prep time estimate does not include watching games at night, catching up with SportsCenter in the morning, or all the work that his team puts into the show before he arrives and after he leaves each day.
Colin says he leans on three guys: board operator “Fish” is the ears of the show and in charge of audio; associate producer Tom finds stats, stories and support information; producer Vince is helping Colin with creative writing and content development.
Out of the two hours and fifteen minutes, about twenty minutes is used to write the opening rant. He also previews the available audio and works with his team to develop multiple angles to the big stories of the day.
“You’re writing a sitcom. Everyone is throwing out ideas, and I’m editing saying, ‘Yes! That’s good. Vince that’s a good line.’ We just keep building,” Colin says, describing his 7:15 am meetings. So, when the dust clears and the ‘on air’ light turns red, what’s the goal? “I do believe, going into most segments, you have to take the audience somewhere. Take them somewhere emotionally. I say this often, ‘Make them ‘blank.’ Make them laugh, make them mad, make them annoyed, make them think, make them cry. Make people ‘blank.’ Take them somewhere.”
Armed with the same information about the same teams and games that everybody watched, the same stats and the same audio as every other host in the nation, how does Colin create something new and different that takes his audience somewhere?
Colin explains one of his strategies: “It’s not about the team, it’s about the star player. People like Kobe, not the Lakers. It’s not about the Giants, it’s about Eli. It’s not about the Packers it’s about Aaron Rogers. I get criticized for it and get a lot of attention for it. I take on the athlete. So, I will find a player and I’m with him or against him. I’m on his side or I’m not. It gets really personal. I think everybody in this business talks about the team, but research shows people buy the jersey of the player. I find, the more you talk about a player it’s much more interesting radio. People take sides, there are lines in the sand, it’s a verbal tug-o-war and it’s very compelling.”
He also says he creates a theory or strong opinion for each branch of each topic and writes it down. He refers to this during breaks and then has it in front of him while he’s talking about it so he can refer back to it periodically during the segment and stay on topic.
Colin stresses the importance of playing the hits. “ESPN is very much like the weather channel. When a hurricane hits we all go to the weather channel. When Michael Vick’s in trouble we all go to ESPN. In my business, I’m rooting for dumpster fires. I’m rooting for messes. I’m rooting for controversy, because that’s what my audience loves.”
Listen to the full interview here, including Colin’s revelations on PPM, how personal you should get on the air and how he judges his own shows.
The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:
The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 4 times
In 2010, there were 38 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 65 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 44mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.
The busiest day of the year was November 18th with 67 views. The most popular post that day was Look Who’s Talking: Owen Murphy.
Where did they come from?
The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, www.larrygifford.com, linkedin.com, and mail.yahoo.com.
Some visitors came searching, mostly for happy new year 2011, dave rothenberg espn, new year words, larry gifford blog, and year 2011.
Attractions in 2010
These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.
Look Who’s Talking: Owen Murphy November 2010
Who’s Next? Dave Rothenberg December 2010
Are You A Host or Personality? November 2010
Test Driving A New Sports Radio Show Prep Service November 2010
Colin Cowherd’s Life on TV November 2010